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Tropic Travels- Week 4: The Last Days

We’re on the plane home. We’ve just left Kuala Lumpar International Airport after about 4 hours of waiting, buying duty free and panicking over tickets. Its late and we’ve been travelling for close to ten hours, but now the excitement of being home is really starting to hit. But the best place to start is what we got up to in our last week, one of the most fast-paced, emotional, and at times, purely chaotic weeks of our lives.

We had allocated ourselves a day off after we returned from our field trip (we’d been travelling round so much that it was actually really nice to just be staying in one place for a day). Even though we allocated it, it turned out to be far from a day off; we had been on a role for a week, and instead we spent a good five hours processing and allocating research; examining which sections would be used in which parts of this final report. We would come to seriously appreciate this fives hours of work in the week to come, it made our job of putting the report together so much easier.

That day off was a Thursday, so after a Friday that we mostly spent catching up with family and friends and discovering some of the crazy things that had happened while we were out of civilisation, (such as Australia getting a new prime minister); we headed into a weekend off. This was our last period of time off that we would get to have in Malaysia, so we were keen to make use of it.

We hit up the island of Sapi, or a day of snorkelling, swimming, lying on a beach and chillaxing. We were having such a hard time (!). I can’t stress to everyone enough that if you seriously want a getaway then hit up Borneo; seriously! It easily matches up to places like Bali and Phuket in Thailand, and it probably is just as cheap.

So after snorkelling with clownfish (and getting attacked by one or two); we headed back into Kota Kinabalu for one last hour of meandering and shopping. Jodie went to get a massage, while us cool kids did what cool kids do, and spent our last hour in KK in the air conditioned shopping centre with free WiFi… we be seriously cultural.

On Sunday, we were invited to take part in a World Rivers Day event, on one of the local rivers. This was an awesome day, chilling by a river bank and watching a regatta of colourful boats go by. Christina took part in the picture colouring competition, while Jodie and I took part in the main event of the day: A boat tug of war. Basically two bamboo rafts and lined up and you have to row as hard as you can to get to the river bank, and the first to touch the riverbank is the winner.

We successfully managed one victory, but just when we started to get competitive we were knocked out by two men who looked like bodybuilders… knew it was too good to be true! Afterwards we checked out a Dusun cultural village, which taught us how to light fire using an old Dusun method, as well as showing us the room of skulls, which contains 30 actual human skulls of people who were enemies of the Dusun.

Have to admit, I’d never actually seen a human skull before and it was actually kind of chilling to think that those skulls once belonged to people… but I got over it.

Our final weekend off done and dusted, we began our final week with our three major challenges; to finish our report, complete our posters that we’d send to the villages, and to prepare for a presentation to the University of Malaysia, as well as to PACOS Trust. If ever the shit was hitting the fan, this was it! And it didn’t help by the fact that the electricity got cut off as soon as we arrived at work. If it wasn’t for Rojieka, Jasmine and Gordon recommending that we use the Donggongon library, we would have been in serious trouble.

Spending the day in Donggongon library was a stressful one, especially when considering how we knew that this was the only chance that we’d have to have electricity. Jessie struggled on with editing our report, Christina put her awesome design skills to good use with the poster, and I completed a slideshow for our presentation.

While we were productive, this day truly left things until the last minute! We had to present the following day (29th September), so we went home with a barely completed presentation, and began to work at it with the limited battery supply we had… then, at 9pm, as our laptops began to die, the power came back on! We have never been so thankful in our lives!

After we all tweaked with the presentation, we headed off early the following morning (in Tay-Tay’s younger sister car, a van called Swifty) to the University of Malaysia in Sabah. In essence, we had to present our findings to one of the classes at the university, in front of around forty students and a few of the professors. This actually turned out to be one of the most fun mornings we had, not least because we finally got the chance to speak about our final results, but also the chance to meet students from another country who were studying the same degree that we were, which really made our day! It was fun comparing how life was here compared to back home in Australia, and hopefully one day these students would be able to come do what we have done here!

