Friday, July 30, 2004

Malaysia - Buffet of Bornean Wildlife
I still find it hard to put into words what it was like to see such an array of rare wildlife in such a short space of time. From the Flying Squirrels 3,000 m up Mt.Kinabalu to the Garden of Eels 20 m beneath Sipadan island, the whole experience was breathtaking.

2 weeks in Malaysian Borneo began with our assault on Mt.Kinabalu, SE Asia's highest peak (4,000m+). Jack, Mountain Man, took the lead to make sure the steps weren't too slippy for the rest of us amateurs. (It's practically steps all the way up, apart from the final ascent.) But they're really hard steps, right! The altitude re-introduced me to those pink spots I saw climbing Fansipan, and finding myself with a new numb sensation in my feet and hands, and the lungs of a 70-yr old with emphysema, Jack and I went up the hill, at 3am. My camera ran out of batteries so the photos aren't great, but you get the idea.

We got to a camp in the jungle the day after, having stopped off first to see the Orang Utan sanctuary in Sepilok. They were cool, but finding a huge female in the wild with a 2 week-old baby hanging from her was much more of a buzz. With no zoom, my camera just picked out a red blob, but you all know what they look like, so just use your imagination. We were told to look out for Proboscis monkeys too by an English guy researching them (who ironically looked incredibly like a Proboscis monkey.) The locals call them 'Dutch Monkeys' due to their resemblance to the drunken Dutch when they first arrived here (beer bellies and big red noses).

Finally Sipadan. I can't put into words what it was like to swim, weightless with White Tip Sharks, Turtles, massive schools of exotic fishes and an assortment of other creatures, 30m beneath a coral island. For those of you that dive, there's a link at the bottom explaining the uniqueness of Sipadan. For those that don't, I can only tell you that if not for the breathing aparatus stuffed in my mouth, my jaw would have been on the floor for the whole 3 days.

More information, and far better pictures than I could take:
Mt. Kinabalu
Sepilok Orang Utans
Proboscis Monkeys

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Cambodia - Greener than Ireland, with roads to match.

A brief trip through Cambodia revealed a country stripped bare by the various nations that have used and abused it in the past century. Ancient statues stolen by the French from Angkor, resources and politics abused by the Chinese and Americans during the cold war, its own people robbed of their dignity and lives by the Khmer Rouge, and the myriad amputees robbed of their limbs by landmines... Lots to take in over 10 days.

The pictures show a slightly more upbeat account of our time at Angkor, where with the aid of local monks and a guide who told us more than just the history of the area, we spent 3 days perusing the grounds of this massive temple city.

In Bangkok now waiting to catch our flights to Malaysia Borneo to dive with sharks, meet with orangutans and climb a very big mountain... next country please...

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Nha Trang Tummy, Mui Ne Recovery, Saigon Testing...

So after 2 months of relative health I was struck down by a dodgy shrimp served on a boat trip in Nha Trang. Forty Eight hours later following three films, two novels and one breadroll, I tentatively boarded a bus for Mui Ne, a sleepy beach resort 200km south. There I spent a couple of days recovering among calm beaches and secluded bungalows. In fact, we didn't leave the bungalow resort at all for two whole days. At this point I'd like to introduce Ross, my unofficial "doctor" from Hawaii who kept an eye on my alcohol intake during my recovery period...

Reassured that everything was functioning again it was time to move on to Saigon, or more politically correct: Ho Chi Minh City. If Hanoi is the starting line, Saigon is the finishing line, where pretty much everybody you meet along the way turns up in time. So as you can imagine, there are a few stories to be heard and people with whom to be re-united. This work is still in progress, and will culminate tonight with a meeting to help the Canadians celebrate "Canada Day", (although nobody can tell me why there is a Canada Day, but as Auntie would say, that's only a detail).

And so, in as turbulent a fashion as I entered one month ago, I bid farewell to Vietnam. A country whose citizens will sell there own grandmother for a dollar, and then charge you two and give you their aunt when you're not looking. It's been a love-hate relationship, but I must say the love side is more heavily weighted. A roller-coaster tour of dirty scams punctuated by knockout scenery and serendipitous encounters with locals, which remind you of the compassionate heart that resides deep in the poorer recesses of this recovering country.

Cambodia beckons tomorrow, who knows what lies in store...

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