Tag Archives: nature

Discovering diversity: Along the coast to Kuching

January 2016


After our hiking adventures it was high time to get on the bicycles again!


After Bintulu we took a small ferry over the river and managed to get away from the main roads and cycle along the coast for a while.


It was calm and quiet and I loved the small roads. Eventually we turned inland again as we wanted to meet a warmshowers host in Sibu. We saw modern longhouses…


… and tried colourful desserts (ABC).


When it got dark we found a place to stay in Selangau and ate dinner outside. Soon a few guys came to our table and asked if we’re bicycle tourists. Erm, how do they know that? Our bicycles were locked up in our room and we were wearing normal clothes… Their answer was that we must be cycling through – otherwise why would two foreigners stay in that tiny town without any tourist attractions? I admired their combination skills and thought to myself that this is exactly why I like cycle touring. You get to be and stay in places where not too many travellers go. The normal places, the places in between attractions, the places where life is happening.


So we got to know the guys for a bit: They are all Malaysians, but live in Singapore and Melbourne. At that time they were on a fundraising tour for the Sarawak Children’s Cancer Hospital.


On the next day we made our way to Sibu.


It rained all morning and I loved it. It even felt a bit cold sometimes and I cherished that sensation as long as it lasted.


In Sibu we found John’s house easily and were welcomed by his family. It was their first time to host any foreigners so we were all a bit nervous. But we got along very well and over the following couple of days they introduced us to a truckload of new food!


I am still absolutely awestruck by all the new vegetables I got to know in Sibu. Some of them at John’s home – cooked and processed – and some of them at Sibu’s fresh market.


It has a jungle sections where people sell vegetables and more – harvested just a few hours ago from the jungle. It is seriously amazing!


I had thought that I already knew a lot of locally grown fruit and vegetables after a few months in Indonesia and Malaysia.


It turns out my knowledge wasn’t that big after all. There are so many different greens, so many fruits in all shapes, colours and sizes and often even John or his mum didn’t know the name for them.


There is an abundance of everything and for the first time I begin to understand what biological diversity really means.


We then took a walk around Sibu which was also very nice.

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An afternoon visit to John’s grandma in her village longhouse with a tasting of home made rice wine left us with even more impressions.



John told us that nowadays it’s mostly elderly people and kids who live there.



The young people usually look for work elsewhere.


When we said good bye, John’s grandma has tears in her eyes and I was reminded of my own family and the good byes after a visit to my grand parents. Some things are so similar, no matter if there is thousands of kilometers in between.

Thank you John and family for hosting us – we had an amazing time with you! I am so very thankful for all the new things we learned staying in and around Sibu. That’s what travelling is about!


From Sibu it wasn’t far to Kuching. We cycled along the coast, on small and quiet roads.


After meeting Alex, a friend of Simon (our host in Miri), he organised accommodation further down the road with a friend of his in Roban. So without a common language and only because we knew a friend of a friend, Mr. Ah Poo trusted us with one of his spare rooms for the night. These gifts that we get as we cycle along will never seize to amaze me.


On the next day it got even better. After a beautiful day of cycling we arrived in Maludam and looked for a place to sleep. Several homestays were on offer but too pricey for us. So we sat down in a cafe, had perfect coffee and steamed buns that reminded me of a German dish (Dampfnudeln 😉 ) my mum makes. We then asked the very friendly owner if he knew a cheaper place to stay for a night. He said he would ask his friend and came back a short while later only to invite us to his home! We gladly accepted and let the magic happen once more: Awang, Juria and their big family opened their house to us, gave us our own room and we had a lot of fun preparing and sharing dinner together.

There is a myriad of languages spoken in Malaysia, with Bahasa Melayu, English and Mandarin being the most widely used. On top of that there are a lot of local languages. On this journey we cannot ever learn all the languages we encounter properly but of course we try to learn at least a little. As Bahasa Malayu is similar to Bahasa Indonesia we could do some Smalltalk and try to explain our trip. And Awang’s family spoke some English, too. So with those two languages and of course body language we had a fun evening getting to know each other.


The next day turned out to be a crazy one! We had planned on cycling towards Kuching and staying somewhere in between. But when we started looking for places to stay there was just absolutely nothing around or later nothing in our price range. Interestingly a lot of places which you could rent for a few hours though. Buut that’s just not enough rest for a cyclist ;).

So we kept on pedalling and eventually it got dark and we still cycled some more. At some point we decided to just go all the way to Kuching. At least we would find a hostel there and get some proper rest tomorrow. So we kept on cycling, looked up a place online and got there, very much exhausted. With 145km we had just cycled our longest distance in a day! The manager of the hostel we stayed was very impressed with our journey and gave us a dorm room all to ourselves.


