A Travellerspoint blog

The Kelabit Highlands - Borneo. The Naming Ceremony

Are you going for the naming ceremony?” We were asked time and time again as we tried to book flights and accommodation. The reunion we had planned with fellow travellers to meet in the Kelabit Highlands in Borneo Malaysia for Xmas and New Year was not going to plan. Planes were full and accommodation scarce. ‘Must be a christening’ we thought as we emerged from the travel agents clutching two rare as rocking horse shit flight tickets that no one else in our group had been able to obtain.

Raddish, our genial host, picked us up from the airport. “No time for unpacking” he shouted as the 4 wheel careered down roads 3 foot deep in clay mud “we have to get to the naming ceremony,we don’t want to miss the games and we need to pick up some gifts”. Half an hour later we were trudging along a mud road in the must have foot wear for the wet season, the Bario plimsoll – they don’t sink like wellies they skim. We stopped off in the village to buy the obligatory gift, a box of dried biscuits – apparently Kelabitians can’t get enough of them. Raddish tried to explain. For the naming ceremony, all three village communities were coming together to celebrate in one of the long houses. It was an important all inclusive event with the emphasis on hospitality, traditional games, songs, dances and the boiling of 7 hogs. As to what we were celebrating, we were still unsure. But free food, drink, and a ceremony in a longhouse – it pressed all the right buttons for me.

The Kelabit people have a very interesting history, originally nomadic, cannibals and head-hunters the whole community converted en mass, after some kind of revelation, to Christianity. They are a warm, welcoming, intelligent and extremely interesting people.

We found out that naming ceremonies honour the rites of passage through life. Therefore, as a person progress through each stage they are renamed. For example when one gets married, becomes a parent or a grandparent one is honoured with a new name. The day starts with food preparation the traditional way, games involving blow pipes, tug of war, climbing a slippery pole, pig chasing and of course eating and drinking. The eating and drinking continues into the evening, the ceremony takes place then the older generation of ladies sing haunting songs and perform graceful dances that tell of times past.

Raddish had to go on a trek the next day and so we happened to met Peter, Raddish’s brother, a gem of a man. He was working on the government to protect the area from logging, spoke several languages including Penang, studied engineering in order to get electricity into the villages, was head of the family longhouse, an enlightened guide and a dammed good drinking partner. He invited us to New Year’s Eve at his family longhouse. Yet another traditional evening with friends and family ensued with wild boar cooked in bamboo to eat, washed down by substantial quantities of rum and coke. At the end of the evening the ladies of the household sang a traditional song which invited us to become honoury members of the family. We now have a room and board at the family longhouse whenever we return.

I have travelled far and wide but I have never encountered such generosity and friendship as that which was extended to us by the Kelabit people. It was a humbling and enriching experience.

Posted by travelhappiness 21:27 Archived in Malaysia Tagged travel ceremony highlands naming boreno bario kelabit Comments (0)

Ging gang gooley gooley gooley gooley watcha

Camping in England has never been my favourite pastime. Mention the word tent and my mind takes me back to the yearly Girl Guide Camps my parents forced me to attend. Wet English summers, the smell of damp canvas, soggy cloth on the skin, burnt food, pervasive smoke and nonsensical camp fire songs, eggy bread and tramping across half an acre of cow pat covered, insect infested terrain to get the latrines. Not content with testing teenage bodies resistance to hypothermia and pneumonia, the pack leaders would abandon us in the middle of the South Downs with a compass and a map (no phone) and expect us to find our way back to the site by tea time. Amazingly no one ever got lost, molested or hurt. But that was probably because as soon as the van disappeared over the horizon we hitched a lift down to Brighton and spent the day on the beach and caught the train back.

The Australian idea of roughing it is a whole different story – these guys do it with style. First they have the right weather – which is 80% of the battle. Rock up to any camp site and you will generally find power – essential for charging up ipod, batteries, computer etc, a barbecue area, an undercover eating area that often includes, cooker, fridge, microwave, kettle, TV, tables, chairs, cooking pots and utensils. If it rains you have an alternative as there are equipped cabins on site. Add into the mix the Aussies ability to party/barbie and camping takes on a whole new meaning ie fun. I started to warm to the great outdoors.

