February 20, 2011

Jungle fever: The end of an adventure

After trudging through hip-deep murky river water, encountering a three foot monitor lizard head-on, negotiating a six-hour bus fare we didn't have the cash for, showing up to an airport a day early, "sleeping" on a dirty floor in Kuala Lumpur, and enduring a five hour flight full of extra chatty Chinese, I'm finally back in Hangzhou. 

It's weird to be back; I thought I'd feel happy or excited to be back here, instead I'm indifferent. I appreciate that I have my familiar neighborhood and it's been nice hanging out with my friends, but for the most part my return to China has been ushered in with a large empty feeling.

The last week of the trip was incredible, it was the best way to end the adventure. After our diving adventures, we headed into central Borneo to Sepilok. We stayed at Uncle Tan's Wildlife Adventure camp for three days. After already having our backpacks soaked once on the trip, we weren't eager to bring all of our stuff into the rainforest. Luckily, we got to leave things back at base camp.

Jenn and I ventured into the Bornean jungle with nothing more than a grocery bag with one change of clothes, lots of bug spray, and a toothbrush. We journeyed almost two hours by car and an hour by boat to get to the camp, situated on the Kinabatangan River -- which just happens to be flooded.

"You should probably take of your shoes, and your socks," the camp director told us.

Jenn and I looked at each other like he was crazy -- in front of us was a boardwalk of 2x4's that was covered ankle deep in nasty, silty river water. We followed his advice and made ourselves at home in our shack (three walls and a roof). We had an air mattress and a mosquito net. 

The next couple of days included a lot of boat rides looking for wildlife; we saw an orangutan, many different species of monkeys and too many Oriental Hornbill and Kingfisher birds (I don't really find bird watching extraordinarily interesting...) We made friends with the staff, who was mostly our age. They were all native Malaysians who get to leave the jungle a max of one time each month. They're like family -- they kind of have to be; the guests switch out every other day and there's not much to do for fun in the jungle. We sang songs to guitars and makeshift drums and they taught us how to call orangutans and gibbons (I'm proud to say that I'm fluent in both languages.)

We spent the morning of our second day jungle trekking with Tong-Tong, a fun Filippino-Malaysian guy who was dead set on showing us the wonders of the forest, which involved walking through three feet of water for twenty minutes.

"Don't worry, if you die I will die first," he joked about the creatures that could be lurking in the muddy water. The staff was awesome and had a great sense of humor. Even though the jungle is full of all sorts of creepy, poisonous things (like the feisty, evil millipede that was freaking out in our boat one night... the three inch critter can give you a month-long fever if it bites you) the staff didn't bother with scaring us with a huge briefing about all of the nasties, instead they made us feel right at home and comfortable right away. They appreciated that Jenn and I had an equally goofy sense of humor and weren't outrageously squeamish about things.

We made it out of the jungle unscathed, asides from some mosquito bites and stings. With dirt between our toes and our hair extra nasty (the bath was the muddy river.. so trekking was the only bathing in the jungle we did) we headed off to Kota Kinabalu. Our bus drove past Mt. Kinabalu -- the highest peak in southeast Asia -- just at the sun was about to set. We were high enough so that a few clouds were level with the bus, the sky in the west was a fiery red and orange and the stars were just starting to shine in the cobalt sky. 

Once in the city, we treated ourselves to a night in a real hotel, with legitimate beds and showers. It was Valentine's Day, so we were the odd couple in a nice, western restaurant. The next morning, I swam laps in the outdoor seventh floor pool and we ate lunch in a restaurant that was plucked right out of the states. We shopped in a mall that had American stores (I bought my first MAC makeup in Borneo of all places). It was the most American I've felt since I left home. 

Once 7 p.m. rolled around, we headed to the airport for our flight to Kuala Lumpur. 

"Uhh, excuse me miss... there seems to be a problem," the gate agent told us.

Jenn and I looked at each other and my heart sank a little bit.

"Your flight is actually tomorrow, not today." 


All we could do was laugh -- a manic, sleep-deprived laugh. We were out of money and getting island fever. We found a cheaper hotel and settled in for the night and wasted away the next day checking out a little bit of the city.

Finally we left for Kuala Lumpur and found a cozy spot on the airport floor to spend the night for our flight back to Hangzhou. The plane early the next morning was packed with overly excited Chinese people. Before leaving KL, we already felt like we were back.

People rushed on to the plane. Everyone was talking, shuffling, and not sitting down until the absolutely last minute. The second they sat down, many reclined their seats and set down their tray tables (a huge no-no for takeoffs and landings). No surprise that the second we landed everyone got up and started to try elbow their way off plane (even though the cabin doors hadn't even been opened yet). 

The night we got back was the Lantern festival, marking the end of the Chinese New Year holiday. All of Hangzhou was a war zone of bright fireworks, people were lighting them in front of their stores and I saw a lot of children hanging out of their apartment windows with sparklers. Of course it was impossible getting a cab.

I waited for 20 minutes, got hit by a bicycle, and couldn't quite remember how to tell my taxi driver how to get to the restaurant to meet my friends -- somehow it all seemed to work, as it always does. True to her nature, Big Red didn't give me a welcome back hug or a fluffy little honeymoon period, she just is the way she is, love her or hate her. Welcome back to China. 

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