How to worry your parents:

Step 1) Spend a few months in a foreign country by yourself
Step 2) Tell them you went to the hospital VIA your blog

With that intro, I have to start this off by saying there is/was nothing to worry about and I am fine. For added reassurance, if I really felt like I was in trouble or knew there was a problem I would let everybody know right away. I don’t deal well with uncertainty, but there were a couple days where I wasn’t sure just what was going on or what to expect.

After my first big diving day I felt fine, but woke up early the next morning to pee and when I returned to bed I was shaking quite a bit from a chill. I bundled up and warmed fairly quickly. I didn’t think much of it because I had been sleeping next to a window with a light blanket and persistent breeze. I had a hard time falling asleep and noticed a very slight chest pain…not enough to affect my breathing but it stood out as something unusual.

That morning I was feeling a bit weak and was hungry. I decided I’d give it some time to see if it would pass. Within a few hours it was noticeably worse. Although my dive profiles were looking good and I had no reason to believe there were any problems with diving, I have heard that decompression sickness (not very common) can happen unexpectedly. I didn’t necessarily think this was the issue, but being new to diving I was not sure how my body reacts to breathing underwater (I just got my certification here a few weeks ago…there will be an eventual blog about that). I could almost hear my mother’s voice saying “I really wish you would see someone to make sure everything is fine.” I found a local doctor and walked up to the counter. The young woman handed me a scrap of paper and a pen and said “Please write your name and age.” “That’s it?” I thought. I hung out in the waiting area which reminded me of my grandparent’s doctors office. Within about twenty minutes I was meeting with the doc who ran through a list of questions and was not very concerned about decompression illness. He did a general checkup and was surprised to find I was running a low fever (about 100-101 * Fahrenheit). He said rest for a day or two before diving again and gave me the following prescriptions: five day supply of antibiotic, three day supply of pain reliever and fever reducer. Total bill for the visit and prescriptions was RM 35.

Later that day the weakness really wiped me out. I booked the closest hotel I could find and at one point remember thinking “If there is an emergency, will I be able to move fast enough to get out?” On a side note, my brother and I semi-joke about “the ponch,” a mysterious and powerful reserve of energy that us Ritchie’s tend to possess. It is available to tap into during times of need. Without the paunch I probably would have been concerned, but even though I didn’t feel like it, I knew that if I had to get out of there I would have been able to. Before lying down I went to see the doctor again since my condition changed. I waited less than five minutes before being seen. He said I just need to rest for a day or two, and didn’t charge me anything for the return visit. I set my alarm for a few hours ahead and slept most of the day. I managed to eat half of a meal in the late afternoon, and thought about pets that tend to stop eating right before they die. Later at night I noticed the fever has responded to the medication and was feeling a bit better. I was thinking I might have been feeling so good that I would wake up the next day feeling fine.

I wasn’t back to normal the next morning, but my condition was definitely better. My chest was mostly cleared and I was still feeling weak but not completely worthless. Since I had absolutely nothing to do that day I decided I’d get a second opinion before diving again. If I wasn’t planning on getting in the water I think I’d just have waited it out…but I knew my mother would want a doctor to confirm I was fit to dive. After another “check in” and maybe a 20 minute wait the ‘dokter’ noticed I was still running a fever (I stopped taking the pills the night before because my temp responded quickly and had returned to normal before I went to bed). He was concerned about the fever because I didn’t have any other symptoms that would explain a high temperature. He was also concerned the chest pain could have been related to my heart, asked about family history, and hooked me up to an EKG machine that used suction cups instead of stickers to connect the sensors. I wondered if I was hooked up to “the Machine” and about to have the life sucked out of me like Westley in the pit of despair. The EKG was fine. He wrote a referral letter and sent me to the local hospital a few kilometers away. Total bill: RM 35.

