Reaching Brunei, the Abode of Peace – 18 countries left
Day 2,101 since October 10th 2013: 185 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country
(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross).
Nation of Brunei, the Abode of Peace
Visiting countries is what I do. You could say that it is my business. My profession. I regularly debate countries and often find myself defending countries. I have something nice to say about every country. How many countries are there? Well that debate remains open. Interestingly enough I have come across several countries throughout the Saga which I had never before heard about. Brunei used to be such a country.
I’ve written about this before: there are famous countries and less known countries. Anyone who has never heard about the USA, Russia, France or China must be living securely underneath some rock somewhere. However when countries such as Equatorial Guinea, San Marino or Nauru are mentioned then it appears to me that far more people say: “what?” And of course your home on this planet also has a lot to say about which countries you might never before have heard of. If you are from Singapore then you would definitely have heard about Brunei. And if you are from Italy then you would certainly know San Marino. But if you are from Denmark then the majority of the Pacific islands are probably one huge question mark to you. And don’t get me started on the 54 countries which make up Africa…the world’s ignorance regarding that continent is astonishing. Can you list the seven countries that end on “stan”? Or maybe just a few of them ;)
People assume all sorts of things about me. It is interesting at times to meet new people and hear what they assume I am or what I am doing with the Saga. I guess it is generally hard to comprehend and as such it’s easier to imagine that I’m free as a bird and having the time of my life. Well one misconception is certainly that I have all the time in the world and only move when I feel like it. Generally the only things that keep the Saga from moving forward are: logistics (e.g. waiting for a boat), bureaucrazy (e.g. waiting for a visa), obligations (e.g. waiting for a meeting) and my health. Apart from that we move when we can. Last Friday I boarded the ferry from Jakarta in Indonesia and began the two day voyage to Pontianak on Borneo. Borneo is the world’s third largest island and it is shared by Indonesia (south), Malaysia (north) and Brunei which is just a tiny country on the northern shores surrounded by Malaysia.
My cabin - thank you Pelni :)
The good ship “Lawit” is a ferry in Pelayaran Nasional Indonesia’s (Pelni) fleet and it safely brought me across to Pontianak in West Kalimantan which is what Indonesia calls their part of Borneo. I was treated royally on my voyage across the calm sea. Passengers travel on various classes and I was given the very best. Mr Sarwin was on board as the ships steward and took care of my every need. He arranged for my cabin, all my meals and provided me with a guided tour around the ship. Mr Sarwin has ten years of experience from working at a four star hotel and another twenty years of experience on board Pelni’s fleet. He also has a wife, five children and a good sense of humour. “Lawit” was originally built to carry 1,000 passengers however we had 1,800 on board. That means that I literally had to step over some people on my way to lunch which was served on a white table cloth in a spacious hall. The contrast of having my own cabin vs. some people just sleeping wherever they could find some space had me thinking about the Titanic movie where Jack brought Rose down to the lower decks after saying: “do you want to go to a real party?” Albeit there was no party on the hallways of “Lawit”. People were simply waiting it out. Some would get seasick and throw up. Most would just occupy space.
I've slept like this many times before. But it was nice not too ;)
Mr. Sarwin and I :)
As I mentioned in last week’s entry Pelni is among the last large ferry companies which still operate with budget tickets. It is hard to compete against the low fare flights which are all too common today. However now airplane fares are getting more expensive within Indonesia which shifts many passengers to go by sea again. Pelni has been around since 1952 and are today a fundamental part of Indonesia’s network. They connect all the main islands and I will be on board again within a few weeks. Thank you for bringing me safely across this leg of the Saga.
It was dark when we reached Pontianak and I headed straight for a hotel I had picked. It was raining which I liked. I had seen no rain during my stay in Jakarta. Once I got online I received a message from my mother who had heard about tsunami warnings for Indonesia. I was fine. The warnings were in relation to Sulawesi which is one of Indonesia’s more than 17,000 islands. It is hard to comprehend the size of Indonesia. It spreads across 1/8 of the planets diameter. It is a large country! The lady at my hostel was super helpful. I managed to book a bus online which departed the next morning. I was still kind of sick so really needed a good night’s sleep and the hostel gave me that. It has been ridiculously hard to shake this cold?
