Day 1- Borneo here we come!

April 15, 2018

We got through security and were hungry. We didn’t know when we’d get food, so we stopped at the “food court”, which leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to the N Gates. The Runway Grill it was with a veggie burger and fries- sadly, the fries tasted a lot like fish. We also forgot to ask for cheese so were both a little sad about the dry burger, but it was food.

We finally got called for the flight- they have no zones or anything, everyone just lines up- at least after the people needing care and first class. We were seated in row 46 which sounded so far back but was only about 7 rows from the door we entered. There was a young girl already seated in the window seat and we piled in.

Thankfully they give you a blanket and pillow- and Bryan almost never uses his so I can take them and make a lumbar pillow and or sit on them when needed. I pulled out my new Kindle (after Bryan’s broke in Africa we have been fighting over the one we had left- I hated buying a new one and tried to win one, but that didn’t happen)- a Paperwhite which I really like because I always had a clip on light and this one is built in.

I checked however and the books I had wanted to read were not downloaded and we were supposed to be turning electronics off- or at least the wifi. The airline had it’s own but refused to connect so I had to make my phone a hot spot and do that…I was trying to hurry so naturally got the password wrong…but I was able to get a few books ready- mostly travel ones.

I started reading travel books when we were headed to Australia in 2010 and someone suggested Bill Bryson’s book, “In a Sunburned Country”. As I was laughing out loud and trying not to make a scene through the entire book, I became a fan. I have read most of his books, but what happened, is that Amazon started recommending books to me- and one in particular caught my eye, called, “The Bear Ate My Pants”. Upon further inspection it was about a Brit, Tony James Slater, who went to Ecuador to volunteer at an animal sanctuary…he had me at animal sanctuary…

The book was really funny- and he’d written another about his time traveling around Australia, which of course I was also interested in. He’s kind of a clueless, reckless bloke who seems to get into a lot of trouble without even trying. So his stories are pretty good and sincethen, I have become a fan. I have read all of his books (except the 2 I was downloading), as far as I know- which includes one of him“around town” where he lives and then also getting married (to a girl he met in the Australia book).

I chose “Shave my Spider” first, because it sounded interesting…and it turns out, he and his wife go to Borneo!? I did not read the description, I had no idea, I just knew THAT was the book I wanted to read for this trip…and I am really glad I did. It leaves a little bit of worry about some of the situations we may encounter, but already I know not to do “that” because he already did and recommended against.

  1. Thanks Tony, because you probably saved us some pain and agony.

Tony and his wife Roo always travel super duper shoestring- whereas Bryan and I don’t splurge, but we also need some basic amenities as well. Oddly enough camping in Africa still supplied those as most of the time we stayed in campgrounds where there were showers and the bar- and wifi when you could get on it…It made 3 weeks of tenting it kind of camping not seem so rugged…

This trip we actually rented a car, which if it’s anything like Madagascar will be super interesting (read: terrifying), but we decided to give it a try. The flights from one end to the other were oddly cheap- $15 actually, which is crazy- but then we’d miss all the jungle and animals and sights in between our destinations- so we opted for the car.

Anyway, I started pouring through Tony’s book- and realized we had not even taken off yet and my butt was already killing me. I had the tapping my toes, constantly readjusting myself discomfort of 5-6 hours into the flight before we’d even gotten airborne…this was going to be a LONG 13 hour flight.

Sadly, we did not get a handy dandy little kit of toiletries and supplies as we did on the other airlines…and actually I was counting on it and did not bring a sleeping mask, despite having multiples from those flights. Bryan asked if we should bring them and I said no they always give them to you- because on every international flight I have been on, they have!

What’s worse is they opted for the knit socks, like Ethiopian Air- only an electric blue vs the goldenrod yellow. I wasn’t keen on them and didn’t take them which now I am regretting because they could have become my “leech socks”…yes, you read that right.

Tony’s tales also confirm the brief conversation Bryan and I had about such things, where I clearly wasn’t paying attention…apparently, leeches hang around and drop out of trees- and it’s likely you will get them on you when trekking through the jungle…so we have that to look forward to!