Uruguay took camping to a new level. We arrived in time for the summer party season and accommodation cost three times more than normal. Hoards of young ravers from Argentina and Brazil flooded the coast, preparing to take part in a longer version of schoolies week. After hours of waiting in the hot sun we were let in to the site to pitch a tent. One thousand five hundred people were crammed into a 500 tent area. Toilet and shower visits had to be timed well in order to avoid the nightly 2 hour queues. Cooking over an open fire was a given as the restaurants were unimaginative, poor quality and expensive. It was a challenge but nutritionally beneficial, cheaper and more fun. And we had enough money left over to lash out on a bottle of wine at night. No one complained, got drunk, fought, annoyed their neighbours with bad behaviour or loud noise levels. Everyone was out to party, have a good time and make new friends. I loved it. But fifteen days on hard un-giving ground, despite alcohol induced sleeps, took it’s toll. We left Uruguay and headed towards Argentina for some soft mattress down time.

Posted by travelhappiness 17:21 Archived in Australia Tagged people travel girl summer camping english humour autralia guides uruguary Comments (0)

Thai Logic

As usual we had messed up. Not realising it was the end of Chinese New Year and the island would be hopping we’d only booked for three nights thinking that the other 9 nights could be sorted out on arrival. After one night’s stay we were in reception trying to sort it out. So far the receptionist had offered us the next three nights at a discounted rate and we were trying to negotiate the remaining 8 nights (the discounted price was actual fact the advertised price- 300bht per night. We paid 500bht for the first night). The remaining 8 nights included the upcoming weekend.

“Room booked for weekend, three people moving in, can’t have” the girl said smugly. ”Everywhere much bookings” she added. Any hopes of getting a swank room for a few days to celebrate my 50th receded. “One hut, not booked if you move now can have for all time...same price” she continued. I knew the hut being touted intimately having been palmed off in it before . The resident neighbors held impromptu karaoke sessions late at night, the toilet block was next door and its associated odors pervaded the room constantly and the noise from the nearby building works often woke me up in the morning. Needless to say I wasn’t happy.

I was about to ask why she thought we would be willing to move to a small – could not swing a cat in, dark, dank, holey cabin that was impossible to keep the mosquitoes out of. When we had booked a concrete mossie proof, 2 beds, light and airy apartment where I could swing Mitch holding said cat by the tail and still have room to spare. I thought better of it – Thais do not get sarcasm. I applied some tact and logic to the situation.

“Why would I want to move when I have a better apartment at the moment for the same price?”

“Because if you move today you can stay all time in shit hut not have to move out” was the reply

“Why can’t I stay in this room for 3 nights already paid then stay another 2 nights before weekend, move to shit hut then move back after weekend?” I responded

“Can’t guarantee you can stay in shit hut for rest of stay then” she replied

I heard a groan from behind me and turned around. My partner was sat on the bench with his head in his hands. I returned to the fray.

“But you tell me no one has booked shit hut, so what is the problem?” I asked.

“OK you can stay the extra 2 night’s then move into shit hut” she conceded

Having reached an agreement we left determined to find another room for the weekend only to discover that everywhere was booked and that if we did not take shit hut we would end up sleeping on the beach. We went back our hotel reception to pay for and secure the accommodation.

“Ok we stay in current accommodation for the 6 nights then move into shit hut for the nights you have booking then move back when it is vacant”. I said

“Not possible nice room may be booked for 2 nights before weekend” she replied

But this morning you said we could have room until weekend then move into shit hut”. “We stay long time, we are here now, the room is not booked so why can’t we have?”

“Ok you come at 8.00 on morning of 16th and see if room available until 18th, if not you c h e c k o u t” the emphasis definitely on the last 2 words.

After a brief conversation with Mitch which consisted of are you confused because I am we agreed with resignation to take the shit hut and move in to it after 3 days.

