The idea of going to the Rainforest Music Festival was first planted in my head by Joe raving about it, but it took someone with Louise’s energy to gather a group of 12 like-minded people and actually get us to Sarawak to attend it. I won’t be needing any further prompting to make my bookings for next year though.
(Click on photos for larger versions.)
The Sarawak Cultural Village is that very rare exception to the general rule that cultural villages are tacky. It’s beautifully situated, well-maintained, lovingly curated, and loads of fun.
We clambered up narrow bridges and staircases to longhouses elevated nearly three storeys in the air by stilts (no photographs could do them justice), cheered Fay on as she threw herself down from a height clinging on to a ring of bamboo (a traditional swing), and had a brief but precious ad hoc performance from one of the few remaining players of the Sarawak nose-flute.
Unfortunately, we still never really got time to explore the Village properly, because we couldn’t manage to get there early enough before the concerts started at night, and once the concerts started it was hard to tear ourselves away from the great music. Even so, little details continued to make me happy. On my way to the toilet, I learned that traditional fish-traps make stunning lamps.
The venue for the night concerts was a huge field with naturally sloping sides, and the stages were set against backdrops of tall rainforest trees. A particularly nice touch was that there was no back wall to the stages, so you could see right through them to the greenery behind. I wish I could show you photos, but the lack of a tripod rendered all of them hopelessly blurry.
I’ve heard that WOMAD gets more prestigious acts than this festival, but for some reason I enjoyed this much more than either of the WOMADs I’ve attended. Caution about my stitches meant I didn’t do the vigorous dancing I’d normally have engaged in, but I couldn’t help giving in twice – the Old Spice Boys (Australia) got me itching to swing, Petrona Martinez (Colombia) drove everyone wild with hot mama vocals and asstastic beats, and a capable and careful dance partner was available in the form of Louise’s tangomate Kris.
I’ve always loved men in kilts, so although I may have looked like I was dancing during the traditional Irish music performance by Shannon (Poland), it was really just the quivering of my loins. Lead vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Marcin Ruminski was looking hot on the big screen as I was eating grilled chicken in the (awesome) food area, so I made my way to the front few rows of the stage, and found Louise and Vivien there for exactly the same reason. I realize the hotness isn’t apparent from the photo – you really have to watch him perform to see it – but believe me, he transfixed all of us so much that his ZZ Top beard didn’t even matter any more. However, it wasn’t just him that made Shannon’s performance so bloody amazing. Individually, all the members of the band were excellent musicians and effervescent performers, and together they were incredibly tight and had great chemistry. And while I suppose a headbanging bodhran player is a bit of a gimmick, it’s still a pretty cool gimmick.
All in all, the festival was fabulous, so professionally organised that you’d think you were in Singapore, except, that is, for the friendly volunteers and service staff, the uninhibited exuberance of the crowd, the 6.50 RM pints of Heineken and the illicit rice wine sold in mineral water bottles for 5 RM, the dirt cheap but excellent food (grilled lobster for 9 RM) and the wonderfully cool non-humid weather. Roll on Rainforest Music Festival 2006. I’ll be there.
Kuching city itself seemed rather unremarkable, though perhaps that may just have been due to my extreme sleep deprivation while we were there. Apart from strolling along the waterfront and through a pedestrianised street of Indian shops, I saw little else of it before exhaustion set in after lunch (we’d left Singapore at 4.30 AM, and I didn’t get any sleep before that) and I retreated to the hotel for a few hours of sleep before we headed to the festival.
Better rested the next day, we managed an earlyish start for a trip to the Fairy Cave and Wind Cave, about an hour’s drive from Kuching. I’m sure there are better caves in East Malaysia than these, but they were the most convenient to visit in the short time we had and more than enough to awe a city person like me.
The Fairy Cave was like something out of Tolkien. I felt like Bilbo in the Misty Mountains, about to be captured by goblins. Amazingly, I didn’t see any graffitti, not even a tiny “Kennysia wuz here”!
Details of one of the mouths of the Fairy Cave.
The Wind Cave was less transporting, but geologically more interesting, as the effects of water in hollowing out holes in the ceiling and sculpting river channels were more pronounced. As you’ll see if you view the large version of the photo, there was some graffitti this time.
As I do everywhere I go, I noticed some amusing shop signs as we were driving to the caves and wandering around Kuching city.
I really don’t know what to make of this one. I cannot see how fungal growths or their non-democratically elected leader for that matter have any connection with romance. Surely this must be a shit-take? (I’d apologise for that last pun, except I’m not sorry.)
I’m so glad I was still able to go on this trip despite my operation, and I’m even more glad no harm came to me as a result of it. I’m also very grateful to my travel companions, who rallied round me, helped me carry my luggage, and looked out for me in crowds. I couldn’t have gone without that support.