As I am lamenting my neck pillow already, now my sleeping mask, I realize that I didn’t pack bug spray. It’s not a big deal of course as I am sure we can get some when we arrive, but it’s the fact we had SO much of it (the DEET kind) and we would never use it all in 10 years- and now we will be buying more/? Bryan looked at me and said, “you said you packed it”. I said, “I said I would pack it…but then I forgot”. I actually did not even pack body wash either- but we did bring baby shampoo as we found out this may keep our masks from fogging so much- so I guess we will be using that to bathe with too.

It’s a little weird but this trip just kind of just came up, so I haven’t been planning and prepping for months- and I figured we had everything we needed…which we did, but it helps when you put it in your bag before you leave! I have become quite complacent it seems to travel and I don’t even really think about a lot of things anymore- things that probably I should…but with Bryan, I don’t really need to worry about, because he usually covered everything. It’s not that I don’t want to participate in or plan the trips but he gets a little weird about it and like working on projects (around the house), we each just have to do our own thing. We get along really well and rarely fight- but we do not think things through in the same fashion.

I think he completely lacks logic and the ability to prioritize- he says I just think weird…but considering a fair number of times I find him doing what I had outlined/ suggested, I am not sure it’s me who thinks weird!

Bryan makes a few jokes at my expense about how unprepared I am and how I wouldn’t be able to survive without him- and then he realizes too, he never did send ME the itinerary. He sent it to his sister and Carol, but not me- so it is only so much my fault that I don’t know what’s going on, sama-sama (thank you in Malaysian). I tell ya, I do the communicating and navigating (after 5 minute of bryan trying to guide us in New Zealand we had to switch back to him driving)- and he plans. It’s just better this way because he’s oddly particular aboutcertain things, whereas I just want to go and see stuff. It works out.

Pretty quickly in the the flight, we were brought some food. I do like having a “special” meal because they feed you first, and usually when it comes to food I want to grab the tray when it’s going by on it’s way to the front and not have to wait my turn otherwise…so this, I like.

It was of course, white rice and steamed veggies- which I am pretty sure we will be eating a lot of over the 2 week period. There was a small salad but only lemon to dress it with- which is a little hard to eat. There was some pineapple which was good- but when I saw for us vegetarians, it was in lieu of the cake the others got for dessert, naturally I was a tad bummed. They think vegetarians don’t want dessert- and it’s like they think we want to eat healthy only- not just that we don’t eat meat. They often leave egg and cheese out of things too- which when it comes to breakfast and you could have scrambled egg and move the sausage over- or pint beans and rice, I’d much rather have the eggs…but this isn’t how the airplanes do it- and let’s just say, overall I was grateful they got the order right at all- instead of forgetting me entirely as South African Air had suddenly.

I vacillated between movies and reading- got some academy award winners out of the way: the shape of water, which was not at all as I thought it would be (but still good) and then I, Tonya, about Tonya Harding…which was good as well, but terribly sad. That girl was cheated out of the credit- and the scores- she deserved…and her home life was a wreck. Whatever you think about her part in the whole Nancy Kerrigan knee incident, Tonya did not have a whole lot of chances to grow up to be anyone but who she is. And why couldn’t it have just been about the skating? Politics. Always my favorite.

I was really unable to sleep and when I tried, my jaw would fall open and then it’d wake me up- which happened approximately every 2 minutes. So I didn’t get a lot of rest there. I did contort my neck really good and then shoved my rolled up hoodie up between my neck and cheek- so I was kind of laying on it and it kept my jaw shut. Also, this is the first flight that I can think of in ages, where I wasn’t so cold I wouldn’t even consider taking off my hoodie. I was actually a tad warm, which is unheard of for me…normally no matter what, I feel like a popsicle and just shiver the whole ride.

Just when you think it HAS to be almost time to land, you look and there’s like 6 hours left…so between more reading and trying to sleep I whiled away about 4 hours. Then I got REALLY tired. I could hardly keep my eyes open- but also, without the sleeping mask, the guy in front of me’s tv kept flickering and alarming me…so I put Bryan’s baseball cap over my face- which smells a little but helped with the light.

