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Brunei to Limbang


Lethargy provoked by restless sleep and deteriorating health robbed me of more precious time that morning, eventually forcing myself out the short distance back to the Royal Regalia Museum. It had been under similar time pressure that I had stupidly failed to track down perhaps the single most important attraction upon my first visit, the Sultan's crown and personal regalia. I now returned to find that section of the museum infuriatingly closed for renovation, yet in search of it I came across an interesting history section which had also previously eluded me amongst the rabbits warren of corridoors. It listed in detail the first Treaty Of Cessation of Labuan Island in 1844 for example, and then showcased the original documents relating to the periodic granting of land which had over the years conspired to create the present day boundaries of Sarawak. Another parchment also testified to the acceptance of a British Resident here in 1906.

In spite of Ramadan the restaurants were surprisingly all open and I was not the only partaker. The let downs continued unabated however with the revelation that much contrary to what the guidebook promised there were no speedboats running to Limbang as had been plan B, after subduing the frenzy of touting boat drivers one of them thankfully had the decency of inviting me aboard to explain the alternative. Under continuing pressure of time since I had a flight to catch, it was with great surprise then that I found myself soon on a bus through western Brunei in order to realise the hitherto unknown and circuitous land route to Limbang, it took maybe half an hour to reach the tatty border post at Kuala Lurah. After openly mouthing my dismay at the Brunei official's penchance for needlessly wasting now precious passport space, another arrival card palaver was followed by further dismay at the lack of onward transport. Electing to try and hitch from the small roadside market with nothing to lose I thought, it really did my head in to be waved and smiled at exhuberantly by all comers as if somehow I would be happy to see them even though they'd failed to stop. I was lucky enough in the end though with a driver's ambitious demands for a fiver promptly diminishing to little more than quid upon the chance hook up with a local couple, I was soon back in a particularly exotic and rarely explored rolling lush corner of Sarawak.

There were quite a few road junctions to negotiate and a couple of public buses evident, all of which I had been led to believe did not exist in this dead end corner, and Limbang also appeared larger, more high rise and animated than anticipated but still a sweet enthusing town. Though the Limbang River was narrower its setting reminded me somewhat of BSB from whence I had just come, with modernity on one side and a stilt village lining the other, yet tellingly Malaysian in its standard multicoloured paintjob. Given that the Regional Museum was the only drawcard in town it was a very poor ommission from the guidebook, and further ambiguity instigated by crap map syndrome even had me waste more precious time in a traipse in the wrong direction. A sign pointing the way to the airport also contradicted it, a point which would be later clarified, and I was fortunate at least in that I had chanced upon supplementary information from photocopies of an old Lonely Planet to keep me at least partially right. I retraced the length of the riverfront to eventually find myself outside the museum then, housed as it was in another colonial fort, this one simply dubbed Fort Brooke. It had been another notch cranked up on the nervometer to realise it Monday and so possibly the one day of closure, other Sarawak forts had contradicted the guidebook and even their own schedules, but here it was sure enough. Monday Closed. The sole redemption and it was an interesting if a minor one was that in tracing the museum along the riverfront I had stumbled upon a memorial which elicited a wholly unexpected history, it commemorated the loss of 4 Sarawak Rangers and 5 (British) Royal Marines of 42 Commando lost here during the hitherto unheard of December 1962 Insurrection.

I could not believe my luck in that this short side trip south from KK seemed to be destined to frustration at every turn, and though I contemplated overnighting in Limbang in determination of catching the museum, a particularly anticipated attraction, it would have meant foregoing my impending onward flight and actually staying 2 nights such was the dearth of transport. I let it go then, appeased at least that I now assuredly had time to get to the airport, only for the world to do its best at kicking me in the nuts all over again even in this concern. My Rough Guide, the latest edition I had handily picked up gratis in KK and not a year old related that the airport was just a few Ks out of town and an acceptable taxi fare away, I would have even walked it if I'd had time. Just as well I didnt get the chance to try it though as consultation with the taxi sharks told that Limbang had invested in a new airport the other direction, it now lay 9Ks away in the middle of nowhere. It was a split second decision whether to continue in that ilk then or adopt a further change of plan, the alternatives were all equally problematic and costly though and so finally I bit the bullet just for the sake of getting out of there, the whole affair was descending into a washout.

