Vagabonding is less about the clicking pictures of landmarks and more about the little adventures.
Sometimes those little adventures fall into your lap when you least expect them — or want them — and sometimes you have to go looking for them. It’s a little like scratching that infected insect bite: you know that you probably shouldn’t scratch, but then again, it feels so damn good!
A four-hour, beautiful boat ride on the river through Sarawak landed me in the city of Sibu. As my boat pushed its way upstream, I was absolutely blown away by the scenery. I was surrounded by the “real” Borneo; mile after mile of wild rainforest, tiny fishing villages, and other things that visitors like myself rarely get to see.
Frighteningly, on both sides of the river were gigantic Chinese logging operations and barges filled to capacity with trees. Of course, I expected some industry but wow, nothing like this. I can’t possibly see how the rainforest could take such a beating day after day and survive. This week there was massive flooding in nearby Kalamantan — Indonesia’s part of Borneo — because deforestation has caused so much erosion. Now I see why.
After one night in Sibu, I hopped onto a bus and was deposited eight hours later in Miri, a town of about 300,000. This place is great. It has the friendliness of Kuching but also its own unique vibe. This is also the last stop in Sarawak; I am only one hour from the border of Brunei — the smallest country in Southeast Asia.
While in Miri, I visited the local beach, which turned out to be a dirty, mess where even the Toxic Avenger would be afraid to swim. Just as I was about to write the place off as a total loss, I spotted a distant cove with private beach and massive sea cave. The tide was high; muddy, polluted water smacking hard against sharp rocks let me know right away that swimming there was not going to be an option.
Instead, I scrambled up the rocks and found myself in an overgrown patch of rainforest. Through the messy, tangle of vines and thorns a very faint trail became visible. In just minutes, I was sweating profusely and the insects were having their way with me. Dengue fever is a real problem here, there are posters everywhere warning about the spotted, daytime mosquitoes that carry it. I busted several plunging their mouths into the skin on my arms; nothing like playing Russian roulette with an incurable virus!
I walked the winding trail through tangled undergrowth for a good 30 minutes before it dropped off to my right. I even got to play scout for a while, getting down to look for twigs cut at an angle where someone had come through with a machete weeks earlier. The “trail” led me down a steep drop-off, and somewhere in the back of my mind I knew that my chances of returning on the same path were going to be pretty bad.
I used a branch to probe the leaves for deadfalls over fallen branches and snakes; the adrenaline pushing me on. Eventually I found myself leaving the first footprints on the completely deserted beach. I walked the length of the beach, checked out the cave which turned out to be a massive rock shelter, and even found a small waterfall with fetid, brown water pouring from the jungle into the sea.
A few crabs and small fish were trapped in the lava pools; this would be a fantastic place to play survival games.
A simple beach visit had suddenly bloomed into a spontaneous adventure. Unfortunately, I was climbing rocks in flip-flops, wearing no mosquito repellent, and didn’t have my knife, light, or clue of where I was. Situations like that have turned ugly for me in the past (I was once lost in a state park at home until the rangers were alerted at 2 a.m.) but this one did not.
I managed to walk out along the beach and get back to the road — only getting wet up to my thighs in the polluted water to get around rocks. I can only imagine what the bus driver was thinking when I boarded his bus dripping with sweat, wet shorts, covered in mud, sunburned, and scraped up. He barely even looked at me; us foreigners are strange people.
I’ll leave you with a great find. I have seen some great bloopers on signs and menus over the past four years, but this one from my favorite restaurant in Miri tops them all. They make it sound so delicious!