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Sunday, 16 November 2008

The Warm Heart of Borneo: Sarawak

Dense jungles, bats and blow-pipes. As our accidental party of four cheerfully unkempt backpackers and a quietly intrepid, forty-something Canadian couple travelled further up the Betang Rejang river and into the heart of Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo’s southern province, this otherworldly combination gradually became an altogether more tangible reality. We had sped out of Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, on an 80-seater catamaran which boasted a super powered air-conditioning and a steady loop of James Bond classics. Five hours later, we left the inland town of Sibuh on a vehicle older than Sean Connery himself. As the open sea changed from estuary to swirling brown river, rutted muddy tracks came into view. These jagged scars revealed the obvious presence of machinery in the previously untouched Malaysian jungles.

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As the rain hammered against our window and freezing wisps of wintry air seeped through the tin-lined walls of our Puerto Natales hostel, we lay huddled under the thick down duvet quietly questioning our decision to spend three nights camping out in the Southern reaches of Chilean Patagonia. Of course, given that our bags had been packed and repacked, equipment hired and bus tickets bought, there really was no going back. Come 6am, we were scurrying around the dimly lit room looking for odd socks and anything else that might have fallen under the bed, before dashing outside to board the waiting bus.

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