Thursday, July 31, 2008

Day 167. I climb Mauna Loa

I had set my heart on spending a day visiting Mauna Loa, the largest mountain on Earth. This enormous volcano rises to 13,700 ft, or about the same altitude as Mt. Kinabalu in Borneo (and we all know how tired I was after climbing Mt. Kinabalu), but to this altitude we must add the portion that is under water, which is about 15,000 ft. In contrast with steep Mt. Kinabalu, the slopes of Mauna Loa are very gradual, which is easy on the knees but makes for a very, very long climb.
No, I didn’t climb all the way to the top. According to the National Park signs it is a three day climb, and one needs to carry full camping gear and supplies.

So instead I decided to spend a day climbing as far as I could, in silent communion with the mighty mountain and its geology. And silent it was on all counts. First, I didn’t see another human being all day long (surprising, really, given that there were plenty of tourists in the park). I did see a family of mongooses (introduced to fight mice many years ago and now one of the two top predators in the island; the other being feral cats), and plenty of Hawaiian pheasants. Second, the geology is positively boring: one basalt flow after another forming a gigantic pile. At the beginning I was trying to be a serious geologist, stopping from time to time to look for phenocrysts, but most of the flows are aphyric. Finally, after climbing about one third of the total elevation, I found a lava flow with nice olivine crystals and—proof of how bored I was—I romped around like a kid looking for the pretty green crystals. It took quite some time to get down from the mountain, and at the end I was pleasantly tired. Maybe it was not one of the most exciting days, but I am glad to have visited this mighty mountain.

Day 166. Arriving in the Big Island

I got to Hilo by mid-morning, and after the usual ritual to rent a car I was ready to start my Big Island adventure. Hawaii deserves its name as the Big Island in that it is bigger than all the other islands put together. The first stop was at the local Goodwill store, to buy the necessary pots and pans for five days of camping. Next came Sears to buy a gas camp stove, and the local supermarket to buy provisions. Since I was in Hawaii I made sure to buy Spam and Dole pineapples for breakfast.
Having secured the basics I headed to the southeast, toward the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. But maybe I should quickly sketch the geography of the island: Hilo is in the east, Kilauea volcano is in the southeast, Mauna Loa volcano extends from the center to the south of the island, and Kona is to the west. The beautiful people live in the north, in the Kohala area. Also in the north is Mauna Kea volcano, which I didn’t visit.
The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is the best deal in the archipelago, with a $10 fee for a seven day visit, and free campgrounds. I took full advantage of the Namakanipaio campground, which features warm showers for a modest fee of $3 per day.

After setting camp I drove down to the southeast coast, to see the Kalapana area, where for the last 30 years lava flows originating in Pu’u O’o have entered the sea. The county keeps an eye on reckless tourists, so one cannot get too close, but it is nonetheless a fabulous spectacle to see the column of steam that rises from the seacliff, and the occasional blast of tephra and steam.
On the way back I made a twilight stop in the Lava Trees State Park, where a whole forest was fossilized 100 years ago by a lava flow. Normally one sees “trees” in lava flows as holes, left after the wood burns out, but at this place the “trees” are marked by columns of basalt spatter. A nice way to end the day.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Day 165. Laziness

I must be jet lagged, because I managed to sleep until 9 am, and moved slowly all morning long. Finally around noon I went for a swim in the ocean, came back to my apartment to read, and had one more swim in the afternoon. In short, I was lazy all day. Tomorrow morning I fly to the big island, where I hope to have a lot more activity walking through Kilauea and Mauna Loa, so I will chalk down today as a necessary rest day before the exertions of next week.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Day 164 (Tuesday July 22). I arrive in Hawaii

No, I have not made a mistake in the date. Last night we crossed the International Date Line, and effectively I have gained a day on the rest of you all. I feel young!
So, I landed in Honolulu International Airport, in the island of Oahu, and by 8 am I was on the road, headed for Pearl Harbor. It is indeed a perfect harbor, saddened, however, by the events that pushed the US into war with Japan. I walked around the USS Arizona Memorial (but didn’t wait in line for one hour to take the boat to the memorial itself), and then continued going around the island toward the lee side (the west side). This is the dry side of the island, and I was surprised by the fact that it was a bit shabby. This is where the “native” population lives, in a rather modest way. There are also quite a few people living in patched-up tents along the beach. The inland mountains are pretty, but they are part of a military reservation and thus inaccessible to the public.

