What you’ve REALLY all been waiting for: the food!

Today I left Sarawak for a new state of Malaysia, Sabah. But I’m leaving behind some good friends: Mr. Nasi Goreng Kampung, Sir Mee Kolok Sarawak, Ms. Bee Hoon and of course, the esteemed Laksa Sarawak. Wish I could take them all home!

Nasi Goreng is fried rice, Malay village style (kampung is village). Mine had green onion, garlic, onion and little tiny anchovies that provided an excellent salty chew, and a fried egg (that I ate! After I chopped it up and mixed it in, anyway!)

Mee Kolok Sarawak was made with kinked noodles (like ramen. But fresher), bean sprouts, a local green that was similar in flavor to bok choi, and satay-style seasoned beef. The broth that you pour over the noodles, according to the description, was flavored with star anise and cardamom, and has a sweetness to it that I thought complemented the beef. I slurped the whole thing down quick!

Bee Hoon is fried vermicelli rice noodles, with egg or chicken or veggies. The condiments make the dish- spicy little peppers, bright red and bright tasting, and a squeeze of lime- yum!

I saved the best for last- Laksa Sarawak. Rice noodles again (yeah, I like my noodles more than rice), in a dark brown broth of prawn and chicken stock with laksa paste (dunno how to make that yet, but it probably involves pepper and lots of other spices!), and a little coconut milk. So the broth itself is fantastic! Then add chicken, prawns, eggs (scrambled into an omelet and chopped up), bean sprouts, cilantro, and accompany the whole thing with a lime to squeeze and sambal to up your spicy factor. Sambal is a Malaysian chili mixture made with shrimp paste and/or fish sauce, garlic, ginger, or shallots/green onions, sugar, lime juice, and rice vinegar or other vinegars (according to Wikipedia. My mouth just says its magic!). So you go at this amazing dish with a fork and spoon (spoons take the place of a knife here) and eat til you are sated. Or realize there will never be enough Laksa Sarawak to fulfill your desire and promise to learn to make it yourself when you get home!

I’m looking forward to discovering the flavors of Sabah next, and scuba diving some of the nicest places in the world. Til next time!

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Welcome to the Jungle!

I’ve gone on a couple jungle treks now, and an orangutan adventure. Bako national park was first, a quick boat ride down the crocodile-infested Santubong River to a beach landing on the shore of the South China Sea, accompanied by a guide and two Danes from the resort. Sculpted sandstone cliffs rose all around the beach, draped in vines and tall precariously growing jungle.

I’m afraid I don’t have iPhone pics of the critters we saw in Bako: wild pigs, mangrove swamps full of brilliant blue crabs and mudskippers, tree crabs and alarmingly large spiders. A few highlights, tho, were two Ranger Pit Vipers (lime green tree snakes with jewel blue stripes marking the female), a sleeping flying lemur (like a flying squirrel these night dwellers glide from tree to tree on wing-like skin flaps), and monkeys!
The largest monkeys, the Proboscis monkeys (called that for the large bulbous nose on a male), were leaping and crashing thru the trees in the jungle, snacking on new leaves.

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Our guide called them Dutch monkeys- the name in Iban language roughly translates as such- something about Dutch explorers having large noses that they stuck into the natives business.
The silver leaf monkeys came down for their leaf feast to within a meter of where we stood! The troupe had 9-10 members, including two mothers and their babies. The babies were younger than 6 months, distinguished by their bright orange fur. The moms were none too gentle with them, manhandling them every which way. But can you get cuter than teensy baby monkeys!? Not much!

One thing that really struck me about the jungle was the perfume of the forest. I’d expected decay of leaf matter, and it’s there. But there was also the deep scent of earth, the rich woody smell of mushrooms, the musk and amber incense of several types of trees that are actually used for the incense found in churches, and light floral whiffs from unseen flowers. Pretty amazing combo!

I trekked the next day on Mount Santubong, in search of the hornbill that’s the symbol of Sarawak. I could hear them squawking and croaking , and crashing around in the canopy- but no sighting. I heard all kinds of song birds- the jungle is noisy with different calls and cicadas that sound like dental drills. This songbird is a greater racket-tailed Drongo (thanks, Google!).

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I saw flying stick insects and countless butterflies and moths in yellows, oranges and iridescent blue.

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Lizards darted everywhere- skinks, little green ones that ran on their back legs, bouncy red brown ones.

And there were some crazy varieties of mushrooms! There’s a fungus among us…and it might outnumber us…

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Malaysians don’t seem to believe in switchbacks- to go up a mountain, you just go straight up. Sometimes they put in ropes to help you out.

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I did better at the ropes than the British man I ran into- he took one look at the down ropes and opted for sliding down on his butt instead.

At a waterfall I met two little frogs that got into a territorial battle with some fearsome back leg waving.

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The hike did have its downs- like when I slipped off a wet root and landed on a thick branch. Good thing I was wearing my long pants (a lesson from Australia and its heat-seeking leaches)- not a tear in the fabric, but it certainly stopped a worse injury.

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The bruise is now an oval the size of my hand, and it’s a good thing I like the color purple, since it will be with me for a while.

I finally saw my hornbill on Friday, but it’s not quite as majestic when it’s not free in the forest.

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Last adventure to this long post: orangutans! I went to the Semenggoh Natural Preserve, a 180 hectare preserve home to 27 apes (which seems fairly crowded, but it’s what space the government had).
I saw 4 apes having a morning snack. This one ate her way thru two bunches of bananas, a couple papaya, a pineapple.

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As she was munching, I suddenly saw a tiny arm flail- she was carrying a baby! She did an excellent job of protecting him (found out later it was a 3-week old boy) from the view of the observers, but we caught glimpses (in the crook of her arm).

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At the end of her meal, which she ate hanging by one arm, she climbed up a provided set up ropes to the canopy and swung away into the forest. They look pretty awkward on land, but up there, they are quite graceful.

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So the jungles of Borneo: hot, sweaty (I was soaked through), painful- totally worth it!!

Selamat datang!

Hello! I made it safely Sunday morning to the Malaysian city of Kuching, on the island of Borneo. Let me give you a rundown – Borneo by my numbers!

One full moon rise over Mount Santubong.

Somehow I warranted two large adjoining rooms, each with a spacious balcony overlooking the Pacific and the jungle, and three beds (2 queens, currently being used as closet space, and a king) – I need four or five friends to share this with!

Number of times I ate a noodle dish between leaving LA on Friday and arriving Sunday: six

There are seven peoples that live around Kuching: the Bidayuh, Iban, Penan, Orang Ulu, Melanau, Malay and Chinese. At the Sarawak Cultural Center, I saw traditional dances, long houses, and I tried my hand (or mouth) at the blow dart gun. I’m pretty good…

Eight geckos have been running around my patios and walls (and many more all over!), eating my mosquitos. These little guys, called chicha locally, make little chirps and are good luck, but I can’t help thinking, “What do you call a fried gecko?” Chicharones!

Nine has become my bedtime here, so I can get up early for jungle trekking (proboscis monkeys!). I’ll write more on that next time….
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Kick off!

At the end of the week (oh my gosh, it’s so close!) I grab my backpack and head for a two month adventure — Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Cambodia. 

Nervous? A little. 

All packed?  Not even close!

Excited? Bubbling over!  This promises to be an amazing voyage!