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Yilan, Taiwan
I'm a Social Studies teacher and single mom from Colorado and have lived here for 9 years. Taiwan is an excellent base for us explore Asia, while living in relative (gun free) safety, while benefiting from a cheap and efficient national health care system. The people are amazing too. I have friendships that are 14 years old and I'm always making new ones.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Back to Borneo: I let IS change my itinerary

Treetop Jungle Lodge, outside Miri
Its near to impossible to make travel plans  for Chinese New Year last minute. You'd be lucky to find an affordable flight, and the best accommodation will be booked. This requires careful planning and research months in advance. Knowing this I created my little central Javanese dream itinerary in October.

Unfortunately 2 weeks before my plane left to Jogjakarta,  IS bombed Jakarta (same island), targeting a Starbucks, killing a Canadian and six others. IS' Indonesian  leadership and support coincidentally comes from central Java (Solo) and some of their supporters are in the very cities I had planned to travel through (like Semerang).

If you know me, then you know I am not one to cower from an adventure. I volunteered teaching English in Sudan, spent a month in Kashmir and was caught in a middle of gun fire between a Pakistani separatist and Indian police. I traveled alone through Egypt for 5 months, India for 3. I (stupidly) hitched-hiked with a my friend from Barcelona to Amsterdam. And my daughter and I have traveled to Malaysia 5 or 6 times, Japan twice, Sumatra, Hong Kong and Thailand, which are safe enough places but its still no walk in the park traveling alone with a child, gender aside.

Niah Caves
 If I were alone I would so be on that plane to Java, but with my daughter, I am cautious. Traveling is my affirmation in the goodness of strangers and hopefully offering them an alternative (better) view of Americans, but I also want to be relaxed. The chances were nothing dire would of happened, we would have had another legendary exploit, but I didn't want to look at locals and suspect the worst. Maybe our taxi driver has an ISIS flag in his home or something.  ISIS also was targeting Borobudur, the 8th century Buddhist temple complex I simple had to see. Our hotel emailed me that they had stepped up security, and security at tourist places like Borobudur, but more men with guns  is hardly reassuring.

Treetop Home Stay, outside Miri. She caught 3 huge fish.

So I decided to return to Sarawak, but a different part. Sarawak is blessed with amazing national parks. There were a few on my list I still had to see and Miri was our logical base.We didn't stay in Miri the city, but 20 km south on the coast.  I probably could of axed 3 days in Miri, it didn't take long to explore the nearby region. In other words, we had a lot of non-connected to the outside world, jungle time; lounging in hammocks, fishing, lazily doing yoga or laundry. I got my adventure fix renting a standard car for 3 days of driving British style (opposite side of the road, driver sitting opposite side of the car) on the crazy roads of Borneo. People drove insanely fast and  passed one another by a hair's width. It was good bonding time with my daughter. The radio didn't work, so we talked and sang a lot.

Our home stay (Treetop Jungle Lodge) charged me 90 RM a day for using their car plus filling the tank. We stayed our first few nights in their deluxe double with hot shower (not that we needed it) and eventually migrated to the cheaper longhouse above the water. The expat Rhodesian owner, his wife and her sister made us feel well taken care of, which as I get older, I don't take for granted.

 My daughter didn't want to leave this place, and after 3 days on the road she was happy to return. There was not anything for her to do, which I suppose was the charm. Walking 10 minutes to the beach was the height of activity- if we even ventured that far. She caught 3 large fish, one Tilapia of which we ate and the other catfish I assumed they ate. My daughter was the only person to have ever caught anything and that place has been around for at least 15 years.

My first day with the car was a day trip to the nearby Lambir Hills National Park. It was kind of strange shifting gears with my left hand and the turn signals were on the opposite side too. After driving for a day I was confident I could do a longer road trip. It was empowering because my confidence in my driving was severely damaged after last years accident. We hiked to the waterfall which we had all to ourselves.

Lambir Hills National Park

The  Niah Caves were truly impressive. I was unprepared for the amount of walking and in hindsight should of brought more water. It was 3 km to the cave, after crossing a crocodile infested river (according to our boatman), 3 km back and I'd say 3-4 km exploring the caves.

 It was not an easy walk. The bat feces (guano) and dripping water made the pathway deathly slippery. Few tourists were inside, but one woman coming back slipped and just broke her wrist. She put the contorted bone in my face close to my flashlight so I could see it. Fortunately we met up with a Canadian woman at the ticket office and she  was an extra pair of helpful eyes, hands and light to help me with my kid from slipping into the abyss.  Nice single traveler, my age, we had some intimate chats, dinner and breakfast and I dropped her off at the bus stop the next morning.