I backtracked to Pearl Harbor and from there crossed the island to the north shore. The island of Oahu is surprisingly small, and can be crossed in less than half hour. Way on top is the original location of the Dole Pineapple Farm. The north and eastern shore are green and pretty, but to my surprise they have all the appearance of being the boondocks. I was looking for a small hotel or campground but found none. Apparently tourists are confined to Waikiki (the beach of Honolulu), so to find a hotel I had to conform and go to Waikiki.
From the west I crossed to the south along a fast highway, which is a pity because some of the best photo opportunities were along this highway and I missed them. Rats!

Waikiki is a lively tourist center with all sorts of fancy hotels. I was looking for something modest in terms of price, and landed the last room in the only hotel that could be called modest (still, $100 per night, which is the most expensive lodging I have had in the last four months). The Royal Grove Hotel is a friendly spot, three blocks form the beach, where people lounge chatting around the small pool, and where to my good fortune a group of old friends got together to play some tunes (reminded me a lot of the music afternoons of Phil Rojas and his friends). The music was great, with every member of the group coming with one idea or another. We heard old Hawaiian ballads, beach songs, and even some Hula songs that inspired a couple of the ladies to stand up and dance. A really fun evening :)

Day 163 (Tuesday July 22). I take off for Hawaii

Oh Lord, I have to cross Manila one more time to get to the airport :(

My flight doesn’t leave until 3 pm, so I have tried to sleep until late, lingered with my morning coffee, and waited until the last possible moment before driving the 50 km to Manila.

But at last I am here at the airport, waiting for the Philippine Airlines plane that will take me to my next destination, the island of Ouahu in Hawaii.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Day 162. Mount Pinatubo and glimpses of Filipino history

I had planned to spend all day at Mount Pinatubo, which had a big eruption in 1991. Unfortunately the volcano is within the boundaries of a huge military operations area, and it is off limits to all but organized tour groups. I was a bit disappointed, and instead took a driving trip around the mountain massif. I was surprised at what little evidence is left of the effects of the eruption, or of the air-fall tuffs that reportedly blanketed the region. To blame is the heavy rainfall and fast growing vegetation, which together have either washed away or covered the 1991 deposits.

Finally, while driving around the old Clark US Air Force base, I found a ghost town of military housing that was heavily damaged by the eruption. Many roofs had collapsed, so the town was simply abandoned to the ravages of time and vegetation. Pretty eerie.

While at the base I found a small museum, which gave me an interesting glimpse into 20th century Filipino history. At the end of the Spanish-American war, the US “convinced” the Filipinos to accept a commonwealth arrangement, which included arrangements for the US to have a permanent military presence in the Philippines. To start with the US established a small fort, but sometime in the 1930’s it was expanded into an enormous air force base that reserved 100,000 hectares (about 200,000 acres) for its own use. Clark Air Force base was where the Americans surrendered to the Japanese in the early stages of World War 2, where MacArthur returned to as the tide turned on the Japanese, and where Marcos escaped to when his dictatorship was overthrown in the mid 1980’s. And then the eruption of Mount Pinatubo happened in 1991, most of the base personnel was evacuated, and when things quieted down and personnel was expected to return the Filipino congress decided they had had enough of the American occupation of their territory. It was all done through diplomatic channels, and in a very civil way, but as the US tried to negotiate another 25 years of occupation 12 of the 23 Filipino senators put their foot down and rejected the “deal”. I find it interesting that the 1991 eruption had the side effect of ending nearly a century of military occupation.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Day 161 (Sunday July 20). Across the Cordillera

After dealing with a flat tire, which had at least four nails in it, I started a slow, winding crossing of the Cordillera. The road climbs and climbs until it is lost in the clouds that crown a range, and then drops like a stone to the bottom of a tropical valley, just to start the roller coaster ride over and over again. Yet, I think this has been my favorite day in the highlands. I had to negotiate many landslides, and the going was slow, but I think I saw no more than a dozen of vehicles and the views were absolutely fantastic.

Around noon I arrived to the mountain city of Baguio, which would be my choice if I were to live in the Philippines. It is fairly large and lively, but it is set among the pine trees and has a deliciously cool climate. The city grew mostly after the US occupied the Philippines at the conclusion of the Spanish-American war in the 1890’s, as a summer retreat for officers and their families. Later, during World War 2, the Japanese developed it further, again because of its cool and healthy climate. Today it is a favorite destination of Filipino families, who come for the weekend to escape the oppressing heat of the lowlands. Today is Sunday, so the central park was packed with families having picnics, taking a walk, rowing a boat in the lake, or eating steamed corn. It reminded me a lot of Mexico’s lively Chapultepec park.

