May 2015 - January 2016
Malaysia (Peninsular & Borneo), Brunei Darussalam
Written by Alene in Japan, March 2017
“Happiness cannot be
traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed.
Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute
with love, grace, and gratitude."
~ Dennis Waitley
“I never lose sight of the
fact that just being is fun.”
~ Katharine Hepburn
It’s not that we were entirely miserable while doing boat work in Thailand (well, okay, we were pretty unhappy a lot of the time, to be truthful), but now that we are back in the water & sailing again, we have so many reasons to be happy. I am alive & well (this is ADR writing, here to tell you how happy I am to be alive), the long two years of boatwork in Thailand is behind us, now we are cruising again, & we are elated each & every day to have each other. Sappy, I know, but a flirt with death can make one sentimental sometimes. (If you are unaware what I’m talking about, refer to Migrations 23.)
We were both very excited to finally be heading to Borneo, which we didn’t get to see on our way north through Asian waters in 2014. Having heard about Borneo most of our lives--The Wild Man of Borneo comes to mind--we weren’t sure what to expect, but first we had some miles to sail down the peninsula of Malaysia & across the South China Sea….
Sailing south in the Strait of Malacca.
On our way back south through the Strait of Malacca, our first stop was Kuah, in Langkawi, Malaysia, where we stayed for almost a month getting canvas work done & completing some other boat projects.
Calm weather in Kuah allowed us to get some exercise rowing to shore.
We congratulated our friends Phil & Astrid, whom we originally met at Stewart Island in NZ, on their marriage. They had recently set up a sail loft in Kuah, so we put them to work.
A new mainsail for Migration!
We attended an awesome aircraft exhibit & air show in Langkawi together.
A 70th BIRTHDAY PARTY
We originally met s/v Mojo, a South African family of four, in Niue in 2010. Enya of s/v Mojo was turning 18 in June, & I was turning 52, so together we celebrated our 70th birthday, complete with a 70’s theme.
Enya, Mia, & Ondene of s/v Mojo spent the whole weekend aboard Migration. We had a fabulous time together partying, doing cartwheels, singing, & sending khom loi lanterns into the sky .
After a brief visit home to Ohio to see my family (particularly my aging father), we sailed further south, stopping at the charming old city of Penang in Malaysia.
Migration is barely visible in the busy waterways of Penang.
Penang has beautiful temples, lovely flowers, monkeys, & interesting street art everywhere.
The Strait of Malacca has a fascinating variety of fishing boats.
Heading further south along the west coast of peninsular Malaysia, our next stop was Port Dickson where we took our friend Nicole & her parents for a sail. Here’s my journal entry for that day:
Nicole & her family join us for a sail on Migration.
After rounding Singapore, we met Steve, Shirley & Eliot Jensen on the east coast of peninsular Malaysia & spent time at and around Tioman Island. The country of Malaysia is comprised of two parts — the peninsula portion south of Thailand, plus much of the northwestern coast of the island of Borneo, which has only two states: Sarawak & Sabah. The southern and eastern portion of Borneo belongs to Indonesia.
The Jensen family visits us at Tioman Island.
While the Jensens stayed in Tioman for Eliot to get an advanced dive certification, we crossed the South China Sea to the northwestern coast of Borneo. It was the first time we’d done any open water sailing in nearly 4 years!
The Jensens eventually re-joined us, & together we attended the Rainforest World Music Festival near Kuching in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo. For three days we heard diverse musical groups from around the globe, attended music workshops, viewed cultural displays, & tried indigenous foods.
The Rainforest Music Festival — what a great event!
The Jensens aboard Migration with Mount Santubong in the background.
ARE WE IN BORNEO YET?
Here’s how you know you’re in Borneo:
Crocodiles swimming next to the boat….
Lots of interesting bugs....
(Would you like to see more bugs? There are some really cool bugs in Borneo!)
Because the island of Borneo is one of only a handful of places in the world where one can still see orangutans living in the wild, we took advantage of being there & went to see them several times. Here’s a journal entry from one of my visits to Semenggoh National Park:
A great sign in the facilities at Semenggoh National Park.
With friends Patrick & Rebecca of s/v Brick House, we joined in a local river rafting safari race with hundreds of other entrants, but only a couple of other foreigners. The Malaysians were very welcoming & encouraging. We didn’t win by a long shot, but it was a fun day on the river.
