It was sometime back in 1995 and we got a curious inquiry from some folks in Borneo. Yes, Borneo, that strange land somewhere way far away. Land of headhunters, country of mystery. About all we could remember about Borneo was from grade school and it was something about headhunters. Since we didn’t really know too much else about the country, and since this was before Google and nearly before the internet, we actually had to find a map and an encyclopedia to find out more info.
To save you the incredible hassle of actually waking your smart phone, we can tell you from first hand experience that Borneo is a beautiful island in South East Asia, the top half is in Malaysia, the bottom half in Indonesia, and the equator runs straight through the middle of it. Meaning it’s hot there. Really really hot there.
In 1995, it was the heyday of 24 hour racing in the US, and although we’re not really sure why, we were asked along with some magazine fold and a handful of others in the US mountain bike industry to go scout a course for a proposed 24 hour race in Borneo.
Our future hosts were Malaysia Tourism, and in mountain biking they saw an opportunity to bring some tourist dollars and awareness to their country. We of course saw an opportunity to be a part changing the course of mountain bike history. OK not really. It was the offer a free trip half way around the world to an exotic tropical isle that got us. In any case, the gringos (or whatever we’re called) readily accepted and soon we were off on the very long flight across the Pacific.
Our most excellent host was Malcom Jitam, a fine bloke (educated in England) who we are still in touch with today, and who has visitied us on trips to the US. We're even Facebook friends! Malcom and his wife Eunice (both traditional Malaysian names we assume) turned us on to some seriously fine dining in Malaysia, more on that later.
To get to Borneo, you fly through Kuala Lampur, perhaps best known in the west for featuring the Petronas Towers which for six years were the highest buildings in the world. They look like Malaysia's version of the twin towers.
The movie Entrapment was partially filmed here, starring Catherine Zeta Jones and Sean Connery. The final bank heist took place in these twin towers, and during the 'avoid the laser beam' scene, Jones was showing her own set of twins, on her posterior.
From Kuala Lampur (which is on the Malay Peninsula that it shares with Thailand), you make the short flight over to Borneo, landing at Kuching.
The idea, as mentioned, was to scout some places for possible 24 hour races, and we had in tow Laird Knight, of Granny Gear Productions fame, the then king of 24 hour events. Also along was Jacquie Phelan, who needs no introduction, Gilles Mingasson, a French photographer living in LA and shooting a lot of mountain bike events, Laird's girlfriend, Chuck and his wife, the writer Allison Glock (she's sort of a big deal), Dondo who was featured in our previous entry, our Malaysian hosts Malcolm and Eunice, and undoubtedly some others we've forgotten.
We hung out at a couple of really nice resorts, the kinds with bars in the swimming pools and all the amenities. The accommodations were quite deluxe.
But we were here to find singletrack damnit, so off we went searching.
Here's Laird, we think there might have been some singletrack under there.
And here are two of Chuck, who looks like he's really enjoying the Boneo singletrack.
Glad that his bag didn't get wet!
After that unsuccessful day of scouting, we took a break in the pool for some umbrella drinks. Talk about a night and day experience!
OK, well our first scouting mission was not successful. So we hopped in a long boat and headed up river. Or was it down river?
Then a jeep ride to get us up into the mountains.
That looks like singletrack, but darnit, it's too steep and slippery to ride!
"Pretty sure it's that way"
"Hmm, ok, maybe not".
Time for another break. That's Gilles and Chuck. We have never seen anyone sweat as much as Gilles as the morning we were having HOT SOUP for breakfast, in the 95 degree heat and 95 percent humidity.
Time for more singletrack searching...unsuccessful.
We did see Orangutans in the wild though.
But still, no singletrack. There's some good news though, the water is receeding!
So we took a flight to Mulu International airport to see if we can find some singletrack a little to the northeast.
Here we are plotting our future single track score. That's Malcolm with the map.
DAMN! Pretty sure it's under there!
At least it's not a swamp, but we're still not seeing single track.
We found a road. And some kids. But no singletrack.
And now a doubletrack..we can tell we're getting closer.
AND BINGO! Twenty feet of killer SINGLETRACK! Unfortunately we found it right as the sky OPENED UP like we have never seen before. Look at the size of those drops of rain in front of the lens!
So in the end, no killer singletrack, and we never found any headhunters. So the take home message is that the two great myths of Borneo are no headhunters and no singletrack!
All was not lost though, the singletrack may have been elusive but not the flavors of the Malasian cuisine! And we are not talking about Durian, the stinkiest nastiest smelliest gnarliest excuse for fruit anywhere on the planet (or maybe the universe). So bad it's not allowed in a lot of places, as evidenced by this typical sign (and a hundred others if you do a Google search) that you would see all over Southeast Asia.
It looks like this:
Why this fruit needs spines on it is beyond our comprehension. Why would any living thing put effort into getting inside this fruit? I suppose it could be analagous to how dogs-even though they have senses of smell that are thousands of times better than humans-insist on eating cat poo. It's something the human human brain is not wired to comprehend.
On to the good stuff.
There is a dish served over much of the region that is called Laksa. We were lucky enough to be in Kuching, Sarawak, where the sublime flavors of the Laksa are unrivaled. We've tried Laksa here. It's not the same. We've tried it in Kuala Lampur, not the same. In the giant melting pot that is London you can find Laksa (quick editorial diversion: the food in London is now on par with any of the great food cities anywhere). Still, the Laksa in London-though it has a great view across the street-does not compare to Sarawak Laksa.
Some of you may know that Roxy who designs our frames is quite the "foodie". One of the cardinal rules around Ibis is that you don't ever turn down a dinner invite to Roxy's house. That's a no no.
Not too long ago, Scot received a shipment of Laksa, smuggled in from Malaysia by one of Malcolm's "Laksa Mules" (look for a 60 Minutes exposé on this burgeoning trade soon). Since Scot has the recipe written down, and has been schooled on the fine art of Laksa making by Malcolm on more that one occasion, Scot got to return the favor and invite Roxy for dinner for once.
Everyone agreed, we have never experience flavors like this before. Sarawakan Laksa is sublime. Worth risking jail time. Or worse, a long plane flight over.
After our dinner, Roxy set out to reverse engineer the Laksa. That's the Laksa in the lower left in the bowl, ready for action.
Accept no imitations, here is what you are looking for:
Extreme closeup on the ingredients, critical to the reverse engineering:
And courtesy of Malcolm, here's the translation:
Bawang Merah is Shallot
Bawany putih is garlic
Buah keras is candlenut
Bijan is sesame
Cili is Chili
Garam is salt
Lengkuas is galanga or alpine galanga
Minyak masak is oil
Rempah is mixed spices (we think the secret may lie here)
Serai is lemongrass
Roxy claims she's getting pretty close. We think we need to connect with another one of Malcolm's Laksa Mules soon though and do a side by side taste test. So anyone on their way back from Borneo who would like to engage in international smuggling, please let us know and we'll tell you where to send the Laksa paste, and we'll invite you for dinner, provided you're not serving time.