“ so we stay in current room for next 3 nights move to shit hole for next 4 nights and then move back into current room when weekend over” I clarified.

“Can’t do” she replied obviously relishing the game

“ Why not” I asked

“ Shit hole now booked but if you move in now to shit hole you can have” .

I heard another groan from behind me.

I had a moment of inspiration “what if we pay extra to cover the cost of the 3rd person you can get in the room , would there be anything else available?” I asked

Smiles, deep breaths............ breakthrough!

“Room cost 1000 baht per night for weekend” she said. “Boss say we have to get 1000 baht for room”

No problem we said in unison – although it was a rip off.

“We think you not want to pay this much” she replied. How poor do I look? Would have been my normal retort but I restrained myself.

“No problem” we replied in unison again.

“OK if you pay 1000 a night for 2 nights you can stay in the same room you have now for the rest of the time here” she beamed and thus confirmed my growing suspicions that this had been about getting more money for the room and there was no booking.

“But we give you discount - you here with us a long time”. She added. I screamed silently. I waited for the groan from behind and was not disappointed.

Now here’s the interesting thing about the whole affair. We were quoted 500bht per night and 1000 baht per night for the weekend and we stayed 12 nights which should have cost 7,000 baht. They charged us 500 for the first night, 300 for subsequent nights and 700 for the 2 weekend nights (discount). Total cost to us 4600 baht - much less than we expected to pay. If the alleged weekend booking had been genuine, or they had rented the room out at 1000 baht as they wanted to they would have netted 5600. So in fact after fucking us around in order to get more money they actually made less.
And that’s Thai logic.

A couple days later I walked by reception and heard two tourists asking to change their room. “All rooms booked, no have” was the response. I carried on walking.

Posted by travelhappiness 01:27 Archived in Thailand Tagged people accommodation travel thailand humour ko samed logic Comments (0)

Sickness and a Sonkran Soaking

Chang Mai

The book said “whatever happens try not to get sick in Potasi” (Bolivia). I’m not sure why. Possibly because it is one of the highest towns in the world and getting in and out is difficult? Maybe because health care is sparse or there is a lack of expertise. It could be that altitude sickness masks underlying problems. Anyway, whatever the reason that’s where my body decided to malfunction, rebelling against all the travelling, dodgy food and other ailments I had overcome along the way. In desperation I staggered into a taxi and headed for a hospital recommended by the owner of the hostel I was staying in. I wandered around and found reception, paid and stood in line to see the doctor. Whilst watching the rugby scrum tactics of the other patients when a person exited the examination room and despairing of ever getting seen, a wonderful lady took me in hand and guided me to a different area. There a Doctor who spoke a little English and seemed to understand my pidgin Spanish carried out a few tests. Unfortunately, that’s where it all went wrong in terms of communication. They stuck me in a wheelchair despite the fact that I could walk and wheeled me off in the direction of a ward. After indicating that I should get undressed and into one of the empty beds I frantically riffled through my phrase book/dictionary and cobbled enough Spanish together to ask what was happening. Lots of shrugs and pointing in the direction of the wards reception area followed. There I collared the sister and established that she spoke Italian and Spanish, I spoke French and English. Not much help really, but as I was feeling shit I got undressed and into bed as it seemed like a good idea. Three bags of saline solution, anti-biotics, gallons of water laced with rehydration solution and a day later I felt much better and left the hospital with hardly a dent in my wallet. What I can say about this experience was that although the building was shabby, paint was peeling off the walls, beds were broken and mattresses torn, the staff including the cleaners and orderlies were amazing.

