|Final Statistics: Alex & Maz||Total distance: 93,550km|
|Furthest Point: Rotorua, NZ||Now settled in Sydney, Australia|
|Final Statistics: Martin||Total distance: 79,698km|
|Furthest Point: Hobart, Australia||Now settled in Bristol, UK|
The baton is passed to the next in network and continues to hold strong
Malaysia, Country 22, Diary entry 26th July – 5th Aug 2006, Total distance in Peninsular Malaysia: 3442 KM, Total distance in Borneo, Malaysia: 2628 KM, Total distance in Malaysia: 6070 KM
As we landed at Kota Kinabulu (KK), the bags turned up amazingly quickly. The plan; head for the port to greet Tinfish from her cruise. After a quick phone call to our contact in KK, we were told that she was having a such a great time that the boat was not to dock for another 2 days! Great. We then phoned Mr. Kamarul, our ‘network contact’ for KK, a friend of Assir’s (one dollar) who assured us he would help if we had any problems. He was away with work for the day, but we said we’d sort ourselves out in town and then meet with him the next day.
Picking up a few flyers from the airport, we headed into town to find accommodation. Heading into town, we passed sprawling suburbs but it was nice to see the city quiet. Clean, ordered, not very big and had a relaxed feel to the place, we’d be able to spend a couple of days here waiting for Tinfish to arrive no problem. We stayed at Akinabulu youth hostel. Having only been running about a year, this YH is the nicest I’ve ever set foot in I think. It really had the home from home comforts and was a very pleasant surprise as we entered the main living area. Airy, spacious, clean, cosy sofas and chairs and free internet. “Two nights in ya best dorm room please mam!”
We set about searching the town for what there was to do and whether we could fit a bit more diving in. KK has invested a lot in marketing. Posters in shop windows, billboards across the town, leaflets in the YH, all selling diving and Mt. Kinabulu tours; from a first glance, we’d have lots to occupy ourselves while waiting for Tinfish. Unfortunately, the marketing seems to have preceded the organisation of the actual outfits sorting themselves out for carrying out the promises so readily seen across town. Our main desire was to try and get to the Labuan wrecks, north of Borneo. We must have visited all of the diving operators in the town, only to be told, no, sorry, ‘so and so’ does that, only to go and see ‘so and so’ to find that they actually didn’t do it, advising us to try ‘so and so’! We stopped at one dive shop to see again if they could help us and while we were waiting to be served got talking to an English couple who were also there. Never hesitating to promote the excellent live-aboard dive holiday in Thailand, I got talking with Nina while her husband Graham was buying some kit. The general pleasantries followed and before we knew it we were chatting like old friends. Telling them of the trip and what we’d been up to, comparing notes on just how great Sipidan is and our plans for the next few months. They have just bought a house in KK with the idea of moving out permanently in the next couple of years, so were out here on holiday preparing for the future, as well as sneaking off to Lyang Lyang for a bit of diving. They asked what we were up to later, and having only just arrived, didn’t have any plans, so we readily accepted when they asked us if we’d like to join them for dinner that evening at the yacht club; their treat! 7.30pm, a time was set before we carried on round town exploring.
As we carried on through town, we were faced with the same problems with booking tickets to climb Mt. Kinabulu. Needing to secure accommodation first before permits are issued to climb the mountain, Kinabulu nature resort seemed to have a monopoly on this area of tourism. Once enquiring about accommodation at the top of the mountain, we were told that it was booked up for the next few months. What??? We asked the question again thinking we must have misheard….”sorry miss, there is nothing available until November”, was the retort. We walked back to the YH disheartened with our unproductive days outing.
Having already explained to Graham and Nina our repertoire of clothing was probably less than to be desired, especially for a yacht club, they told us not to worry and just turn up as we were. So we did exactly that. As we always seem to find, the day had run away with us and after what felt like an eternity on the internet, still trying to organise shipping to Australia, we realised with a start it was time for us to go, so flagged a taxi down in the street and headed to the yacht club. Pretty much on time we met Graham and Nina at the entrance and they showed us the harbour, with the classy yachts and the lights shimmering in the reflection of the water as we walked round to the restaurant.
A man after my own heart, the first thing Graham did when we sat down was order a bottle of red wine. Delighted at the thought of the silky smooth nectar, we jumped at the chance when a glass when offered. Oooh, it was delicious and had been quite a while since we’d had the delight. ‘Order anything you want from the menu’ was the command from Graham and Nina. With such a lot of choice it was difficult, but the lamb chops sounded too good to pass up. Alex’s eyes kept returning to the steak and so the decision was made…….that was until the waiter said they didn’t have any! “Do you realise they’ve driven all the way here from the UK just for your steak and now you’re saying you don’t have any for them” Graham teased the waiter. Laughing nervously, he apologised and said everything else was available. It wasn’t a hard choice and soon enough lamb chops were the order of the day for us both.
