A letter from Geoff Parker and his travels abroad.
The following is a letter from the previous owner of a Cache newspaper called The Sphere. He welcomes your correspondence. Email Geoff at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Geoff Parker
Feeling healthy and strong after three months on a plant based diet and regular exercise, combined with my social security income of $1,000 a month and thanks to coming across the website, workaway.info, all led me to take off vagabonding around the world – at 67 years old. Workaway.info is a website where hosts worldwide offer room and board in return for 25 hours work a week. I’m writing this now at my third workaway place and would highly recommend the setup to anyone who wants to travel the world without spending a lot of money.
After making the decision to take off, I sold my car, sadly parted with my neary new 27“ iMac, and other things, stored the rest at a friend’s house, got out of my apartment lease, and was ready to go.
I left a comfortable retired person’s existence – I had a decent apartment at a good price, an adequate car, use of a great sauna and jacuzzi at a health club, tennis games whenever with a good group of friends, had my favorite to places to eat. I could take short one or two day drives to fun places, even had an affordable ski resort less than an hour away. Yet I decided to leave all those creature comforts and travel the world and see what transpires.
My first stop was Perth, Australia to visit my daughter. There I stayed with a workaway host in a converted school bus in the guy’s backyard. He was a paraplegic and was really looking more for companionship than to have work done so I had tons of free time to spend with my daughter.
We were in Fremantle, a suburb of Perth, famous for having the America’s Cup in 1987, when the Aussies beat the Americans to win the Cup. It’s a fun little town, loaded with tourists, pubs, restaurants and boats. Western Australia is booming thanks to the mining business and many young Aussies come there to find jobs paying up to $10,000 a month and more. Unfortunately the prices for everything there are astronomical due to these high mining wages. A beer at a pub can cost $15 USD, a large pizza up to $45.
Pubs are everywhere in Australia. They are the regular meeting places for folks and you’ll often see three generations sitting down together for some beer and a meal. When a sporting event is on TV the pubs will be packed solid with highly vocal fans cheering for their team. Sports, beer and sunshine make up a large part of the Australian psyche.
After three fun weeks visiting with my daughter and seeing all Perth had to offer, I flew to Penang, Malaysia to stay at another workaway setup. It was a yoga, spiritual type center out in the country in NW Malaysia, near the town of Sungai Petani. One capable Italian lady ran the entire spread herself with the help of about five to ten workaway volunteers. It was hot, humid, with lots of mosquitos and I was drenched in sweat most all day long, but the hard physical farm type work felt good to me. I could occasionally use the motor scooter or would hitchhike to towns nearby to have a meal or a few beers or tea with some locals. Hitchhiking is easy in Malaysia, I’ve never had to wait longer than twenty minutes and I usually get picked up within five. In fact, I’ve met some of the most interesting people hitchhiking.
One aspect of using workaway, at my age, is that I really like spending time with young people. There I met some interesting young travelers from all over the world. I find myself feeling more capable being around capable young folks. I get introduced to things that I would have never come across had I stayed comfortably in my Utah apartment.
Many Chinese live in Malaysia and having Chinese tea or some beers with them in an outside type restaurant is often quite entertaining. There is always someone who speaks English well and they are continually reaching over and filling one’s glass to the very top as soon as it gets even slightly low.
Malaysia is a mixture of races and religions.
There are the Malays, the Chinese, the Indians and an assortment of others. Religiously you have Christians, Buddhists and Muslims, all seemingly getting along well together. It took a little getting used to, to see so many veiled females about, but I’ve come to notice the stylish veils some wear, and some younger ones will sometimes be wearing a nice looking pair of jeans and tight shirt – with a veil on – looking quite attractive.
At this second workaway place I was about an hour and a half away from Penang, Malaysia’s second largest city. About once a week I’d head over there to enjoy that town, famous for its food. Food stalls lined many streets and the old part of Penang is a World Heritage site so wandering around there, with the interesting architecture and the variety of places to eat was great. You could easily get a good meal for just a couple of dollars.
My next stop was in the rainforest of Brunei on the island of Borneo. If you had asked me a couple months ago I couldn’t have told you much about Borneo at all, but now I know it’s a large interesting island made up of of three countries – Brunei, and parts of Malaysia and Indonesia.
I spent one night in the capital city of Brunei. Brunei is a very Muslim country – no booze, no cigarette smoking, death penalty for drug dealing. Practically the only thing for a foreigner to do for excitement downtown in the capital city of Bandar Seri Begawan is to go to one of the two side by side coffee shops each with wifi and be entertained vicariously.
