Tale of Two Sarawak Cities

Historic Kuching

Temptress arrived in Kuching on June 18 after a tedious motor for all 200nm from Natuna. Having worked out it would be slack water by the time we had motored the 20 or so miles up the winding river Sarawak to the marina we arrived and easily slotted into a berth behind Henrietta on the downstream side of the marina. The advice was to point your bows upstream to avoid rubbish catching in the rudder, so we did and later were glad we had as a couple of huge islands of Nipah Palm floated past during our stay and one large length of bamboo caught between the pontoon and Temptress hull amidships.

Ashore Kuching proved a delight, Claire flew out again from Singapore for one last sailing holiday before starting her new job and together we explored the city. First we provisioned for the next few months, stocking up on tins, cereals, pulses and pasta in a frenzy at our first supermarket(s) since leaving Sebana in April. Then we explored the river front in the city itself. Kuching’s colonial buildings managed to survive the onslaught of first the Japanese and then the Allied Forces in WWII whilst having a name that means cat in Bahasa the city has installed sculptures of them on almost every roundabout! Quirky and historic this is a city to fall in love with, where else had a white rajah for over a hundred years?

We also loved the food, especially after dining out on little but fried rice or noodles with a bit of chicken or egg or both for the last month or more. Forest fern shoots, Midin, became a firm favourite, steamed with ginger and garlic or in a salad. Sadly they don’t last long enough to export so if you want to try this crunchy delight you will have to visit Borneo.

During our stay the rally organised a trip to the Semenggoh Nature Reserve billed as an ‘Unforgettable Orangutan Experience’. On the way there the local tourist board treated us to lunch, a big spread of local dishes introducing lots of new tastes. The three of us enjoyed the tasty soup even after we discovered the lumpy bits were sea cucumber! 

The orangutans were entertaining. It was wonderful to see these orange furry close relatives come down through the trees to feed at their keepers’ call. Mum with a baby clinging to her deftly ate bananas from one hand whilst holding on with anther and grasping a coconut in her foot. When the bananas were gone she cracked the coconut shell on the tree trunk and proceeded to eat the contents before swinging off into the jungle. Back at the car park Big Ricky decided to get out of the rain, the crowd of humans had to rapidly vacate the shelter we were occupying, for him. It certainly was a privilege to meet these wonderful apes whose habitat here in Borneo is so precarious.

A few days later we set off for Miri 290nm north. For Claire this was the highlight of her trip, two nights at sea with plenty of interest dodging oil rigs on the latter part of the trip and the navigation to prepare as well as watch keeping in shifts each night. Temptress managed to sail some of the way though again the wind was fickle and ultimately the iron sail saw quite a few hours of work. As a bonus on day two we caught a fish, a nice bonito that became sashimi, poisson cru for lunch and the rest was cured to provide nibbles at sundown.

Miri – Oil Town

Miri Marina was another harbour where our arrival had to be planned carefully. This time it wasn’t fast flowing current that was our challenge, but a shallow entrance. Sources varied but the navigator decided to go with 1.3m deep at chart datum and a HW water time and depth taken from the marina’s website, meaning a lunchtime arrival. By sailing slowly Temptress arrived without incident and had a good 10 cm under her keel. Tied up safely beside Mai Tai it was good to see many of the rally fleet again as we had been in two locations around Kuching with some other crews sailing direct to Miri and making the trip down by cheap plane. Other boats joined the rally at this point so now the fleet is almost complete. Though sadly one of the boats just joining, Still Dreaming was left behind in Kuching as they suffered a dismasting when a chain plate gave way on their sail to Kuching. Having originally met Dan and Mary back in 2010 in Oman is was sad to see the damage. We wish them and their crew well as they deal with insurers and try to work through the trauma of almost losing their home.

The city of Miri was almost completely destroyed during WWII, the departing British destroyed oil installations so they wouldn’t fall into the hands of the invading Japanese, then a few years later bombed the city to drive the Japanese out. Today, a little soulless with a lot of modern development on a grid pattern of streets, it is the heart of the oil industry in these parts. However Miri grows on you, the streets of bars and cheap cafes are a contrast to the smart Parkson department stores in the shopping malls. There are several large supermarkets that stock foodstuffs popular with the expat oil workers, you just have to be patient and visit several to find everything; affordable tinned tomatoes being particularly difficult to track down. We discovered locally made pork pies and bacon at the Old Bridge Deli, owners Graham (from London) and Anjit (from Sarawak) made us very welcome as well as selling us tickets to an excellent comedy night at the boat club. And, next door to the GK Supermarket, a bakery where the bread doesn’t have added sugar in the Malaysian fashion, no idea what is actually in it as a sliced wholemeal loaf has kept fresh for over a week in the fridge!

On my birthday Sail Indonesia kindly hosted the rally fleet for supper and a presentation at the local Marriott hotel to promote their next rally which will take boats over or around Sulawesi towards Australia. The following day we boarded a coach with icy AC for a drive south to the Niah Caves and lunch at a Chinese Restaurant. The caves were interesting both for their sheer size, the amazing rock formations and evidence of 40,000 year old burials but the main attraction was totally unexpected. Twice a year the locals harvest swiftlet nests by shinning up very slender poles suspended from the roof tens of metres above. We were lucky enough to see them working – scary stuff without any safety equipment. From the floor of the cave it was difficult to make out more than their yellow torchlight. The saliva nests are used to make birds nest soup and other Chinese delicacies so are very valuable.

Then in case we hadn’t had enough food the following evening we held a potluck supper to help the Americans amongst the fleet celebrate their Independence Day. There was a huge spread with each boat bringing a dish from their own country but somehow we devoured most of it between us. I made a vegetarian cottage pie using brown lentils rather than mince.

In summary two very different cities but two enjoyable stopovers.

Ships Log: 1310 nm since departing Singapore

One comment

  1. Long time since I was in Kuching ….35 years I enjoyed it then ….good to hear you did the same! Safe travels

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