The beauty of Borneo is mind-boggling! There is lots of wilderness and adventure left on this island.
I made it to the bus terminal the following morning and away we went across the border to Malaysia. Back to Malaysia. Only a few weeks earlier the Saga crossed the peninsular part of Malaysia which is below Thailand and above Singapore. Now after five hours on the bus I was in Serian. I originally thought that I might sleep there and catch a bus onward the next day. But I managed to secure another bus ticket and only had to wait a few hours before it arrived. That was an eighteen hour bus ride up to Miri near the border of Brunei. And that was a looooong bus ride. One might have dreamed of a four lane highway but what I got was a winding, bumpy road and a bus driver who would do his best to hit every bump as hard as possible. He did a good job of that! The seats were comfortable and the bus had free wifi. However the air condition was set to penguin and I will never understand why that is so often the case for coaches? And then the loud music too? It was not a comfortable bus ride and my cold had turned to the worse before we reached Miri.
I was smiling less after 120 minutes of sitting in a well air-conditioned cinema!!
In Miri I quickly found a local restaurant and enjoyed a near perfect laksa! Man I love those! And that nearly healed me. Sometimes I think I’d rather have a broken leg than a cold!! I cold is so useless!! No sympathy and since you’re not “really sick” you can continue with your day but it’s more of a hassle. It’s like: be yourself 100% but with 70% of the resources. Who needs that? Since I hadn’t slept much I headed for the nearest Starbucks and had a huge cup of coffee and logged on to their wifi. I notified my contact in Brunei that I had reached Miri and she (Joanna) said that she was planning on driving across the border after work to do some shopping in Malaysia – so she could pick me up on her way back to Brunei. Good stuff. It was early morning in Miri and the Starbucks team agreed to guard my bags while I went out for a walk. In fact I wasn’t too interested in walking about for a full day. I was interested in heading straight for the cinema to watch “Yesterday”. And since I had plenty of time I came out after watching “Yesterday”, bought a ticket for the new Spider-Man movie and headed right back in again. Each movie costs $2.5 USD which is a steal if you’re from Denmark where the same movie costs DKK 110 ($16.6 USD). So here are my reviews: “Yesterday” is a must see for anyone who likes the Beetles!! But also for people who generally enjoys a good movie. I would see it again today! “Spider-Man – far from home”, well if you’ve seen the other Marvel movies then you kind of need to see this one too. It is not ground-breaking but it is a good action movie and provides entertainment for two hours and nine minutes. Now the big takeaway for me after watching “Yesterday” was the tear felt reality of how great a loss to humanity it would have been, if the world had never been given the lyrics and text from the Beatles.
Joanna showed up in the evening to pick me up. Along with her she had two friends: Patricia and Christo. Good stuff! The four of us headed out for dinner at a superb Chinese restaurant and then drove the 60 minutes across the border to Panaga in the west of Brunei. Joanna works as a completion engineer for Brunei Shell Petroleum (BSP) which is a joint venture between the Dutch owned Shell Company and the Government of Brunei. Exploration started in 1899 with the first recorded well and Brunei produced its billionth barrel of crude oil in July 1991. Brunei is a first world country with a tiny population of less than 500,000 beating hearts and with the steady income from the sale of fossil fuels the standard of living is relatively high. Much can be said about Brunei and much has. I’ve had a few nights in this the Saga’s 185th country and I’m loving it so far.
We've got 18 countries left. See the list here: remaining countries.
My first encounters were all with expats. Joanna is a sweetheart from Texas, USA, and showed me all the southern hospitality in the world. We got to know each other through Marleen whom I know from my ski instructor days nearly two decades ago. Marleen is from the Netherlands and also lives in Brunei now but she is unfortunately out of the country so I won’t get to see her. But I did get to meet Joanna and that was a huge win! Joanna is leaving Brunei for a while and needs to empty out her refrigerator. Joanna: I’m your man! ;) Patricia is from Malaysia and also works for BSP and Christo is the odd one out working as a teacher for a Bruneian school. Christo is from South Africa so the four of us were from each our continent. How about that? :) Good people all around. I have been very pleased with my entry to Brunei Darussalam (Brunei, the Abode of Peace) as it is formally known. If you do not know what “abode” means and you are too lazy to Google it then you are in luck! I have done it for you. Abode means: a place of residence; a house or home.
