overland-underwater.com - A charity drive from the UK to New Zealand
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Pic of the week
Final Statistics: Alex & Maz Total distance: 93,550km
Furthest Point: Rotorua, NZ Now settled in Sydney, Australia
Final Statistics: Martin Total distance: 79,698km
Furthest Point: Hobart, Australia Now settled in Bristol, UK

The Empire strikes back

Written by Alex Towns. Uploaded 22 October 2006.

Brunei, BONUS Country 23, Diary entry 10th-18th Aug 2006, Total distance in Brunei: 916 KM

The day once more disappeared into cyberspace and before we knew it, it was past 4pm before we finally got ourselves to the pool and managed a quick dip, not quite the relaxation we had in mind. Then at 5pm we got a call through from Farid as the press had arrived and wanted to interview us for the Borneo Bulletin. Not exactly dressed for the occasion we met with the two journalists who eagerly scribbled down notes then followed us to the car for a picture shoot. As is always for the media we hope to attract, it’s not done for our own 5 minutes of fame, rather it’s to spread the word about our charity expedition and hopefully in the process attract the attention of people interested in making a donation and edging us ever closer to our target.

The angry looking skies interrupt our relaxing by the pool! Palm trees sway in the breeze

With the interview in the bag, Farid then sprung the ultimate surprise. He and his sisters, the Princesses, wanted to treat us to a nights stay at the Empire Hotel! He said they would have done it the previous night, but they only had rooms available in the lagoon and they wanted to get us a room with a sea view..!! Wow..!! He suggested we should go to the cinema, treat ourselves to a nice meal and generally pamper ourselves, all as their guests! Completely speechless we grabbed our toothbrushes from the car and checked into our new suite for the night.. we were going up in the world! Farid was as pleased as us and showed us to our room with huge bed, lounge area, balcony and immense bathroom, I think we’ll be comfortable here :)

Our romantic meal for two Tinfish is temporarily substituted for our trips around the Empire

By the time we had showered and changed into our best rags, we didn’t have time to enjoy the cinema, but instead treated ourselves to a slap up seafood buffet in one of the plush restaurants. I lost count of the number of prawns that sacrificed themselves for the greater good and when we didn’t think we could squeeze another morsel in, Maz came back with delight in her eyes, for she had found the cheese board, something we’d not had in a very long time! Fortunately we hadn’t yet touched our desert stomachs so there was still enough space left for a few slices of smoked cheese, the odd bit of ripe brie and a delightful cheddar. Unfortunately the brownies sat next to the cheese platter shouting “eat me, eat me” had to get carefully wrapped up in a serviette and kept for later. We retired replete for bed after a casual stroll around the grounds.

The Empire lit up at night Pretty fairy lights as we stroll around to digest our dinner

With all the comforts of 6* luxury as you dissolve into the most comfortable bed, it’s strange how we’re awake long before the intended lie in that we’d hoped for! I guess sub-consciously we expect to be found and woken, so it takes time to adjust to the fact that this was the privacy of our own room! Nevertheless it allowed me to check on a few emails and saw one from Yusrin asking to meet us for breakfast at 9am. Loosing oneself in the bathroom it was some while before we found our way out again and strolled down to the Marine Centre to meet Ysurin and Farid. They took us to a local restaurant not too far from the staff accommodation and we feasted on roti telor (roti stuffed with egg) and iced coffee.

Our most comfortable bed yet

Farid said that the 4x4 network had been mobilised and the Brunei 4x4 club wanted to meet us for dinner tonight. With nothing else left for us to do but relax by the pool, we put in a good few hours of reading, relaxing and swimming, before Farid once more found us for lunch, conveniently just as the heavens opened! We conformed what time we were to meet for dinner and asked when we should check out, but Farid was insistent not to worry about it and just enjoy the day. With the rain still falling, we decided on a game of tenpin bowling over at the country club, which of course Maz listen dutifully to my coaching and ignored pretty much all of it. She was however improving and a good week of intense bowling should see the ball rolling towards the pins rather than harmlessly down the gutter!

Stay on target…

After freshening up and our best rags getting yet another outing, we first met with Bahrin who had very kindly bought along some maps of Kalimantan and we sat going over the route in the lobby. Their club had done the trans-Borneo drive and it just so happened that he was wearing his ‘tour’ T-shirt with the route on the back, which most importantly had the place names to head for. A quick snap of the T-shirt and what with the maps, we thought we were just about ready for anything Kalimantan could throw at us! Soon some more of the crowd arrived and we jumped into the back of Sheik Abas’ Lexus Land Cruiser which was very smart… not his off-roading truck though… and headed off to meet the rest of the bunch at a Thai restaurant.