The river was muddy, but at least it wasn’t cold!
We were anchored together with s/v Brick House in a very peaceful part of the Santubong River right under Mt. Santubong, which called to us to climb to its peak; so early one day, together with Patrick, we ascended the steep slopes through beautiful jungle. There were hand-made ladders in the steepest areas to assist us, but it was still an arduous & hot climb.
En route, we were rewarded with a nice view of our boats at anchor in the river before clouds obscured the vista.
Borneo was a big surprise to us. Envisioning jungle & very little development, we were amazed to discover thriving metropolitan areas, shopping malls, & state-of-the-art cinemas with first-run films, which provided welcome respite from the heat & humidity.
A shopping mall in Borneo decorated for Christmas.
Kuching means ‘cat’ in Malaysian. The city of Kuching is very proud of its name, & even has a cat museum with kitty kitsch of every imaginable variety. It was surprisingly interesting!
The entrance to the cat museum.
There are cat statues all over the city. Some of them are a little scary.
MONKEYS & MORE
There are many wonderful national parks in Borneo, some right on the coast that we could sail to.
Migration anchored off of Bako National Park.
At Bako National Park, we saw proboscis monkeys for the first time.
The wild boars were prepared for an emergency.
The long-tailed macaque monkeys were cute until they began stealing our food!
We saw a lot of the local life of Borneo during our travels north along the coast.
UP THE RAJANG RIVER
We wanted to see some of the interior of Borneo as well, so despite our brand new topside paint, we headed up the Rajang River to explore the jungle river environment. It was hard on the boat because the strong currents brought big logs, plants, garbage, & other debris into contact with our hulls on a regular basis, but it was completely worth it for the incredible experiences we had during our 3 weeks up the river.
Migration anchored in the Rajang River.
Malaysians of Chinese descent keep swallow houses, often found along the banks of the river, where they can harvest the nests more easily than hunting for them in caves. To attract the swallows, they play recordings of swallow song at ear-splitting volume that can be heard from a quarter of a mile away.
We were careful to not anchor in the vicinity of swallow houses
whenever possible, since the song is broadcast 24 hours.
Local river transport is of a very unusual design on the Rajang.
Longhouse communities are a common sighting along the river banks.
A TRIBAL EXPERIENCE
We had read about a longhouse community which had been visited by another cruiser, & we were intrigued, so we made our way there & anchored in the narrow tributary within sight of the longhouse.
Landing at the longhouse dock together with the locals’ boats.
A fisherman led us up the long boardwalk through the out-of-season rice paddies to the longhouse where we were greeted by Sap, the headman, who showed us photos of previous visitors.
Our first visit to a longhouse.
A longhouse is precisely that: one long house with dwellings for many people. It is built on stilts.
One enters the building via steps up to the long outside veranda (tanju), which is also where the rice (padi) is dried and other outdoor activities take place. Then there is a covered public corridor where domestic work is done, social gatherings take place, & where children often play. Behind this are multiple private units, called bilik, with a single door for each family. There is a communal storage area in the rafters above, & the pigs and chickens live underneath the house between the stilts. The indiginous people of Borneo have been living in longhouses for centuries. Each longhouse is usually inhabited by the people of a particular tribe. We saw a number of different styles of longhouse because longhouses built by the different tribes and ethnic groups can differ from each other significantly. The people of Sap’s community are of the Iban tribe.
It’s long enough for many cartwheels!
Life at the longhouse….
A wonderful young man named Jabu & his family adopted us during our time at Tulai.
BUT ARE THERE CROCS IN THE RIVER?
Each day after school, many of the kids would swim out to Migration for a visit & we spent many hours jumping, swinging on the halyards & doing flips off the boat together. We were told, yes, there are crocodiles in the river; however, we read that there is an understanding between the local people & the crocs that they leave each other alone. The people of Sap’s longhouse said they had never lost any animals (or people!) to a crocodile.
The older kids spoke English fairly well, while the younger ones were still learning; but the language of fun is universal.
Because some of the kids spoke enough English to understand Bruce’s books, he
did a school presentation one morning. A
teacher translated for the younger students.
The kids were extremely well behaved.
We were given a beautiful carved warrior shield in appreciation for the school presentation.
A FISHING EXPEDITION
We also befriended one of the fishermen who asked us if we would like to accompany him on a fishing trip.