I was given my own room and the apartment Joanna has is a short walk from the beach. So on my first day in Brunei I headed down to the beach and walked towards the Billionth Barrel Monument. Brunei’s coastline is 161 km (100 mi) and I have already managed to walk 2% of it ;) In fact my first day in Brunei offered my legs more than 18 km (11 mi) as Joanna invited me to join the Kuala Belait Hash, which is a branch of the Hash House Harriers (HHH). The HHH is a non-competitive running social club and I often hear it described as a “drinking club with a running problem”.
We met up at 5:15pm and shortly after set out on an adventurous trail which led through the dense jungle. The trail was clearly marked and those who wanted to run could run while others would walk. Afterwards we followed up by socializing over a potluck dinner and some hydrating. The “Hashers” have all sorts of rituals and it’s definitely good fun!! Expats and locals were mixed together and it was a great way for me to see a really fun and friendly side of Brunei.
Joanna ran the entire trail! She's a trooper :)
The “Hashers” are an international community and I first ran into them in Khartoum (Sudan). I’ve got no idea how widespread they are but I would say very. It originated in 1938 among British officers in what is now Malaysia.
A few of the "Hashers" and I :)
So what can I say about Brunei so far? Well it feels like a really safe and friendly country. On my walk during the first day I had to cross a creek and didn’t want to walk the extra distance to the nearest bridge since there was a dam which could offer me passage. I had to get a bit adventurous to cross the dam but it was possible. It looked like a government installation and there was plenty of fence and barbwire. I also spotted a uniformed man “guarding the facility”. Before crossing the dam I tried to signal the guard by waving. He immediately appeared friendly and forthcoming so I embarked on my small adventure. And as I passed him he simply smiled and then continued starring into his phone. So how do I interpret that? I figure the authorities are generally friendly and laidback. Coming across the border from Malaysia was also super easy. I’ve met some people by now and I get a clear “island vibe” from Brunei. Brunei is considered to be the most observant Islamic nation in South East Asia and hearing that can sometimes scare people. I generally blame the media for that. I have been treated no less kind by any person of any specific religion across the planet. Some of my best friends are Muslim but in general I think I have friends from every main religion at this point. Non-religious friends too. People are truly just people and in the words of Reza Aslan, a scholar of religious studies, when he replied to “Does Islam promote violence?” Reza said: “It's not as simple as that. Islam doesn’t promote violence or peace. Islam is just a religion, and like every religion in the world, it depends on what you bring to it. If you’re a violent person, your Islam, your Judaism, your Christianity, your Hinduism, is going to be violent."
And here’s what I can bring to that topic: I have reached 185 countries while crossing paths with nearly every religion I’ve ever heard about. And for me people are truly just people! I have been ignored, I’ve been cared for, I have been assisted and I have been loved. I have never been stabbed, shot, choked or punched by anyone throughout this now 277,000 km (172,000 mi) journey. What I have seen are people who care about family, sports, entertainment, food and all the other things we have in common. And those people represented every religion. If you’re a peaceful person, your Islam, your Judaism, your Christianity, your Hinduism, is going to be peaceful.
The difference between supermarkets globally can be eyeopening.
This is a short entry. I’ve mostly been in transport during the past week and we have added more than 1,840 km (1,143 mi) to the Saga. I feel stronger after a few nights in a comfortable bed. I’m considering adding a hike to the top of Mt. Kinabalu to the itinerary. We are going to travel right past it anyway and I do have a calling for reaching peaks. It is the highest mountain in South East Asia and can be scaled in less than two days. Mt. Kinabalu is in Malaysia and we still have some time in Brunei before heading back through Malaysia and taking the ferry to the Philippines. Let’s keep on keeping on.
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - 2,100 days later...
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga