Heather Hapeta lives in Aotearoa-New Zealand: real travel, real adventures, real stories, real photos. Recent destinations Vietnam, Cambodia, Taiwan and Hong Kong – now NZ destinations due to COVID travel restrictions
“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.” ― Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest
I feel the same way about my photographs. I’m never bored as going through them I get to travel the world yet again and for that, I’m really grateful.
I feel sorry for those, in these times of the Covid -19 pandemic, who have saved and planned for years and who have had their one big dream travel trip cancelled – mostly with their money down the drain. I too have had trips cancelled, but at least I’ve had years of travelling the world, mostly solo, and have accumulated numerous memories. My photos are merely prompts – I even have a box of photos for friends and family, or dementia ward staff, to use to prompt me. Just a little forward planning for something I don’t think will happen is luckily for me, there has been little cognitive degeneration and my family. Here’s hoping that continues.
I look at my walls and my living area and see photos of, the salt plains of India, a Buddha in a tree trunk rubbish bin, sunrise over a river in central India, a promiscuous monkey at a national park in Malaysian Borneo, and finally, post 2010/11 quakes in Christchurch, a huge bronze bull on top of a bronze grand piano. The stories behind each of these photos, like Oscar’s diary, give me sensational memories.
Here are some more photos, each which have a story behind them, and right now, in fact, especially now – in lockdown, I can write a story in my mind as I wandered down my memory lane of travels. I’m grateful for the life I’ve had, the places I’ve been, the people I’ve met, the things I’ve seen, and all my memories.
Borneo – the land of hornbills, head-hunters, orang-utans and ‘where adventure lives’ according to many travel brochures: it could also be called the land of paradoxes.
For instance, Kuching, capital of Sarawak, East Malaysia, means cat, but the city was not named after a cat; it has a Sunday market that’s open on Saturday (and other days) and an India Street that has very few Indian shops.
Easy to love, this walkable city has a racial mix of about 23% Malay, 25% Chinese and 49% Dayaks, the collective name for the indigenous tribes, Sarawak epitomises the tourism tagline: Malaysia, truly Asia.
Walking down Bishopgate Street to Carpenter Street I talk to a Chinese man whose family have been ‘special makers of fancy coffins’ for three generations; across the road a man’s making cake tins on the footpath; around the corner Malay women are making their famous Kek Lapis, an intricate, colourful layer cake, and alongside my waterfront accommodation, a heavily, traditionally-tattooed Iban woman, creates delicious vegetarian meals to order.
Like all travellers in this national geographic showpiece, I want to see the endangered orang-utan. Just out of the city, at the Semenggoh Centre, about 70 people attend the twice-daily feeding. Free to range throughout this 300-hectare (740-acre) greenbelt there is no guarantee they will come to the feeding stations. We’re also warned to obey the staff as they have no control over their charges and photos show injured workers as proof!
At the feeding station a mother and week-old baby appear: despite being told to keep quiet, it’s hard to ooh and aah quietly! They’re delightful, the mother uses all four limbs interchangeably and sometimes it’s hard to tell if it’s her feet or hands she’s hanging from. She eats numerous ‘hotel-bananas’ as the little lady-finger bananas are called by locals as ‘all hotels serve them’, and a ripple of muted laughter spreads through the camera-clicking tourists when the baby tries to take one. A radio message comes for the ranger – Richie, the huge dominant male has made one of his rare appearances at the other feeding station and one by one we return down the track to where he is feeding.
He is huge! This ‘man-of-the-jungle’ has large cheek-flaps showing he is the king of this jungle and apparently he has already dispatched one pretender to the throne. A young male also arrives for a hand-out but keeps well away from Richie. As he crosses the rope that allows them to travel high above us, he stops to stare down at us, hanging mid-air like a kid on a school jungle gym. I have to laugh; he looks as though he is showing off to us, his DNA relatives, who are not so agile. Continuing on he shimmies down a vine and rope beside the small bridge we have just crossed and is given fruit. Richie just continues eating, a solid lump of muscle sitting on his man-made wooden picnic table.
Two young women are warned to come back from the end of the viewing platform ‘until Richie leaves’ – I wouldn’t want to be in his way. He walks upright; with each step, his long hair sways just like a shampoo commercial. He stops and stares, or maybe glares, and I send a message of hope that the heart of Borneo will always be secure for him, and with one more stop and stare he strides off without a backward glance
He knows he’s safe from us physically but most travellers here are well aware of his need of our protection and, despite international concerns, it seems Sarawak is working to secure the orang-utans future, not an easy task.