I arrived to find the sign in disrepair. So many letters were missing that I don’t think I could have identified the building had it not been located at the end of the road. This did not inspire confidence. Inside I found a scene reminiscent of hospital images from decades ago. I walked a long hallway that had open areas off to either side, each holding six beds…like a big room with one wall open to the hallway and three beds on each side of the room. I couldn’t help but think “These people are really sick.” You could see it in their eyes, their skin, and if that wasn’t enough some were moaning in pain. It felt like I had entered the first level of hell. In reality, this is nothing more than a hospital without individualized rooms, and people are likely being taken care of to a good standard, but coming from my sterilized and rich American medical background this was somewhat discomforting. I came to the desk where my contact was working. I handed the letter to a Chinese man, I’d guess five years younger than me. He was very nice, but had long, thin, evil looking fingers. After reading the letter he looked at me and said they wanted to make sure there wasn’t anything wrong with my chest, and that they wanted to make sure there weren’t any problems with my blood (such as Malaria, which was what I was starting to think could have been the problem). With a big smile he went on to say that I would need to stay in the hospital for a couple of days because the blood work wouldn’t be ready until the morning. I laughed, though he made ‘a funny’ and said “You’re joking right?” He replied “No, we need to find out why you have a fever and you should need to stay here.” Was he messing with me because I was a white guy? There was no freaking way I was going to stay in this hospital any longer than I had to, and I definitely was not sick enough that I needed to stay. I had walked here after all, and quickly negotiated the phone number to call in case I was not able to get out of bed in the morning.

The first order of business was having an x-ray taken of my chest. From the time I walked in the front door until the time the x-ray was taken could not have been longer than fifteen minutes. It was similar to any x-ray that I have had maybe ten years ago. I was then told the nurse will take some of my blood, and just a minute later she arrived. I had imagined the nurse to be a large, scary looking woman with really bad teeth, crazy eyes, and an ugly smile, manhandling my arm and retrieving blood using an outdated syringe. Instead, it was a cute Malaysian with a nice sterile cart and packaged syringes and needles (I don’t know if I’d have allowed it any other way). I’m surprised to say it, but it was the best blood draw I think I’ve ever had. She was gentle, careful, and there were practically no signs of bruising post-poke. I asked if I needed to pay, and the doc said we would square up when I returned in the AM for the results. I got the hell out of there. Later that night while lying in bed I asked myself what could be wrong with me.

The next morning I woke up and peed…then just a few minutes later peed clear…I thought “Could all this be from dehydration?” I made the trek back to the hospital. I walked up to the desk feeling very good, and thinking that everything was going to come back fine. My confidence wained when he said, “Let’s sit down over there to go over your results.” I wondered “Does this mean there is something wrong. Malaria!? It comes in waves…” He sat down next to me and said “Your chest x-ray looks good, and your blood is fine.” Holding a stack of papers he explains that my ‘X,Y, and Z’ blood tests all look good (there had to be a dozen tests that were performed…electrolytes, malaria, dengue fever, and more). He then said “I think you were just dehydrated, and that you will be fine.” Ok, a confirmed self-diagnosis is definitely a plus, but I couldn’t believe that I did not have headaches through any of it! I often have a headache with only mild dehydration, but here I’m badly dehydrated with no headache. I asked how much the bill was, and he says “There is no charge, maybe next time.” I seriously choked up for a second. Here I am, ‘the rich white man’ coming to the hospital, being treated, and not getting wrenched financially. Not only would I have had masses of paperwork, long waiting times, and a bunch of hoops to jump through, this same visit in America would have probably cost more than the total expenses for my entire trip to Malaysia.

So what’s the tally for all this? Let’s see what was included first:
– Three visits to the doctor that included two evaluations
– Visit to hospital
– Three prescriptions
– EKG test and evaluation of results
– Chest x-ray
– About a dozen blood tests
– Review of results with physician
GRAND TOTAL FOR EVERYTHING: RM 70 (about $22 USD)

Adding up total time spent for all visits (that’s from the time I walked in the front door until the time I walked out) could not have been longer than two and a half hours…that’s for everything. So much for the fears I’ve had surrounding foreign hospitals. This was as good as the treatment my Grandmother used to give me when her office was the first floor of my house. I don’t know that I’d want to be here for any serious complication or condition, but for all that I had done it was great.