Alas, all good things must come to an end, which for me meant going back to the steaming lowlands and their snail-paced traffic. To add to the road grief, the rice harvest is upon us, and the farmers think that the highway is a perfect surface to dry the grain. So they spread the rice over one lane of the highway for maybe 50 m, so traffic must take turns to pass these blockades. Still, it is good to see that they had a good harvest. Speaking of rice, people here are aflame because the price of rice went from 18 pesos (about $0.50) for five pounds in May, to 32 pesos for five pounds in July. This is, of course, the unavoidable consequence of the increase in gasoline prices, since the trucks that transport the rice are just passing the price along to the consumers. Makes me think that I have come to Philippines at a unique time. On one hand gasoline is outrageously expensive given the general level of earnings of the people (about $4 per gallon, when many people earn less than $1,000 per month). On the other, the prices are just beginning to reflect the increased cost of transport, so you can still get a good meal for less than $2. I forecast, with great regret, that over the next few months prices are going to skyrocket, and that Philippines will no longer be an inexpensive tourist destination (not to say anything of the loss of acquisition power of the Filipinos, many of whom already live in poverty).

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Day 160. The Luzon Highlands

Ah, the Highlands. They are so different from the flat lands. For one, the number of vehicles on the road is much lower, so you don’t have the exasperating traffic problems I encountered yesterday. In addition, the temperature is lower, the breeze flows, and the scenery is spectacular.

I spent the day around the small town of Banaue, in the province of Ifugao. The early inhabitants of this area were much feared head hunters, but also fearless rice farmers who 2,000 years ago built the most amazing set of canals and planting terraces throughout their lofty mountains. These terraces are still in use, and have been recently honored with the designation of World Heritage Site.
The descendants of the old head hunters are a fun, hard working bunch, who like getting together for the big jobs, like the building of a house or the harvest of the rice. To pass along the time as they tackle these tedious tasks they sing, or listen as their mythologic stories are told in sing song by one of their elderly storytellers. From what my informer explained, these stories are memorized by heart, word by word, which is quite a feat considering that some of the stories take hours to be told. Reminds me of the ceremonial stories of the Navajo nation.

I took a very nice walk through one of the “native” villages, which have been lovingly conserved for tourists, but also to celebrate special events, such as the harvest. The main structures are small silos for rice, expansively decorated with wood carvings. In fact, the locals are quite proud of their wood carvings, and even children practice the craft in the construction of small stilts and wood “motorcycles”.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Day 159. Al borde del colapso nervioso

After saying goodbye to my gracious hostess and her “family” I took the toll expressway north. My driving experience was a little marred by the fact that there was construction going on all the way to Manila. I was happy, however, because the map showed the expressway going through Manila and further 50 km to the north. Alas, it was all fibs. The expressway delivered me right unto a maze of Manila streets, chockfull with traffic. To add to my toils, the streets are not straight, and they figure street names are superfluous. So I had to navigate by compass, slowly working my way through the craziest city on a northwesterly heading.

Two hours later I finally reached the starting point of the northern expressway, or NLZX (this tendency to use codes for freeways is pervasive throughout Malaysia, Singapore, and Philippines, to the despair of the foreigner). It was a driving dream after my struggle through the city, but the fun only lasted for 50 km. At the town called Mexico I took to the smaller roads, and it was here that my Calvary was to start. First, there are practically no road signs telling you where to go, and when there is one it either directs you only to the next small hamlet (rather than major towns that may appear on a map), or it sends you in the wrong direction.
But the real evil of the Philippine roads are the slow moving vehicles. The main offender is a thing that looks like a jeep but has the engine of a lawnmower; this enables it to reach a top speed of 25 km/hour. The second is the ubiquitous tricycles, which are used as taxis and have a top speed of 30 km/hour. Of course there are very few people reckless enough to travel at top speed. Rather, they move in and out of the highway as a cloud of slow drones, so you can be certain that as soon as you pass one another one will s-l-o-w-l-y pull out of nowhere in front of you.
I have always considered myself a considerate driver, respectful of bicycles and motorcycles, but I was not ready to see the way in which cyclists make full use of their rights. None of this nonsense of squeezing themselves along the right side of the road. Oh no. Cyclists here have a force field that defends them from fast moving vehicles, and they pedal s-l-o-w-l-y smack in the middle of the highway, and will not give an inch to a car overtaking an equally slow tricycle in the opposite direction.