Armed with our detailed map, Kalimantan here we come..

We had a great evening as they listened intently to our trials and tribulations and we answered all of their questions that they eagerly posed for us. They were still somewhat fascinated that this solitary Land Cruiser had found its way all the way from England to Brunei. When we got onto talking about our upcoming route into Kalimantan, the president of the club Haji Ibrahim, shared his deep concern that it wouldn’t be safe or advisable for a lone car to travel through the wild west of Kalimantan. Throughout our time in Borneo we have continued to receive a mixture of advice as to whether we can or cannot go this way or that. Stories of pot holes big enough to swallow a Land Cruiser and meandering logging trails that snake into the unknown, which turn to gloopy ensnaring mud in the rain (which was steadily falling outside!), had given us a hot/cold feeling about our upcoming adventure into the unknown! At least we’d finally got some reliable information for onward shipping to Sulawesi which allowed us to plan our intended visit to Manado down to a Plan A or B, depending on if, when or how we managed this portion of the route!

The Brunei 4x4 club listen intently to our adventure

As Maz and I stole a glance at one another, Haji Ibrahim told us that he’d feel much happier if we joined some Indonesian friends of his, who were currently on an adventure of their own from Palangkaraya to Kota Kinabalu, returning to Palangkaraya, Kalimantan – bingo! Furthermore their schedule didn’t have them crossing back over into Indonesia from Kuching, Sarawak until the 21st August, so that allowed us a little more time to relax in Brunei and still drive south through Sarawak in time to join them. Our two day drive through Brunei, was slowly extending into two weeks! We’d already said our farewells to Paul and Alison a number of times, so they’ll be really surprised when they see us again!

Ready steady go..

After being dropped back off at the Empire hotel and shown the rest of the group the gadgets and mods done to Tinfish, it was gone 11pm when we walked in past reception. Knowing that even a late, late check out never really extends past 2pm, we weren’t surprised when the customer relations manager intercepted us and asked what was happening as at this rate he’d have to charge for another night. We asked him to phone Farid and scuttled off to the room to collect our toothbrushes and arrived just as our room phone was ringing… it was Farid, who told us not to worry as everything was sorted. Half expecting him to say, sorry you have to stay another night, he’d fortunately managed to sort out the customer relations manager and we were off back to the staff accommodation. Never mind it was a glorious stay and we were deeply appreciative of the kindness shown by Farid and the Princesses… so a huge thank you to them, it was bliss :)

Evil Kernil eat your heart out

Up for a lazy morning before heading via the brekkie restaurant shown the other day to our new home, aka Empire Hotel. We’d pretty much fallen into a routine of spending the morning utilising the wifi internet at the Marine Centre, followed by at least a splash in the pool, mixed with either lunch with Farid or a quick game of bowling! Today getting a bit bored with all the fruitless searches for shipping to Australia and disheartened by the expense and duration from the responses that actually bothered to reply, we took out our frustrations with a quick burn around the beach on the quad bikes. Needless to say Maz was somewhat of a speed demon, the rest can eat her sand! We were supposed to meet with Farid for a trip to the cinema that night, however he was too busy with the organisation and entertainment for the upcoming summer party that was being held by his brother at the Empire, so we had an easy night to ourselves.

The den of inequity on the Brunei - Malay border

Today we managed to pretty much chill by the pool. Now having somewhat of a plan as to how, when and where we were going to cross into Indonesia, it took some weight off our shoulders. Strangely our Malaysian mobile phone that still worked in Brunei, had run out of credit and it was proving fairly difficult to keep up with arrangements, so the executive decision was taken to pop back across the border and top up the phone whilst catching a sneaky beer too. A few more chops in the passport, a couple of beers for the road and the phone boosted – mission accomplished! All very fortunate as we received a very important call from a clandestine agent that needed to collect the party juice that we’d transported across the border! After all what’s a party without a few cheeky beers..!!

The dazzling Sultans Mosque Reflections of the mosque lit up at night

As they weren’t able to squeeze us in on the guest list, which was lucky as we didn’t have a thing to wear, we spent the evening doing a bit of sightseeing around Bandar Seri. The mosques looked beautiful all lit up and standing resplendent. It seemed impossible to sightsee during the day with our hectic schedule of pool and lunch appointments, so it was quite fortunate that they illuminated these splendid mosques by night! Having not quite left Brunei yet, Paul asked if we fancied joining him on a cunning adventure the next day, a trip on the River Limbang, which craftily snakes it’s was back into Malaysia, so as we’d be sneaking back in, it would be a damn near insult not to enjoy a can of Tiger or two! As you might be getting the gist, our entire time in Brunei (a dry country) seemed to be inadvertently tracking down the next source of alcoholic drink! In fact I honestly think we drank more during our two weeks in Brunei than we have for a long time, which goes completely against the advice given by the Lonely P, which ludicrously suggests you’ll have to give beer a break during your visit!