That was rather epitomised by another major attraction in the Temburong district of Brunei, an enclave which through the ceding of the Limbang River valley to Sarawak in 1905 had been cut off from the rest of the country. I had wanted to make a point of visiting it for the sake of this geographical quirk alone if nothing else, and therein lay another baffling logistical nightmare. The guidebook contradicted itself in declaring there to be crazily no land transport over the border from Sarawak, later telling of supposedly a single daily bus in either direction whose schedule would have made it typically useless to me anyhow. Upon learning of no Limbang boats from BSB I supposedly could have taken one to Bangar instead, Temburong's only town and an appealling option, but then I would have been equally stuck there with the only way out a retracing of the way I had come. That situation seemed to be nuts until you considered that the local boat journey between Limbang and Lawas lying the other side of Temburong avoided the hassles of immigration and customs and so took only half an hour.

Since it was only slightly more expensive at all of a fiver, I had elected to take the quirky flight instead between the 2 and thereby at least get an aerial view of Temburong. Imagine another perplexion then when it transpired that there were no other takers, I joked with the ground crew guy that I was surely rich at last as I boarded my personal jet, I had the 19 seat Twin Otter all to myself. It felt only natural then to greet the crew just in front of me but they didnt mess about with formalities, they just pointed us in the direction of Lawas and used the tail end of the runway to launch us quicktime. Another frustration was contemplation of the densely forested shoreline which arrival by boat would have better served to appreciate, also amazing however at how remarkably hilly this part of Borneo was. I didnt think of it at the time but the limestone outcrops of Gunung Mulu werent so far away. Temburong's main draw lay in it being the preserve of one of the last great untouched swathes of forest, Brunei's oil money meaning that timber surely wasnt worth bothering about, and though delineation of the border would probably prove unrealistic from the air, I wondered at the meandering edge of a massive palm plantation measuring 10s of square Ks across as it abruptly gave way to pristine jungle. It took only 13 minutes to hop over Temburong to Lawas, gaining good views of the town and river to all sides as we approached low right overhead, and fortunately it was plain to see that at least Lawas airport was still where it was supposed to be. It only took me 10 minutes to walk into town. The views along the river with hilly backdrops were the only real attraction in Lawas, a pleasant enough town where the main action was concentrated around the food markets. Surprisingly, a lively tent city of food stalls selling all manner of wares was already busy long before Iftar (Ramadan's breaking of fast), and in a notably Chinese town devoid of a single Islamic restaurant it seemed, for once I plumped for fried rice and noodles. Tourists were also obviously a rarity here since the girl at the hotel was unusually clingy and obliging, to the point of entering my room and investigating my books and paperwork, and a stroll around town had been prompted by many unusually spontaneous smiles and shy glances.

As if the frustrations of this loop south hadnt been enough, the trials had been further complicated by a deterioration in health which had me further worried, and seriously. With arthritic knees now apparent which made all the traipsing about even more of a pain and telltale ankles which were more swollen than I had seen them in a decade or more, my ingrained daily self diagnosis led me to conclude the imminent danger of a flare up which might quickly spiral out of control. If I was soon to revert to the levels I had endured as a 19 year old then this wasnt just a trip curtailment I could be facing, it could be life threatening. Consideration led me to conclude that my new found unlikely penchance for spices in deference to the more instantly appreciable ill effects of oily food had insidiously clogged my lymphatic system up to dangerous levels, I needed a detox and fast. For once the unappealing local staples of fried rice and noodles came to the fore and the requisite alcohol induced flush out, well that was a foregone conclusion.

Posted by andyhay2 00:00 Archived in Brunei

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