Sanctuaries and jungle camps

CURRENT LOCATION: Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

Sam:

Settle in folks, this might be a long one! A lack of time, combined with a lack of reliable internet has meant that we're combining two posts into one here - Sepilok, and the Kinabatangan River. Go make yourself a cuppa - you might need it.

We arrived at the Sepilok Jungle Resort, our home for the next few days, optimistic about our accommodation. It was recommended by a girl we met at Tampat Do Aman, and the website looked great. Since we'd booked a river cruise for the 25th, we had a bit of time to spend in Sepilok, so we were excited that the resort had a pool. As we pulled up, it looked promising. Reception was air conditioned, the staff were friendly, and we were sent to check in at the restaurant. We walked along raised wooden walkways, over ponds and water features. The setting was beautiful - the whole place was surrounded by trees and flowers, and it really did feel like you were in the jungle.

 Sepilok, Malaysia

We checked in and were shown to our room, which was pretty basic, but that suited us just fine. We had room to unpack and do laundry, and we had a fan. Perfect. We spent most of the afternoon alternating between doing some much needed laundry and watching some episodes of The Americans. Eventually we dragged ourselves out of the room for dinner. We got chatting to an older Australian couple next to us, who were in Sepilok as part of a package tour of Borneo. Over the next few days we noticed that Sepilok was LOADED with Aussies, all on package tours - obviously it's the season!

After dinner, we went to explore Sepilok. We knew it wasn't big, but we needed to stock up on bug spray and shampoo, so we went in search of a convenience store. We were out of luck. What we didn't realise is that Sepilok literally consists of accommodation and animal sanctuaries - that's it. No shop, no ATM, nothing. It's one road. So we were now stuck in the Bornean rainforest with no bug spray. I spent the next 4 days convinced I had dengue fever (we're on anti-malarials, or I would've had that too). So our evening stroll was very short - but it still earned us an ice cream before bed.

We were up early the next morning to do one of the things we've really been looking forward to on this trip - visit the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, and watch an orang feeding. The centre opens at 9, and at 10 they have a 'feeding', where they give out bananas on a platform near the boardwalk so that you get a chance to spot a semi-wild Orangutan.

Some background on the centre:

The animals at the centre are all rescued, either from poachers, from being kept as pets, to stop palm plantation owners from killing them, or as babies who have been orphaned. They are brought to the park and rehabilitated, with an end goal of being re-released into the wild. The sanctuary is 4294 hectares, and once they've been taught to survive, the orangutans have free roam of the park. There are no enclosures, except if they are receiving medical treatment, or are unable to survive on their own for any reason. Currently,  the park is home to over 200 orangutans. Each day, twice a day, they give out bananas on the feeding platform. Sometimes the oranges turn up, sometimes they don't. They use bananas every day so that they get bored of them, and don't use the feeding platform as their main source of food.

Orangutans are listed as endangered, with only 54,500 estimated to remain in the wild. This is largely due to habitat destruction, although the illegal pet trade plays a small role. Large areas of the natural rainforest have been cleared to plant palm oil crops. While I've said in previous posts that they're beautiful to drive through (which they are), they're incredibly destructive to the natural ecosystem.

Palm oil is a type of edible vegetable oil that is derived from the palm fruit, grown in the African oil palm tree. 85% of all Palm oil originates from Malaysia and Indonesia, and is not grown sustainably. The industry is linked to major issues such as deforestation, habitat degradation, climate change, animal cruelty, and indigenous rights abuse. According to the World Wildlife Fund, an area equivalent to 300 football fields (American? Soccer? They weren't specific, but either way, A LOT) of rainforest is cleared every hour to make room for palm oil plantations. In total, more than 50 million tons of palm oil is produced annually, supplying over 30% of the world's vegetable oil. It is found in 40-50% of household products, such as toothpaste, shampoo, cosmetics, confectionary, baked goods, and detergents.