Paul prepares for our trip up the river I want a brightly coloured boat like that

We had a great relaxing day and managed to spot a few more proboscis monkeys on the way home, perched up high in the trees overhanging the river. Seeing as though we ended up back at the yacht club, we met up with Alison and dinner was arranged giving a further opportunity to sample a few more of our recently acquired refreshing beverages. I chomped down on a rather tasty mountain of prawns (udang in these parts, a word I’m now more than familiar with!). During the meal we broached the subject of raffles with Paul and Alison. Now you might all think we’d just been sat by the pool vegging, but no, we are always planning and scheming and had been racking our brains as to how best to make some more money for CARE International whilst we sat relatively still for awhile! We’d already approached our new home – The Empire Hotel – and they’d kindly offered a few prizes that we could raffle off. Of course we’ve gone somewhat raffle mad of recent, so the issue here would be how to sell the tickets … enter Paul & Alison! They thought it was an excellent idea, and with their connection from School, Dive Club, Yacht Club and Hash House Harriers, they felt certain they’d be able to raise a few bob for a worthwhile cause. A HUGE thanks to both of them for helping out, as something like this is never as easy as it might first have seen!

Meeting the guys at the Sheraton to arrange some luvly prizes

First priority for the next day was a trip around Bandar Seri, visiting local businesses to try and generate a selection of prizes that would make interesting and attractive prizes for our Brunei Lucky Draw … (due to certain laws against gambling being a Muslim state, we could cleverly hide the fact by calling it a Lucky Draw - sneaky hey!) We were delighted to be able to obtain further prizes from The Sheraton, Utama (thanks Nigel for the tip-off) as well as a local restaurant Sugar & Spice and the Mall Cinema Complex.. We celebrated a hard days work by joining Paul, Alison and the kids back at their’s for a BBQ and a stunning cheese platter for pud – yum, yum!

A delightful meal at Sugar & Spice, bringing back all those memories of Syria

With a space in our social calendar for the next day, we managed to squeeze in an evening meal with the Brunei 4x4 club, who once again looked after us a treat. Haji Ibrahim confirmed that the Indonesian group would be delighted to escort us through Kalimantan, whereas Sheik Abas was appalled that we’d done virtually no sight seeing since they’d last met us! So that was it, we were going to see the water village around Bandar Seri, it didn’t appear to matter that it was about 11pm! A convoy of 4x4’s headed to the river and laughing and joking we stumbled onto a small wooden boat with a huge lump of outboard engine strapped to the back! We were soon skimming along the water, ducking and diving between the stilted water village houses that lined both sides of the river and was its entirely own community, with schools, mosques and even a fire station! Back on dry land, we couldn’t avoid the 24hr coffee shop and I’m still not sure how that huge slice of Oreo cheese cake made it onto the table in front of us! Thanks guys for your hospitality, we really enjoyed your company.

Midnight sightseeing! Okay - Just a wafer thin slice of cheesecake then

Getting dropped off back at the staff accommodation way gone the witching hour, Lunni, said I’ll see you tomorrow about 10am to pick you up! Not quite sure what was happening, but by now used to plans being made on our behalf, we’ve learnt to just go with the flow and sure enough Lunni arrived early the next morning and we followed diligently! He took us to Haji Ibrahim’s workshop for Tinfish to receive a makeover. We needed an oil change, but they kindly did a once over suggesting this n that be serviced. Getting carried away with it, we seemed to agree to quite a lot of work being done, before Maz sensibly said do we actually need it doing as ‘nice to have’ maintenance normally costs us more in the long run… if it ain’t broke don’t fix it! They did however point out that the AC compressor had developed a nasty wobble and that was something we could ill afford to fail on us, so well spotted.

Tinfish gets a makeover

Sugar & Spice very kindly offered for us to come over and sample their superb Arab cuisine, so that evening we hot footed it over and were treated to a delightful spread of hummus, falafel and kebabs. Hjh Zaidah talked with us for the whole evening, really interested in our exploits and as her husband came from Syria we swapped stories about the sights, smells and experiences that we’d enjoyed so much during our travels though Syria. It was really strange to reminisce about a country relatively near the beginning of our adventure and it brought back many fond memories of the impressive sights and kind hospitality that we really enjoyed during our time there. My, we have seen, experienced and meet sooo many people since then, but every time we delight in the experience and passionately remember the previous countries, each with their own unique memories.

