Fun, challenges of driving

The way I drive, the way I handle a car, is an expression of my inner feelings.

Lewis Hamilton, British racing driver

Those who have travelled the width and length of Borneo are considered among the most adventurous few.

Some do so due to matters regarding their business, their engagements and work commitments or other matters while some do it for the fun and delight of travelling.

For me, the trips to Sematan and Lundu in the 90s through to the early years of the new millennium were just for fun. I spent three years in Bau and am quite familiar with the winding road passing Siniawan and later the Batu Kawa Bridge from Mile 3, but sadly, I got lost when going to the Batu Kitang Anglican Cemetery in 2015 for my late son’s burial.

In 1993 while serving in Bau, a group of us travelled up to the Indonesian border using the Tebakang route but dropped the idea of crossing as there were rumours of Customs checks en route to Pontianak — only one of us had passport.

Between 1979 and 2001, I traversed several times the old trunk road from Sematan to Miri, then from Kuala Baram passing Sungai Tujuh Customs check point in Brunei up to the sultanate’s capital Bandar Seri Begawan. Later from BSB to Limbang after passing the Kuala Lurah check point, roughly a 30-minute drive, and from Limbang to Temburong and to Lawas (using two ferries in 1999) and then back to BSB (one whole page of passport filled by Customs chops).

In Lawas, my Sabahan friend, a Borneo Bulletin colleague, and I bought two mangoes costing only RM4.

However, earlier, namely in 1992, I was brought by a van starting at 4am from Lawas (which hosted that year’s state level Teachers Day do) to Kota Kinabalu, passing through Beaufort and other towns and in time for our flight to Kuching from KK Airport.  

Between 1997 and 2002, I made many trips alone from Kuching with overnight stops in Saratok and then straight to Miri and then continued to Bandar Seri Begawan. In some of these there were overnight (but alternate) stops in Kuala Belait, Miri and Sibu. I was driving my old 1.8cc 1978 Nissan Skyline (BB 7316).

In 2000, my trip back to Brunei (using a reconditioned) 1.3cc Suzuki Swift (BN 3879) from Sarawak took about 11 hours. The hardest part of the road then was climbing the old Sebangkoi in Sarikei while the rest was plain sailing.

Those who have travelled using the old dusty road from the late 70s and early 80s surely know the difference between the comfort of travelling between then and now.

I managed to get my first car early in my career. My 1.8cc Ford Cortina bore the plate number 7D 5. One had to be ready for good ‘dusting’ for Saratok-Sarikei-Bintangor-Sibu route.  

Not all trips ended well. Here, I opt to omit my fatal trips (where I lost my daughter and niece) but instead share some other bad experiences during trips, either as driver or passenger.

In 1985, my spouse and I (using our Ford Laser 1.3cc) from Saratok to Sibu experienced a car breakdown at Jikang, before coming to Julau junction. It happened near a longhouse and I had to ask (around 5.45pm) for some bottles of water from one family as the problem seemed to be a dry radiator.

After a 20 minute-wait, it seemed to be okay. But after another stop at Kanowit junction, we only could reach the Durin ferry at around 8.30pm and had to wait for its last trip at 9pm. That was when JKR was redoing the road from the ferry to Sibu, making it really difficult. However, I let my wife drive as she had better nocturnal eyesight. We arrived safely at 10.30pm.

A bus trip in 1997 from Sarikei to Miri was the most memorable — and painful. I was down with food poisoning after a special mee sapi in a Sarikei shop. I had to speedily run to the loo after crossing the Rajang River at Durin ferry point, then asked for the bus to stop before Selangau, ran again to the toilet in Selangau, Batu Niah and in time to see Dr Chung in Miri.

On a trip back from Brunei in 1998, I had another dry radiator after Bintulu junction but managed to get it fixed at a Selangau workshop — just for RM20.

There was another incident on my trip back from Miri to BSB in 1999 using the same Nissan Skyline where the car just ‘died fire’ (meaning its engine just stopped) at Tutong, about 30km from BSB at around 5pm. I thought it might be due to a dirty carbonator.

After cleaning it up, the car started well to my great relief. 

For travellers, driving can be fun though there are times when our or the car’s guard is down.