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Borneo Cruise, Ruthie’s Report

You’ve heard from Casilda Grigg, via her report in the Spectator of 21st September 2011; now you can read Ruth’s long-awaited account…

My friend Casilda offered me a wonderful opportunity, totally out of the blue – to join her as she’d been commissioned to write a travel piece about a cruise for the Spectator.  Initially I thought a cruise? No way!  Like most people I thought a cruise involved extremely overweight people increasing their problem by taking advantage of a 24 hour free buffet and probably playing bridge all day.  Casilda persisted – for which I will always thank her – and my interest was piqued, along with a sense of how rarely such an amazing opportunity lands on your lap.  Very kindly my bosses let me take a trip at short notice, and it was all a bit of a blur of trying to work out flights and packing and clearing the decks so I didn’t have very much time to find out in detail about what lay ahead.  In some ways that was part of the fun.

The journey to Borneo was not bad at all – although it was 24 hours’ travelling in all – because we flew Emirates and they very kindly upgraded us, so we took full advantage of the extremely comfortable beds in Business Class and the Veuve Reserve.  We had a night to recover in a super hotel  then embarked in Kota Kinabalu in Malaysian Borneo.  From the off I loved it all.  The Orion II was a small ship in cruise terms (50 cabins) and the people on the trip were all fun, fit and energetic (probably because they were mostly Australian; Orion is an Australian company).

Every day we were off the ship almost all day – often at the crack of dawn.  Our activities ranged from attending a very moving memorial service for those who died in the Sandakan Death Marches to exploring Buddhist Temples and Churches to visiting a modern Rungus Longhouse.  I went diving; I met Orang Utans; I swam in a mud volcano – probably one of the most fun things I’ve ever done as it met my requirement that a perfect holiday should involve some form of regression to childhood.  I went upriver on a sort of water safari and saw amazing wildlife, including snakes and monitor lizards.  And I think I danced back on the ship every night – Casilda and I saw it as our role to lead the charge onto the dance floor – and to be ready for that I had great fun experimenting with what I thought was Cruise Wear.

But there was a reflective side to it all too; it was called an expedition cruise, and for good reason.  We were in a different spot every day, moving at night – and how brilliant it was not to have to pack, and to get back to a luxurious cabin at the end of every (extremely tiring) day.  There was an emphasis on sustainability and helping the communities we visited: we planted trees to make a small effort against palm oil plantation deforestation and visited a school that Orion supports.

It was also about learning: there were experts on hand (historian, biologist, naturalist, geologist) whose brains you could pick whenever it suited you – it usually suited me over dinner and wine.  They were all fascinating and generous with their knowledge.  The food was amazing – I loved it, and managed to have a three course breakfast on all days were time allowed, including an omelette cooked to my direction.  The thing that struck me most though was the Malaysian people we met.  Every single one was friendly, funny, and open, with a wonderful turn of phrase and naughty sense of humour along with a real sense of pride in their country and in Borneo.  I’d love to spend more time there and I would LOVE to do another cruise.  And I think I could even learn to live with a 24 hour buffet too.

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