Feeling great physically, and with solid reassurance that I am healthy, it’s off to the dive shop. Later that day I am diving in paradise. So what of the chest pain? After my next dive I noticed the regulator (thing you put in your mouth to breathe) was dry…there must have been a slight leak in the last regulator I used! I probably breathed in a few drops of saltwater.

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A Balinese BBQ

(NOTE: This was an older experience from about a month ago that I thought would be good to share. I’m realizing every day that I’ll have a lot of updates to make even after I get home!).

I wrestled a lot with the title of this entry. It’s controversial, it’s probably going to upset someone, but it is in no way meant to be disrespectful or take away from the significance of such an important event. To say the unthinkable, I really believe that an cremation ceremony in Bali is a lot like an American BBQ. Granted, one is sacred and deeply meaningful while another is insignificant, but aside from a few very obvious differences the atmosphere is fairly similar.

In order to really appreciate a Balinese cremation it is important to understand that they see the body as a vessel for the soul, and that it is important for the soul to understand that life has ended, and that it is time to exit the body. If the process is not completed (say, in cases where someone dies and the body is not properly cremated…like when a body cannot be identified and reunited with it’s family), then the soul may not understand the body has died, and may walk the earth as a confused or troubled spirit (ie, a ghost). Burning the body is significant for the living to gather with a loved one, and for the dead to understand that their physical life has ended.

It is worth mentioning that for financial and spiritual reasons the cremation may happen months, or even years after death. The cremation has two major parts. The first (Which I did not witness) is actually an event where two ‘bodies’ are brought to the ceremony. The first ‘body’ is decorated, carried by many people, looks like a big deal, and is completely fake. This is done to distract evil spirits who may try to steal the soul. The carrier for the second (real) body is dull, boring, and brought to the ceremony while the bad guys are being diverted. The second part of the ceremony is the actual burning. I arrived during this process. I will not make any uncouth comparisons between grill meat and a body being cremated, but this is the part that feels like a BBQ.

The deceased man was older, married, and apparently had lived a good life with many friends. I was a bit apprehensive when first invited. After a little coaxing I decided that I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to see such a unique event. I donned traditional garb (yes, I wore one of those dress things…it’s called a sarong) and we walked into the ceremony. My host knew a few people there and we were quickly invited to sit down. We sat on the ground among a group of mostly men, smiling, laughing, and happy to have new company arrive. A traditional http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamelan band was playing music (Side note: Each village has it’s own Gamelan, and all the instruments are painted in a specific way so you can tell what village they come from). I had heard Gamelan many places during my time in Indonesia, but the music being played here was different, and I enjoyed it far more than any other on the island. It was cheerful. I was told these songs are traditionally only played during cremations, and have the purpose of letting the soul know what was happening.

In death, grief is inevitable. However, in Bali the living do not dwell. Instead, they celebrate the life and death of the deceased. They believe that the soul will now be with the people. How do you like to see your friends? Sad and crying for something that could not be changed, or happy to be in your presence? Aside from the flames, this seems like a big happy get together. When you realize that this type of event is fairly expensive for those involved, it is not a common occurrence. As much as I could host a BBQ every weekend, finding a time to gather can be difficult. These people are too busy working, raising their family, and doing whatever they can to better their lives. Here, a cremation is not a time for morning, it is an opportunity to share joy among friends.

