Monday, May 31, 2010

Borneo Adventure

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It's been a while since I last posted but my sister and I were on an adventure. We were on an ecotour on the island of Borneo. For the uninitiated, Borneo is the 3rd largest island in the world and is made up of 3 nations, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. Borneo, for me, conjured up visions of head hunters and pythons ready to have me for dinner. Well, not so. Indonesia has the world's largest population of Muslims. Betcha didn't know that... Why did we chose a trip to Borneo? Well, my sister does contract work for the Houston Zoo and the Zoo is a major benefactor with the Malaysian government in working to save three threatened species, the Pygmy Elephant, the Orangu-tan, and the Proboscis monkey. Even though my sister has traveled extensively , it was the type of trip she had never experienced before (I had been on two African safaris) and we said "what the hell. Why not". Luckily for us, we saw all three species thanks to Red Ape Encounters. Our guide, Mincho, 29 and a father of three, was superb and his english was terrific. I'll get to the "why" his english is so good later. Here are just some musings, factoids and experiences: Read more...

I started my experience in Singapore. For me, you can keep it. Hot, very humid, one shopping center after another, Louis, Gucci, Prada, Miu Miu, Starbucks Starbucks Starbucks. Crowded, expensive. Did I mention hot and humid. Now, if you're an American living over there for a few years and making the big bucks with an apartment, driver etc, I'm sure it's fascinating and lucrative. And the spouse can shop to their hearts content. I took a two hour (supposedly) sightseeing tour and it lastest an hour and a half. They do have some beautiful Buddist temples. It is a very clean city. It made for a nice stopover and then a quick get away...

On to the state of Sabah in the northern part of the country of Malaysia. The area of Kota Kinabalu, the third largest city in Malaysia, where we began our journey, was not the same as the part where we ended our journey. This was the working man's part of Kota Kinabalu. Dirty, dusty, hot. I spent the afternoon at a huge local market watching men at sewing machines repairing jeans, pants etc. Most, but not all of the women, wore the traditonal Muslim head covering, hijab. But not once did I hear the call to prayer (You can hear that while playing golf at the prestigious golf course here in Atlanta, East Lake). I was hungry and a long way from the hotel. Where did I eat lunch? Of course there was a Starbucks. Where better to get a ham and cheese sandwich? Well, not really. There is no ham, pork or pork by products. Beef "bacon" anyone? Chicken "ham"?

That night we met with the scientific "team" working with the Houston Zoo. One scientist, Mark, worked with the elephant population and the other was a geneticist working with the orangu-tans. They were French. And Mark looked like Anthony Bourdain. No joke. Now Mark made a big mistake with me. When he pronounced his name, he didn't say just "Mark", he said it as if Bill the Cat from Bloom County said it. Remember Bill the Cat was always throwing up hairballs and it sounded like "ackkk". Well, this scientist said his name like "Maracckkkk". From that point on, for me, he was Marackkkk. The other scientist, Dr. Benoit something or other, was the geneticist. They were both divorced and both had girlfriends half their ages (I'll give Bourdain some credit. His new wife is only 20 some odd years younger). Mega cheers for Susan Sarandon and Demi Moore...I digress as I always do. What these guys do is tedious, hard work, and they are constantly looking for money to support their projects. They really do care about what they are doing, trying to save these animals from extinction. And we were very happy that they took some of their valuable time to talk to us about what they do. I have a little story about Maracckkkkk later.

Most of the sightseeing in Sabah is by boat cruising the Kinabatangan River.
But because we were with the Houston Zoo team and Red Ape Encounters, we were able to "off" river into the jungle to trek and see the scientists at work. The first day we are at our lodge, The Proboscis Lodge, , I saunter up to two Austrians and asked how they were enjoying their trip. Great they said. But they then asked me if we had our "leech" socks? Leech socks!?? Mincho said nothing about leeches! Leeches?! Well, that night I asked Mincho about the leech socks and he said they were basically a gimmick to sell to the tourists. We really didn't need "leech socks" because if we sprayed ourselves enough with insect repellent, the leeches didn't like that and they wouldn't suck on us. Back up. There are leeches? Well, yes. But not like those in Viet Nam. These are about the size of a pretzel stick. OK. To deal with this, I neeed some nectar from the Poles or Russians or whatever, vodka. The little girl tending the "bar" looked at me as if I had twenty heads. "Wodka" she asks"? Only beer and $60 bottles of cheap New Zealand wine sold by the bottle. Yooo hooo Mincho? Can you get us some wodka? I can, he says, but it will take a few days. A few days pass and no wodka. Mincho, where's the wodka? Well, bad news, he says. The guys he asked to buy it had never had wodka before and wanted to taste it. They liked it and therefore, drank the WHOLE bottle. Can you guess how badly they must have felt the next day never having had any hard liquor? I guess I'm a bad influence. Anyway the next day Mincho shows up with a mysteriously wrapped package and it's my bottle of Absolute! A fifth! At $60 US dollars a bottle! And it tasted damn good, too!

Part Two: Desperate House Wives, Big Love and President Obama

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