Like some TV adverts say ‘but wait, there’s more’ in this fabulous area of East Malaysia: add a kayak trip from one Bidayuh village to the next; spend time at an Iban longhouse and of course, eat the delicious local food and explore the many excellent, free, museums. The three-day Rainforest World Music Festival (10-12 July 2020– set in the Cultural Village at Damai – is a must-attend for great local and international performers. I’ve been a few times and just love it!
Also unique to this 3rd-largest island in the world, Borneo is the Proboscis monkeys. With a long straight pale tail, they leap clumsily from tree to tree and eating young shoots of indigestible foliage which breaks down in their two stomachs. Male vanity and the need to dominate means their nose can grow to such a pendulous length they have to hold it up to eat! Other males, lower in rank, have almost human or Pinocchio shaped noses and hang out in male groups until it grows bigger and they have the chance to challenge the leader and become the head of the harem. They are easy to see at the wonderful Bako National Park.
Borneo conjures up images of exotic adventures, an eccentric history, a White Rajah, wild animals, mystery and romance: my first travels there delivered, and I (the Kiwitravelwriter) soon returned to the land of head-hunters for even more exploring!
Last year I went to the Rain Forest World Music Festival in Kuching, Sarawak , Malaysian Borneo, for about the fourth time. My longtime friend, writer, and tour guide, Judy Shane, there for the first time, said ‘it was so amazing it is hard to put it in words.’
The next one is in three weeks – 13th – 15th July 2018 – so, for this years performers check out the official website
Mornings started with media briefings with a panel of artists and we were then left to explore the tribal villages, the musical workshops, and the schedule of performances. Add delicious local food and its a festival not to e missed. (Its a great stopover destination between the hemispheres too) But for me, Sarawak IS the destination.
The highlight for Judy was being part of this drum circle which I insisted she participated in – I had done so every other year and had a ball – so I just ignored her almost kicking and screaming, protesting she was ‘not musical’. She loved it! I believe it was her festival highlight .
As befitting a rainforest, two out of the three nights had a downpour and while some fans left, others danced and slipped in the mud. Next morning the international musicians commented on what a great sports the fans were and how they had never seen such enthusiastic dancing in the rain before.
We avoided the downpour by slipping into a van to go back to our room at Damai Beach Resort. While escaping into a van in the dark I had a young man sit on my knee – their drums and other instruments were taking up the rest of the van – He thought it was only fellow band members in the vehicle – I laughed, but the boy leapt out of the van with mortification – fancy sitting on an unknown Aunties knee.
This festival has thrived for two decades and is for all; young ,old, couples, families and people alone – it is the friendly festival.
I love Bako National Park. Sadly, I was unable to stay overnight this time, but I recommend that if you possibly can – do so! I also recommend you book well in advance to get a bed.
This park, which I believe is the smallest in Malaysia, and certainly the most visited because of the ease of access, from Kuching, Sarawak, is almost a different place when all the day-trippers leave.
At the bottom of this blog is a link to another story, with photos, that I wrote about Bako a few years ago after my first visit. I’m still in love with the ‘ugliest animal you ever could see’ and of course the severely endangered proboscis monkey – most people have no idea that this monkey is even more endangered than the orangutan – once again, like many animals, in danger because of habitat loss.
A public bus from Kuching will take you to the dock where you can catch a boat to Bako. Just remember, there are crocodiles in the water!
Here are some photos of those so-called ugly animals – I think ‘how could you not love the Bornean bearded pig’.
The Rainforest World Music Festivalhas just celebrated twenty years of family friendly fun: that’s two decades of unique, worldwide, musical experiences and talents in the heart of the Borneo jungle.
It started over twenty years when a Canadian, Randy Raine-Reusch, a musician and student went to Sarawak to learn their traditional music. He particularly became enamoured with the Sape, and this instrument has become an enduring, recurring theme of the festival which is held at the living heritage museum – the Cultural Village – just out of Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia, Borneo.
A much-loved tradition, that started a few years ago, is the drumming circle led by 1Drum.org Drums, and other percussion instruments, are provided for 100 people at each session – and each seat in the circle is highly sought after – and it’s first in first served.
Judy, from Los Angeles, and who was travelling with, was lucky to get a seat – ‘lucky’ as I pushed her into it. 🙂
Emerging thirty minutes later she said she was thrilled to have taken part and also said “I can see the attraction of playing music or singing on a group – the conductor was marvellous and easy to follow I can also see why you wanted me to experience it – it’s wonderful”. I suspect, had not everybody been asked to give up their seats for others, she could still be sitting there now. However, the second ‘sitting’ of musicians were just as enthusiastic!