I brought my camera with me but did not feel comfortable taking pictures until someone asked if I wanted to (note: of course, I thought these were some of the best pictures from the entire trip…and these were some that were lost!). Even though I was assured that it was alright, I still took a translator to ask permission from and thank the immediate family. I snapped a few quick pictures, but the short version is that I saw something very similar to this scene (although I would guess the people shown here are more tired than sad):
http://www.panoramas.dk/fullscreen6/f28-bali-funeral.html
Using that picture as a reference, I’d like to highlight a few interesting features. For starters, people are generally standing around like nothing special is happening. The family sits with an offering (not pictured). One important thing that you don’t see here is that the men closest to the departed (and maybe women if a woman…didn’t think to ask), take turns repositioning the body while it is burning. The process does not appear to be formal in any way and may be optional. I was told is was one last time to be close to the person who died.

Personally, I didn’t feel comfortable being close…but not because it was a dead body. The accelerant is what scared me. Towards the right of the picture above you will see a tank of fuel, with a hose coming off of it, connected to a metal pipe. At the end of the pipe is some sort of connection that causes the flames to rush into the cremation cavity with a roar similar to one of those industrial space heaters that building contractors tend to use during the winter. It wasn’t very reassuring to see wet rags periodically being draped over the pipes, I’m assuming to cool them. I realized if one of these thing exploded and injured or killed people in America that it would be all over the news…but I wasn’t sure that news would spread about such a tragedy here. This cremation also had two of these devices facing each other, one on each end. I was happy to be sitting very far away from this bad idea.

When it comes to making friends fast, being the only white guy helps. My host smiles, gives me a mischievous and exited look, and says “They are offering you Arrack, you want to try it?” It is a liquor made from palm, and the short version is that it’s Indonesian moonshine. I see a man (who I later found out was the same age as me) cutting off the corner of a plastic bag, pouring the clear liquid into a cup, and diluting it with water. The taste was surprisingly not completely horrible. Not great, but not so bad that I would suggest it as a paint thinner. There is only one cup, and this process repeats until it is my turn again. They love that I’m there, love that I’m sharing this experience with them, and want to see me drink like an Asian guy at a frat party…after all, I am the white guy at an Asian party. I took a few minutes to take in the situation…decided that sharing a cup wasn’t a great idea (although it was shot and not sipped), that drinking homemade anything wasn’t a great idea, and while giving in I made a rough guess at how much alcohol I was actually consuming. I know some of you might be disappointed, but I drew the line before I had a chance to really get drunk. It’s safe to say I made a few friends that day.

For an hour or so I interacted with the locals during this special ceremony. A highlight was a local funny man who would make silly faces, gestures, and randomly start clucking like a chicken or crowing like a rooster (it was amazing, you literally could not tell the difference between him and the real thing). His antics were constantly followed by a roar of laugher and appreciation. I won’t deny having thought watching a body burn might be like watching a train wreck, but it was not vulgar, graphic, disgusting, or hard to watch in any way. Viewing this strictly through Western eyes might have been a bit troubling. However, understanding the meaning and background of what was happening made it completely acceptable. It was a beautiful thing that I am fortunate to have been a part of.

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Maliau Basin – Quick Update

I have so much to write! Not just about Maliau Basin, but other things as well. Eventually I will slow down enough to put together some good details, but for the time being I’m sorry I can’t offer much! I have a couple of hours before my bus leaves Tawau so I thought I’d scratch out a few thoughts on Maliau…

I am surprised to report that the experience was bittersweet. Although I am glad I went and ultimately found a lot to appreciate, I still felt like I was on the tourist trail. More than that, commercialization, political influences, and financial gain clearly have a stranglehold on this area. I will elaborate in future posts, but here are some quick examples:

1) The name of the first building you encounter is “Shell Maliau Basin Reception and Information Building.” I was thinking shell like surrounding…but this is shell like a seashell…the logo for Shell, the “energy and petrochemical” giant. I am unsure of what their interest is here…but it smells fishy.

2) The first night was spent in the Maliau Basin Study Center. I pictured a rough place for scientists to study things…instead it was an elaborate wooden compound that was fairly massive…enough to house more people than I think should ever need to stay here (even had a clearing for a soccer field). Either they have future plans for a huge on-site research facility, or they have inclinations to host retreats for big companies that donated lots of money to conserve this area.