It was at this stage though where for me personally, I started to realised that soon I would be leaving this place and coming back to Australia. Australia! Seems like such a faraway place now, even though I had come from there! But now, it would only be days before we had to say our goodbyes and go! In all honesty, I am feeling ready to be going back, but at the same time, this is a beautiful place, and I know that I’m going to miss it at lot! This place is just so different, relaxed and vibrant, and there is so much here that I have learnt.

Talk about looking on your own society and seeing it in a different light! We always seem to be never-stopping, always have to be somewhere, and unsurprisingly, we are more stressed, overworked, unhappy. This doesn’t even cross the minds of many Malaysians, at least the ones that I have met personally!

We can seriously learn from this. By doing less, and taking the time to relax and be yourself, you can get so much more out of life, and not take things for granted. I feel like that is something that we all do suffer from back in Australia.

The last few days since that trip to the University of Malaysia have, in all honesty, been a blur. Saying goodbye to places that we knew, whilst also completing this report. Its really numbing; you feel like you are leaving, but you won’t be gone for long because this place has become one that feels like home, and the people around you are family. The problem is that you will be gone, and you won’t be coming back for a while. It sucks thinking about it like that.

In between finishing our report, and crafting two amazing posters, we got the chance to go with to Kipouvo’s badminton hall and play against a father-daughter duo who were freakishly good (apparently the father is an international badminton champion, he made mince-meat of us). We also cooked for the entire village (under the trustful eye of chef Jessie, who we seriously think should hop on Masterchef sometime soon), making a dish of butter chicken with rice, vegetables and homemade lamingtons for dessert.

Oh, and the biggest achievement?! Christina finally ended her winning run at ‘Shithead’ (she only lost once though, but once is all you need). She had held out for the last week, but we finally got her; though she later got her revenge by consigning me to be ‘Shithead’ for two rounds straight. Slippery customer, Christina is.

Our last day at PACOS finished with us finally completing our thirty page report and two posters, and they were then sent off to the printers in KK, coming back all pressed, shiny and professional. It was such an good feeling, knowing that it was us who built up this entire report and crafted it from scratch. Never have we all been so proud of a report! Also the fact that we had satisfied PACOS with this report, knowing that they will be using it to further their cause in helping indigenous communities, was one of the most heart-warming feelings ever!

We presented our final report to PACOS, including the geologist that had spoken to us in our first week, Dr Felix, who from what I could tell was over the moon at the progress that we had made, and the goals that we had set with our program. Following that presentation, we ended up having our last evening of beer, award-giving and karaoke, where we discovered Jasmine and Jay-Jay were, on top of being awesome people, were also ridiculously good singers (seriously guys, you are).

That night, as we went home, it really hit me that we would be officially leaving tomorrow. That was devastating, knowing that at least for a while, it would be a long time before we would be at PACOS again. One day hopefully, we will come back and see everyone again, but nothing beats the fun that we had, here on this trip, now. And we are eternally grateful for it. We were pretty quiet on our last trip to the airport the following day. And to all our Malaysian family, if we did anything to upset you, then we apologise (that was Doreen and Dana’s way of saying goodbye. You didn’t upset us, and we hope we didn’t upset you.)

And now, we find ourselves here, on the plane. We had a slight fiasco at KL airport where they told us that we’d not be able to hop on our flight home due to them overbooking (but Jessie and I got our bitch faces on and we ended up getting three seats). We’ll be coming in to land in Sydney in less than an hour or so. Just a feeling of wanting to get home is kinda hitting me. Looking forward to a shower, a change on clothes, and a nap. Looking forward to seeing my housemates, uni friends, friends from home, everyone. I’m looking forward to telling them about this; words cannot easily describe how proud and blessed I am to be on this trip.

The truth is, when it comes to life and doing trips like this, you just gotta live it without regret. Plain and simple. It’s going to be weird trying to fit back into the bubble that is Macquarie University life, but whatever will happen, it will be a place that I’ll be heading back into a lot wiser. Jalan, Jalan, Jiri Makan!

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