There are a number of ways in which you can help, from donating money to organisations dedicated to helping animals in need, to lobbying companies to stop using palm oil, but by far the easiest way is to become a more educated consumer. Luckily, this has been made even more simple with the development of an app called the Palm Oil Guide and Scanner (http://palmoilapp.com/). This app allows you to scan the barcode of an item and immediately see its Palm oil status. The app was designed in the U.S., so for the NZ readers, I'm not sure how great the product range is just now, but the more people that use it, the better it will get.

One thing worth noting is that the designers of the app stress that boycotting palm oil altogether is not the way to go - it's so widely used that it's just not practical. Instead, they encourage you to choose products which use sustainable palm oil. Other parties think that the term sustainable palm oil is an oxymoron, and is just green washing a very serious issue. They believe that it's just a cop out, and that most sustainable palm oil is sourced from the same places as non-sustainable palm oil. Do some research people - decide where you stand! Be the Lorax! Anyway...

We arrived for the morning feeding about 20 minutes before it was due to start, and the platform was crowded - there were probably about 80 people there. We had read that the morning feeding was the busiest, as this is the feeding all the tour groups come to. Sure enough, we could see all the Aussies from the restaurant the night before, along with loads of other tour groups. Of course, there are signs everywhere urging you to keep quiet - the orangs won't come if it's too noisy. Frustratingly though, you could tell that about 1/3 of the people in attendance weren't interested, and were only there because the bus dropped them off, so they wouldn't shut up. Kind of takes away from the amazing experience when you have to listen to people having conversations about what they ate for breakfast and what they thought of their room.

Anyway, the actual feeding platform was about 50m away from our viewing spot, so we settled in to wait for 10am. The platform and surrounding trees were already filled with long tailed macaques, the monkeys that Zev and I can now safely confirm are the assholes of the animal kingdom. They're aggressive, loud, obnoxious, naughty - they're the worst. But they're still pretty cute. Promptly at 10am, a keeper arrived and climbed on to the platform, carrying an enormous basket of bananas, and a huge stick. As we soon realised, he clearly thought the macaques were assholes too - the stick was to stop them from stealing all the bananas! Don't worry, he didn't hit them -  he'd hit it against the platform near the banana to scare them off.

 Sepilok, Malaysia

No sooner had he arrived than a young orang made its way to the platform. I'm going to call it a he, but since it was so young, it was difficult to tell if it was male or female. He spent about half an hour hanging around on the ropes near the platform, eating ALL the bananas and enjoying the attention of everyone there (well, not the chatty Cathys in the crowd - their attention was on their conversation). Once the bananas were gone, the keeper headed off, the orang left, and the macaques scattered. The tour groups went on their merry way, to be shuttled off to their next destination.

 Sepilok, Malaysia

Zev and I hung back for a bit to let the crowds disperse. As we wandered along the boardwalk, we passed a few cheeky macaques hanging out on the railing, posing for pictures. Although I'm pretty sure they were just using their cuteness to distract you - one smiles at the camera while the other one steals your wallet.... We detoured to the outdoor 'nursery', where they keep the orangs who are transitioning from being looked after by keepers, to being allowed to roam free in the park. Here, they can mingle with the free roaming orangs, but the keepers are nearby.

We stopped for a quick bite to eat before making our way to sanctuary number two for the day: the Sun Bear sanctuary, housed in the same protected forest area as the Orangutan rehab centre. Sun Bears are the smallest bear species in the world. They are under threat in similar ways to orangutans, as they share the same habitat. In addition to this, sun bears are targeted as pets, because they are so small and cute, and for use in bear paw soup, and bear bile farms. All of the animals at the sanctuary are rescued bears, and where possible, they are rehabilitated and re-released into the wild.

 Sepilok, Malaysia

At the viewing platform, we met an incredibly knowledgable and helpful staff member, who was great at spotting the bears through the trees, and set up binoculars so that we could get a close up view of these super fluffy little guys. We were lucky enough to have one wandering right along the fence edge. She was super curious, and would stand up on her back legs to try to see us. The staff member explained that many of the bears have been kept as pets, so they don't realise they're bears. They walk on their hind legs, and have no idea how to find food. While sun bears are usually solitary in the wild, in the sanctuary, they keep them together so they can teach each other bear behaviour.