Surprisingly, I only saw one minor accident along the way. But then again, I had to overtake at least four funerary processions (moving at snail pace on the highway).

By the time I left the flat lands, after grueling six hours of slow driving, I was at the brink of nervous collapse!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Day 158. Taal volcano

I am still hurting all over, but this is not going to stop me from exploring the intracaldera complex of Taal. Whimpering slightly I came down the stairs, to meet my smiling host, Mrs. Gloria Castor herself. She is a wonderful lady in her mid 70’s who speaks very good English and seems to have a motherly attitude toward her guests. She sat by my side as I drank coffee, and we had an easy conversation about our respective children. She told me her son and two daughters are all grown up and she doesn’t get to see them that often, so she has “adopted” Vita, Richard and her young wife Monet, and their two children. She was also distraught that I was traveling alone, made me promise I will come back with Faby and DJ, and gave me all sorts of advice about how to avoid tourist scams in the island.

Richard is the designated boat driver, and he took me across the lake to what the locals call “the volcano”. In reality, the island inside the volcano is a complex formed by post-caldera eruptions, including a smaller nested caldera. The boats they use here are really handsome. They seem to be a mix of Venetian gondolas and South Pacific barges (powered by a car engine). Apparently they are a local production, built by a small shipyard on the far side of the island.

So I got to the island, fended off the offers of horse rides and guides, and slowly (and painfully) walked up the path to the rim of the nested caldera. It was a delightful walk, among fumaroles and mango trees, and at the end I beheld one of nature’s most magnificent sights: From the rim I could see a small island, in the middle of a caldera lake, in the middle of a bigger island, in the middle of a larger caldera lake, in the middle of the Taal mountain massif, in the middle of the South China Sea. Nature’s joke at simulating a set of Russian dolls!

I seem to recall that a large set of eruptions took place in the late 1970’s, which gave rise to a series of pyroclastic surges that swept over the surface of the big lake. If memory serves me right Jim Moore wrote and article in Science or Nature about this event, so once again I will give my students the homework of tracking this reference down.

From the nested caldera rim I had fabulous views of the larger caldera, which has the typical scalloped outline caused by landsliding of the original caldera wall. A long walk through the luxurious vegetation took me through many parasitic vents. Composition? Well, I have no idea about the unit whose eruption caused the collapse of the large caldera (all I could see along the walls as I was driving in yesterday were cutoff andesitic tephra units); I will have to see tomorrow if I can find it as I drive away from the caldera. The intracaldera complex is dominated by andesitic tephra, with very few fragments that I would venture to call dacitic. The most mafic thing I saw were some large blocks of pyroxene basaltic andesite.

My long walk also took me through clusters of dwellings, where everyone greeted me warmly and asked me where I was from. As usual, on hearing I was from Mexico people broke into the dialogue of one telenovela or other, and I was expected to give them details about the lives of their favorite actors and actresses. I like the Filipinos!

On the way back to the mainland Richard took me to visit one of the many fish farms in the lake. They are basically nets draped over a floating framework of bamboo, within which tilapia are grown over a period of 5 months before they are harvested. The fish seem to have enormous appetites, and can pack nearly 200 kg of feed per day. In order not to waste the feed, it has to be spread a little at a time over a period of hours. Furthermore, the fish farmer needs to be around for most of the day to make sure that the voracious cranes do not eat the fingerlings.

Speaking of voracious appetites, by the time we came back I was famished. Mrs. Castro outdid herself with a Tilapia Escabeche, which was not only beautiful to behold but also very, very tasty. I am going to miss her cooking as I venture into a new area tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Day 157. Flight to the Philippines

I awoke in absolute pain. Every muscle in my body hurts. In fact, I have discovered aching muscles I didn’t even know I had! Slowly I crawled out of bed, made a very slow car packing, and by 7 am I was driving down the mountain heading for Kota Kinabalu. It was an uneventful trip, except for the simple fact that I pegged the Empty stop in the gas tank just as I was pulling in into the only gas station in a 75 km radius. God does indeed look after fools.

I made it to the airport in good time, and by 1 pm Malaysian Airlines took off to take me to my next destination, Manila. We got there in the middle of a heavy downpour, and I was a bit apprehensive when I heard that it had been raining solid for over a week and the city was over flooded. Not that I was planning to go into Manila itself, but I feared that my stay in the Philippines would be a wet one.