3) Ikea’s name is all over the place…usually on stumps of trees that had been cut down to build whatever project they were happy to be a part of. One neat thing was an observation tower. From the tower I could clearly see the difference between primary (never logged) forest and selective cutting. I was a bit taken back when I learned that the selective cutting was for trees that were used to build the study center.

The above are not all bad, and the irony is that the influence of these companies is also probably what has kept this area from being destroyed. The surrounding lands are first logged then used for agriculture, mostly owned by the government or Chinese companies. The government’s attitude is “Do you want monkeys or gold?” so you can see they don’t have much interest in conservation.

The whole experience was not as rugged as I had hoped. Don’t get me wrong…it was remote and wild wilderness, but I still felt like I was following a tourist trail (even though I was one of only eight people in the five-hundred-and-eighty-eight square kilometer basin). Of the others who joined me, there were two lawyers, a social worker, and a business owner. I was stung, bitten, and sucked by leeches, spiders, bees, and mosquitoes.

Internet shop is shutting down…I have a lot more to write about this incredible place…

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Borne-o-so-good

Borneo is known as the “Land below the wind” (named because it is located just south of the typhoon belt). Since that’s the only ‘fun fact’ I have at the moment, let’s get right to it…

I came here pretty much on a whim. Even just a week ago in Singapore I had no doubt that the prudent thing to do was go home with a reasonable amount of cash so I could comfortably ease back into the ‘real world.’ However, while sorting things out in I asked the question which has been driving this whole thing from the start: “What will I regret not doing in ten years?”

At first I wasn’t sure what the answer was, but “go home” dropped to the bottom of the list faster than “Girl You Know it’s True” when Milli Vanilli was caught lip-syncing. It wasn’t long before Borneo emerged as my only real option. Flights were cheap, the cost of living was cheap, and it is a land filled with a bounty of natural treasures (unfortunately not cheap…but worth paying for). To be honest, I want to write that it’s terrible here, that it’s a waste of time, and that nobody should ever bother trying to get to Borneo. In reality, I find myself simply not wanting this land to change. I have seen what happens to beautiful places when they are ‘discovered’ (ie, Kuta in Bali) and I don’t want that to ever happen to Sabah. I have only spent a couple of days outside of the biggest city in the region, but even KK and surrounding area feels very livable (although the guidebook writers don’t feel the same way). Maybe the respite provided after Indonesia is artificially inflating how nice this city actually is…but that’s not why I’m here. The attractions found far away are what I am looking for.

You may ask how can I get away with talking so highly of Borneo when I have hardly seen any of it. In my first few days here I have met a few memorable locals (details on interactions are coming), seen raw and rough mountains, passed through wild stretches of jungle, and walked postcard-picture-perfect beaches that were either completely undeveloped or flat out deserted. More than that, I can really only claim that I have seen enough to know that I am without a doubt just scratching the surface of something spectacular. From time to time I think everyone finds places they truly fall in love with…that doesn’t mean anyone else will. For me this is also much bigger than the land itself.

I have been claiming throughout this blog that I was on an adventure; Borneo is my affirmation and evidence that I am an adventurer. For as long as I can remember I have had something within that begs for bigger things. When young, the absolute highlight of getting sick was being able to watch an hour of Jacques Cousteau aboard Calypso. Tivo could have enabled me to be a healthier child. I joined Boy Scouts to learn how to survive in the outdoors (Speaking of surviving, the original “Survivor” TV Show was shot a short boat ride away…). My life experiences are peppered with adventure. An ex-girlfriend (now a good friend) suggested that I write a book about how to survive anything, because she believed I could. My poor parents, for having to raise this free spirit! I now live in Colorado because the Rockies are one of the most outdoor oriented locales in the entire USA. However, over the last few years I have softened. I let go of the idea that I could discover new things, and accepted that my fate was tied to whatever could be accomplished outside of a nine-to-five job. With my realization in Singapore that Borneo was actually at my fingertips, all the years spent putting dreams on the back burner were undone. Memories of being wide-eyed at the wonders of the world during my youth are now flooding back to me; I am seeing places I had once wanted to see. I remember sitting on my Grandparents couch, reading a National Geographic and thinking “I want to go there.” Experiences that I allowed myself to believe were out of reach are now sitting atop a red hot burner on the maximum setting. The lid has been forced away from the rim of the pot and the contents are bubbling over.

