Our final stop on the east island of Malaysia was Kuching, capital of the Sarawak state. ‘Kuching’ derives from the Malay word Kucing which means cat, so interestingly there are cat statues/monuments throughout the city and even a cat museum**!! We flew into Kuching without huge expectations, just hoping to spend some final days with Kelsey in a quaint little city. Before leaving Semporna we called ahead to the Siggahsana Lodge (an LP recommendation) to make sure that they had room for us.
Cheap flights forced us to spend an entire day in the not-so-exciting Kota Kinabalu airport, where we kept ourselves entertained with free wifi and round the clock meal time. Once in Kuching we climbed up the steps to reception and warily surveyed the impeccably decorated Siggahsana lodge. The dark hued wood and leather furniture evoked a jungle safari, while the day beds and book lined walls offered the comfort and pleasure of home. We were thrilled to make our way up to a spacious room and bask in the cleanest communal bathroom in all of Malaysia. After you are accustomed to a drizzly, tepid shower it is impossible to exit their shower in under 20 mins. All this and we hadn’t made it up to the roof yet. Overlooking Kuching, Siggahsana has the coolest bar with hammocks, hidden lookouts, a pool table and free wifi. At this point we toasted our good fortune and debated whether or not we’d need to leave the lodge at all while in Kuching.
In the morning I searched for some appropriate clothes (i.e. below the knee / over the shoulder) while all of mine were being washed. Although not as strict as Semporna I still felt really uncomfortable wearing shorts or tank tops – though you can imagine how strange it is to look for longer clothes in 85-90 temps. After a fruitless trip to the mall (!), I found a little worn, pair of fancyish pants at the bottom of my bag. (Outfit #2)
That afternoon Kelsey and I planned to visit the Sarawak Museum. We misunderstood the directions and walked 20+ mins in the opposite direction, in sweltering heat but eventually found our way back on track and spied the museum in the distance. We had quite a bit of trouble crossing the roads (no joke - there are no traffic lights and a constant stream of cars) and became impatient trying to get to the museum finally within our sights. Somehow this led us to walk through a seemingly idyllic grass lawn towards the entrance. As we reached the center of the lawn I felt my flip-flop clad feet sink deep into 8-12” of mud beneath the grass. Kelsey and I began screaming/running at about the same time trying to outrun getting stuck in the mud. At one point Kelsey lost a flip flop but I continued my flight – sorry cuz! When we emerged from the quicksand my pants were covered in mud; my flip flops had flung the mud up as high as my butt. Kelsey’s legs were muddy to her shins. Not knowing what to do (or what had just happened) we entered the museum and asked at the front desk if there was a bathroom we could use. She just pointed to a back door and a man led us to a faucet behind the the building. I guess we weren’t the first victims. At first I tried to clean up before realizing that my pants were now soaked to the thigh and I still had a muddy butt. All we could do was laugh, how could we walk through a museum looking like this? On the way back to the lodge, where I changed into outfit #3, we passed a group of taxi drivers who had been standing at a clear vantage to witness our ENTIRE debacle. As we passed them, I’m not sure who was laughing harder.
We DID go to the museum that afternoon where we enjoyed some of the worst taxidermy I’ve ever seen but learned quite a bit from the more impressive traditional Sarawak longhouse exhibition. These wooden dwellings on stilts housed extended ‘Iban’ families with common areas in front and private rooms for each family in the back. Some longhouses had human skulls hanging as a warning around the deck, trophies from "head-hunting"! The Iban villages in the jungles of Sarawak continue to struggle to maintain their culture and identity. Each generation pulls further away from their traditional customs like ear stretching, piercings and full body tattooing because they find it makes them unemployable. It’s very strange to hold that thought against fashion back home, where people desperately look for new ways to be edgy.
At the end of our comical, cultural experience we took refuge back at the lodge, where we got some late night recommendations from the bartender Edward and befriended some fellow travelers: Anna, a performance artist from Sydney and an Irish couple now living in Berlin. We started the night dancing (complete with free mystery shots), moved on to loud political debates and ended at a broken bar. Apparently the bartender warned us about setting our drinks down on the slanted bar top but you'd think they might fix that right? After our lively group’s second lost drink off the bar we decided to call it a night.
** The Cat Museum was far more memorable than the Sarawak museum.... thus a lot of pictures from it!