I headed south out of Manila, through heavy and colorful traffic, but not the chaos that I had imagined. Filipino drivers may be a danger in the US, but when everyone plays by the same rules the traffic flows in a mysterious way.

My destination was Lake Taal, a famous geologic landmark. The lake itself is the most perfect caldera one can imagine. From the morphology I would think that the caldera-forming eruption took place less than one million years ago, but I will once again give to my students the homework of looking for information in the internet so we can discuss it when I get back.

My excellent friend Gustav had given me as a parting present Lonely Planet guides to both Malaysia and Philippines, and using the later I was homing in on the small guest house that Gloria Castro runs in Talisay, at the lake shore. I found my destination at dusk, and was warmly received by Mrs. Castro’s two assistants, Vita and Richard. They made sure I was comfortably installed, and Vita hurried to the kitchen to prepare me a fish stew that was perfect to take the edge off the rainy day. Later we sat chatting around a couple of original San Miguel beers, and I learned that Richard is trying to learn English, and Vita is trying to teach it to him. However, I am afraid that the effectiveness of the lessons suffers much form the tendency of both to laugh merrily every time they open their mouths :)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Day 156. Mount Kinabalu (continued)

I woke at 1:45 am, got dressed, and met my guide at 2 am. We were going to see the sunrise at the summit, and it would take us three and a half hours to get there. I am more tired than I had thought (my legs kept twitching all night long, as if toying with the idea of having cramps, and my knees complain if I twist my leg when stepping up), but the hours spent at 3,000 m seem to have done their trick in acclimatizing me to the high elevation.

Step by step we went up, walking over steep bare rock, and indeed by 5:30 am we reached the summit, together with another 20 enthusiasts (4,060 m altitude). The view was grand, although the sunrise was blurred by the carpet of low-lying clouds that mantled the horizon. My camera decided this was a good time to run out of batteries (argh!), so I didn’t feel obliged to take pictures of every cloud. I could see the coast from here, so now I know how high 13,000 ft look like!

Still, from the couple of photographs I took, you can see that Mt. Kinabalu is indeed an intrusion, which has punched through the sedimentary sequence of northern Borneo. There is a little contact metamorphism, but otherwise little evidence of regional deformation and metamorphism. The intrusion itself has at least two cupolas, and is dominated by a hornblende granodiorite, crisscrossed by very cool dikes of a plagioclase tonalite porphyry. As you can see in the photo, the exfoliation is spectacular.

The question is, what is this lonely pluton doing here? Why is it uplifting? (as indicated by the height of the mountain, the youthful stage of erosion, and the enormous amount of unroofing that must have taken place for us to be able to see the intrusion). I will give to my students the homework to search in the web for info on the geology of Mt. Kinabalu, and we will discuss it when I get back home.

Alas, everything that climbs up must come down, so at about 7 am we started the descent. I can feel my knees complaining, and that dull pain in the ball of my left foot is beginning to be more sharply defined. By 8 am we were back at the lodge, where we had breakfast and a good hour of repose. At 10 am we recommenced our way down. Ouch, ouch. Every step down on the causeway of the giants is causing pain. Talk about a death march. It is beginning to rain, so the ground is becoming slippery. Careful now. Wow . . . thunk! I have slipped and a tree stump has connected solidly with my left ribs. “Are you OK”, asks a fellow hiker. What a question; of course I am not OK, I just fell and am looking like a fool. But of course I smile back and say “Yes, yes, I am fine”. So we keep going down, and by 3:30 pm we finally make it to the trailhead, where my $10 have guaranteed us a place on the bus. The best $10 I have invested in this trip!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Day 155. Mount Kinabalu

By 7:30 am I was at the Mt. Kinabalu park headquarters, ready to sign up. Malaysia has higher permit fees for foreigners ($35), and requires you to be accompanied by a guide ($25), and I don’t have any problem with any of these policies. I did grumble, however, at the $10 I had to pay for transport between headquarters and the trail head. For a fleeting moment I thought about just walking the 5 km, but at the end my eagerness for starting the climb won over my cheapness.

So me and my faithful guide started climbing the highest mountain in Southeast Asia. It is steep! And because it is steep you don’t have the feeling of going through foothills, where one path is as good as the other. Here there is really only one path, built-up through the years along the narrow ridges between the deep canyons that radiate away from the mountain. I say built-up because half of the path has steep steps which must have been built by a race of giants. I can tell they are going to be hell on the knees coming back.

