January 13th 1984

posted in: The way back | 0
The Cathedral guest-house

Woke up early – we’d been told to be at the airport by 8, which meant catching the bus out of town at 7.  So we packed our bags, said goodbye to the captain, owner, any crew that was about, +, most specially of all, to Bedu – I was right, we have both become very fond of him indeed, but there is no possible way that we can keep in touch.  We have promised to send him a copy of the picture of us arm wrestling, the only one that didn’t come out first time round, provided we can get some sort of recognisable print done – the negative looks dark, but not unrecognisable.  We then left the ship, +, waving furiously, we set off for the bus stop, with Harry as our guide – for this we were very grateful.  It appears that at least the Captain + owner were under the impression that we hadn’t enjoyed the trip.  This is unfortunate, since even tho’ it is far from the truth – we wouldn’t have missed coming on the trip for anything – it is almost impossible for us to correct that impression.

I hadn’t been looking forward to haggling for the bus, remembering other times when obtaining the proper fare to a destination had proved almost impossible, but this time it was very easy – we just walked up to the first bus, + that one was going to the airport.  He did ask us to pay an extra fare for our bags, but this was quite reasonable – they were taking up quite a space.  We’d already explained to Harry we would have to say goodbye at the bus stop, + I think that was the best arrangement for all concerned.  We were running our Indonesian money very close, + barely had enough for his return fare; our wait at the airport was either likely to be long + tedious, or we would clear customs + go thro’ to the departure lounge straight away – either way, Harry would have a long trip for little or no purpose; + finally, there had been some vague noises about reporting to the police, something we wanted to avoid if possible, + playing the dumb foreigners who didn’t understand would be easier without Harry along.  So we said goodbye to Harry there + then, or at least as soon as the driver had filled his bus + moved off.  I wasn’t as saddened to part from Harry, but seeing him go did mark the end of an era, + a happy one at that.The journey was uneventful, but we had hoped to see some sort of memorial marking the equator.  If our information about Pontianak’s position was strictly accurate, + if the road to the airport went due north, we would have crossed it.  We may have done at that… only there was no marker to the effect.

We were disturbed when we pulled up at a market town, everybody got out, + somebody shoved their head in the window to ask where we wanted to go.  Oh  no, we thought, not one of those trips.  It wasn’t tho’ – the guy was just being amiable, + soon enough we were  being chauffeured to the airport.  It was only a matter of a few hundred yards in any case.

The airport was pretty chaotic – we weren’t allowed in to the main part of the building, we had to transact our business with a guy at a desk outside… only he wasn’t there.  So while we were waiting, we had some breakfast – food wasn’t too expensive, + on any case, we had brought our own supplies.  Eventually, the bloke turned up, we found out exactly how much departure tax we had to pay – our last required expenditure – + then set about spending the rest of our rupiah, down to the last cent.  Yet even now, with our bags checked thro’, we weren’t allowed thro’ the door to complete customs + immigration, + then relax.  Eventually tho’, 2 nuns + 2 missionaries were able to sweet-talk their way in, + we tagged on behind.

Customs involved a body- search for both of us, but it was of such a cursory nature that they might as well not have bothered.  Immigration too required much time, but wasn’t difficult, + there was no mention of police.  Then a short wait before our flight was announced, precipitating a mad dash for the plane (there was no seat allocation) sitting on the tarmac 200 yards away.  One particularly fat Chinese family were determined to  be first aboard, nearly giving themselves a collective heart attack in the ferocity of their effort.  The flight was short, in a propeller plane – I’m sure it’s the first time we’ve travelled in one, tho’ Val insists otherwise.)  There was just time for an orange juice, or, in our case, 2 – we were descending again to Kuching, now, most definitely, in the Northern Hemisphere, + that must be a psychological landmark.

From the moment we arrived in Kuching, we were hit by surprise after surprise, all of them pleasant.  Wewak to Jayapura provided a similar contrast when we suddenly found ourselves plunged into Asia, but this was rather more marked, if anything.  The airport terminal bright, modern, clean, the people well-dressed, friendly, courteous (+ English-speaking), the system efficient.  The changes didn’t cease once we’d walked out thro’ the airport doors either.  There was not a single tout there trying to get our business – instead we found a well-equipped tourist information booth, which provided us with a small mountain of literature, + then strolled across the attractive grounds to the bus stop.

We decided to try to hitch while we were waiting, + tho’ we did get some very strange looks from most drivers, we also soon enough picked up a ride.  It was a Volvo – the cars too here seem much more expensive – driven by a Canadian working at the airport.  The traffic was heavy, so it was particularly friendly of him to drive us  beyond his own destination to ours, the Anglican Cathedral, which has a guest-house in which we want to stay.  We were dropped off at a shopping complex just across the road, so leaving Val to mind the bags, I popped across to try + sort out some accommodation.  The Cathedral was  modern + distinctly unimpressive, more resembling a parish church in Harlow New Town, but the old wooden buildings for administration + accommodation set up on the hill above it were very nice, + it was to one of these that I went to make enquiries.  It was, however, shut for lunch, so I returned to Val, + we killed some time perusing the stores – I discovered McVities Rich Tea biscuits, which I hadn’t expected to see again till our return – + then returned.

Here we received our first unpleasant shock in Sarawak, when we were informed that a double room would cost M$20, about 8 or 9 US, which was much more than we had anticipated.  We didn’t, however, have a lot of choice, so we took it, then hurried off to the bank.  Changed US$180, + then spent some time wandering round town, particularly, to please Val, the market area.  We indulged ourselves with various snacks, fruits, etc, + I also bought an English language paper.

Returned to the hotel to move our bags in – the room hadn’t been ready before – + realising it was likely to close soon, moved quickly to the National Park HQ in the Forestry Office.  We had decided to go straight to Bako NP, as accommodation was so expensive here.  We discovered that another party of 4 people was going on Sunday, the day after tomorrow, + as part of the trip involved hiring a long boat, + this would be cheaper with more people, we put our plans back a day, + booked for then.  The people in the Parks office were very helpful tho’, + we were looking forward to our trip.

We spent most of the evening in our room, sorting pout photos + documents to send home.  Fortunately the room itself was most pleasant, more like a big students’ room in some old English college, even down to desk + lamp.  Emerged from our task very ;late, + went out to find a meal.  Discovered tho’ that unlike Indonesia, Sarawak closes down rather than comes to life at night, + we spent half an hour wandering fruitlessly.  Since Val wasn’t really hungry anyway, we settled in the end for the fast food place, (“The Sugar Bun”) in the shopping complex, where I had cheeseburger + chips – suited me fine.  Home for Weetbix + milk for pudding.

Scarcely surprising that the captain and owner should have thought we had not enjoyed the trip; reading through my diary, it is certainly the impression we, or more particularly I, would have given. But Irepeat – it was a marvellous experience, even more so in retrospect. But it was sad to say goodbye, especially to Bedu, but the others too. However, now we were on ourn own again, having to find food, transport, accommodation for ourselves.

It was most encouraging that our arrival in Malaysia should bring us back to a place where hitch-hiking was a possibility again. And the other attractions of a more Western-attuned culture (not least the Rich Tea biscuits) are most welcome, even though it seemed it would mean a hefty price.


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