Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Monkey Monkey Monkey

Lahad Datu

The attention we get when walking down the street strongly suggests that few tourists ever come to Lahad Datu. Erin was getting a little more attention than she wanted from the local men when she wore shorts the first time we went out for a walk. Malaysia is Muslim and it’s a little conservative, so we thought that maybe putting female knees on display in a backwater like Lahad Datu wasn’t kosher, (or halal) so she put on pants and a baggier t-shirt for our second sojourn. Then we noticed that the local Chinese women often go out in shorts, and that the men were still making eyes at Erin.

They’re not looking at her because her knobby knees are showing. They’re looking because she’s white. They don’t see a lot of us white folk. Several people have said “hello” and then covered their mouths and giggled.

I’m sure that Linda will be annoyed at my portraying her countrymen as a bunch of yokels, but that doesn’t stop it from being true — in Lahad Datu, anyway.

The 6500 sq. km of Lahad Datu district is home to about 160,000 people, according to Wikipedia. According to Ben, Lahad Datu is a somewhat scabby little town with a mystifying street layout and poor provisions for pedestrians.

There is no reason to come to Lahad Datu, unless you have a good reason to come to Lahad Datu. Our good reasons for coming are that it is a convenient place to break the drive, and that there is a good air conditioned hotel here, for my parents to recover their equilibrium for a day before we plunge back into the jungle.

My parents arrived in Borneo something like a week ago. I don’t have a very good feeling for time these days, and I don’t care to check, so we’ll call it a week. We hung around Kota Kinabalu for a few days, and then jumped into our rented van and drove across Sabah.

Our van is a beauty. It’s a Toyota Hiace that the rental agency says is only 4 months old. It already has 29,000 km on it, though, which on these roads would be hard to rack up in just 4 months. It is relatively new, though. It has loads of room for 5 Colis and 3 Jimis and all their luggage, and the 3-liter diesel could push the fully-loaded van up any hill in the world.

It’s a good thing it’s a good van, because the driving in rural Sabah can be a bit on the white-knuckled side of reasonable. Malaysia spent loads of money building freeways in peninsular Malaysia, where most of the people live. The one road that goes across Sabah is about as wide as two compact-only parking stalls, as windy as a python with scoliosis, and as pockmarked as a KFC staff group photo — which is to say that it is better than most roads in this part of the world, but still no treat to drive on.

I pulled the first shift of driving (my dad had to let me; it was my birthday) and took us the first 100 km up the side of Mount Kinabalu to Linda’s home town of Kibbas, where we picked up her brothers Hillosky and Jerry Paul. From there my dad took the wheel and took us back down the side of the mountain and across the coastal lowlands to the orangutan sanctuary at Sepilok.

Along the way, we got to see about 60 km of palm plantations. There is virtually no jungle left in East Sabah, except for the few pockets inside wildlife sanctuaries and forest reserves. People should stop wringing their hands and talking about saving the jungles of Borneo. If we were going to do that, we should have started twenty or thirty years ago. As near as I can tell, in Sabah everything that isn’t already protected has already been cut down. Except for our little stopover in the urban gem that is Lahad Datu, our itinerary has us hopping from one protected bit to another, and crossing hundreds of kilometers of palm plantations in between.

In Sepilok, I got mightily drunk with Erin and Linda and Hillosky and Jerry Paul. It was my birthday. It wasn’t particularly appropriate to drink a bunch of beer in the guesthouse restaurant, but I didn’t particularly care. It was my birthday. My parents, before they left, had us laughing so hard that Jerry Paul couldn’t pick his head up off the table; apparently he had never seen a 58 year-old woman imitating her father-in-law’s habit of flexing his buttocks. It was a fine birthday.

After my parents went to bed, Hillosky challenged me to a lehing-drinking contest. He tapped out early, claiming that the $5-bottle of sour lehing he had bought from the staff was giving him heartburn. Lehing is homemade rice wine and the stuff was pretty sour; I’m sure he really had heartburn and it wasn’t his fault for having to drop out of the drinking contest that he started. That didn’t matter to me, though; I crowed and made fun of him and generally acted like a poor winner. It was my birthday.

The next day we went and saw the orangutans being fed. They were pretty cool, but there were at least 80 tourists there, taking pictures and getting in each others’ way, and the experience was made much less cool in retrospect by what happened later.

We then drove to Sukau, which is a little village on the Kinabatangan river. The Kinabatangan runs through a series of wildlife reserves, and Sukau is a great place to get a boat to go and look at monkeys. So last night we looked at monkeys, and this morning we woke up at 6:00 to get in the boat and look at monkeys again.

Monkeys are very cool, and looking at them hanging from branches a few feet away from your boat is a lot cooler than looking at orangutans on a feeding platform 50 feet away from your crowded observation deck, in my opinion. I know that orangutans are supposed to be more special, being closer to us genetically and much more rare than the bunch of stupid monkeys we saw, but I liked the monkey experience better. I guess I preferred being outnumbered by the monkeys to outnumbering the orangutans.

And now we are in Lahad Datu, where there is wireless internet, a selection of restaurants, and a variety of scenic rancid storm sewer canals. Bright lights, big city!

If anyone's been wondering where the hell we are, check this out:

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  1. I fucking hate monkeys. Obnoxious, diseased, retarded children is all they are. Fuck them and their bananers.

  2. Stupid Google-ator can't give me directions to get there from here in Canada. I'm selling my shares!