It's not all play.. Check out the whale shark photo pinned to the desk

The next morning we had a date with Haji Ibrahim, to meet the Indonesian 4x4 club that were busily working their way up to KK. We were introduced to Sapta the leader of this expedition and a member of parliament in Kalimantan. It appears we do quite well in meeting the important people of a region! Although the guys didn’t have as much English as the Malaysians and Brunei, they were pleased that they could help us in our next leg of the adventure. With just a few days before we were scheduled to meet them in Kuching, we couldn’t help thinking they must be travelling at a fair pace to get all the way up to KK (at least 6hrs) before turning around and getting back to Brunei, then south through Sarawark to arrive at the border, a good two days drive south of Brunei!

Rain, rain, glorious rain… our powerful magic! The restaurant floods

Having only said our final farewells to Paul about 6 times, tonight would be the last and final bon voyage and where better to meet him than back at the Yacht Club! He was deeply immersed in watching a video nasty on ropes n spinnakers in the side room which doubled as the library. We sat gawping at all the books in awe, until somebody noticed our frenzied expressions and directed us to the cupboard by the gatehouse full to the brim with excess books which we could help ourselves too! Staggering under the weight of an armful each, we slotted them jigsaw puzzle like into a car already packed to the gunwales! We’d only recently learnt to read again after spending so much damn time with our noses stuck into the laptop… but now we thought sod it the work will get done when it gets done, we need to unwind too.

angry skies close in over the lagoon Time to eat again

After another mammoth serving of prawns with peanut sate sauce washed down with the now obligatory beer, we shook hands with Paul and thanked him so much for all his help and hospitality. Alison had left to go back to the UK for a surprise birthday party for her mum, so couldn’t join us for this final, final meal. Thanks guys for all your help, it was great fun being able to share banter with you, how only the English can, something I think we’d been unknowingly missing and felt somewhat refreshed and reinvigorated after the experience! At the last moment Paul dangled a worm in front of us, they were diving the Cement Wreck tomorrow morning and wondered if we might be able to squeeze in one last dive! Curses, if only… but no sense prevailed!

What a figurehead

We off course couldn’t leave without one last dip in the Empire pool, so up early to pack the car and wave goodbye to the staff accommodation, back to the Marine Centre to quickly check emails, then a last splash in the pool. Fortunately Farid, who’d been awol for the last few days, put in an appearance so we thankfully were able to say a final huge thank you to both him and the Princesses who were enjoying the sun now that the weather had improved significantly. As we were about to leave Yusrin’s brother offered to take us out for a quick lunch on Yusrin’s behalf as he’d been tied up with things and wasn’t able to say farewell himself. They even gave us a lunchbox for the road just in case we’d waste away! So nearly two weeks after arriving to drive through Brunei, we finally climbed back into the car and headed south towards Sarawak. Being such a small country we were amazed to see that we’d clocked up some 916KM, driving to and from the Empire, Staff Accom, Paul’s and the Yacht Club! Nevertheless we felt refreshed and eager to get on our way after this ‘respite’ from the road.

Tiger time :o) Mr Proboscis

Malaysia (re-re-visited), Country 22, Diary entry 18th-21st Aug 2006, Total distance in Peninsular Malaysia: 3442 KM, Total distance in Borneo, Malaysia: 2628 KM, Total distance in Malaysia: 6070 KM

Sun rays penetrate Niah Caves

With 3 days in hand we had our work set out before us to get to the border in time. Although the guide books say Sarawak is definitely worth spending time to explore, we no longer had that luxury, so narrowed down our sight seeing to Niah Caves and Kuching itself, which is supposed to be a charming city. With fuel tanks and jerry can filled up till brimming, we crossed back into Malaysia for the umpteenth time. Having been told by the Brunei lot not to slow to more than a walking pace in Miri for risk of having the Land Cruiser snatched from beneath us, we decided to pass on through and find camp by the caves. Arriving at night which is all too familiar, it was a little bit more developed than we anticipated, so parked up in the darkest spot of the car park and popped up the tent just as the park manager strolled over to see what we were doing. Once again he was fascinated by our journey and after an hour of stories, he let us camp the night in the car park, although hints to stay in the luxury bungalows fell on deaf ears!