We spent about an hour hanging out, chatting to the staff, spying on the bears and relaxing in the shade. Our ticket from the orangutan centre was valid all day, but there was still a bit of time left until the afternoon feeding, so we headed back to the resort for a swim.

Just like the rest of the facility, the pool was dated, but lovely. It was huge, with a massive fake rock waterfall. There was even a kid's pool with a shark waterslide! We spent a bit of time splashing around and cooling off, although the water wasn't much cooler than the outside air.

We had been told that the afternoon feeding session at the centre was quieter in terms of people, and busier in terms of our furry orange friends. As soon as we arrived, we knew this was going to be more pleasant. Instead of 80 people, many of whom looked completely disinterested, there were 20 people, some of whom we recognised from the morning. It was clear that those who were here in their afternoon were here because they wanted to be. We waited patiently, and at 2pm, the keeper turned up. The first thing we noticed was that there were no macaques in the afternoon, perhaps because they know more orangs come for the afternoon feeding, so there's no point. The first one to turn up was an even smaller orang than the morning's one. He grabbed a few bananas and headed up the tree and out into a branch that was really close to the viewing platform. It was pretty clear to us that he was there because he was curious - he wasn't in it for the food, which he barely ate.

 Sepilok, Malaysia
 Sepilok, Malaysia

Over the next hour, another 6 orangs came and went at various times. They'd hang out on the platform for a bit, play in the trees, wander off, come back, and eat some more. It was awesome. A much quieter crowd meant that you could soak in the atmosphere. I would describe the experience as a cross between seeing one in a zoo, and seeing one in the wild. I know they're not totally wild, but they're also not in an enclosure, so they can come and go when they please. Other people we'd spoken to had even come across orangs sitting on the boardwalk when they turned a corner. We were still hoping to see a wild one on our river cruise, but this was still pretty breathtaking.

 Sepilok, Malaysia
 Sepilok, Malaysia

We polished off the day with another swim, and a pretty nice dinner at Sepilok's only fancy restaurant.

The following day saw us shuttling to the proboscis monkey sanctuary, about 10kms from our accommodation. We pulled up and paid an outrageous 240RM to get in - by far the most expensive sanctuary in the area. We had no idea what to expect, so we were a little perplexed while we drove through endless palm plantations. Eventually, we pulled up at 'feeding platform', which was a building with a shop attached. We headed up the stairs, and could immediately see silver leaf langurs hiding under the chairs. As we walked further in, we could see a complex out the back which looked a bit like a zoo enclosure with platforms, walkways and ropes for the monkeys, and viewing platforms for the visitors. That said, there were no fences, so the whole places was swarming with both langurs, and downstairs, proboscis monkeys. You could get up super close with them, which was pretty terrifying because the males in particular are HUGE! Again, the monkeys were free to come no go as they pleased, but there was a feeding at this platform once a day in the morning, so they usually hang around for that.

 Sepilok, Malaysia

Much to my disappointment, the food they were given was bread. While it was really cool to be up close and personal with these beautiful critters, I was left with the impression that, rather than being a true sanctuary, these guys were being used as a cash cow by the plantation owners. There were no signs to tell you anything about the monkeys, or any indication that any of our money was being used to help the animals.

 Sepilok, Malaysia

After about an hour and a half, we were herded back into the van to be taken to the restaurant for an underwhelming lunch. After lunch, we were shown a video about proboscis monkeys. Shot in documentary style, it followed a couple of groups of monkeys over the course of a season, and discussed their social behaviours, mating behaviours, habitat and life cycles. Then the video took a turn - it started showing the mangrove forest that the monkeys live in being chopped down. The monkeys were forced to a narrow strip of land close to the river, and a particularly dry season meant they were running out of food. They started going to the palm plantation which had replaced their home to raid the workers lunch rooms for snacks. Some of the monkeys were shot by the workers before they called in the plantation owners to come up with a solution. At this stage, the owners were introduced to the documentary. Their portrayal couldn't have been any more biased if they'd literally drawn halos over them. They came and saw the monkeys, saw the error in their ways in demolishing the mangrove forest (although it was a bit late for that in my opinion), and committed to creating a sanctuary for he proboscis monkeys, and replanting and regenerating some of the mangrove forest. To give you some idea of how old this documentary was, we were watching it on VHS. And I can assure you that the strip of mangrove forest they were looking at in the video was the same strip of mangrove forest we were visiting. I call bullshit on the replanting of the mangrove forest, and complete bullshit on any kind of efforts to protect the monkeys, except as a way of upping revenue. We regretted going to the sanctuary in the end.