It was a very muddy process, so we stayed in the boat, helping count the catch of long-legged crawdads.
We were told that the blue ones are worth the most money, about $2 each.
When we first arrived at Tulai, some of the younger guys were busy working on small boats on the dock. We learned that these boats were to be used in races at the nearby town of Bintangor. While we were anchored off the village, there were trials going on, providing noisy entertainment, & putting Plover to use as a rescue boat when their unreliable water pump engines failed.
Boys & their toys.
Those little boats were extremely noisy!
As a thank you to the generous people of Sap’s longhouse, we offered to take some of the villagers to Bintangor aboard Migration to watch the races. We ended up with about 35 guests, from babies to grandmothers!
Ferrying the villagers out to Migration.
It was a fun & exciting day watching the local boat races from Migration’s deck.
Saying goodbye to the friends we’d made at Tulai….
Beware of anchor snags when exploring rivers in Borneo.
A RIVER CITY
Sibu is the largest port and commercial center on the Rajang River. It has the biggest indoor market in all of Malaysia. After more than a week in the jungle, we were in need of provisions, so we traveled another 25 miles further upriver to Sibu. We were now 40 miles from the sea!
You can buy almost anything at the Sibu Central Market, including live ducks & chickens wrapped in newspaper.
Due to the burning of the rainforests in Indonesia, the air quality was horrendous while we were in Sibu. Some days it was so bad that we had to take refuge in air-conditioned malls.
The air was as suffocating as it looks.
We tried to be vigilant about keeping the largest of the logs from hitting our hulls.
The river water in our toilet made it look as though it had been used even when it was clean.
There was a parade for the annual Malaysia Day celebration when we were in Sibu, with many people in traditional dress.
Where did all those great mall rides of our youth disappear to? Malaysia!
After several days in Sibu & a quick trip back downriver (we traveled a total of 140 miles on the Rajang River), we continued north up the coast of Borneo to the city of Miri, located just south of Brunei. We’d heard there was a nice marina there — a good place to leave the boat & explore the interior of Borneo a bit further.
Our friends Patrick & Rebecca of s/v Brick House &
Kurt & Claudia of s/v Elena were also at Miri Marina,
so we did some touring together.
The jungle is thick & lush in this part of the world, & waterfalls are plentiful. (Lambir National Park)
And fascinating bugs abound!
Many of the parks provide raised boardwalks to navigate more easily through the thick foliage. The railings provide an easy place to spot cool critters. (Niah National Park)
The swallow caves at Niah National Park provided a cool respite from the steamy jungle, and made us consider the courage of the men who climb to the ceiling of the cave on thin bamboo poles to gather the swallows’ nests.
Inside the caves, we found more fascinating & beautiful creatures.
It was great fun touring together with s/v Brick House & s/v Elena.
So much fun, in fact, that we all decided to go to Gunung Mulu National Park together to celebrate BB’s birthday.
CAVES, BATS, & LEECHES, OH MY!
You can’t drive to Gunung Mulu; there is no road. So we flew.
Because it was BB’s birthday, we stayed in the only posh hotel in the area.…
…Where we had a lovely birthday dinner together with our friends.
If you ever go to the island of Borneo, especially if you are at all interested in caving, we highly recommend a visit to Gunung Mulu National Park. There are other things to see at Gunung Mulu, but the caving adventures are what make it really special as it has one of the most extensive cave networksin the world. There is a wide variety of caving tours, which range from an easy stroll on a raised boardwalk through a short cavern with beautiful crystal formations to all-day adventures walking, scrambling, crawling, & swimming through a cave network for several miles. We, of course, wanted to do it all!
Gunung Mulu is the home of famous Deer Cave, from which several million bats exit every evening, creating a ribbon of bats in the sky. It’s a mesmerizing sight lasting for approximately half an hour.
The bat exodus was such an incredible sight that we adjusted our schedule in order to see it more than once.
Warning: there are lots of leeches at Gunung Mulu.
We started off with some of the easier cave adventures before advancing to a more challenging level.
Even inside the caves it was hot, so refreshing waterfalls & swimming holes were a welcome respite.
The caves boasted fantastic features such as shower heads, which also made for a pleasant cool-down.
One of the most challenging caving adventures at Gunung Mulu is Clearwater Connection. In order to be able to visit that cave, we needed to be checked out by one of the guides to ensure that we were capable. Our check-out cave was called Stonehorse, & it was awesome.
