The highlight of September was a trip to Sabah and Sarawak in Borneo. It ended with a weekend in Gunung Mulu National Park (part of the jungles of Borneo), a world heritage site that has some of the most spectacular and gargantuan caves in the world. Our timing was such that we joined a diplomatic corps junket which was there for the weekend, while we (the ambassador, myself and a few colleagues) serendipitously managed to get plane tickets at practically the last minute. Not only that, the Thai delegation was also given complimentary lodgings and air fare courtesy of the Royal Mulu Resort's owner, who happened to be the sister of the Chief Minister of Sarawak, upon whom we paid a courtesy call earlier in the trip.
As far as adventures go, it was great, with just the right amount of danger and physical challenge. Within an hour of arriving, we were led on a 7-km jungle trek (on a plank walk) to see a couple of fabulous caves. One was so huge that it could easily accommodate a fleet of 747s. On the next day, to see a couple more caves, we had to take a boat ride along the Melinau River, which was so shallow in some parts that passengers had to get off and push. Joining in the fun, I took off my shoes, jumped into the water, and promptly slipped on the algae-coated underwater rocks, short-circuiting the mobile phone in the pocket of my shorts. The price for adventure, I suppose (okay, clumsiness). Along the way, we stopped to visit with a couple of tribespeople from the nomadic Penan tribe. The man wouldn’t have been easy to recognize as a jungle-dweller. Yes, he was pretty grizzled, with a weather-beaten face and a semi-toothless grin, but he wore glasses and Camel adventure-wear that made him look like any other Malaysian villager. What gave him away was his bare-breasted wife, who stomped away with her bare feet at the sago pulp that he carved out of the sago tree to make some no-doubt delicious native concoction. At the end of our destination, at the foot of the aptly-named Clearwater Cave, was a limpid blue jungle pool right out of the Tarzan movies, with schools of silvery fish darting forth whenever the humans left the pool.
After such a glorious day, no one could have known that, in the jungle, disaster might lurk around every corner. At the end of the boat ride, as we were disembarking for the safety of terra firma, the unexpected happened. The always-smiling wife of the G--- ambassador was about to step up off the boat onto the dock, but hesitated while holding on to the dock railings. There she was, her hands firmly gripping the railings but her feet solidly planted in the boat, which had the unfortunate effect of gently but firmly pushing the boat away from the dock. The more tightly she held on with her hands, the more her body shifted from the vertical until she was suspended almost horizontally, arms straight out, between the dock railings and the boat. Her strength gave way, and she fell face down into the water with a splash. As she disappeared beneath the muddy water, we stood there in shock for what seemed like an eternity but was probably a couple of seconds. Then she was up, standing in the waist-deep water, smiling broadly. We all helped her up onto the dock, relieved to see that she was unhurt and in good spirits. The poor woman became famous throughout the diplomatic community, though.