Monkey up a stick… hunting birds' nets

Up early to cross the river and follow the 4km trail up to Niah Caves. These caves are massive and impressive. You could comfortably park a jumbo jet inside and still have room to manoeuvre. Furthermore it was bird nest collection time. Another ‘delicacy’ for the tables of the orient decimating the local wildlife and forcing collectors to risk life and limb perched precariously up a bamboo pole 150ft above the jagged cave floor! The national parks have at least sensibly limited the collection periods to coincide with the end of the nesting periods to give the poor swifts a chance. Studying the nests raining down from above, it looked less than appetising and I wondered how on earth someone had thought it’d make a delicious soup..!!?!? The mind boggles! We continued through the main cave, almost tripping over a cave snake, before leaving to find the cave containing ancient cave paintings. Unfortunately the authorities had seen it wise to erect a monstrous fence 20ft from the paintings, so you could only just about make out what on earth we were looking at!

Yum, yum, make mine a large serving please..!

With the clock ticking, we were back in Tinfish and heading ever onward to Kuching finding a nice little camp spot up in the ever present oil palm plantations where we only had one drive by visitor on a scooter, who barely even stopped 10 minutes to gaze in wonder. Reversing out of our camp spot, would you believe it yet another damn flat tyre! We pumped it up and got back down onto the main road, but the pressure was dropping quickly, so out with the jack and on with the spare. Wouldn’t you believe it once again, it was the actual steel wheel that had split – I’ve lost count, is that the 3rd or 4th occasion and what great timing just as we were about to plunge into the unknown early the following morning! We continued the rest of the way to Kuching looking for a suitable repair shop only to find out it was Sunday and everything was closed! Never say never, so we persisted to search in vain, eventually leaving Kuching unexplored, but after a quick re-stock at a supermarket, to head back out the 30km or so to the border, hoping to find somewhere along the way.

Bl@@dy wheel, another damn flat

Eventually we got a lead, which took us into the most suspicious of industrial estates with oil streaked dogs lurking around, rolling their eyes in search of their next victim… kinda reminded me of doing a gas run to the dogz den on The Isle of Sheppey in the Thames, the land of bent motors and doggy cash only deals (Blackie will know what I’m on about) Just don’t make eye contact! Sign language and a few nervous smiles, had the wheel off and the welding kit out… and on the second attempt success. What to do now… Serian was the town nearest the border, so we thought we’d stop there for a few hours, catch up on internet, grab some dinner and squeeze more diesel into Tinfish, seeing as though we’d heard horror stories about the quality of the diesel in Indonesia (amongst everything else ‘Indonesian’!) and besides it’s more expensive than in Malaysia.

The ever useful toilet instructions, incase you forget!

Of course it’s never quite that easy, internet here no… are you sure, absolutely… next person, internet? Oh no not here! So again and again, until someone either trying to get rid of these nutters playing an imaginary keyboard in the air or directing us to our goal, pointed just over the way. It doesn’t matter where you are, these underground dens containing the lost generation exist everywhere. Kids playing hooky from school, or who have simply lost the power or the ability for their legs to remove themselves from in front of the 17” screen of ‘dungeons & dragons’ or ‘alien mutilation’ which unfolds mere inches away from their square eyes, with ears ringing to the slash, bang, swipe and explosion of a million sound effects all combined and echoing around the walls of this 10ft square dim lit room with no air! Nevertheless internet – bingo! Sad I know, but needs must, so we sat and killed 2hrs mixing with this lost youth, with our ear plugs firmly inserted deep within our ears!

A little house just for Tinfish

After a quick bite of delicious BBQ chicken with sate gravy from a roadside stall, we set off for the border aiming to camp on the door step and not be late for our meeting with the Indonesian group. Before we knew it, we were at the closed gates, so did a 3 point turn and found a building site just down the road where the partly built roof was all that stood. With rain threatening, we thought the tin roof would give us extra protection so carefully backed beneath. With phone set for too early O’clock we were up bleary eyed, with tent stowed, only to then receive a text from Sapta… they were running late… curses! Tent back up and back to bed, we were eventually woken by a big truck trying to back up and deposit its load of rocks just where we were camped. It was time to get up anyhow. We sat at the border entertaining the locals for hours before eventually a familiar convoy of 4x4’s arrived gone midday! Crunch time, D Day had arrived we were leaving the familiar Malaysia and bravely heading into the land of the ‘Wild Men of Borneo’!

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Comment from Hamid Omar
Dear Alex, Maz & Martin,

How come no email to all of us here in Pakistan?!

So where are you all now! We know you people are not ever upto date on your postings!!!!!!

Do visit our web site - these days busy re-buildind a Ford FI truck (pickup) 1948 vintage (for my wife - Sabiha ) - but at the days end (many months still to go!) -- I will actually be driving it to my factory!! And to the mountains! And to Baluchistan!

So have you people reached Australia?

Love & bye,

24 Oct 2006 @ 00:17:15