In Kuching I met some interesting people.
There was an American woman, Renee, about my age, who has been travelling for seven years. She was quite an inspiration to me and though our time together was brief, I hope to stay in touch. One evening we went for an evening cruise along the Sarawak River together and on the following day we visited Bako National Park. You take a bus and then a boat, before disembarking on the peninsula.
The route we decided to take through the forest was actually quite a trek, scrambling over rocks and roots. At one point a hole in the ground opened up beneath Renee and pitched her over. We didn’t see any Proboscis Monkeys, which are one of the main attractions there, We did see lots of Fiddler Crabs and the Bearded Pig. More impressive were the rock formations in the sea, which we saw when taking a boat back to the centre.
When Renee continued on her travels, I had some time on my hands. Orangutan were not to be seen, as it is the fruiting season, so they are perfectly content to forage for themselves and keep their distance from Orang-Orang, (us).
So I took to exploring the town. Kuching is quite an attractive place. The name means “cat” in Malay, so there are plenty of statues of them about.
This was the home of the “White Raj”, so there are plenty of old colonial buildings and some interesting museums. The ethnology museum, however, persuaded me not to visit the “cultural village”. People no longer live in real long houses in Sarawak, and are probably grateful for the fact. In reality, the new generation may wish to preserve their culture, but they live in the present. They have a brand new State Legislative Council building and a big pink mosque. No more head-hunting.
There were some friendly and informative people in my hostel and while waiting for them to share a drink in the “Speakeazy” I got talking to Rob, another well-travelled American. He told me he was an ethnobotanist and we whiled away a few hours. We met up again a couple of days later on the evening before I left. What he didn’t tell me, until he sent me a farewell email, was that he has written the definitive book on Cannabis: Evolution and Ethnobotany, as well as other books on the same subject. He has been described as a “recluse”, but I think he’s just modest.
It’s true that I spent little time exploring the wilder places of Sarawak, but it is clear that large parts of the island are now used to produce palm oil. I needed a little bit of time to stop travelling and just hang out and Kuching is a good place to do this. From there I flew to Jakarta, which is a completely different story, to be continued.