OH! The windows were auto darkening! The girl next to me when she wanted to go to sleep turned her blue tint up and it was like putting down the shade. And when they deemed it should feel like night time, they dimmed the windows on the entire plane. It is pretty darn cool actually…until one person decided it’s not night anymore and they turn theirs off and the whole plan is light while people were trying to sleep…which happened a few times and made me miss that sleeping mask…

But oddly enough, the girl next to me NEVER got up at all- not to stretch her legs, not to go to the bathroom…she slept most of the way, did some studying, but in all was mostly asleep- and for that I was envious. I really wish I could sleep on planes…and we realized too late the flight was not nearly as full as it seemed- and all the people in the back got entire rows to themselves…which I wish we scored. I can sleep when laying down.

But man, our butts were sore. Normally I maybe stand up once and stretch my legs, independent of going to the bathroom, but I had to like 5 times, just to stand there and shake it out.

There was also a lot of turbulence so we had to get in our stretches and bathroom breaks between the bumps… I could not stay awake for “All the money in the world”, which is really good but I will need to watch again…I also had a hard time even remaining conscious during the very important debriefing video they had about what you do when you get to the airport and how to transfer and so on. I knew (as per his past capacity in Africa) Bryan could not possibly do well there…even though I paid attention, it was still confusing.

We got off the plane, down stairs onto the tarmac, despite this being a Dreamliner. It was instantly warm, about 80 degrees F and muggy. There were two transport buses waiting to take us to the terminal. There were attendants there asking us where we were going but it was confusing because whether she was asking if we were staying in Shenzhen or just going through wasn’t clear- and she pointed us to the really overcrowded, I nearly didn’t fit on bus. We hoped it was the right one. There seemed to be a fair amount of confusion among the agents, despite their very purpose being to alleviate this…

We meandered along the runways- the other bus still following us…and we parked in front of customs, the other bus right behind. It really made no difference which bus- and then we just shrugged our shoulders and plowed through- and were quickly stopped by a line to be fingerprinted.

There was a young girl agent regulating the line- we had to sign something saying something- maybe that we were just in the country passing through- on top of the 2 other visa and temporary resident cards we also filled out. Then we were ushered to a waiting area- we being all the people who were not nationals and were making transfers/ passing through. The rest of them however had lanyards with badges that indicated “transfer passenger” to which I inquired why we didn’t have this. Although it seems most people don’t really know much English despite their positions, she did and said because we were going to a different airport within the country- and not direct from there to our destination. This was to Fouzhou- the 9 hour layover.

We sat here for a really long time- and we had nearly forgotten they had taken our passports with those forms, but she started to bring them back…and naturally we were dead last. The seats were the hardest plastic ever and I was really hoping that the rest of the airports were not the same- as we had a good 4 more hours here too. We also wondered how long Bryan’s bag must have been going around the carousel- if it even arrived…but sure enough after the second check point where they actually looked at us and scanned our fingerprints (again), we could see the lonely bag circling the carousel by itself.

I plucked it off and waited for Bryan to come through.

If you had any question about which way to go there are giant arrows which tell you to go in the direction they point…we put our bags through an xray and were let loose into the airport to go get our boarding passes for the rest of the legs (it is so annoying that with the same airline on all 3 flights they cannot just give them to you at the start- nor book your luggage through).

The airport is pretty confusing and there are not really a lot of signs. The video didn’t really help me and we were almost out and to the parking lot before we realized the airport went on behind us as we climbed the ramp. So we went back in and tried to find the Xiamen counter- which was also no easy task. At home, the monitors say which airlines the kiosks serve, but that’s too easy for her…so we had to ask- oddly enough the same girl from downstairs and she said in row C.

So we went there and up to a random kiosk and it worked.

He booked our boarding passes through Fouzhou- and said we’d have to get our luggage AGAIN- and then go back through security to get to Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Malaysian Borneo. Why? I don’t know…

We got through security which in contrast is a breeze- especially compared to back home…and started down the escalators to the bustling terminal. The architecture was kind of a honeycomb looking thing and it was pretty cool. There are shops and food- but sadly, NONE of it vegetarian friendly. There was plenty of beef intestine soup and “pannini” which was sushi on bread…but not even the mini McCafe had fries or anything we could eat- they just served desserts and coffee, like a bakery. We got all the way to our gate and I remembered a Burger King all the way back at the start. So we walked all the way back- after 13 hours on the plane, not sad about getting moving, but my hip really started to hurt- the one that bothers me relatively often.