The ‘outer circle’ of people (swaying, dancing, and flag waving) are just as much part of the noise and fun of the drumming circle as those sitting in the front row. So, when you get to this wonderful event make sure you too participate in the drumming circle.
While in Kuching a month ago, immediately after the Rainforest World Music Festival, I unexpectedly met Dato Lim Kian Hock. He told me about a group of past New Zealand military personnel who were going to Sarawak for the commemoration, and unveiling, of a plaque honouring their help to Malaya at the end of August. As my ex-husband (now deceased) was posted in Malaya (as it was then called) during that time, I was interested in what was happening.
He (Dato Lim Kian Hock) is the chair of Sarawak Tourism Federation Heritage Development Committee will be also sharing his wealth of knowledge on World War II and local war-related sites to ‘What About Kuching (WAK) 2017’ this October.
In an email sent to me and the New Zealand participants, he said “We feel blessed to share your happy moments in this historical commemoration and the successful unveiling of your MNZVA commemorative Plaque, your first memorial in the world, consecrated here in Kuching, Sarawak, Borneo on 29th August 2017. The morning shower has even failed to dampen your “combatant” spirit of gallantry” proudly displayed by your colourful parade led by Kaumatua in the Māori tradition. I feel so touched by your singing in Māori verses too and your explanation that the rain drops are the showers of blessing.
Above all, we shared your pride of the hour, when His Excellency the High Commissioner of New Zealand to Malaysia Dr. John Subritzky, officially announced the NZ decision to repatriate the remains of your NZ fallen heroes back home to NZ at Kuching, City of Unity in Borneo. A greater “spiritual rewards” to all your Kiwi veterans especially you all during the Confrontation period. You and your team has thus created a lifelong historical pride to your New Zealand Battalion. We wholeheartedly congratulate you and share this proud accomplishment of yours with all friends in the world.”
Twenty-Seven New Zealand veterans returned to remember their time in the Malaya and to see the commemorative plaque being unveiled at the Heroes Memorial Park. See this YouTube video of edited highlights https://youtu.be/4reMe8FYUHo
The New Zealand High Commissioner to Malaysia Dr John Subritzky also attended and said it was easy for those not directly involved with the Emergency and the Indonesian Confrontation to forget how difficult and challenging those campaigns were.
He continued, “I want to acknowledge the sacrifices that were made during those conflicts. The veterans who are here today are living embodiment of one of the crucial foundations of this special relationship between New Zealand with Malaysia and Sarawak.”
As well as the Sarawak Tourism Federation (STF) Heritage Development Committee chairman Datu Lim Kian Hock, others present included the NZMVA president David Fenton and members of the Malaysian Infantry Veterans Division and the Malaysian First Infantry Division. Many thanks to Bill Russell, VP of the MVA, for the use of his photos in this slideshow.
The Rainforest World Music Festival is an amazingly eclectic group of international ethnic and folk musicians performing. It lasts 3 days and the musicians, as well as performing on one of the two main stages each evening, they also lead amazing workshops.
I’ve been to the festival three times, and my fourth magical weekend starts in 51 days – at the 20th Festival (14-16 July 2017) This award-winning festival has, this year, musicians from: USA, Wales, China, Malaysia, Belgium, South Africa, UK/India, Cape Verde, Guinea, Colombia, Tahiti, Finland – to name just a few! As I said, eclectic with a capital E. Check the performers list on the #RWMF website – and follow the hashtags. (and this blog of course – more links to my social media here)
A typical day starts around 2pm with many workshops and interactive activities with the bands and other performers in the wonderful setting. It goes on until midnight, culminating with a live performance from each band on the main stage to a large, and always, enthusiastic crowd.
It’s not fair to try to sort out my favourites to check out, but I will. They are: Two South African bands – Abavuki and Kelele – who will be performing at the #RWMF) at the Sarawak Cultural Village.
Abavuki means ‘Wake up, early birds!’ in the Xhosa language, and it seems they will offer “energetic and multi-instrumental performances which mix traditional rhythms of the South African people as well as more modern styles of kwaito, samba and Jazz.”
Based in Cape Town, it seems Abavuki’s high-energy afro-beat music “reflects their optimistic outlook on life, music-making and the resilience of the South African people.”
Kelele – a minimal-instrument band – use their voices as the focal instrument.
