In the last installment, I forgot to mention the coolest thing that we saw while spending time in the jungle. We were on an evening boat trip to find wildlife when we spotted a tree full of proboscis monkeys. One of them was awake, and when it saw/heard our boat approach it started making warning calls. Eventually it jumped from one side of the tree to the other, making many branches sway. This caused a reaction from all of the monkeys that were trying to sleep: they all at the same time groaned! It was so cool! It was exactly as you or I would react to being shaken awake at 3 am in the morning! :)
We weren't sure if it would be worth our time and effort to head to Brunei, the richest country in the world, but after having spent just one day in the capital, we were both pleased that we had made the effort. We left KK by boat early on the 15th (I think) and landed on a duty free island called Pulau Labuan where we bought a HUGE chocolate bar, hopped into a cab, took pictures of a futuristic-looking mosque, got back to the ferry terminal and got on the next boat that would bring us to Brunei. (very very hectic, less than 30 min for all the above, plus buying tickets at crowded booth)
In Brunei we were told that it would be difficult to find someone at the reception desk of the hostel we were staying in. Also note that Brunei is very much a Muslim country, so boys sleep on one side of the building and girls on the other! We got in ok, since there were other backpackers hanging out, and there we met a man named Madav, who is from Nepal (how excited was Meghan?!) who began biking from Nepal one year ago. Since then he has biked through India, Bangladesh, Burma, Thailand, Malaysia and now Brunei. And how much longer is he planning on biking? 9 more years! All in the name of peace for Nepal specifically and for the world in general. Meghan found a new hero. He conducts interviews and receives donations from fellow Nepalis who are living abroad. Hopefully he will bike through Montreal sometime in the next couple of years and a bunch of us can join him for a small portion of his trek! Incredible!!
Ok, so in Brunei there was lots to do and not so much time. Also, being such a rich country, we wanted to limit the amount of money spent since one US dollar is equal to 1.75 Bruneian dollars (pretty close compared to what we are used to!) So we ended up hiring a water taxi (aka boat) and taking a 30 min tour of the water village where about 30,000 people are living 'traditionally' (with their satelite tvs, aircons and multiple vehicles!) It was really neat to see mosques, schools and houses all balanced on stilts (some of them quite precariously) with boardwalks connecting them (with electrical posts and all!)
Next we headed to a large, beautiful mosque built by the Sultan of Brunei for 5 million US dollars. We walked around it taking pictures and deciding if Yehia should enter. Because it was around Eid, only Muslims could enter, so it was definetely out for Meghan. In the end, we waited for the sun to set behind the building and then video taped the call for prayer. We went to bed early that night knowing that the next couple of days were going to be long.
In the morning we woke up, had an argument and headed to the bus station where we caught a bus to the Sultan's palace (the Sultan of Brunei is the third richest man in the world). Here we walked up to the palace with hundreds of Bruneians and a couple of foreigners. We were separated into two groups (males and females), frisked and then led to a huge buffet station where we were served many kinds of meats. There was also rice. ;) After eating very quickly, we sat in different regions of the palace for over 1.5 hours, waiting to see the Sultan (Yehia) or the Queen and Princess (Meghan). Because we were limited in how much time we had to visit the palace, Yehia ended up just sitting for the whole visit while Meghan eventually stood up, packed herself into a massive line of woman and children (think mosh pit) and shuffled her way towards the Royalty. In the end, the Queen looked bored as anything (and it was only 11 am!) but perked up when she saw a sweaty young foreigner (did I mention that the line of woman and children was at least 10 people wide, while the men were single file?). She asked Meghan where she was from and if she was visiting on vacation. Making friends with Royalty! Reward for maltreatment for 3.5 hours was a goody bag (literally!) We were given chocolates, sweets, juice and mints...and a picture of the Sultan (looking young and perky!)
We caught the noon bus out of Brunei (Yehia still got a goody bag) and got to walk over the border back to Malaysia. There we caught another bus to a town called Miri where we hung out before catching the overnight bus (did I mention this was a travel day?!) that would bring us the 15 hours to Kuching, our last stop in Malaysian Borneo. It was actually a very comfortable bus ride, with huge padded fully reclining seats. We couldn't believe our luck! We both passed out and didn't really awaken until the sun came up the next morning.
So now we are in Kuching, relaxing and enjoying our last couple of days in Borneo.