We got to Burger King and oddly enough they had what looked like black ice cream and it said it was sesame red velvet cake flavor? Not sure about that…but I did see a not on the monitor when someone else was checking out that said “if you are using a card insert it now”- but we had picked out a large fries and a sundae (which sounded SO GOOD) and they said they didn’t take our visa card? I was pretty disappointed because at that point I was really hungry and not only was food hard to find- but then we couldn’t pay for it?

On the way back we went to Starbucks, which I always something I feel lame for when exploring other cities and lands- but really, it was the only place we could get something without surprise animal body parts- and that took our card. You can always count on Starbucks to take your money…funny, I would have thought the same about BK too.

We ordered some muffins and a croissant to take with us and trekked the long way back to the gate…to the same very hard plastic seats from before. Thankfully at this point we did not have to wait too long- and when the flight was about to board, the gate changed and we had to go downstairs (pretty much right below) and load there from a different gate.

There is something I want to mention about spitting here- as people seem to not mind at all (and I have since read in tony’s book, it’s “good luck”). The men gurgle and cough up some loogeys and then just hock them at a plant or something (which I don’t even know are real)…this happened multiple times- so much so even Bryan noticed and asked what’s up.

There was another dude unabashedly picking his nose, looking at it and then going to town on the other side…but the reason I mention it is the first guy we saw spitting was following us onto the plane, spitting as he went!

This was a much smaller plane- and a lot less people, so Bryan and I were thrilled to have a row to ourselves to get some good rest…only little did we know the flight was pretty much up and down and that was it- it was not even long enough to sleep!? They gave us a mini bottled water and nuts/ fruit- but it was not the meal we were hoping for…and the turbulence was pretty crazy. As was the fact the rain was so bad, that flights were being turned away, just circling until they could see to land. Including us.

It was a little nerve wracking but I was SO tired I couldn’t keep my eyes open, which made it go fast. The landing was a little scary and sometimes I get dizzy and will throw my arms up to grab the armrests because I feel thrown off (even if not scared, just suddenly off balance), which always looks ridiculous and Bryan laughs at me…but this time when we landed, he jumped out of his seat because he was asleep and wasn’t expecting it.

We got off the plane at 130am and now had a dilemma. We knew our bag would be circling the carousel, lonely, waiting for us- but we were not sure what awaited us on the exterior of the terminal, past baggage claim. We were walking by acres of quiet spots with cushy seats where you could lay down- and who knew what we’d find when we got out there…so we resisted leaving.

We collected our bag and Bryan spotted one lone row of seats just asking to be laid on. A cop was guarding the escalator back to the terminal so we couldn’t go back, but this would do. We set an alarm, just in case and proceeded to sleep for about 2 hours. This was much needed.

I don’t know if it was because he saw I was awake or if he came to wake me, but a new cop at that post was trying to tell us something. I imagined it was you can’t sleep here move along, but we wouldn’t give up so easily. He typed into a translator into his phone and said “Take a nap at exit”- so sure enough we had to move. I pointed to the bench and gestured like, we can still sleep out there- he assured us yes…

The exit area was pretty devoid of anything- especially benches- though there were a few at each end. Thankfully the hordes of people who had come through were not also trapped there as we were so they left and went home or whatever- but there were a few of us stuck there…and all benches but one were taken. So we commandeered them and promptly fell asleep again.

I could smell the ocean air, like it smells when we’re in downtown Seattle, so I guess Fouzhou is near the water? The door kept opening so it was a tad cold, but thankfully we had brought a blanket that packs down really small. I hesitated knowing we’d be headed to 90s and muggy weather, but you never know…and it did come in handy.

