A very hot and sticky night in the airless room at the back of the house. By the morning, I find that those who were sleeping in the front room have sensibly decamped to the veranda where there is a slight breeze.
We are served rice noodles and bread for breakfast. We’re all fairly keen to get away. The longhouse, an uneasy juxtaposition of tin roofs, concrete and TVs with uncomfortable floors and a bucket shower – the discomfort of basic conditions but without the simple charm of Buda camp, was not quite what we were all expecting or hoping for.
The two longboats take us downriver on the final leg to Limbang. The river is wider now, and the scenery much more open with only low vegetation lining the banks. The ravages of the logging industry are all too obvious. As we come around a bend we pass a logging station with its piles of felled trees waiting to be ferried down the river, and shortly afterwards we reach the point where we transfer to mini buses for the final road stretch.
Our left luggage is waiting for us at the peach and turquoise Purnama Hotel, which dominates the centre of the town. We check in and race for the showers. It is the biggest hotel in town – eight stories high and adjoined to the main indoor shopping centre.
Suitably refreshed, we venture out in search of lunch. It doesn’t take long to locate a Chinese bakery inside the shopping centre. A delicious mini pizza made with thick sweet bread and banana cake are just what I needed.
We explore the indoor shopping centre, which could really be anywhere the world over. It’s full of plastic tat, endless mobile phone and computer stores, as well as the usual tailors, clothing and jewellery stores.
We regroup later in the hotel lobby and then Chris takes us over the road to the food market opposite the hotel. Outside are food stalls with mouthwateringly sizzling kebabs, spring rolls, and other tempting delicacies. Under cover are rows of stalls selling fruits, vegetables, eggs, fish, meat.
A gentle walk takes us along the river to the Limbang Museum. Outside is a reconstruction of a traditional house that incorporates a sprung platform in the middle that was used as a dance floor. The museum isn’t really that interesting, but makes up for it with good air conditioning. On the way back, I take the opportunity to stock up on some provisions for Mount Kinabalu.
Back at the food market, I try the mango juice, but it seems to be very watery. I hope the water is clean. I do no better with a chicken kebab. Although it smells good, it consists only of skin, fat, and small bones.
We meet for dinner down at the hotel reception. Rob, Mark and Graham have turned up in matching pink shirts and pink shades, procured at great expense in the tat-market next door, provoking several odd looks from bystanders. We eat dinner together at Maggie’s Café, a fish restaurant not far from the river. The service is very slow and the waiters seem to treat us as an intrusion of their peace, but the food when it finally arrives isn’t bad.
As it is our last night all together, we end up in the “Cave” Karaoke bar. Roland turns out to be a talented singer with his rendition of “Hello”. I struggle to find a title that I recognise, and end up crooning in duet with Rob, “Moon River”, which we seem to get away with without major mishap.