Biking on Atolls

Biking on Atolls

Friday, November 19, 2010

Bandar Seri Begawan and Bangar

aka Brunei

Brunei is what remains of an empire that once included all of Borneo. Now it is one of the smallest countries on earth. The main part of the capital (BSB) is about 12 blocks (basically). Had a nice walk around town including a stop for a meal at an Indian Muslim restaurant - great food and very cheap too! Though a little awkward when I noticed I was the only woman in the restaurant. Then had an expensive cup of coffee - same price as Starbucks at home - place called Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. Seems to be a big chain. Expensive coffee seems to be available everywhere now. Happened past the Omar Ali Sairfuddien Mossque (yeah, I had to look that up) right at the 6PM call to prayer. Really something right at sunset. Beautiful, kind of other worldly. Brunei is a little country but a rich one and it looks in this mosque (saw exterior only).

Omar Ali Sairfuddien Mossque at sunset.

On Thursday Carolyn and I did the speed boat trip to Bangar - so cool! For a cost of about $5 one way you get a 45 minute speed boat trip through the marshes between BSB and Bangar. The rivers and waterways are the highway for the speed boat as it turns from one to another making its way along. Tried out my phone in the middle of the trip on the way back - had coverage and sent out a couple of txt msgs! So funny! I'm in the middle of this estuary in Brunei on a speed boat and there is cell phone coverage. Meanwhile at home in the heart of silicon valley I hit dead zones. Crazy!

Speedboat to Bangar

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Orangutans, crocodiles, giant ants, and leeches

On Tuesday, took a short day trip to a wildlife rehabilitation center about 30km outside Kuching. Sorry if this is all a duplicate as I tried a post previously but it didn't seem to take. :-(

The center is primarily to put injured or surrendered orangutans back into a wild environment. Because the forest/jungle space is limited they supplement the diet with two meals daily which creates the draw for the tourists to see the orangutans come in to get the bananas, coconuts, yams, etc. laid out for them. It's all an open environment and so no harassment of the orangutans please as they could easily swoop in and take their revenge. About 10 orangutans made an appearance during the visit including three mother’s with very small babies in tow. So so cute! When these large animals swing through the trees they make a lot of noise – you know they are approaching. Didn’t know trees could bend that much.

There were also near the reserve entrance three cages each with a crocodile in it. They were mostly doing what crocodiles do in cages – sit in the water not moving much. But as I approached the third cage the crocodile there let out a warning growl – much like a dog’s growl. Uh….. Not positive what that meant, but I took it as a sign it didn’t want any visitors at that point – which I completely respected and so I left immediately. :|

Then a small group of us took a one hour walk through the jungle/forest lead by a reserve ranger. I had second thoughts about going almost immediately. You know there are things in the jungle/forest that one does not necessarily want to encounter. In this case – leeches. Leeches seem to be pretty common in Borneo when one ventures into the forested areas. A few were pointed out early on in our walk. They were about an inch and a half high and quite skinny standing straight up on end. Think brown wiggly needle. The vibrations of us walking through alert them to a passing meal so they get ready to attach. All I could think about the whole walk was – can we go faster to get this over with. That along with constantly checking my shoes for any leeches that might be making their way up my shoes.

The guide, of course, had a different agenda and was happily stopping and pointing out the different types of plants, etc. along the trail. At one point he was pointing out a spider. One of the other hikers said, “it doesn’t look like a spider” and he replied, “that is because a bunch of spiders are grouped together” (aurgh!!! Please keep moving!)

There were also an abundance of ants making massive paths across the trail and up trees. We also saw some giant ants that were about an inch long – half red and half black. Sort of interesting, he told us that the small ants work together to bring back food, but the giant ants go out and come back on their own.

After the stop to see some bats we were at the half way point heading back via a different route. Now I was at the front of the line (next to the guide) instead of the back of the group, so I was right with him when he stopped to point out the hole of some unknown animal’s burrow at which point I commented we should probably continue so as not to bother whatever might be inside. The next time he stopped to point out another hole I just kept walking right past him.

At last the walk was over! We stopped for a leeches. To my dismay there were about five on my shoes which the guide was very helpful in removing. We all took our shoes and socks off to check for leeches. One had made it’s way right through my sock and attached to my ankle! The guide came right over and put some oil – seemed similar to like a menthol or vicks vapo rub type ingredient and the leech dropped right off. Leeches secret an anticoagulant when they attach so the wound keeps bleeding for some time.

Good news! I did get a photo of my bloody ankle post leech removal. Something for you to look forward to when I’m able to upload pictures!

The banana hand-off.

Click on this picture a couple of times to zoom in for a better view of mom orangutan with infant and what seemed to be another related orangutan. The mom passed some food she collected from the caretaker up to the upper orangutan.

