A Bite On The Toe Says Time To Go

One of the truly inexpensive ways to travel is with a group doing volunteer work of some type.

Several years ago, my wife, oldest son and I were able to travel to Sarawak, Malaysia on the island of Borneo. We went with a group of mostly high school students that was going to build a church.

My wife and I were going to provide medical treatment for the local people while the rest of the group worked on building the church.The cost for us was about $1300 apiece for airfare, bus, boat, room and board. That covered a two week trip. Try and get a trip anywhere for that and you will see what a bargain that is flying from the United States halfway around the world.

We arrived in Kuching early one morning and were taken to a mission to stay the first two nights and get a chance to acclimate to the different time zone and temperature. It was very hot and humid.

During those two days, we were able to tour the city, visiting the museums and shopping for souvenirs. We were also able to go to a cultural center where we could watch native craftsmen and dancers. They had some unique stringed instruments – like a cross between a guitar and a sitar.

The next morning we took off by bus before daybreak, riding about twelve hours through typical tropical vegetation and small farms. Whenever we stopped for a break, there were many large cicadas. The largest ones in Borneo are about the largest in the world, the size of a large mouse with about an 8 inch wingspan.

If you catch one, they sound like a frog croaking. Although I’m really not interested in partaking of them, I’m told they are good to eat.

When we finally got to Tatau, we got off the bus and took our things down to the river to get on a boat. At least that is what they called it. It was more like a large torpedo. Very narrow but large enough so that inside we could sit four across with an aisle in the middle.

Once we had loaded all our gear – which included a small cement mixer – we took off at an estimated thirty miles an hour. The river had enough twists and turns that I was totally disoriented by the time we arrived at our destination. During our time there, I was convinced that the sun rose in the west and went down in the east.

On the way, we passed a village that was the home of Nyla – the subject of the book “Nyla and the White Crocodile” which I had read as a child. As a young girl, a local witch doctor had told Nyla’s (pronounced ‘Neela’) father – the cheif- that she must be sacrificed to a large white crocodile which had appeared in a creek next to their longhouse. The book describes her adventures.

One of our interpreters, a local pastor, was a nephew of Nyla and told us that later in life she had been killed by a crocodile. An ironic end to one of my childhood heroes.

When we finally arrived at our destination, there was a great commotion. We started hearing music and then a procession of dancers led us up to the longhouse. This was a very impressive structure of over one hundred houses…

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