Day 659: Gods And Monsters

21.10.10: Up at 8am and onto the bus to Sandakan – the port town where the boat leaves for  country 182: The Philippines.  Happily, the bus left on time, but unhappily the onboard film was the most turgid, rotten waste of photons I’ve seen since Dreaming of Joseph Lees.  It was like the worst bits of Star Wars Episode I (i.e. all of it) mixed with the soggy turd that was The Matrix Revolutions sprinkled from the leftover crud from the backstreet abortion that was The Golden Compass. The only funny thing about the film is that it was about -finarr finarr- BENDERS.  Christ WHY DID NOBODY TELL THEM??  I was seriously perplexed.  Was there not a single person from the UK on the crew who could tap M. Night Shallaballadingdong on the shoulder and say “M, we need to talk…”.  Did nobody suggest that since…

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Day 658: The Battle of Brunei I

20.10.10: Although when seven o’clock wheeled around with alarming speed I thought sod it and hit the snooze button.  Today I needed to fight my way through Brunei to the other half of Malaysian Borneo and a place known as Kota Kinabalu or KK.  I already knew what a frustrating and expensive experience this would be, but the 8am bus to the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB), would be just as good as the 9am bus and damn I was tired. By 8.20am I was at the bus station, bright and eager to get the next bus to BSB. Which wasn’t until 4pm. What? 4pm. WHAT? Two buses a day.  One at 8am and one at 4pm. For. Heaven’s. Sake. Taxi it is then.  Miri is just a few km from the border, but the taxi driver managed to rip me off to the tune of…

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Day 657: Precious Cargo

19.10.10: Before dawn could shift her crack off my face we were at the border that separates Indonesian Borneo (Kalimantan) from Malaysian Borneo (in this case, Sarawak). Malaysian Borneo made up of two states: Sarawak (the old kingdom of a potty Englishman who called himself Rajah Brookes – read ‘Lord Jim’ by Joseph Conrad for more details) and the north-eastern state of Sabah.  The road between these two states are broken (twice!) by the two bits of the Kingdom of Brunei that bite their way down in the middle of the north coast. After blurrily getting myself stamped out of Indonesia and into Malaysia I returned to sleep, waking upon our arrival in the remarkably pleasant town of Kuching, the capital of Sarawak state.  Sadly, there was no time on this trip to chill out eating street food down by the river as the bus to…

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Day 656: When I Left School

18.10.10: Borneo.  The second biggest island in the world, home of the mighty orang-utan and some of the last virgin rainforest left on Earth.  It’s divided between three countries – Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, and I was here for two reasons – Brunei (country 181) and The Philippines (country 182).  There’s a ferry service that leaves Sandakan in the (Malaysian) north-east of the island for the troubled Filipino island of Mindanao, Hobson’s choice I’m afraid – there’s no other sensible way of getting there without flying. When I left school, because I had only been taught completely useless things in geography like about the formation of ox-bow lakes, I thought Borneo was in South America, because I had heard word of there being a rainforest and the only rainforest I knew was in South America.  I also thought Brunei was in the Middle East, because I…

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Day 655: Monty Python’s Floating Circus

17.10.10: ROLL UP! ROLL UP! For one day only: the magnificent, the hilarious, the intrinsically fascinating BLOKE WHO’S NOT FROM AROUND HERE! Yes, I get stared at a lot.  Usually because I’m walking down the street babbling inanely to my camera, but mostly because I’m as whiter than a late-era Michael Jackson and I have the most unusual mutation on my 16th chromosome that makes my hair a most ridiculous shade of red. I guess there’s a point (usually when you reach India) when you stop seeing it as rude, but you know like, sometimes, you just really want to – you know – scratch your arse?  Or maybe adjust yourself after a night’s kip?  What if doing so resulted in gales of laughter from the stalls?  I better explain. Yesterday, after fighting Jakarta and losing miserably (and then winning by default) I was in no…

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Day 654: Time and Tide

16.10.10: The most irritating thing in the world – aside from Russell Brand – is when your infernal debit card gets declined at a foreign ATM because the bank assumes it’s been stolen.  Still waiting for my HSBC card to arrive c/o the delectable Anna (whom we shall be meeting in Bali), I had no choice but to call Barclays and ask them why the hell do they pull this kind of nonsense when a simple phone call to my dad (the joint account holder) could have informed them that yes I was on holiday in Jakarta and yes money would be nice THANK YOU VERY MUCH. After leaving me on hold for TEN MINUTES (yeah, calling from abroad is yer?  Well, just hang on at one pound a minute) it took a further twenty to jump through all the mental hooperage designed to weed out…

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Day 653: As The Miller Told His Tale

15.10.10: First things first, I called the ferry company and found out when the next ship to Borneo was departing – not today but tomorrow, but that’s better than a slap in the face with a wet kipper. After ‘moving out’ of my hotel to the fleapit next door (come on – it had an en suite shower – it was totally out of my league!) I set out with John from the UK-Oz overland expedition to do two things: 1. buy a ferry ticket to Pontianak – which would get me to the island of Borneo and 2. find out what date the next Pelni ship left Bali for West Timor (East Timor will be country number 183). After we walked for a good half an hour we eventually found where the office for the ferry company used to be, back in 2008 when my…

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Day 652: You Don’t Know Jakarta

14.10.10: Thursday took a while to get going.  While my fellow travellers (in another cabin and arguably less full of Johnnie Walker) were rudely awoken at the crack of dawn by the call to prayer (which – don’t tell Osama – the vast majority ignored) I happily slept right through it – I also slept through the screaming babies, the over-amped cellphone jingles and the locals chatting at a volume that can only be described as ‘11’. Hooray for whisky. Incidentally, if I made an independently intelligent robot butler out of paperclips and Bovril I would not require him to worship me at 4am for two reasons.  One is that it would wake me up.  The other is that I’M NOT A TOTAL WEIRDO. Just saying… Anyway, a day mostly spent at sea.  There were some games of le tete merde and maybe I did some…

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Day 651: Lion City

13.10.10: Singapore! World’s End!  You can get here all the way across the mega-continent of Eurasia from John O’Groats to Raffles via the Channel Tunnel, the Urals and the causeway without ever stepping foot on a plane or a boat.  But this is the end of the line I’m afraid.  From now on it’s going to be ship-this ship-that and ship’s-your-uncle.  Ticking a magnificent 179 countries off my list: a daunting and unsettling task lay ahead: the final 21 countries are all islands, parts of islands or full-on archipelagos and (as if I haven’t been at pains to point this out already) I’M NOT ALLOWED TO FLY. Nature’s borders prove much more troublesome to me than man’s invisible lines. I am more than happy to pay lip-service to Singapore, with it’s miles and miles of docks and smug (and lucrative) placement right in the middle of…

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Days 649-650: To The Ends Of The Earth

11.10.10-12.10.10: After two hours kip (I actually didn’t bother using my bunk – the communal area of the backpackers did just as well), by 7.30am I was shovelling breakfast into my fat ginger gob and by 9 o’clock I was on the bus to Bangkok.  The wheels on the bus went round and round, round and round, round and round as I tore south through the country like some kind of angry Scotsman.  Only without the girly skirt. Arriving at Bangkok in the evening, I once again skirted the manic city I know and love and snapped up a ticket on the last bus to Singapore – country 179 – which if you’d care to glance at a map of the area (or, even better, work from memory) is on the other end of country 178 (Malaysia) and just a short ferry ride away from country…

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