By the time it was 530 I was starving and starting to get a little annoyed. There was a McDonalds on this level- but apparently brekky here is not at 530 or even 6- and when they do open, do not offer breakfast. It’s just regular hours stuff…and who knows if they take cards. We went upstairs to see what was there- again, really slim pickin’s especially for vegetarians. The “Memory Noodle House” had a variety of meaty noodles and dumpling- and KFC seemed to have an egg sandwich, which I was going to go for, trying to get them to leave the meat off it. I got to the counter and flashed my Visa card and she said no…it did not seem worth changing $10 to then go back and get what would surely not be the egg sandiwch I hoped for, so I gave up.

But I wanted to move along into the terminal, past security to see what was there…

Only here, you can’t check in for your flight until they want you to. So not only was there no one at the counter, but we didn’t know which counter we’d be going to for our flight (whereas other flights, earlier, were called out). We retreated back to our new benches- this time hard crappy ones, though with some padding…just not like the nice ones inside baggage claim.

We slept for a bit more and then decided to go in. We figured this time we’d only be one flight ahead of our time to check in and they might let us- but no. And we saw one more row of the cushy seats and quickly took those rather than leave the international gating area again- and waited 2 more hours, until it was 9am and they’d accept us.

By this time I was really hungry and annoyed. I ate a granola bar, numerous nuts, sour patch kids…bu I wanted a MEAL. I wanted to see what was on the other side of security- because coming in I had seen a Starbucks…I mean we have been up all night and haven’t even had COFFEE, which alone, is enough to put you in a bad mood. I was trying not to get that way, but by now I was really sick of China and being stuck in this stupid airport with little options…only to realize on the way home we have an even longer 12 hour layover here coming home- again, in the middle of the night. At least then we will be prepared with snacks galore.

As I was about to roll my stuff away I noticed a gold bracelet on the ground and tapped the girl next to me to see if it was hers, but she said no. I picked it up and was going to bring it to the counter…I realized it was really heavy and might be solid gold. I still thought about turning it into the airline, but I also know that it did not also seem very special either (even if real gold it did not look “expensive”) and the chances of anyone really coming back for it slim. I decided if it was real gold- it could 1. Keep us alive if we got robbed of our money and cards or 2. if it was real, would be a nice little return on our investment of this trip…and although I normally would not keep it, felt perhaps this little trinket was found for a reason. We will see…and of course the bad karma I will probably get for it- especially as it will be worth nothing, I am sure, will be a price I pay forever for a piece of crap costume jewelry bracelet…but isn’t that just how it works out anyway? I do have that tattoo no good deed goes unpunished for a reason!

We had to ditch our mini bottle of water- and dumped the remaining bit of the Lifestraw bottle’s contents (you can fill it with any water and it purifies it). They have handy drinking water dispenser here- not just water fountains, so you can always get it…and I took the laptop out, but that was it. No line, no stress and it was a breeze.

And there’s nothing here in this terminal either. There’s a Hudson News which is the size of a guest bathroom- which had some potato chips, cookies and nuts which we stocked up on…but no food for us (just another Memory Noodle House)…I hate to say it but China hasn’t made a great impression on my stomach or mood as a result. I am really hoping that Borneo offers a bit more options. As we will be staying in the city the first night- and resorts who will provide our (pre-arranged) vegetarian meals, it should be fine…I am wondering through if we shouldn’t have overestimated our need for protein bars as we had in Africa…but we’d have had to have brought another bag for that if so. We were packed full- and that’s with each of us packing everything for the two weeks each, in the small carry on and backpack.

We have the bigger “rucksack” hiking pack with our fins and masks, etc, but there wasn’t much room beyond that…and too much weight and we’d have been given trouble…so we left the food.

We’re waiting now for the flight to Kota Kinabalu, after many hours of traveling, not enough sleep or food…and I am really looking forward to laying down in my bed- after a huge meal of something not meat. I discovered thankfully (at least if Borneo is the same) our travel adapter for the plug works- but the type of plug they seem to use is the one we had to buy in South Africa- that we gave away to the driver at the end because we didn’t think we’d need it again…even if going to Africa it’d be a long time before we’d be back to SA…and we thought oh someone else could use it.

No good deed, you know…

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