Reassurance for Mom and Dad: I have not gone off the deep end. A job and returning to ‘normal life’ is still in my future (the very near future looking at my bank account). I just need a little ‘Dan time’ first, and I will shamelessly indulge.

I was recently asked “If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be?” I responded (while thinking I’d never actually ever go there) that I had heard of a remote place only discovered a few decades ago and exists as it did thousands of years ago…but I didn’t know where it was located or what it was called. I know now: it is in the Malaysian Borneo state of Sabah, and it is called Maliau Basin. The first humans ever known to enter the area arrived after I was born and the Basin walls have protected it from any outside influence. About the size of Singapore, only about twenty percent of it has been explored over the last twenty eight years. It’s a good thing I am a ‘half-full’ kind of guy…I am currently waiting on final confirmation that I have secured a spot on a five day trek.

My computer background at work was a small sailboat on a deserted island surrounded by clear blue waters. I told myself that was the reason I punched my ticket each day. Now I actually have the chance to drink from the coconuts hanging on ‘those’ palm trees while my toes soak in ‘that’ water, and I will (Note: rumors are that the “Azul” island is a fake…but the nearest real counterpart will do).

Tomorrow I start training to become certified for open water scuba diving. Jacques Cousteau rated Sipadan as one of the top five dive spots in the world…the jumping off point for the island is just a bus ride away. Once again, I’m running on optimism that I may be able to secure a rare last-minute space on a dive there.

The list goes on, but those are definitely the highlights. In short, a lifetime of yearning has culminated. I am here. It is time. I will live as I have only dreamt was possible. Cue the daring theme song. I am Daniel Ritchie, and my adventure begins today.

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Quick update…

… so everyone knows I’m alive and well.

I will post more thoughts about my first impressions of Borneo soon, but the short versions is that I am really enjoying it here.

The plan is to spend the next few days in Kota Kinabalu getting my diving certification. KK as it’s known, is pretty much the main city of Sabah. I was here for the first couple days trying to line up an open water diving course, but held off because I saved myself about $75 going in on the deal with a group (just about everything here is geared towards couples, or at least is significantly more expensive as an individual).

To kill a few days time I took the suggestions of a local and headed north to Kudat. I was going to the island of Pulau Banggi but after traveling about 200km (and spending the night in a small town along the way) I arrived to find that the one boat to the island was having engine trouble for the second day in a row and was not going anywhere…what a bummer. I decided to just head back to KK and will check out a massive market that they have here on Sundays.

After I become certified to dive I will head to the north coast for a variety of things (caves, rainforest, orang utangs, etc.) and hopefully Sipadan for diving if I can weasel my way into an open spot. I also may have a line on a way into Maliau Basin so more to come on that as well. However it works out, no doubt that Borneo will be awesome (already have a story or two that I will share soon).

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Rock and Roll Hippies

If it wasn’t already clear, my Mom is a hippy and it is great. She plays a flute like no other. I love music in general, and the soft notes she plays have always been like warm milk for the soul (I have to give credit to Laura Goldhamer for originally suggesting that music for your ears can be like warm milk). Now, the sound resonates in a way that is especially easy to appreciate while I am in a foreign place. Maybe she will read this and provide a flute track that I can add to the blog (ahem, cough, cough).

Does anyone else have anything I should post? I don’t care what it is…if I think it’s good for the blog then I’ll post it.