We stayed there for two nights and then moved to Syakirah’s, a couchsurfer who generously left us her place as she went away for the weekend. It was awesome to have a flat to ourselves for a while! So for a few days we didn’t do much.


My body needed rest and food and being stationary for some time. Kuching is a nice city to get all that, too.


We wandered around for a bit, had coffee, got invited by a few businessmen to join their Friday morning breakfast and met up with Simon, our warmshowers host from Miri once again.


All in all this stretch of cycling was beautiful and we met so many different people who made it even better. I love the diversity of it all: Sometimes we contact people beforehand (through warmshowers or couchsurfing) and sometimes we meet people on the road and sometimes someone invites us into his or her home without even knowing us. Each time when we leave we take another story with us, maybe a few words in a new language and each time we have made a new connection, a new friend. Ideas and preconceptions get replaced with faces and personal stories that I can relate to. This is how our world gets bigger and smaller at the same time. Bigger because of all the people and experiences. Smaller because all those people really aren’t that far away any more. I mean that in a cultural sense and in a physical one. Culturally we have a lot in common with all kinds of people we meet and physically – I mean, come on, you can go there on a bicycle! Why don’t you try it?




The many face(t)s of Brunei

December 2015


In the middle of Borneo lies the small sultanate of Brunei. As there are no roads around we were planning on cycling right through. Also we were quite curious about the place. Rich through oil, mostly Muslim and the Sharia in place again. That’s what most people know about Brunei. But what else is there to know?

Albeit short we had a few very interesting days. Right after Christmas we crossed the border once and then back into Malaysia (as Brunei consists of two separate parts) and then back into Brunei. In the matter of a week we collected seven stamps in our passport!


Crossing borders seems arbitrary in a way and often I have a hard time believing that people are supposed to be different on the other side of the line. There are so many different factors influencing our socialisation and the place where we are born is only one of them. As we keep crossing borders (land borders, sea borders, city or province borders…) we usually do notice a few things that are different though. Cycling in Brunei was comfortable for us, as the roads suddenly had wide shoulders where we could cycle. Also there were parks and picnic areas with tables and chairs where we could take a rest.

On our way towards the capital we saw houses made from wood and some very fancy villas.


But the most obvious change was probably the forest next to the road. It seems that Brunei is able to afford keeping the forests instead of turning them into palm oil plantations. For cycling that is just beautiful: The huge trees protect us from the sun and you see a lot more monkeys jumping around. Cicadas are singing and birds chirping.

IMG_3603_v1We planned on staying two nights in Jerodong, a city near the capital, with our couchsurfing host Jay. Albeit brief, our stay provided us with a lot of impressions that question the conservative picture Brunei gets in the west. Yes, the sharia is in place and yes, alcohol is legally banned if you’re muslim.

IMG_3604_v1But there is also a lot of young people interested in change and working towards creating their own culture. There are locals wearing short pants and there are activists working for fair labour conditions. These road signs for example are from an exhibition for the rights of migrant workers. 


And yes, there is also a lot of wealth on display, especially when you visit the capital and one or two of it’s museums.


But go to a local market or hop over to Air Kampung (Water Village) and we saw a lot of parallels to life in Malaysia (Borneo): the local home made ice cream, the small shops or the houses built on stilts.

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After we spent a quiet New Year’s Eve at Jay’s place we cycled off the next day. It was Friday and our host warned us that everything would be closed between 12 and 2pm for prayer. We just managed to buy some groceries and get breakfast/lunch before really everything shut down. It was definitely interesting to see. Apart from that we had almost empty roads for a while ;).


We cycled further west where we would meet Amzah, a friend of a friend. We met up with him in the afternoon and – without knowing him before – stumbled into one of our most heart warming encounters of this trip so far.


He treated us to a beautiful room, invited us to a wedding ceremony held by his family and showed us he local beach just in time for sunset.


We met his extended family and tried all kinds of food. On the next morning we ditched our cycling-early-to-avoid-the-heat-routine once more to visit his coconut farm.

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I loved the farm and Amzah’s enthusiasm for organic growing methods.


The family also started another business where they produce organic soaps, shampoo, perfumes and more from coconut and other plants. Amzah, thank you so much for your hospitality and the tour!


During lunch time we finally cycled off and didn’t quite make it to the Malaysian border on that day. But oh well, it was so worth it. I still have a hard time believing what we managed to see and experience in those 4 days!


So of course, I cannot provide you with a deep insight into life in Brunei – our stay was way too short for that. But what I want to say is that people might be different from the picture they get in the media. Meeting people and making friends is always worth it in order to get over media images. I’m not saying that that will make everything better in the field of politics or economics but it will be the first step towards a more connected society. So please try and make the first step!