We left Cambodia in such a rush, and unfortunately, skipped Phenom Phen and all the nice beaches because we had already signed up to do a homestay in Borneo via HelpX. (HelpX is an awesome website for signing up for real volunteer and work exchange opportunities.) The day before we started the homestay, we landed in Kota Kinabalu (KK), Malaysian Borneo, and enjoyed some stellar fish at the local market. Being back on a island with ocean sunsets and a beach close by was a breath of fresh air after going the longest I've gone without seeing the ocean in six years.
The next day we started the homestead opportunity. The bus dropped us off in the middle of nowhere and we found our hosts happy to see us and hitched a ride with them on motorbike to their house. The scenic route took us though somewhere but I don't quite know where… And our only point of reference (until I turned on GPS seven days later) was the island across the way which was apparently where they shot the first season of Survivor.
To say our first day was a learning experience would be an understatement. After showing us our tent, which was fully equipped with falling coconut protection, we got straight to our first job: killing dinner. They wrangled up three chickens for us and killed them (with a bit of mess) and handed them off to us for plucking, gutting, and cleaning (the key is to pluck them before they get cold). As a happy carnivore I couldn't say no, or else I'd forever be a hypocrite, so I dove in with my hands and a knife, and learned a new skill.
As we toured the land the hosts showed us all the edible fruits, the open air showers, the private beach access, and the animals. We were told about all the local threats ranging from cobras, dengue fever, and local gossip. By the end of the homestead a week later, after hearing stories about travelers in dangerous situations the woman host reminded me of my parents in that they seem to want to scare me away from ever traveling again. Too bad for them however, because I'm way too stubborn and arrogant for that. ;P
That first night and every night to follow started with a delicious meal for dinner (she was a hell of a cook) and then Majong, which is kinda like a Chinese version of gin, but way faster. I was hell-bent on beating them at Majong, but I wasn't even close. Maybe next time.
Everyday went about the same. Wake up at 540 for a delicious and never repeated breakfast, then start work. Because it is very hot in the afternoons, we decided to do all of the work as early as possible. When they saw me the first day, the hosts were oddly excited. Apparently they hadn't had a tall guy in a long while. To take advantage, we spent all our time working on a new concrete house they are building. I welded rebar, casted concrete, and cut steel. Danielle helped as needed, but mostly fed animals, watered plants, built cages and planters, and caught chickens (after letting them all out by accident).
It was hard work, but once we were done we took some well earned R&R on the beach every single day. Not much life in these waters, but it didn't matter. We swam, lounged, and read the heat away.
We caught a solar eclipse while working one day. I looked up, noticed the sun was a crescent and had to do a double take. We looked it up a few days later, and it was in fact an eclipse. So awesome.
While out there (wherever we were…), we also enjoyed brilliant stars, playing with the dogs, watching the rooster and African guinea fight, ate as good as anyone can eat, cracked coconuts, and enjoyed some great conversation with two westerners that retried early and have created this nearly sustainable housing situation in the middle of Borneo to stretch their budget with a simpler and more disconnected lifestyle.
Now back to civilization… Sort of…
Grant and Danielle