They are keeping traditions alive with melody and harmony, maintaining the age-old African oral tradition of storytelling through song, passing on history, folktales and lessons in life over generations.
Accompanied by tradition instruments like the mbira dzavha dzimu (the finger piano), the uhadi (the traditional bow instrument of the AbeXhosa people), the umrhubhe (another bowed instrument) and the talking drum of the Nigerian Yoruba people.
On a very different note – and continent – I’m also looking forward to hearing Pareaso from Korea. These four young musicians will blend “serene spirituality and rhythmic pulse on the daegeum, geomongo, saenghwang, janggu, gayageum and vocals”.
Of course, with so many to choose my favourites from, I have no doubt that when I next read the bios about more talented musicians, I will add more to my list.
Will I see you there? Who are you looking forward to hearing and, or, dancing to?
Looking forward, looking back – while living in the now, almost seems impossible. However, living in the ‘right now ’ is how I try to live my day, every day.
That doesn’t mean I can’t contemplate the past – in fact as a travel writer I’m often looking at the past as I write stories about something I did last week, last month, or last year. Photos, whether on the wall or on my electronic frame, are constantly reminding me of a great time I had in Oman, Thailand, France or New Zealand.
And of course, photos of special people, now dead, absolutely have me looking back. Nevertheless, all this looking back is very different to wallowing in the past and beating myself up for wrongs done, or praising myself for good achievements or actions. These memories do not stop me living in the now but often inform my now so I hopefully don’t repeat mistakes but do make sure of recurrences of good deeds.
Looking forward is easy, especially as I have a wonderful life. A visit to Mongolia later this year means I had to book tickets and make reservations ready for my travels. However, now that is done it’s no use wondering if my flight will be smooth, there will be no delays, or conversely, all my planes will be late, but stay in the now and know that I can and will deal with those events on the day.
Part of living in the now while looking to the future means I’m also reading about Mongolia so when I arrive I will have a little background knowledge to its history and places I’d like to visit. So, I’m reading about Mongolia and living in the day – and doing exactly the same for another trip except that one has all 3, past, present and future.
Malaysian Borneo, had been on my bucket list for many years before I finally got there so planning for another visit means I have evidence from past visits to enhance my current preparations. The Rainforest World Music Festival (in Kuching, Sarawak) is again high on my to-do list. Nearly 2 years ago, I spent some of a birthday there in the middle of a drumming circle – such fun. Meeting people from around the world will again be a highlight there as well as the fantastic international musical programme they’ve planned. As you can see once again I’m in the present, looking at the past, and planning for the future. As I said earlier, I do have a wonderful life – one I do not take for granted, and over the years have worked hard to live this ‘easy and fabulous’ life that people often comment on.
‘Living in the now’, also gives me the luxury of being able to consider my past and plan my future. This is not how I used to live my life -I was never in the now but always wallowing in the past and how awful life had been or looking forward to a day when, somehow, without any effort, I would be plucked from my current position into fame and fortune: it never happened.
What I didn’t realise was all that time I spent in the past or future was taking up energy for today. I learnt about living in the now but it wasn’t until I started travelling – around the world for a year with no bookings – that I really understood and valued its practice. It didn’t take long for me to realise that if I was worrying about crossing a border tomorrow I could not value the beach I was snorkelling on today. A fabulous lesson that I continue to use.
So, living in the now does not mean I cannot make plans for tomorrow – what it does mean I can make tomorrow’s plan and then carry on living today, not worrying about what the weather will be like or if I will enjoy the movie, all I have to do was buy the ticket or plan to meet someone and then carry on with today’s tasks.
I’m so glad my life does not require me to make New Year resolutions but to keep learning from mistakes and moving forward.
It’s also where I will be planting mangrove trees next week as part of the “Greening of the Festival” which Sarawak Tourism does with all the festivals it hosts – this time with wonderful Rainforest World Music Festival. I did the same a year ago, helping to offset the carbon I’ve spent getting to Malaysian Borneo.
The park is a mostly saline mangrove system of many waterways and tidal creeks connecting the two major rivers that form the boundaries of the park.
An important spawning and nursery ground for fish and prawn species and it also has a wide diversity of wildlife, including proboscis monkeys, long-tailed macaque monkeys, silver-leaf monkeys, monitor lizards, estuarine crocodiles and a range of bird life, including kingfishers, white-bellied sea eagles and shorebirds, including the rare lesser adjutant stork.
In 2005 Malaysia designated the park as a Ramsar site, a wetland of international importance. To explore this park you need to travel on the river and a number of tour operators offer coastal and river cruises in and around the park.