Ankle post leech removal. It's not bleeding much, but it continued to bleed for about an hour.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Pontianak and Kuching

Pontianak was amazing - in a slum-like, big city, language communication issues sort of way.  I made it to the equator monument and made a few walks back and forth across the equator.  :-)  It was a raining day and it seems the city sits quite low on the water table.  There are ditches of water on either side of the road and many walkways over water leading to the homes.  I alternately saw a guy peeing in the ditch, another bathing in it and others gathering water.  The people all seemed very friendly and welcoming, though due to the language barrier I can not be -sure- it was welcoming but it seemed that way.  It was big, chaotic, dirty, and when not raining, hot.  Worst thing was I didn't have a converter for their outlets so I couldn't recharge my phone, camera, ipod - so left asap.  Had a bit of a surprise tax at the airport on leaving - 75,000 local currency.  Fortunately due to not buying anything there I had more than enough to pay.  BTW - that's about $8 or so (uh... I think). 

Jakarta airport had Starbucks and Krispy Kreme donuts!

Equator Monument in Pontianak

View of the Equator Monument from right astride the equator.

Felt like the city was just barely above the water table.

River view of Pontianak.

Now in Kuching - what a world of difference just a short plane ride, or 10 hours by bus, away.  The airport is very modern, the city is clean interesting, and it has one of the most beautiful river fronts I've seen.  Really nice.  Today went to the cultural village and tomorrow the wildlife rehabilitation center.  Oh, and my electrical outlet converters work here.  Yeah!

Me at the cultural village.

Long house at cultural village.

I had a chance to try out a blow pipe but decided to pass for everyone's safety including my own.

Kuching means cats, or something like that. This is one of two cat fountains in the city.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Next up.... Pontianak

Had a wonderful 10 days in the Maldives with a very interesting group of people.  On the flight back met a Russian guy who I had noticed dining alone at the Gan resort we were all staying at.  He said he was vacationing there to get away from Russians, but it turns out that probably half the tourists in the southern Maldives were Russian.  haha 

Had a tiring overnight set of flights from Male to Singapore via Colombo.  Due to flight delays my friend Carolyn and I ended up with a six hour layover from 3:30am - 9:30am at the airport in Colombo.  Not fun.  Slept at a hostel in Singapore - now I remember why I don't do that more often.  ;-)

Now it's time to strike out on my own.  In about two hours I fly from Singapore to Pontianak via Jakarta.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Biking the atoll

Biking is a great way to get around an atoll because they are so flat.  As we were waiting around to see if a boat could be arranged to take us to Chagos (didn't happen) we used bikes provided by Equator Village to do a little sight seeing.  Here I am with three other from our group of ten.  From left to right, Jorge (from Spain), Seth (from Florida), me, and Terry (from the UK).  I'm appropriated dressed, i.e. no tank tops and shorts, for the ride as the Maldives is a Muslim country.  Yesterday we ventured out by speed boat to a neighboring island that rarely sees tourists, and today we took a local boat to tour around the inside of the atoll.  The water is so perfect and clear.  About a hundred dolphins joined us near the end of our tour to make a perfect end to a very enjoyable day.

Flying to Gan (Addu Atoll). This is what the Maldives looks like from the air. So many little island dots. Really beautiful.

A couple of the resident kitties at the Equator Village resort.

Ah, what to do at Equator Village... relax at the beach or ....

relax by the pool?

This is the reef right at the Equator Village resort. Really unbelievable! It was like swimming in an aquarium. There were so many different corals and the fish were so varied and colorful. I have to thank Dan from our group for insisting I try snorkeling to see this amazing reef.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Waiting around in Gan, Maldives

The flight to Male was a long one - about 34 hours door to door in a long stretched out day following the sun around the world.  Time here is exactly 12 hours from my home time zone.

Male is an amazing very crowded place with great food.  It is so small that from the hotel we stayed at I could see the ocean to the north from one side of the building and the ocean to the south from the other side.  I got blisters from my flip flops the first day walking around Male and have been nursing them a bit ever since.

Now in Gan which is just south of the equator staying at Equator Village - a simple resort that is made from what used to be a UK military base.  Went snorkeling at the reef at the resort this morning - so so amazing, even better than Palau.  It was like being in an aquarium - I'm not exaggerating.  The whole thing is even more amazing in that I did this, since I can't swim, but somehow it all worked out and I'm still alive to tell about it.  :-)

After days of looking we will know later today if we have a boat to take us to Chagos.  (btw - we are seeing some cracks in our group of the very well traveled.  Perhaps a bit of ego coming out.)

Flying to Male, Maldives

Room with a view - view from my hotel room in Male.

The Tsunami Monument on Male.

Male sunset.

Flying to Gan - Male from the air. The island looks like it could sink there are so many tall buildings on it!