 Sepilok, Malaysia
 Sepilok, Malaysia

We were stuck with our van though, so we headed to the second feeding at the other platform. This time, there was a huge troop of macaques with the proboscis monkeys. Sure enough, just before feeding time, two massive tour buses turned up, filled with really loud tourists. By then, I was already feeling pretty gross about the whole park, so the hoards of shrill people didn't do much to up my enthusiasm. Again, we stayed for about an hour before our van headed off.

 Sepilok, Malaysia

Rather than heading back to Sepilok, we took advantage of the shuttle returning to Sandakan, the nearest city (about a half hour drive away). We stocked up on bug spray, shampoo, batteries and cash in preparation for our river cruise in a couple of days time. Sandakan was a pretty drab city, but we did manage to find time to scoff some waffles before we returned to Sepilok.

Day three saw us ticking off the final item on our Sepilok itinerary, the Rainforest Discovery Centre. It was about a 2km walk from our resort, so we used the time to have a chat and make some plans for the near and not-so-near future. As we walked, people kept pulling over and asking us if we wanted a lift to the centre, but we were enjoying walking and talking, so we politely declined. In fact, we were enjoying it so much, we walked straight past it and ended up walking about a kilometre extra! We eventually found our way back in the blistering heat, paid our entry fee, and started our exploration.

 Sepilok, Malaysia

The centre is in the same stretch of protected forest that contains the orangutan centre and the sun bear centre. When we first entered, we spent a little time wandering in the education centre, reading about the plants and animals in Borneo. Next, we wandered through the gardens, checking our the spice plants, edible items, flowers and cacti. From there, we wandered out through the park proper, where we spent a couple of hours wandering over a canopy walkway and through the wooded pathways, spotting birds and lizards, and one really big tree.

We finished up in mid-afternoon, and spent the rest of the day swimming and organising ourselves for our cruise the following day.

We weren't picked up until lunch time the next day, so we had a nice lazy morning before heading to Uncle Tan's B&B, about 3kms up the road. Here, we had lunch, and a briefing of what the following days were to involve. We met the two other couples who would be part of our group, and hit the road. We drove in a van for 1.5 hours, chatting to the other couples, one French and one English. We then transferred to a boat, and spent an hour cruising down the Kinabatangan River to what would be our home for the next two days. 

At about 5.30pm, we climbed off the boat and up to the jungle camp. We dropped our bags in the main dining area, which was a big wooden room with no sides and containing several long tables with bench seats. We helped ourselves to a drink before heading off for another briefing. Here, we met Lan, who was to be our guide during our stay. He explained the itinerary for the next few days, and explained to us that we couldn't keep any food in our hut, or we'd get rats. They chew through bags if they can smell food, so we were each provided with a plastic bin, into which we could put any food, or anything that smelled like food (eg body wash etc). Yikes... He showed us to our hut. The six of us were sharing a hut which consisted of three double mattresses on the floor, each with a mosquito net. There were no windows or doors, it was all open. It was basic, but awesome, and it really did feel like we were in the jungle. The entire place was connected with raised wooden walkways, and the trees were filled with wildlife - squirrels, woodpeckers, lizards, macaques... You name it.

 Kinabatangan River, Malaysia
 Kinabatangan River, Malaysia

We headed dropped off our bags and sorted out our stuff, then headed back to the main room to play cards with the staff while we waited for dinner. While we were eating, the previous day's group came back from their night walk. There were about 12 of them, and it made me very grateful that we had such a small group.

