Remember the “wild man of Borneo”? The kind of urban legend muttered in casual jokes? He must have been best buds with “Nanook of the North” and other such sordid characters. (Or maybe just two really old movies)
This image evokes a certain connotation of Conrad esque jungle. Deep, brutal and unforgiving. Think of Predator. (The film) when Jesse Ventura’s character remarks “you lose it out here, you’re in a world of hurt”. Borneo has long fascinated my imagination. Headhunters, cannibals, etc…how could I not want to go here?!
I loved Singapore. As in I enjoyed the shit out of exploring the cultural whirlwind incased in modernity that is the premier “Asian tiger”. I could not have switched it up more than leaving for Sarawak aboard a dirt cheap Air Asia flight for the long weekend. (Which by the way, SIN is by far my new favorite airport the world over. Changi deserves its own post)
I arrived in Sarawak a bit late, and made my way into the city, having little expectation for this bustling city of Malaysian Borneo. Things are CHEAP here compared to Singapore. My 25 minute uber ride from the airport was 6$ US. Kuching is busy, but reserved and a bit understated. I started my trek, umbrella in hand the next morning. Stumbling across the layers of weekend life typical to this city.
Making my way to the riverfront I noticed a few key things. First and foremost, people notice me. I’m broad shouldered, tall (ish) and glow in the dark white. Everywhere I went people notice me. They will smile eventually, and say “hello”, sometimes nodding, or waving. So far I have yet to encounter another American here, which is tremendously rare these days. My Uber driver let me know I was his first American passenger, before informing me that our last presidential election was “big disaster”. Which at this point has become a conversation starter for me all over the world.
Sarawak hints of the wild elements close by. The mountains in the distance and the heat. I have finally in my years of reading and traveling come to fully understand the concept of the term “wet season”. Often times thought of as “rainy season”…which has little to do with it. It rains sure, in short bursts a few times a day, but that’s nothing. The true nature of this beast is in the title. “Wet”. Everything is wet. All the fucking time. For these months, it never truly dries out. The street is wet, the buildings are wet, YOU are wet. Your shirt is stuck to your body every moment you are outside sucking in wet heavy air. “Slay your ass hot” is an understatement. Hailing from the midwestern US, we can’t know this kind of heat without being literally submerged in it.
As counterbalance to being soaked, and then frozen by blessed AC, the people here are insanely friendly. Kuching may be a stopping point for the wilds of Sarawak, but don’t overlook this wee spot on the river. The markets are cool, the people inviting, and the authenticity is high.
What about the food? Oh baby. There are hawker cafes around everywhere, and the best part is, you have no true idea what you are getting, because it’s whatever they have that day. Like a Michelin Star tasting menu, but from a plastic table. See that chili sauce in that bowl? Treat it with respect. These good size dishes are around a dollar and blast anything from a value menu to Hell. McDonald’s and such here come in at roughly 5x the price of a local dish. Kiss my sweet ass Ronald.
There it is, in all it’s uncontested barbecued glory. Kolo mee! Bow before greatness.
Of course the nature is what draws most (including me here) time for a run through the jungle and see what we can see. Thought we might need an update. The next two days will be dedicated to orangutans and Bako National park. Get stoked on it!!
Drop me a comment with reactions or questions.