So it was at Sonkran, the New Year water festival. Celebrations in Chang Mai, Thailand have a reputation for fun. Vast amounts of water are chucked around, colourful parades procession the streets and a large amount of people die as a result of water borne related accidents. Once again at an inauspicious time my body decided to breakdown. Deciding it was more than a bad reaction to a dodgy kebab I had eaten I headed for a hospital. Staff were on leave and specialists were very thin on the ground but once again the service was excellent. Unfortunately, riding backwards and forwards to the hospital in tuk tuks we got soaked courtesy of the drivers who drove up close to the arsenal of water hoses, buckets and guns filled with ice cold water on every street. I stood in reception dripping water onto the hospital floor and froze in the air conditioned waiting room much to the amusement of receptionists, nurses, doctors and other patients. After the 3rd change of clothes and 4th soaking I was not so amused. But as the saying goes, if you can’t beat them join them, I caught a waterproof taxi back to the hostel, donned a raincoat, purchased the biggest water gun I could find and hit the streets.

Posted by travelhappiness 01:21 Archived in Thailand Tagged people bolivia songkran health hospitals potasi Comments (0)

what a boobie

Being an individual traveller has advantages and disadvantages when booking a tour. Meeting new and interesting people is great but occasionally a really obnoxious person will turn up amongst these good people and try to spoil the experience for everyone.
Such was the case when we booked a tour for the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador. We landed in Quito and immediately were struck down with altitude sickness. Resolving to get to the islands as quickly as possible we trawled tour agencies but were so overwhelmed by the amount of different itineraries, quality of boats and prices that we couldn’t make a decision. This was possibly because we were experiencing lightheadedness and low concentration levels. Not ideal conditions to make rational decisions and part with a wad of cash.

We decided to fly out to Isla Santa Cruz in the Galapagos, stay there and then book a tour (because the travel books said it could be cheaper). However, the books also pointed out that in high season flights, tours and accommodation were full for weeks in advance. This claim was backed up by tour agencies who said we were better off booking through them although they had no vacancies for at least a week. Therefore, we were not surprised when we could not find any flights to the islands for the next 9 days on the internet. Desperate to leave the migraines and biting cold behind we headed for the nearest aviation company office ready to beg on bended knees for any cancellations. Imagine our surprise then when asked by the computer operator when we wanted to fly and I replied tongue in cheek “tomorrow” she replied “at what time?” We flew out the next day and by 6.00pm had secured a room (easy) and booked a quality tour (at very good discount) which sailed in two days from our arrival.

It was an amazing trip, well worth the money. Highpoints included swimming with seals, watching the blue footed boobies make out, looking into the eyes of miniscule dinosaurs, jumping out of the way of rays in the surf and watching seal pups feed from their mothers. Because the animals seem to have no fear of humans there are certain rules that tourists were asked to adhere to in order to preserve the ecosystems. The most important being:-

1. Only a certain amount of tourists are allowed on the island at one time therefore boat tours are allotted a time slot that they can stay on the island.
2. Keep to certain footpaths for obvious reasons.
3. Do not feed, touch or encourage the animals to interact with you.

We had misfortune to have obnoxious man on our tour. Middle aged and obsessed with taking photos, his moods swung from high humour to very bad temper tantrums. Having paid his money he felt that he could do anything he liked including trying to kiss baby seals, touch the wild life, wander off designated paths, lagg behind the group refusing to keep up. When our female guide reminded him about the rules he generally spat the dummy out and had an extremely nasty temper tantrum. Swearing, shouting, stamping up and down, making intimidating gestures he spat out crude and personal comments about the guide. When the other passengers protested at his behaviour he abused them as well and actually deliberately knocked one of the older gentleman in the back. The guide was at a loss what to do. She toId us that if she couldn’t curtail his behaviour she would be reported to the authorities by other guides and could lose her licence. He on the other hand, would get away scot free. This guide had already been through the emotional wringer as on her last trip the boat sunk and she was lucky to get out alive. Before the situation could escalate obnoxious man, who had a tendency to stampede off the boat when it landed in an attempt to get onto an island first, fell into the sea with all his photography equipment. Did anyone rush to the rescue or sympathise about the ruined equipment – like hell they did. We watched him flounder in the shallows, exchanged glances that conveyed mutual satisfaction at his demise and did not lift a finger to help. He sulked in his room for some days leaving the rest of us to enjoy the trip in peace.

Posted by travelhappiness 01:16 Archived in Ecuador Tagged people islands tours galapagos Comments (0)

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