My guide and I paced ourselves very nicely, and by 3 pm reached the lodge where we were to overnight, at about 3,500 m altitude. It is a nice complex with a big common room, a good kitchen, and bunk houses. There were maybe 100 hikers all together, and we all enjoyed a hearty early dinner before going to bed around 6 pm.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Day 154 (Sunday June 13). Back to the highlands

Bright and early I had a last breakfast with the family, and with many smiles took my departure from my gracious hosts. I headed for Sandakan, a port city on the northeast coast, which on Sundays has a very lively street market. I strolled through the market, ate all sorts of rice dumplings, and went for a long walk along the waterfront. Somewhere along there I saw the jetty of the Malaysian coast guard, and was surprised to see the very modern and well armed fast ships, until I remembered that this is one of the main points from which the Malaysian navy is trying to fight piracy in the Sulu Sea.

On the hills over the city there is a large Buddhist temple complex. There were not many people around, so I was able to explore every nook and cranny, and had sweeping views over the port. Very nice.

At about mid-afternoon I headed back west, toward the highlands of Mt. Kinabalu. Tomorrow I will climb it! I spent the night at a hotel near the park entrance, at about 1,300 m altitude, as a first step toward acclimatization.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Day 153. I find the trail of Cheng Ho

The day started with a fine boat ride in the morning mist, to try to spot the elusive Orang-Utan. I think they must have a trained one, because in the last moment, when all hope was lost, we saw a female lazily hanging over her nest. I am delighted :) I also saw a crocodile, but he was in the water like a flash. Didn’t get to see the famous Borneo pigmy elephant (only 3 m tall at the withers), because it is now in the far side of its migration loop. Elephants are a problem for the farmers, and the current management technique is to scare them away with noise or chili pepper “bombs” (a plastic bag filled with a mix of water and chili pepper is burst against the flanks of the elephant, and since this animal has sensitive skin—just like Mexicans—he turns around a flees).

By the time I got home from my jungle adventure I was stinky, hot, and tired. A bath (a simple bucket with water, since the family doesn’t have a shower), and a hearty breakfast of noodles, eggs and coffee restored me to life, however, and an hour later I met with my trusty Jeffrey to go visit the “cave with the graves”.

Less that one kilometer away from the Kinabatangan River (which in retrospect means the Batangan River of the Chinese) rises a small limestone hillock, and within it are two small caves. What is interesting about these caves is that in them were found something like 20 wooden sarcophagi. Unfortunately you don’t get to see pictures of them, because the site is under the protection of the Department of Antiquities, which forbids photography in its sites. Anyway, there are no inscriptions that I know of, but according to the posted sign the sarcophagi are a little under 600 years old, which would put them in the early 1400’s, at about the time Cheng Ho and the Treasure Fleet were establishing trading relations with the peoples of the South China Sea, the Malacca Straits, and the Indian Ocean. Together with the name of the river, and the facts that this is the largest river in the region and is navigable, this has lead to believe that a Chinese trading post was established in the neighborhood, and that the sarcophagi belonged to the elite of this settlement. Locals are convinced that this is also the point at which Islam was introduced to Borneo (remember Cheng Ho was a Muslim).

To prove the great value of the river, a timber raft just went by, under the disapproving eyes of the eco-tourists. Of course, timber is the main construction material through the small towns of Malaysia, and the jungle woods are hardy and will not rot under the humid weather (witness to this are the 600 year-old sarcophagi, which have survived intact inside a damp cave), so they are a valuable resource. Furthermore, these were clearly not company-logged trees, but rather the work of individual lumber men, who either sold to the boat that would drag them to the sawmill, or have formed a cooperative to take their merchandise to the sawmill.

Not counting marvelously generous meals, the last event of my stay at Mangaris was a cultural performance with traditional music and traditional dance. I recognized our guide of the jungle camping among the dancers, so I am very favorably impressed by the concerted effort made by every member of the village to provide a program that is interesting to their visitors. The dancing was beautiful, and at the end they had a rousing dance in which we all took part. It was a great finale to a wonderful couple of days!

Just in case I forget to mention it later, let me recommend Malaysia (both the peninsula and Borneo) as a destination for anyone wanting to do a discovery trip. The country is beautiful and has a balanced mix of development and natural attractions, hotels and beaches are to be found for all budgets, it is cheap in comparison with the US or Europe, the food is tasty, and the people are fantabulous!