Not long after dinner, we headed out on our night boat safari. We cruised for about an hour, with Lan driving and another guide using a powerful torch to spot wildlife. We managed to see owls, macaques (sleeping, possibly the only time they're quiet), a kingfisher, a baby crocodile, and an eagle. We were hoping to spot a slow loris, but we were told we were more likely to see one the following night on our night walk - although Lan was quick to point out that he was 21 years old, and hadn't seen a slow loris in 21 years. That didn't fill me with confidence...

 Kingfisher

Kingfisher

We returned to camp and headed to bed, knowing we were getting a 6am wake up call for a morning river cruise. Apparently this is the best time to see animals, as they often come down to the river to drink while it's still cool, hence the early start.

I had a rough night's sleep that night. It was HOT, and there was only electricity at the camp between 5pm and midnight, so there was no fan in the hut. I finally fell asleep around midnight, and was woken at 3am by furious scratching noises. The French girl and I got up with our torches to investigate, thinking it might be a rat trying to chew through our bags, but we never managed to find the source of the noise. Once we'd eliminated any bag sabotage, we went back to bed, but I struggled to fall back asleep. The last time I looked at my clock was 5.15am, so I guess I got another 45 mins of sleep before Lan came to wake us up.

 Kinabatangan River, Malaysia

I dragged my ass out of bed, got dressed, and headed to the main room to fill myself with tea before we left. Sitting there alone, looking out at the river with macaques jumping all over the trees and black squirrels chasing each other around tree trunks soon put me in a better mood. Or it may have been the tea, who's to say.

 Kinabatangan River, Malaysia

We piled into our boat, and set off in the opposite direction from our night cruise, hoping to spot the biggies - gibbons and orangutans. We spotted hornbills, Eagles, three types of macaques (long-, short-, and pig-tailed), and finally, three gibbons! All three were calling to each other - two on one side of the river, and one on the other. It was amazing.

 Gibbon

Gibbon

We headed back to camp for breakfast, and departed on a safari walk. We cruised up the river for about 15 minutes, then hopped out of the boat in an area of protected forest. We spent about 2 hours wandering through a short trail in the forest, with Lan telling us about the various plants and their uses, and as we were now becoming used to, making us eat stuff.

 Cotton bug

Cotton bug

After lunch back at the camp, I decided to attempt a 'shower'. The camp didn't have any showers, just giant barrels filled with rain water, plus buckets and containers for pouring water to use in the toilets or for cleaning yourself. As I walked towards the toilet block to figure out how I was going to do this, I spotted some naughty macaques swimming in said water barrels. So much for a nice clean shower. They'd stolen all the toilet paper out of the toilets and throw it round the place, and had even managed to get the lid off the rubbish bin and rifle through its contents. See?! Asshole. At the very least I needed to get the layers of bug spray off my body, so I went ahead and filled up a bucket. No showers means no privacy, so I took my bucket and headed off past the last cabin (which had no one in it!), and managed a weird, semi-dressed, half-assed bucket shower. If nothing else, I at least finished off cooler than when I had started.

 Not long after lunch, Zev and the English couple headed out fishing, while I took advantage of the down time to catch up on some sleep in a hammock.

Here's fishing reporter Zev:

Fishing in the river was not as exciting, eventful or successful as my last fishing experience in the tip of Borneo (see that blog). However, it was still enjoyable. This trip saw us using actual fishing rods, with reels and all! Our guide Lan made a quick stop on the bank of the river to wade through 2 feet of mud to harvest fresh worms for us to use as bait. The adventure started at 2pm which is possibly the hottest time of day, so we made an effort to fish on the shade. It took a while but we finally caught some fish. Again, they were pretty small fish, even smaller than the ones we had caught in the sea. At the end of the trip we had caught 5 fish, one each except for the English woman who caught two! Just as we were arriving back to camp we got caught in a massive torrential rainstorm. We were absolutely soaked, but we had come home with fish for dinner, so not all was lost...

