Monday, March 29, 2010

The Littlest Martin

I briefly mentioned in my previous entry about my brother and his wife who’s had a case of the babies. Their firstborn, who shares my names but will go by Jean like his grandfather, was born on March 10th, about two weeks earlier than expected.

At the moment he is just a tiny bundle of sleep and adorableness. Seriously, that is all he does, sleep and look cute. And weird. He most resembles a baby tortoise at this stage with very oddly shaped skinny legs and a long neck that stretches everywhere. He’s also good at pulling faces, mostly serious or very worried and occasionally he looks a bit grouchy.

I did not think I would be as affected by his presence in our family as I have been. I’m totally in love with him and just want to look at him all the time. Did I mention that babies are highly contagious? Alexander’s antidote is to remind me of the babies that traveled with us on our last international flight. That usually works. But don’t you think we’d make a cute family?

We have a few more days here and then we’re off to the States to go visit the other apple of my eye, Alexander’s niece Maddie, who we last saw early 2009 when she was only 18 months old, apparently she’s turned into quite a sassy and sometimes silly little girl, so I’m looking forward to spending lots of time with her and enjoying her antics. It will be sad though to say goodbye to my family as it will be quite some time before we come back here again, I guess by that time Jean will also be old enough to start acting silly and will be a little more fun that right now.

Kind of unrelated, it was my birthday just the other day (well-wishes welcome and check my I Desire pages if you want suggestions) and Alexander baked me the most amazing cake. It was a simple sponge cake with a delightfully light crunchy crust, a caramel filling and a chocolate ganache frosting. Slicing into the cake it oozed caramel and chocolate. Incredible!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Court date set for Malawian gay couple

A trial date has been set for Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, the gay Malawian couple who were arrested in December last year for performing an engagement ceremony and who are still held in a maximum security prison in that country ever since.

They have been denied bail twice since their arrest for ‘indecent practices between males’ and ‘unnatural offences’.  Yes, getting engaged to someone of the same sex in Malazi is considered indecent. Please cover the kids’ eyes.

Besides being arrested and imprisoned for over 3 months they have also been subjected to humiliating physical checks like anal examinations to confirm sodomy charges as well as assault. Authorities claim they are still being incarcerated for their own safety. It is good to know the Malawian authorities take the safety of homosexuals seriously. I suppose they will be found guilty in the end and imprisoned for the maximum sentence in Malawi for homosexual acts of 14 years, also for their own safety.

The Protestant churches in Malawi would certainly be in favor of keeping them in prison for 14 years or longer. They’ve been urging the government to stick to their ban on homosexuality saying "We hold homosexual acts and practices as un-Christian. We do not condone homosexuality. The government should not be forced to legalize alien ideas and recognize gays.” (whole article at

In other news, the church is also urging the government to criminalizing Christianity in the country as it is also alien and un-African and once that’s over and done with they will embark on a mission to rid the country of all ethnicities and cultures not completely indigenous to Malawi. (not really, but makes sense doesn’t it?)

Think of Steven and Tiwonge and all other gay and lesbian Malawians on April 3 when the case will continue. We can only hope they will be granted bail and that they will win their case against the State and clear the way for more equal rights in that country.

* The image here of the couple breaks my heart, handcuffed together with the public sneering and jeering in the immediate background, it’s just too sad.

** While I’m on the topic- anybody heard about this fuckery in the state of Mississippi? 

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Kruger break

We are back in South Africa for a quick visit and despite making the mistake of following local news and becoming endlessly depressed as a result it has so far been an excellent trip. Perhaps it was because while we were pretty much still suffering from jetlag we took a trip to Kruger National Park with my parents for a couple of days.

Growing up less than an hour from the park we spent many a weekend and holiday there in my youth, mostly in the back of a car on endless daytrips away from the camp. I did not enjoy those trips much, luckily my parents learned to chill as they aged and these days trips to Kruger are spent taking medium distance daytrips, doing lots of reading and a whole lot of relaxing.

We stayed at Tamboti tented camp. As far as camps in Kruger go these small inexpensive ones are great value for money. The camps are tiny and pretty basic; they are raised over wooden platforms with an outdoor deck and come with comfortable beds, a closet, small fridge and outdoor furniture. A small barbecue area is next to each tent. Everything else you have to bring yourself. The kitchen facilities offer sinks, hot water boilers and two-plate stoves and there are shared ablutions.

What makes these basic camps so enjoyable is the fact that very little has been changed to the environment so one is still completely surrounded by indigenous forest that secludes each tent. Views are often of river beds, perfect for sitting back with a book and a cup of coffee while seeing the occasional waterbuck or impala wandering by. Hyenas often come up right to fence at night (sadly we did not have a visitor) and on our trip a small genet came by each night, once wandering up onto our deck to see what we were up to!

We had some excellent sightings on our trip; a buffalo herd numbering close to 400, huge flocks of marabou stork and even a couple of breeding pairs of the very endangered saddle-bill stork. One of the highlights was this beautiful male lion Alexander and I saw on a very early morning drive on our last day, accompanied by the rest of his pride. He walked alongside the car for quite a bit and as he was almost as tall as the car resulted in some nervous moments.