Early the next morning I was on my way to Ulu UIu resort, so named because ulu ulu in Malay means beyond the beyond, as in way out in the middle of nowhere and Ulu Ulu resort certainly was. The last part of the journey to it is a twenty minute boat ride up a river in a long boat – there are no roads in or out of the resort.
Ulu Ulu is an upscale resort costing a couple hundred dollars a day. It sits gracefully along the river, making for peaceful observing of nature. Activities include kayaking on the river, jungle walks, and an early morning walk up into the rainforest canopy to see the sunrise. Other than that, there is not much to do. My job through workaway was to basically just keep an eye on the young Indonesian and local Brunei workers. It was an easy job, but with no internet connection, no cellphone reception, no outside entertainment of any kind I was ready to move on after ten days.
Leaving Brunei I hitchhiked to a small town across the border in Malaysia to stay at a hotel with wifi and decide where to go next. I made a sign with the name of the town on it – Lawas – and as soon as I started hitchhiking I was picked up by a small 75+year old, veiled Muslim lady, driving alone in a new Land Rover, stylishly dressed wearing lots of gold. She hardly spoke English but laughed often for seemingly no reason. I have found Muslims are the ones who most often stop and pick me up. It a shame Muslims are maligned so much in the U.S. because they are definitely not the bad guys U.S. corporate media continually makes them out to be.
I stayed a few days in Lawas. There, they happened to be having a motorcycle rally type event – kind of like a mini-Strugis. Sturgis being the city in South Dakota that draws thousands of motorcyclists every year from around the world for a big motorcycle rally and week long rowdy party.
Motorcycle groups from all over Borneo were in Lawas for this event. It was interesting to see a motorcycle ‘gang’ from conservative, rich Brunei—most all riding decked out, top-of-the-line new Harleys. But no matter how hard a young, rich Brunei guy tried to look tough by wearing black leather clothes and tattooed, it just didn’t make it.
Lawas is a quiet little town along a river with a big daily market and the place where a number of people living in Brunei go to buy booze and cigarettes.
After a few days there and being online a lot, checking out where to go next, I decided on Kota Kinabalu (KK), a popular tourist location on the South China Sea. I was headed up to Mt. Kinabalu but stayed in KK for a week first.
I was at Cititel Express Hotel, in a corner room on the 10th floor with a great sea view. I really liked the hotel, the folks running it are very sharp – and now when I occasionally come back from the mountain to KK, they always put me in the same room, all remembering my name, even the young cleaning lady who does my room.
In KK I’d go for an hour long run most mornings on the path along the bay going out of town. I’d then catch a bus back to town, and walk to the active waterfront area and get some fresh pre-cut fruit for breakfast. Most packets of fruit sell for only one ringgit (30¢). It would usually be a couple hours before I’d return to my hotel room because I’d meander around the waterfront in my shorts and sweaty shirt. Back at the hotel I’d get online – my favorite pastime, and it would often be 1pm or later before I’d be showered, dressed and ready to go into town for lunch.
After KK, I headed up to a lodge called Rose Cabin, a few kilometers from the Mt. Kinabalu Park entrance.
There are many lodges in the area, too many I would think to be a good business, but it seems many new ones are being built anyway.
Besides lodges and the Park, there are a ton of farms growing vegetables. The small town about ten kilometers past the Park entrance – Kundasang has along the road one vegetable stand after another.
I’m surprised they sell as much as they put out, but I’m assured they do.
It’s all very affordable, a bunch of the tasty small bananas might be $1.50 USD max.
I met one lady farmer from Taiwan who has a large organic farm, the only organic farm I’ve found in the area. Organic food is the food industries most booming sector in the U.S., but it is just catching on here in Malaysia. Personally I try to eat only organic food, but since I took off traveling it has been difficult.
I like to run up to the Park entrance in the morning from Rose Cabin and check out all the folks getting ready to climb the mountain, at about 8am. There is a lot of activity all day long. The climb up the mountain is a two day undertaking. You start at about 8am the first day and get up to the overnight lodging about 2 or 3pm. There you have a meal and get to bed early to rise the next day at 2:30am to make it the rest of the way up the mountain to see the sunrise. The top of the mountain is 4,095 meters or 13,435 feet. The vertical rise from the Park entrance to that top is 1400 meters.
I haven’t climbed the mountain yet, but hope to soon, as I will only be staying at Rose Cabin for two more weeks because they have no more work.
Where I will go next I haven’t decided, there are so many possibilities. Or perhaps I will just stay here on Borneo and really get to know this fascinating island.