Sam:

At 5pm we headed off for an afternoon river cruise, which was awesome. We saw (you guessed it) more macaques, a wild pig, loads of birds, and several huge groups of wild proboscis monkeys! Which of course just made me feel worse about going to the stupid sanctuary. We spent about an hour and a half cruising the river, stopping occasionally to watch some wildlife. Eventually, as dark was falling, we pulled up on a river bank and got out for our night walk. We each had a torch, and walked quietly through the dark jungle, looking to see what we could see. We spotted frogs, spiders, and sleeping birds, but I was single minded - I was going to see a slow loris if it killed me. Eventually Lan managed to spotted a banded linsang, which looked a bit like a big cat crossed with a weasel, so we followed that for a bit which was cool. Sadly, we ended the night loris-less. Lan seemed to feel bad about it, but we did our best.

Part of dinner back at the camp included the fish the hunter gatherers had caught earlier. They were unceremoniously plonked on the table, cooked whole and drowned in chilli sauce. Everyone eagerly dug in to try them, and they were... Inedible. They tasted like mud, drowned in chilli sauce. They sat ignored in the centre of the table, and we ended dinner with two very happy and well fed camp cats. We had another early night, as we had another early start in the morning for our final river cruise. I slept much better the second night - we had thunder and lightning storms which significantly dropped the temperature which was nice.

 Kinabatangan River, Malaysia

Lan woke us up again at 6am, and we followed the previous day's routine. We headed down the river, desperately hoping to see some wild orangutans before we left. Sadly we didn't see any, but we did spot some otters, more birds, a gibbon, a huge monitor lizard and a crocodile. We were out there for a while, with Lan doing his best to spot some for us, but he said it had been a couple of weeks since they'd seen any in the area. While we were a little disappointed, we knew that it's not that common to see them.

 Gibbon

Gibbon

We headed back for breakfast and packing, before jumping back in the boat to head back toward Sepilok. The English couple headed off in the other direction in search of diving, while we went back to Uncle Tan's B & B for lunch. From there, we headed out to the main road with the French couple to flag down a bus back to Kota Kinabalu.

6 hours later, we arrived in Kota Kinabalu, waved goodbye to our French friends, and checked into our hotel. We headed up to room 618, unlocked the door and opened it to find two very confused looking men... Oh dear. We headed back down the reception and managed to get a room of our very own! We promptly took advantage of the shower and bath situation, had a room service dinner, and basked in the air conditioning.

We spent most of the next day in KK doing admin. We needed to get back to mainland SE Asia, and tried to find the cheapest flights we could out of Kota Kinabalu. Sadly, the least expensive flights out of Kota Kinabalu were still very expensive. In a flash of brilliance, we decided to book flights from Bandar Seri Begawan in Brunei, to Bangkok for Monday. Then we booked ferry tickets from Kota Kinabalu to BSB for Friday. Why not spend a weekend in Brunei? The rest of the day was spent catching up with our families, who hadn't heard from us in some time due to Borneo's terrible internet service. To top off our day our day of luxury, we went to see Mad Max at the movies - it was great! Visually stunning, and somehow really engaging for a 2.5 hour film about a car chase. We also spent a bit of time reliving Zev's youth, playing Daytona at the arcade while we waited for the movie.

Another early start the next day as we headed to catch the 8am ferry. The first leg was a 3.5 hour trip from KK to the island of Labuan, still in Malaysia. There, we hopped off, went and got some lunch, then waited patiently for our 1.30pm onward ferry. At 1pm, it started boarding, so we headed over to check in - nope, apparently there's a sneaky tax we hadn't paid (despite not being told we needed to), so we hurried to pay that before getting on. We settled in for another 1.5 hour ferry from Labuan to Muara, about 30kms outside of Bandar Seri Begawan. A friendly local taxi driver dropped us off at our hotel (budget accommodation is not a thing in Brunei), and I gratefully laid down to recover from the ferry ride.

For those of you only interested in trip updates, you can pat yourself on the back for having survived this far, and go on about your business. The next section is about our upcoming plans, and some general musings.

I mentioned that in Sepilok that we were talking about our plans from here on out, and it was good to figure out what's next. At that stage, our plan only went as far as getting back to KK, so we needed to decide what was happening.

