Monkey Business

You’ve got this travelling thing down.  A two hour car journey? Only a few weeks ago you and Hubs drove eight hours to experience the pleasure of being thrown about on a boat (read about that here).  A forty-five minute flight in cramped conditions? Please, you’ve done thirteen hours (in pleb class) sitting next to a guy with snot dribbling down his nose.  A 6K trek through the jungle? OK, so you haven’t quite mastered that but nothing ventured, nothing gained.  Or so you thought.  And the gains? Well you’re off to catch a glimpse of a strong contender for the world’s ugliest monkey competition. You know, if there was such a competition.  The Proboscis Monkey.  Just look at the nose on this guy!

DSC04754At least one thing you’ve got sorted is your kit.  You’ve poached one of Hubs’s old rucksacks, it’s filled with water, bug spray and a Snickers bar (you figure you’ll burn that off, easy). A little trip to TK Maxx was productive: you’ve got dry-fast sportswear and new boots, they’re made for walking.

You register at Reception on arrival to Bako National Park. “Need a Guide?” we are asked.  You think probably, yes but Hubs isn’t having any of it. “Who needs a Guide?” he asks.  “We can follow a map no problem.”  You smile and agree that even you can probably follow a colour coded nature trail although Hubs seems to have (conveniently) forgotten about the disaster that was your 30th birthday where a “light, pleasant walk in the forest” ended in almost-near-death with heavy rains, tears and a lot of shouting.  Oh and those Topshop boots you loved so much; ruined.

It seems sensible to start the trek with the Snickers bar for a bit of energy and off you go!  You circle round Reception (a large-ish wooden hut) a few times.  No signs, colour coded or otherwise, to show you where to start. Hmm.  Ten minutes later you’re sufficiently hot and bothered to put pride to the side and head back towards the lady at Reception to ask where the trails start.  Directions given.  Off you go (again).

You make a pretty solid effort at keeping spirits high despite being almost halfway through the trek and not having spotted a single living thing other than the odd sweaty tourist panting through the jungle, obviously intent on scaring anything away. Hubs suddenly pauses and looks up at the trees.  “What is it? Can you see something?” you eagerly ask, searching the tree tops.  Hubs’s response is a lot of annoyed shushing (of the silent type) and flapping his hands at you like a madman.  “Oh, actually I think it’s just a tree branch”.  He eventually says.  So, no monkey.

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At least you make it to the clifftops and marvel at the views. Also a good spot for some sandwiches.  You could do without the noisy teenagers but there seems to be no escape in life from noisy teenagers.

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Having refuelled you venture back.  You both agree that you’re going to see some monkeys on the return leg.  You’re absolutely sure of it.   You briefly consider leaving out a banana as a honey trap of sorts but that seems a tad desperate not to mention dangerous.  Several false alarms later (more flapping) you do make it back to camp, in one piece, hungry and tired but still having not seen a single Monkey.  There are only two possible conclusions you can draw: either you’ve just been made a victim of a huge con and there are no Monkeys in the forest or, word obviously got round the Monkeys that you were in town and they decided to not show up.  For now, you’ll have to live with Hubs’s poor attempt at imitation.
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Living the dry life.

You’ve been living in a dry country, Brunei for almost four weeks.  Of course that doesn’t mean you’ve been living the dry life for four weeks because the import of alcohol is still allowed. So you went on your first ever booze cruise; you and Hubs went over the border into Malaysia, popped into a nice looking shop not far from Customs and found the place ridden with booze tourists all out in the sun, drinking.  At 10AM.  I guess it’s been more than four weeks for them so no judging here.  Well, maybe a little judging.  Hubs goes for the sixteen pack of canned beer but you’re there for something else and you find it for a bargain £13: Tanqueray Gin. Back at Customs you have to fill in a little orange slip declaring your intoxicating contraband.  There’s a bit of a queue here as one can imagine but it’s worth it.

As good as a beer out on the balcony on a hot day is, and oh my, it is good; it doesn’t quite fill the void of a great British pub or even a rubbish British pub for that matter.  You miss the sad looking furniture, sticky carpets, grumpy bar staff and not to mention the soggy fish ‘n’ chips. Oh for a packet of crisps and a glass of stale wine!