Stonehorse cave was beautiful & challenging.
At the end of Stonehorse cave, we were told that we had been deemed eligible to tackle Clearwater Connection, so the following morning, we took a boat to the cave entrance.
Ready for an all-day adventure!
Our guide was a seasoned ranger named Jonny who
had been doing cave tours for many years.
There was only one other traveler on our tour of
Clearwater Connection—an adventurous Polish woman.
There were some truly spectacular formations in the caves.
Part of the fun was the tight squeezes….
Which resulted in some damaged hardware!
We swam in the underground portion of Clearwater River for the last half mile or so toward the exit of the cave.
We were in the cave system for about 8 hours, so it seemed very bright outside when we finally saw the light of day again.
It was a fantastic adventure, & a great way to celebrate a birthday.
Hiking above ground is also quite wonderful at Gunung Mulu.
After six fun-filled days at Gunung Mulu, we returned to Migration at the marina in Miri, caught up on some boat projects, then sailed a short distance to Brunei Darussalam.
A LONG-AWAITED SCHOOL VISIT
Brunei is a small sovereign nation (only 161 km of coastline) sandwiched between the Malaysian states of Sarawak & Sabah. It is ruled by a sultan. The capital is Bandar Seri Bagawan, called Bandar for short. Brunei gets its wealth from oil, so we passed a number of platforms while sailing its waters.
Most of the oil platforms were lit at night, but not all of them!
Since Brunei is such a small country, our courtesy flag wouldn’t get much wear.
We anchored off the Royal Brunei Yacht Club — the only place in the country where public consumption of liquor is allowed.
Portraits of the sultan in his various regalia are proudly exhibited in most businesses in Brunei.
We were curious to see Brunei, but a large part of the reason for our visit was because we had been contacted by the librarian of an international school when we were in New Zealand in 2012. Karli had discovered Bruce’s author website, & had written to ask if we might be coming to Brunei anytime, & whether Bruce would be available for a school visit. At that time, we didn’t plan to be heading to Asia, but now here we were. Bruce was asked to do two full days of presentations at Jerudong International School.
The library staff had made a very nice exhibit to prepare the students for Bruce’s visit.
Karli, who organized the visit, is second from left.
The students were not timid; they asked some great questions…..
…Especially when Bruce tacked on a short talk
about our life & travels aboard Migration!
Karli and her family were wonderful and we became fast friends. We took them sailing one day,
along with some other friends we’d made at the yacht club.
AN ODD CULTURE
Opulent Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah mosque with its 29 golden domes is the central feature of the capital city of Brunei.
Near the mosque is a large village of stilt houses with an odd mix of old & new homes.
The Sultan’s palace, which contains 1,788 rooms,
overlooks the village of stilt homes.
While touring Brunei, we noticed some rather surprising behaviors.
(We blurred the faces because Brunei does follow sharia law.)
Over-the-top opulence at The Empire Hotel, built by the Sultan’s brother
who was, at one time, finance minister in charge of investing the government's
oil profits... at least until $14.8 billion went missing.
The Empire Hotel from the water.
Drug enforcement laws in Brunei are pretty severe.
RETURN TO MALAYSIA
Our next stop was the nearby island of Labuan, Malaysia, where we did a little touring & celebrated Halloween with friends.
Migration at the marina in Labuan.
These two Filipina singers were wearing 3” stiletto heels!
Actually, there isn’t much to see in Labuan. The mystery chimney is the highlight. The exact use for the tall brick structure is uncertain, thus the name.
Heading north, back to the coast of Borneo, we sailed further offshore for more island time. Mengalum Island was our chosen destination.
We had a visitor soon after we put the anchor down at Mengalum.
The water & white sand beaches of Mengalum were exceptionally beautiful….
However, the beauty was marred by an appalling quantity of trash on the beach.
To add insult to injury, we observed one tour boat after another dropping anchors on the reef, & tourists standing on the coral heads. As a result, sadly, much of the coral was destroyed.
Despite the issues with trash & destruction of the reefs, we enjoyed our time at Mengalum Island….
And so did our avian visitors!
We headed to Sutera Harbor Marina in Kota Kinabalu, often called KK. This was the only place we visited in the state of Sabah.
Our spot in the marina provided some spectacular sunsets.
We celebrated with champagne when our friends
Betsy & Richard flew in from Seattle for a visit.