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It’s pronounced “poo get”

So I’ve heard a few good things about Phuket. The beaches look beautiful, Thailand is cheap, and the flight is only about $60 USD to get there. Maybe I’ll stay for just a week before heading home. Looking back to Indonesia (and this whole trip so far) I’m starting to wonder if heading to a new destination with no real time limit is something like just eating one pistachio…do you have to stay longer than you plan for? I guess we’ll find out.

After looking into the resort destination, I started to realize it’s not exactly what I’m looking for. The beaches are beautiful, but that has drawn way to much tourism for anyone’s good. Although there are some gems around the area, generally speaking you have to fight your way through a lot of concrete misery to get there. And, it’s rainy sesason which can muck up the water and even make it unsafe. So what next? I do what should have been obvious and ask every fellow traveler who is willing to talk to me.

You know the first time you realized that post-it notes are taking over the world, and you thought “Why didn’t I think of that idea sooner?” That’s about what I felt like when someone suggested Borneo. Talking about checking off serious items on my ultimate to do list. I think Lonely Planet does a stellar job of explaining why the area I chose is so appealing:

“Malaysia’s state of Sabah proves that there is a God, and we’re pretty sure he’s some type of mad-scientist. Sabah was his giant test tube ” … “He thought: what would happen if I took an island, covered it with impenetrable jungle, tossed in an arc’s worth of animals, and turned the temperature up to a sweltering 40 degrees celcius (104 degrees farenheight)? The result is a tropical Eden with prancing mega-fauna and plenty of fruit bearing trees.”

Forget lions, tigers, and bears. This place has leapords, snakes, and elephants. Since I don’t have anyone with me who needs to plug in a hairdryer the potential for this type of adventure is tempting (nothing sexist here…there are plenty of women who don’t need hairdryers, and men that do). It’s a big scary place, but those thoughts produced a smile when I asked myself the question “What will I regret not doing in ten years?” So phuket, I’m leaving today at 5pm to go to Borneo. One of the great things about this place is that the best areas are highly protected…and hard (if not impossible) to get into without advance planning. I’ve sent my emails begging pretty pretty please for access to the ultimate: Maliau Basin. I’m hoping that “planets aligning” thing that has existed through much of this trip can somehow come through once again to make this happen. (EDIT: It sounds possible…but very expensive…maybe since it is so well protected I can feel good about coming back later in life). One thing is for sure: this place can offer the adventures I have been dreaming about for most of my life. I really have no idea what to expect other than the absolute knowledge that I will be awestruck. The plan is loosely to head to Sandakan for the islands, orangutangs, jungle, and caves. Then to Semporna to check out a coral reef that runs to about 30 feet deep and suddenly drops vertically to 2,000 feet deep. After that I am really hoping for the Maliau Basin but might have to concede to something else like Headhunders Trail and the Pinnacles. Another bonus about being here: I don’t exactly speak like I’m from Bali or Indo, but while in Singapore I thought about the little words and phrases that I would have to learn all over in a new place…not in Malaysia. Bahasa Indonesian and Bahasa Mayasian are very similar and there are only a couple Balinese words that I’m going to have to give up.

Who knows what I’ll actually get to do while I’m here, but the goodies I mentioned will be the moon I’m shooting for. Wish me luck!

Dear forest.sabah.gov.my, Thank you for the pretty picture of this remote landscape in Sabah.

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Singapore feels like home

As the plane was landing I was looking out over southern Malaysia (it is connected to Singapore by a short bridge). I noticed an island and realized it was Palau Ubin – where we had visited the Chek Jawa wetlands the last time we were here. I saw the small village that you walk into when you arrive on the island, and a pier that I stood on when I thought about how nice the ocean air smells (and also read that this island and two other smaller ones were supposedly formed when an elephant, a pig, and a mouse failed in crossing the channel). I also noticed some water on the island that might be worth revisiting. A few seconds later I recognized the terminal where we took the ferry to the island. Sure it’s not home, but it’s the first thing I have seen in a month that was part of my past.