What was exciting about this cave was we had already some experience caving in Sarawak, outside Kuching. The Fairy cave was quite magical. Niah was even more spectacular especially knowing that the oldest human skull (40,000 BC) in Asia was found here. They had it on display at the forgotten museum at the start of the trail. It was our mission to make it to the farthest cave, to see the cave paintings of burial boats that was disappearing from view. My daughter almost didn't make it, the wooden path was that greasy and perilous. Parts of the trek were in utter darkness, the handrails covered in bat shit. It was an experience to take to the grave. Literally we felt we were on a heroic journey to the Otherworld, the abyss. The ferryboat to the cave only added to this certainty. There were magic moments of coming out of the obscurity to see holes in the ceiling revealing the outer world, life, the rain forest piercing through. The camera could not completely replicate these moments of sunlight illuminating raindrops.

Painter's Cave: Burial ships
On our road trip we headed south to the Similajau National Park on the beach. Its located 4 hours south of Miri and 30 minutes north of Bintulu. We got lost on our way here and fortunately found it. It was weird checking in.Staff was on siesta so we had to wait at the gate office with a bunch of men for 2 hours and it felt uncomfortable being the only 2 females and foreign. Eventually I just we went to the cantina for some drinks and finished waiting there.

Similijau National Park

 The park is vast. The accommodation was at the beach with a bit of green, with trees and picnic tables separating the lodging from the beach. The sound of the waves was loud. There was absolutely no one but a group of men having a BBQ. So it felt kind of lonesome. We had a dorm room all to ourselves away from anyone and I didn't sleep well. A huge family of about 30 people checked into the dorm next to us around 9pm and it was reassuring to see women and children in the dark with their flashlights and laughter. It seemed so empty I found it unbelievable that all the beds were occupied for the weekend (which was the holiday Chinese New Year weekend.) Apparently we had the only remaining room for that night, yet the dorms and chalets between us and the cantina were like a ghost town. I assumed staff didn't want to clean those up. No one had swept our floor, but for 400 NT a night I wasn't complaining. We had running water and 4 comfortable beds and the sound of the ocean .

Similijau National Park

Eventually we left the security of Treetops and stayed our last night in Miri at a 3 star hotel (Mega Hotel) in the center of town which was a treat. They had a nice pool and across the street was an Indian restaurant. It was back to civilization. We hopped on a plane the next day to Kuala Lumpur and stayed at my friend's fancy condo with the most amazing views to the Petronas Towers. Sadly my friend had to bail back to the States to her mother's deathbed. so it was pensive and surreal sitting on her sofa, sleeping in her bed, enjoying her breathtaking view, texting each other and she wasn't there in person.

Our bedroom  window view
I had a plan of day trips we could do from KL that I still hadn't done on the several previous trips. The pools were so stunning and the condo such a luxury, my kid and I just vegged by the pool. She made friends with some of the kids and I could finish a book. After a few days we went to my other friend's apartment and pretty much did the same thing. She is leaving for Jordan in a couple of months so we definitely had to catch up while she was still in the SE Asian vicinity (a trip to Jordan is planned.)

We ate well in KL. Fancy juice shops, Indian and Middle Eastern, my kid and I had lamb for lunch and lamb for dinner. Ultimately my child grew bored of paradisaical swimming pools and perfect weather and when driving in our taxi back to Yilan  in pouring bitter rain and gloomy skies she was utterly happy to be back, she in fact missed the rain and cold. I on the other hand already missed the blue skies.

Beach, 10 min walk from Treetop Jungle Lodge

My Central Java Itinerary:

2/1- 2/3 Yogykarta  Phoenix Hotel (4,351 NT /Rp 1,936,000
 Mount Merapi for hiking and camping. Borobudur is a Buddhist stupa and temple complex in Central Java, Indonesia dating from the 8th century, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is one of world's truly great ancient monuments, the single largest Buddhist structure anywhere on earth, and few who visit fail to be taken by both the scale of place, and the remarkable attention to detail that went into the construction. Set as it is in the heart of the verdant Kedu Plain, the backdrop of mighty active volcanoes only enhances the sense of awe and drama. 

2/3-2/4 Semerang Hotel Candiview Semarang (1,292 NT/ 575,000Rp) 
Semarang It takes less than 2 hours to drive from Semarang to Yogyakarta. Solo is also only a one and half hour drive from Semarang. From Semarang and Yogyakarta you can go by tourist car/rent car with 7 seaters vehicle like Central Java Transporter, (+62/0) (thejavatransporter@gmail.com),  who operates the car to Dieng Plateau.

2/4- 2/8 Karimunjawa Cocohuts Hotel  (4046NT/ 1,800,000 Rp)
Mon 2/8 Return Ferry Karimunjawa to Jepara (Express 7am- 9am) Jepara to Semerang

2/8-2/12  Semerang to Purwokerto (5USD 5x daily, 5 hours via Nusantara) + Taxi (5USD) to Baturaden

 Green Valley Resort Batu Raden Purwokerto address: Jalan Raya Baturraden KM 8, 53151 Baturaden tell: (4091 NT/ 1,820,000 Rp) f

2/12-2/13 Yogykarta: DusunJogja Village Inn (2,000 NT)

2/14 Retrun to Taipei

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