So you get researching online and several clicks later you hear a juicy rumour; In a small hotel, which is a little bit out of the way of town there is a secret bar. A Speakeasy! Not one of those pretentious London bars that popped up a few years ago and you never quite understood the fuss about but a real Speakeasy of the legally forbidden sorts.   You call the hotel for a bit of fact-checking.  Or rather you make Hubs do it: “Oh hi, is The Lounge open?” he asks, “Who are you and where are you calling from??” asks the gnarly Receptionist.  A few moments later he is put through to another woman, a suspicious type but you’re proud to see Hubs stand up to the interrogation and he obviously passed the test because the call ends with him being told that last orders are at 10PM.  Straight to the hotel you go where you’re greeted by yet another surly woman asking what you want “The lounge?” you say.  “Go ask at second floor!” she snaps.

At the second floor two young women are sitting aimlessly at a table in the hallway.  You look over at them and ask for The Lounge.  They point you in the direction of a room at the end of the hall.  Your heart is racing by this point. You walk along the hall, passing a number of guest rooms and arrive at the end of the hall.  You pause and look around as you get the feeling someone is watching you.  Creepy.  Suddenly a door opens and a Chinese man beckons you into his room.  In you go and at once you notice the sticky floor.  Through the cigarette haze you make out tired and old furniture, it’s definitely on the sad side. You find a couple chairs and a woman behind the bar looks up but doesn’t bother taking your order.  No matter as, a few minutes later, a waiter comes over with two chilled beer glasses, filled to the brim.  There’s even fish ‘n’ chips on the menu! Welcome back, Friday nights down the pub!

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Supermarket Sweep.

For some inexplicable reason it is always the case that when you’ve filled your trolley to the brim and carefully select what appears to be the fastest moving queue at the supermarket you inevitably get it wrong.  Even when you move across the world the situation is no better. Somehow, despite racing up and down the row of cashiers, surveying the amount of shopping per belt and the speed with which it is being bagged, you get it wrong.  You end up watching the cashier methodically retrieve every item the old couple before you have managed to heap onto the conveyor belt, study it, find the bar code, scan it, scan doesn’t work, so search again, spectacles on, tap in the number -beep! Onto the next.  It’s a slow process but you have to admire her ability to remain completely unfazed by all the huffing and puffing, and there is some serious huffing and puffing going on at our end of the conveyor belt. Some minutes (which feel like hours) later it’s your turn. You start to think about dinner that night, and lunch the next day and your mouth starts watering.  Then it suddenly strikes you! Despite having made various shopping lists, currently gathering dirt at the bottom of your handbag and having gone through each aisle half a dozen times you’ve somehow managed to forget salt.  Off you run to find the salt aisle.

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A few left turns later you reach the salt only your eye wanders off to its more interesting, sexy friend next door; Cumin. It doesn’t stop with Cumin, all her good chums are hanging around too: Ground Coriander, Mustard Seeds, Garam Masala, Turmeric… You hurriedly gather all the spices your good-little-Indian-girl arms can hold and run back to the till grabbing a small jar of salt on the way. The cashier picked up surprisingly good speed in the three minutes you’ve been gone and Hubs is lingering near the credit card machine but you shout “NO DON’T PAY!” and with that you throw down the bags of spices (and jar of salt) beaming at your spoils.  Dinner just got a whole lot better.

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At home you carefully unpack all the spices. Mouth watering again.  Then you look a little closer at the almost forgotten jar of salt.  “Funny looking salt” you think. You open the jar and pour a little out onto your hand and toss into your mouth.  That is definitely not salt but it does have a familiar taste and almost immediately you go back for more when three little letters on the side of the jar catch your eye: MSG.

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Hubs is going to love my cooking.  It’s going to get enhanced by about five times.

Choppy Waters

There’s nothing like being in a speedboat; with the water frothing at the sides, splashing on your arms and that refreshing breeze.  At least that’s how you imagine it.  When all the excitement is bursting up inside because you- bespectacled, slightly asthmatic and scared of spiders bigger than a 50p piece; you, are about to discover a fantastic island, Manukan Island that has the best snorkelling, and un-touched rainforest and a shiny white beach.  It’s what you were dreaming of the whole way on the 8 hour car journey.  Six border crossing later you’re finally there, stepping onto the boat.