Together we toured the sights of Kota Kinabalu….
Then provisioned for a trip out to the islands.
Pulau Tiga (Tiga Island), although not far from the mainland, provided a nice change of pace.
There were lots of colorful fish at Tiga, as well as one of my favorite things to look for: nudibranchs.
Beachcombing at Tiga Island.
Further south, we celebrated Thanksgiving at anchor. We had a wonderful traditional turkey dinner
(with the turkey cooked on the bbq!) on deck followed by an incredible fiery sunset.
We sailed back to Labuan so Betsy & Richard could catch their flight home, then we began sailing south along the coast of Borneo again. We had originally wanted to go over the northeastern tip of Borneo & then make our way south to Raja Ampat in Indonesia — a place famous for great diving; however, due to pirate activity in the southern Philippines, we chose not to.
While shopping in Labuan, we saw that Malysians are trying to make positive changes in significant ways….
Many stores have signs encouraging shoppers to bring their own bags.
Most of the younger generation of Malaysians speak English. It is taught in the schools, & many signs are in both Malaysian & English. There are also English-language radio stations that we enjoyed listening to. The music & advertisements tended to be rather repetitive, but there were interesting public service announcements about trying to make Malaysia a better country, encouraging the different religions to get along & work together, to be kind to each other, to stay healthy, & to be conscious of the environment. Many people don’t know much about Malaysia except that it is a primarily Islamic country, so it was heartening to hear & see their efforts to create harmony among their people. Their motto is “One Malaysia” which was posted on signs everywhere.
The people of Malaysian Borneo are friendly & most speak at least some English.
Our friend Ella was scheduled for a visit, so we returned to Miri Marina since it was an easy & interesting place to meet up. Plus, we had friends there with whom we could spend Christmas.
Christmas time in Malaysia means selfies in front of Santa & gigantic Christmas cake displays in the mall.
A stray cat named Angela adopted us during our time at Miri Marina. She was adorable, & we were tempted to take her with us, but we were headed to Japan, where having a pet would present a challenge. Fortunately, another cruiser adopted her shortly after we left.
Angela the calico cat made herself at home aboard Migration.
Beware the archer fish of Borneo! They would frequently shoot water at me through our garbage disposal (a hole in the wingdeck behind the galley sink where we dispose of vegetable matter), & they have deadly aim!
Our friend Ella came from California for a visit over the holidays. She was rewarded with a gorgeous Malaysian sunset.
We took Ella to see the sights near Miri. (Niah Caves)
Christmas calls for Christmas cookies, of course.
We had Christmas dinner at a nice restaurant in Miri with other cruisers & some local families.
We all had a good Christmas, including Angela.
In the last days of 2016, we sailed south along the coast of Borneo, heading back to Kuching.
KUCHING NEW YEAR
Our New Year’s party with Ella back in Kuching.
After months of being able to provision easily & regularly, we now planned to sail offshore to the islands of Indonesia where shopping might not be as convenient.
We provisioned heavily for our next island adventure.
We are both so happy to be cruising once again. We know how lucky we are to be able to live this unusual lifestyle, to be able to travel freely, & to have each other.
We enjoyed our time in Malaysian Borneo for many reasons, one of them being because the people there appear to be happy. It seems that the Malaysian people are making a real effort to get along, & to be kind to each other. Again, a good lesson for us all.
"Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air."
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Where we went May
2015 - January 1016
2,913 nautical miles traveled this period.
39,894 nautical miles aboard Migration since leaving Long Beach in June 2005
THIS MIGRATION'S DO GOOD
A MESSAGE FROM BRUCE:
Though Alene wrote this Migrations Update, I'm writing a special Migration's DO GOOD entry. I cannot put into words the devastation I felt on November 8th, 2016. Alene and I see, nearly every day, the injurious effects of humankind on our ocean and planet. We have met people whose homes will likely be gone in a decade due to climate change and sea levels rising. And now the United States has a president who is rolling back environmental protections and reversing decades of progress. You may disagree with my views on taxes, or healthcare, or education, but PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, whether you support this president or not, I beg you to oppose his environmental policies. Donate to NRDC. They are one of the finest organizations out there and they will be working hard to protect our world. No matter who you voted for in the last election (or didn't vote for), support NRDC. Our world depends on it. Really.
This site was last updated 04/06/17