Also on our last day we met this gorgeous fellow, we pulled up right next to him and he did not seem too phased by our presence and was the perfect model for Alexander.

We left the park recovered from our jetlag and very well rested.

*Thanks to Alexander for all the pictures.
** I became an uncle just over a week ago! We share names and he is gorgeous despite his resemblance to a baby tortoise.
*** Internet here is a nightmare so I won’t be a regular here until we are back in the States again in April.

Monday, March 8, 2010


Our main reason for coming to Sepilok, and a major attraction in Borneo in general, was to see orangutans in the wild. This area of Sabah is home to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (SORC) and it provides a great opportunity for viewing these incredible creatures in the jungle.

SORC was created to rescue and care for orphaned and injured orangutans, with the eventual goal being releasing them back into the jungle again. The program is run by a UK based organization who does incredible work here, sponsoring a local vet and nurse, offering volunteers, educating the locals about the situation of these animals and providing employment to people in the area on a direct and indirect level.

As the centre is located on the edge of a protected jungle preserve the animals are safely re-introduced into the wild over a period of several years. Young and injured ones are initially taken care of by volunteers who train them in aspects of orangutan life like swinging (between trees and branches of course) and foraging for food.

Eventually they are slowly introduced into the jungle, where they are still fed twice a day. The feedings take place at three different platforms, the first one very close to the center and the last much further into the jungle, this is done to slowly lure them further away from human contact. They are fed only a small amount of food at these stations, encouraging them to find food on their own.

Visitors to the center are allowed to view feedings on the first platform, which can be reached on a raised wooden walkway through the jungle, which brings one to a viewing platform. Ropes are suspended from the trees to the platforms to guide the apes in the right direction.

The number of these orange creatures one can see in a day is never guaranteed, but the day we visited we got lucky and saw six at both the morning and afternoon feedings. It was an incredible experience, seeing them arriving from a distance, slowly swinging along the ropes until they came to the platforms. Some of them were rather playful and silly, others just came in for a snack and then made their way back into the jungle.

We were also fortunate to see three young ones up close after the last feeding. When we arrived back at the center they were hanging around the trees right behind the ticket counter and playing on the wooden walkway. Wardens were around the whole time to make sure a cheeky baby do not come too close to any visitors, as they are very susceptible to diseases carried by humans and too close contact can be very harmful. Standing only two meters away from a young orangutan frolicking through some bamboo was still incredible though.

We’re not done with our time here, but I am sure this visit to the research center will stand out as the highlight of our time on Borneo and I sure won’t mind to come again.

* The pictures here were all taken by Alexander

Friday, March 5, 2010

From the Bornean Jungle

One would have expected me to be more of a prolific blogger recently, considering I spent a month in one of my most favorite countries on earth, Taiwan, and am now traveling in Malaysian Borneo. I know, I know. I never fail to surprise!

We arrived in Kota Kinabalu in the Malaysian state of Sabah a little while ago and spent our first few days here enjoying the local food scene and relaxing. Alexander was recovering from some sort of cold and we considered it better to stay put until he was better. KK turned out to be a teeny bit dull, but pleasant nonetheless. The night market kept us coming back for incredible food at rock bottom prices and refreshing shaved-ice desserts, while the local ‘kedai kopi’ spots were good for a cup of local style coffee and great breakfasts or lunches.

We also hung out on one of the nearby islands for a day, enjoying the beach, clear waters and lots of tropical fish swimming by just off the beach. The island we went was Pula Mamukan and if we ever come this way again I would consider paying a bit more and spending a few days relaxing there, or at one of the others.

Currently we are kicking back in the Borneon jungle in the area of Sepilok, home to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center. We decided to stay at Paganakan Dii, a relatively new B&B place in the area. It’s located on a bit of a hill with views of the surrounding jungle growth and palm oil plantations.

We opted to stay in one of the private rooms instead of the longhouse style dorms. Our room as at the far end of the property and our window has a fine view of a plantation and distant hills. There are large sliding doors on either end of the room, one side that opens onto an immediate view of the jungle. While I am typing here a small brown squirrel jumped from the trees outside onto our balcony and scurried around. Earlier today, after our return from the rehabilitation center, a brightly colored snake was waiting for us on our front porch and later sailed into the bathroom (non-poisonous, luckily I found out from the guy who removed it).

The room has a comfortable double bed with crisp white linen and a mosquito net over the bed. A welcome change after the backpackers place we stayed at in KK, which was fine and great by backpacker standards, but backpacker nonetheless. Our bathroom is slightly open air, with a partial open view into the jungle. A bamboo ladder serves as towel rail and a remodeled wok as basin. Apparently lot of salvaged wood was used to in building the rooms.

The place is so lovely and the staff so friendly that we decided to stay three nights and spend our second full day here just relaxing and enjoying the environment.

Underneath the dorm rooms are rattan hammocks and swings and there is an open air viewing deck, I will be spending most of my day tomorrow in either one of these spots, attempting to read Far from the Madding Crowd, while enjoying the sounds of the jungle.

* Most of the images above were by Alexander
Related Posts with Thumbnails