The engine revs.  And splutters.  You don’t let that still your beating heart.  It revs again.  Splutters again. Some shouting ensues.  One man (The Captain?) storms off the boat.  You wait; part sitting/part crouching on the worlds’s narrowest seat, the adrenaline pumping through your veins.  Man returns with huge container of petrol.  Engine revs and off you go! Hurrah! Except the water is a little choppy; no matter.  You hold; then grip the side of the boat and then your husband (he’s a better swimmer than you).  The boat gets faster, the water choppier.  It’s all good though because you can see that speck of an island in the distance and the speed this guy is going you’ll be there in no time.  Only that wasn’t your island.  No matter, another speck of green appears.  This must be it.  The water is getting choppier by the second. The boat jumps around like a kid on a bouncy castle. Still you find the strength to take a quick selfie.  After all, what’s the point of going on an adventure if you can’t boast about it to your nearest and dearest?

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You arrive to the tiny Island.  “Let’s work up a sweat and try one of these nature trails through the jungle” you say.  Flip-flops off. Trainers on.  The walk starts off just fine, it’s a little bit sweaty and a few bugs about but there isn’t a centimetre of your body that isn’t covered in industrial strength mosquito repellant.  You soldier on.  There isn’t really a cleared path but there is a dirt trail of sorts.  Hop over a water pipe (who put that there?!) and into a puddle of muddy water.  Ahead, lie two logs in a perfect ‘X’ “Surely, they’ve fallen that way naturally?” husband says/hopes.  You give him one of your looks.  “You’re right.” He unwillingly admits.  “That was no accident.” Nature trail fail.

No matter because there’s still that un-explored beach. The one littered with tourists.  You find a strip of sand but before you can dip your toe in the water your tummy lurches so you lie down.  You stare up at the clear, blue sky waiting for the queasy feeling in your tummy to pass thinking to yourself “Maybe it’s sea-sickness? Could it be the overbearing heat of the jungle? Or that laksa we had last night?”

Who knows but suffice to say, we caught an early ride back to the mainland. So long Manukan!IMG_2882

The trouble with Resorts.

Hubs and I spent our first couple weeks in Brunei at the 5* Resort, The Empire Hotel and Country Club. As the name suggests it’s a grand old affair with gold-plated columns, elevators and even the wall sockets are gold-plated! The resort it huge.  It’s a little bit Vegas without all the stuff that really makes Vegas, Vegas.  (No booze, no gambling and no scantily clad visitors). There is a gym, cinema and golf course on site as well as 4 or 5 pools although at the moment only 2 of the pools are open.  We got a room with a view of the South China Sea (that’s the blue between the other blue and the green):

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The trouble with Resorts is this: It’s pretty hot.  So you’ll be needing to cool down at the pool.  It’s a 10 minute walk to the pool from your building.  So you stick on a bikini, add a cover up and make your way there; past the promenade of shops with lonely and bored looking Sales Assistants, through the air conditioned main building and eventually you make it down to the pool.  You pick a sunny spot with a clean-looking sun-lounger and throw down your towel before you realise that you left your Ray-Bans in the room.  So you head back.  Back through the chilly main building, where the thermometer seems to have dropped to “Icelandic”, past those really sad Sales Assistants and up/down any number of (gold-plated) lifts and back to your room.  Only when you get there you realise you left the key to your room safely tucked away in the pocket of your Kindle.  A trip back down to the lobby to look for a Bell Boy with a master key. Eventually you make it back to the pool.  Having spent the last 1/2 hour working up a sweat you’re even more excited about that first cool dip. Only in the time you’ve been gone the pool’s been invaded by Chinese teenagers.  So much for the quiet life.

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Hello world!

My very first post; Sitting in London with the balcony door open listening to the hustle-bustle going on outside.  I am starting this blog as my husband and I embark on a new adventure as we are about to move to Brunei.  I’ll be cutting back on the day job (Barrister) and expanding on the cooking, travelling and photographing everything on my way!