For a number of reasons, we have decided to postpone our visit to India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. The earthquakes in Nepal played a large part in this decision, as did the heatwave in India. We had intended to spend three months in South East Asia, meaning that we would have arrived in the region at the beginning of May, with a plan of spending May, June and July there - even that was pushing it, heat-wise. Having now spent four months in South East Asia, and not being done yet, we think we've missed window of doable weather for now. To those friends and family who got us wedding presents in those regions, fear not - we'll be in touch with you individually over the next few weeks to discuss what you'd like us to do. We firmly see this as a postponing of this section of our trip - we will go, and we will do the things we planned, perhaps after Nepal is fit for tourists once again. We would love to go and give them much needed income when the infrastructure is in place to manage it.

We had also toyed with the idea of going directly from South East Asia to the U.S., hoping that we might be able to find some work to supplement our funds. Which of course brings us to the next reason: money. We've had a blast in South East Asia, and we're not done yet. But that does mean we've spent more than we've intended, both in time and money. While we don't regret a single second, it has meant our plans have had to change.

Before we left New Zealand, we thought we probably had the budget to do about 6 months of travel, which should have seen us through South East Asia, and Nepal, India and Sri Lanka. From there, we hoped that some wonderful opportunity might fall into our laps that would extend our trip, but if not, we were content to head home. We had hoped to save enough before we left to do the full year we had planned, but the last year was an (expensive) blast, with a big trip to Italy and a wedding borrowing a little from our budget. Again, we regret nothing - Italy was incredible, and responsible for our engagement, and our wedding was... Well I don't even have words to describe how much we loved it. As it stands, we're looking good for getting through the six months we estimated, but with fewer areas covered than we thought.

We've discovered that we love the go-slow way that we're travelling. Sure, we could have spent two weeks in every country and ticked it off the list, but we've really enjoyed hanging out in the places we've loved, and really feeling like we've got to know a place.

So Sam, stop waffling on, what's the plan?!?! We're currently in Brunei, with a flight booked back to Bangkok on Monday. From there, we'll head up to spend some time in the north of Thailand, before heading to Laos, and then Myanmar. We estimate that will probably take about another 5-6 weeks. From there, we hope to head to Abu Dhabi to visit Will and Grace (guys, if you're reading this, we hope that's okay!), before popping to Dubai to use a wonderful dinner voucher given to us for our wedding by some very special people! Then, it's home time, hopefully via the U.S. for a brief rendezvous with Charles and Tana.

Once we're home, we will begin the (no doubt painful and arduous) process of applying for a visa for me so that we can move to the U.S. As much as a couple of months travelling around appealed to us, a couple of years living and working there, while making an effort to see the country and its neighbours appealed more. The sooner we get the ball rolling, the sooner we can make it happen. We realise we don't have that much time left to be footloose and fancy free (tick, tick, tick), so we want to make the most of it while we can!

Are we disappointed that things haven't panned out exactly as we hoped? Of course. We would love to be made of money, and be able to do whatever we want. But it's so very hard to look back on what we've done so far and feel anything but happiness, pride, and an overwhelming sense of gratitude that we've been able to do what we've done so far. And it ain't over yet! We've still got a decent chunk of time left here, so don't worry, we won't be boring you with a slideshow of all our travel photos for at least another couple of months.

We are talking yesterday about what it will be like going home - I'll admit that at first, I was dreading it (don't take it personally people, it's nothing to do with you!). After a few days to get used to the idea, I'm actually looking forward to it now. Of course, I'm super excited to see everyone (especially Millau!), and it will be nice to have more than two pairs of shoes to choose from. But the one thing we both said was that this trip made us realise that here are just as many opportunities to do amazing things at home as there are anywhere else in the world. Some of the things we've enjoyed most have been trying new food, wandering around cities and towns at night... All things that can be done in Auckland. And we're lucky enough to live in one of the most beautiful countries in the world. While we're hoping the visa process won't be too lengthy, in the event that it is, we've decided to make more of an effort to explore our own country as if we were tourists. We hope some of you will join us!

So that's where we're at. 

Lots of love,
S & Z
xxx

(Original post date: 30th May 2015)