Thinking I might enjoy more familiarity I went back to the InnCrowd. The scooter tour guide was working the desk. “Ah, back again I see” he said. Of course he didn’t remember my name, but it was still nice. All the people staying here are different, but the hostel atmosphere is still the same. A hundred beds filled with people from who knows where doing who knows what. The last time I was here I felt like I was surrounded by others more experienced than I was. Now I feel like I have some stories to swap. I am no longer a deer in the headlights, but instead a peer (regardless of age). Don’t get me wrong, I’m not delusional in thinking a month in a new land has given me some grand perspective or all the keys to traveling. Instead, I have realized that I am one within a diverse crowd. A girl arrived with two large suitcases, made lots of noise in the dorms when talking to her friends, and at almost midnight last night decided that she would blowdry her hair…safe to say I had a big head start on her even before I arrived the first time. Then there is a guy who has been traveling nonstop for the last five years…well, I have at least four years and ten months to go. However, as happens with a standard distribution the majority of the people are like me. Maybe this is not thier first big adventure, but almost everyone here is new to whatever it is that they are doing. I am not suggesting that you can easily rank the value of an individuals travel, but I see now that at the end of the day we are all fish out of water.

Speaking of water, I know I’m doing things right when a hot shower feels new and wonderful. I can’t remember any time in the last month that I felt water hotter than warmth the sun was able to provide. It was so hot I could burn myself if I wasn’t careful! Who knew that previously familiar things would now seem foreign.

A few days to collect myself are in order. I need to try and fix my computer, get back in touch with the real world (I haven’t even checked my voicemail for six weeks), and make a decision on what comes next. My options range from staying here for a bit, to heading straight home (or at least working my way back), or exporing another country. I don’t exactly have a lot of money for all of this, but with Indo being the first stop and so cheap I really could just live without considering my funds. Now however, things are changing…travel is not exactly expensive when you are eating nasi goreng for $0.70 a plate, and it is possible to find cheap lodging. The problem is getting to these places, transportation once you are there, doing cool stuff that may cost extra, and the seemingly unavoidable hemorrhaging of money that occurs while you are getting a feel for a new land. Now I have to do that by myself, which means none of the costs will be diluted. Of course, that is all on top of the sneaky ATM fees and things like unexpected airport charges and other ‘white taxes’ that invariably leech the dollars away. Not to mention, there is my real life waiting to pounce from the shadows of this tour. I want to keep my distance, but I know it will get me eventually. At some point I’ll have to get another one of those job things and punch my ticket like everyone else…but now that I am here I really just don’t want to do that quite yet. Can you blame me?

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31 days in Indonesia

I can’t believe it has been over a month since we arrived at Denpasar airport. The first two weeks are pretty well documented, but I have not had much to say about the last two. Well…I spent every night in Pemuteran. I specifically fell in love with all aspects of Bali Oase Resort. The location on the beach, it’s relative remoteness and feeling of getting away, the grounds, and most importantly the people who keep the wheels turning. I also have a few blogs to write about my time there. A preview includes: Hindu ceremonies at local temples, witnessing a cremation, beaches, snorkeling, etc. (all the things we dream about during our dayjobs), and what it was like to be stung by a scorpion.

It’s all coming I promise! I will try to date the posts so they show up in the past, but they should be new and complete by the time they are posted. I have to warn you though…one of those fancy machines at the Denpasar airport killed my camera…and I lost all pictures over the last ten days…some of the best pictures I’ve ever taken. It is a shame that I won’t be able to share the pictures, but I promise to work that much harder to use imagery in my writing.

So why this lame summary? Time waits for no man and I am already onto my next adventure…

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Blog Format Change…

Posting based on location worked when I was bouncing around from place to place, but now that I have spent the last two weeks in Pemuteran it makes more sense to change to shorter posts (also, going back to narrate can be a pain while traveling). I won’t make any promises but will try to post something new every few days.

My Indo visa runs out soon so I’m heading back to Singapore on Aug 1st. Plans after that are still to be determined…

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