Moving on from Kuching for the long slog up the Sarawak coastline, our first journey involves an 8.30am express sea-boat to the inland riverside city of Sibu. Even though we had purchased our tickets a day early, we were still advised to arrive an hour before departure time due it the approaching holiday season double header of Hari Raya (marking the end of the Ramadan fasting month) and Malaysian National Day.
Sibu is the main staging post for adventures into the heart of Malaysian Borneo,
following the “mighty” (it seems obligatory to refer to the river this way) Batang Rajang water system into the upriver heartlands of this heavily forested island.
After much debate, we decided it too impractical to undertake this inland journey with “The Boy” what with the inherent malarial risks, generic jungle dangers, and remoteness from civilisation.
This came as a blow.
I had been looking forward to this part of our journey as it appealed to the latent adventurer in me and should really be a highlight of any trip to Sarawak. I guess that these are the tough decisions we will have to make along the way and I will have to resign myself to practicalities and shared experiences rather than pandering to my own desires as I might have done previously.
We boarded the vessel along with a host migrant workers heading home to their villages complete with live chickens, malodorous durian fruit and fake Ralph Lauren Polo suitcases. Our seats on the upper deck were comfortable enough, though they seemed to be recycled from a 1980’s 747 jumbo. What was less comfortable was the air-con.
Clad only in a T-shirt and shorts, on the basis of why would I need to wear anything else in the tropics? The next four hours, saw my body pass through various stages of frostbite, ranging from the initial “Ooh that’s a bit parky!”, to purposefully siding up to The 0.5 who was fortunate enough to have the human hot-water bottle of “The Boy” sat on her lap (he was even more fortunate that I was carrying his UV buggy net so was offered some warmth through being well wrapped inside it) whilst also having the outer port-side seat, she was not being directly exposed to the arctic blast coming from the direction of the bow and whipping tornado-like down the aisle toward me.
An hour into the journey and burrowed as well as I could be into our day packs, with my right elbow and forearm nestled in our laptop bag, I sensed I was still losing feeling in my cruelly exposed extremities.
Deciding the only option was to bare the open ocean spray up on deck, I joined the massed ranks of swell-rocked travellers in the cheap seats, where the occasional full body shower of salt water, the strong headwind and the pervading scent of poor quality tobacco was too much to deal with for more than a few minutes.
Defeated, I ventured back into the icy hell of my air-con nightmare where I discovered the relative chill was intensified after the respite of open-air warmth I’d just taken.
Realising my error was the express-boat equivalent of a castaway drinking seawater, I retook my seat, gritted my already chattering teeth and tried to think myself warm.
An hour later, the boat entered the calmer waters of the Batang Rajang Estuary and the rocking became a gentle lilt, the spray calmed and I again emerged onto deck where I remained for the remainder of the 150 or so kilometres of the journey up river as we sped our way past mangrove swamp, endless logging wharves and large wood processing plants until we finally arrived at the terminal in Sibu.
At this point I can confirm that I was rather pleased not to be facing a further long haul up river.
Henceforth, I will ALWAYS travel with a long sleeved-top in my day pack.