1 April 2015

Driving - Sarawak Style

We love to drive and will use any excuse to spend the afternoon on the road.  Our ideal holiday comprises a car, the kids and the open road.  

Our Mitsubishi - in any one car-park there will be at least 20 other cars
just like it, same age, same colour.
After the hustle and bustle of the busy yet slow (60kph limit) Astana roads Sarawak is a little different.  Car's are not particularly varied here, you will typically see flocks of Perodua Myvi, a small but perfectly formed run around, and the ubiquitous Saga (Proton’s small saloon, we had a matching pair at one point) to trucks (Toyota Hiluxes for the most part) and 7 seater 4x4s (Toyota Landcruisers and Mitsubishi Pajeros).  There is so little variation in model and colour that it can be quite hard to find your vehicle in the carpark. 

Main roads are mostly excellent..
The roads in Miri can be a little congested at peak times but otherwise there is very little trouble with traffic.  The main problem comes with the driving.  Learners have to pass a written and a practical test and display P (probationary) plates for the initial period post-test but the majority of early lessons are taken in an off road learning centre.  This means that learners get very little exposure to real road situations. 
Slow cars are a nightmare on the single carriageway roads.
People are not aggressive drivers by any means, in fact I would go so far as to say they are dangerously passive.  The limit on dual carriageways here is 90kph but it is not uncommon for drivers to saunter along at 40.  Cars quite regularly pull out onto the carriage way with next to no acceleration in front of faster vehicles leading to urgent slamming on of breaks.  Lights (I have mine on to make my car visible at all times of the day, a legacy of my parents’ adherence to Norwegian rules of the road) only go on as dusk is well under way and sometimes (but not always) in periods of heavy rain.  When it rains here it does get really heavy, wipers on maximum and 5m visibility maximum type heavy which makes the roads dangerous, particularly as very few drivers choose to increase stopping distances

On many roads 4x4 is a must
Pedestrians jaywalk across dual carriageways with impunity and undertaking is frighteningly common.  It is wise to check and double check mirrors and over shoulders even on a clear road as mopeds and motorcycles appear out of nowhere and think nothing of sitting in your blind spot for long distances.  These mopeds and motorcycles are also quite happy to drive the wrong way down the carriageway so be aware of them.  Interspersed amongst all this you get the same speed demon idiots that are common worldwide – overtaking on bends, undertaking in traffic etc.  All in all, however, driving here is pretty sedate and well regulated.

Smaller roads can get damaged all too easily
Leaving town the main roads are decent but single carriageway  with few opportunities for safe overtaking so if you get stuck behind a lorry or a bimbler you have little recourse.   A few months ago we drove down to Niah to see the caves.  The 2 hour journey back was stretched to 3 hours as we were stuck in a long tailback behind a Myvi doing 40kph.  Our poor 6 week old baby girl was desperate for a change and a bottle but by this stage it was getting dark and we had nowhere safe to pull over until we got back to town. 

The further in to the interior you go the less solid the infrastructure...
In the rainy season the combination of heavy palm oil and logging traffic combined with torrential downpours take their toll on the highway and potholes, sometimes huge ones, appear at quite short notice. Once you leave the Trans-Borneo highway or the fairly decent coast road you end up battling on smaller and smaller roads which are highly susceptible to wash-outs during the rainy season and 4x4 cars with engine armour, snorkels and winches are a necessity rather than a poser' luxury.  A large portion of Sarawak is easily accessible only by air (for example Bario in the Kelabit Highlands near the Indonesian border and Mulu World Heritage Caves) or by fast boat up the river (for example Kapit, upriver from Sibu).  It is not unknown for colleagues from the interior to have to request a week's leave to travel home for an obligation like a wedding or a funeral because the journey there and back typically takes several days.  

At certain places the road just comes to an end.  The gravel in the
foreground is the end of the main carriageway, the only way across the river is by ferry
Click on the picture for more posts on life in Borneo

Ersatz Expat

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