3-in-1, part 2: Malaise in Sarawak (pun)…

img_0840

continued from previous…

Only problem now is that I’m sick as a dog, far upriver in Kapit, need vitamins, need caffeine, and there seem to be none of my usual avenues for fulfillment. The caffeine part I can rig (pun), boil down Coca-Cola if I have to, with a needle and a spoon, and inject intravenously (joking). But then I find some old-fashion Nescafe, not that 3-in-1 coffee-milk that works for lady drinks. Just mix the two together, and it doesn’t taste so bad, and kicks like a mule in heat (yes, I know)…

Still I need vitamins. I’m sniffling and sneezing, whiffing and wheezing like a sludge pump that needs a grease job and a few new gaskets. This could get worse before it gets better, and is nasty, regardless. Where is a drugstore when you need one? Finally I find one, albeit with super-expensive vitamins, and I find a Red Bull knock-off, too, so God does provide, eventually…

img_0846Still I’m liking it: Sarawak, that is. I go without a hotel reservation for the first time in ten years, just get off the boat and start walking, just like the old days, before bus stations moved far out of town. But these boats are much better than their counterparts in Laos, especially on the Sibu end. Kapit is a little more primitive, with boats sidled up next to each other, while you pick your footing carefully to disembark…

So here’s the breakdown, town by town, as far as I know them: Kuching rocks with a knocked-out mocked-up waterfront and cruises in the river, picnics on the weekend and two separate Chinatowns both worthy of attention. This is a modern town, and ultimately a bit boring, reminding of Penang, and not really Sarawakian, great if you came for nightlife and sublime moments on the waterfront…

Sibu has a rep as rough and tumble, and that’s probably deserved, what with timber king and ladies of the night looking for a piece of the action, karaoke until almost dawn, and a night market to boot. Finding a room with window, but not on a noisy street, is the challenge, that and the fact that roads go off at all different directions, so easy to get lost. Central market is large, with goods from upriver and down…

Miri is a combination of the two, not as slick as Kuching, but not as rough as Sibu—just about right, I’d say. And though not really a ‘night market’, there is a night boulevard of eateries, that is central, pleasant and refreshing. From here you can easily access Brunei, if that’s an interest, not a bad little day-trip…

img_0855And last but not least, Kapit is a small town upriver, where I am now while I write. This is small river-town Malaysia, with cars secondary to the plan. From here you continue upriver north to Belaga, or turn around and go back. If I’d known that I could go to Miri by this back route, then I might’ve done it, but no biggie. The place closes up at 6 pm sharp, but there are night food stalls up above; just take the steps up by the Methodist church. Did I mention that these people are largely Christian? You know what they say about Christian girls…

And there are longhouses around here, but I saw more on the ride Sibu-Miri, albeit nothing especially traditional-looking. The first time I saw one, I thought to be just a cheap apartment complex, though a rather long one. And others all in that vein, varying from modern decent to modern decrepit, defined by the fact that they’re all connected…

But I haven’t found any of that near Kapit, though presumably they exist and are visitable on tours, the hows and wheres undetermined. Presumably you need a guide, but I’ve seen nothing of the sort, nor travel agencies nor tour operators. I suppose you have to ask around. But secretly I’ve always been in love with an imaginary riverboat town: timber and lumber keep me limber, I guess. There’s just one problem: they don’t exist any more…

img_0767The romance of river life dates back to Mark Twain and the by-gone era when rivers were roads, and water was life, before all the automobiles and air-conditioners and convenience stores that are that but not much more. Those were simpler and better times, in many ways. The planet counted one billion people for the first time in the 1830’s. Now we’re over seven bil and still counting. Where does it all stop? We all know, but we can’t say it, because it’s bad for the economy…

At day’s last light you can have the central square to yourself and THOUSANDs of bats in random flight, apparently feeding on the same hour’s MILLIONS of insects. And then it’s quiet, for most of the night, the sleep of the just, until it all starts over again the next day, at daybreak, just like God planned it—if there IS a God, and he gives a sh*t (I’m exaggerating to make a point—I’m Buddhist)…

I reiterate: I think some backpackers are missing the boat here, unless you just love hanging in a little Khaosarn-like foreigners’ colony in Vang Vieng or Luang Prabang or elsewhere, with hamburgers and fries and other frat-house-like commodities, and a tuk-tuk mafia of heartless bastards ready to spoil your trip. Here the guy with glasses still gets top honors and the top footballers still gets the cheerleader—and people are honest, mostly. It’s refreshing…

Advertisements