The night passed by very quickly, swapping stories of holidays gone and diving destinations. I thought Alex and I had been lucky enough to visit a lot of places, but listening to the adventures of Graham and Nina over the years, I have now set my sights on a few more destinations! Bottle after bottle of red wine kept appearing, and disappearing just as quickly. Before we knew, we’d drunk the restaurant out of red wine! After deliberating and making sure that they were sure there was definitely no more red wine, suddenly a bottle appeared from nowhere. Secretly I reckon they’d snuck down the seven eleven so as not to disappoint us, although I’d be surprised if they had Wolfblass off the shelf there! We had a fantastic night and it was a great ending to a first day in a lovely city. Thank you Graham and Nina for taking us out and spoiling us. We thoroughly enjoyed the tales from the evening.
The next day was a little blurry when we first woke up, but after a hot shower (an absolute luxury in a hostel) we soon felt ready to take on the world. Breakfast was all set up for us to help ourselves, fresh bread to toast, noodles to cook and milk for that ever important cuppa to start the day. I tell you, never have I seen such a well organised and catered for YH. We met Mr. Kamarul at 10am where we’d planned to go and see Mt. Kinabulu. Not being able to climb it, didn’t mean we could not still go and look at it! A two hour drive up for the mountain view, it was nice to be chauffeured for a change. The mountain is spectacular with clouds peeping from behind it, threatening to obscure the top anytime they wanted. Once arriving at the NP, we looked round the exhibition centre before having lunch on the veranda overlooking some pretty gardens. Heading back to town, we stopped for a coconut drink before arriving back in KK mid afternoon. The afternoon lost again to cyber space, Kamarul and his wife Rachel picked us up at 7.30pm and we were taken to the local seafood market. Arriving at the restaurant, we met with Leo and Alison and their two children for dinner. Rows after rows of tanks filled with lobsters, fish, crabs, eels, prawns, shell fish to name a few to choose from. We had a feast, the tastiest dish for me being the lobster covered in a delicious creamy sauce. Again spoilt rotten, we had another wonderful night.
The following day was D-day, Tinfish was returning from her travels. Firstly, we had to pick up the delivery order from an office in town, next was to find a taxi to take us to the port so we could get all the paperwork sorted. Knowing to always check things a few times, when the taxi dropped us off, Alex went to check it was the correct place. The taxi man eager to get his fare and be on his way, was a little peeved when I wouldn’t get out of the car until I knew we were in the right place. Surprisingly, we were not and the main entrance to the port was a kilometre or so further down the road. Once in the right place, we found the office we needed to be and thankfully a young chap called Gerry took it upon himself to show us the ropes. We met Purna, one of the custom officers, who could speak very good English, and chatted to us while he inspected our papers. An incredibly friendly man, he asked us where we were going next and then proceeded to write down every check and immigration/customs point between KK and Kuching in Sarawak the northwest of Borneo. With Brunei in the middle, it makes for interesting driving. Thanking him for this very useful information and stamping our papers, we headed down to the treasurers office to pay our port fees to release Tinfish. We knew it was going too smoothly……having been told the amount we’d have to pay, we made sure we had enough money before setting off. However, on arriving at the office, the figures on our sheet were all arbitrarily crossed through, new numbers were added, more calculations were made and the sum which beamed at us from the calculator was larger than the amount we had on us! Great. Stuck on the outskirts of town, no ATM nearby and without a taxi in sight, what to do? Gerry kindly took Alex to get some more cash, while I sat on the steps at the front of the port, seemingly entertaining all who were nearby, as it appeared they had never seen a female about these parts before!
Alex returned with the spons and paid the dues required to get the chops needed. We were now to see our baby. After what seemed an awfully long time, one of the port boys drove her round. Upon opening up the doors, it was a shock to see the inside such a mess. Knowing how we had left her, she was now strewn with litter from old lunches, empty energy drink bottles, cap less, now with sticky syrup dripped onto the seat, and the rest of the contents which had been left in the car thrown throughout the inside. Horrified, we looked through to see if anything had been stolen. We hadn’t left much in the main seating area knowing it was going to be opened, but we hadn’t expected everything to be completely ransacked. Thankfully I’ve never been burgled, but even after this tiny incident, I can imagine how people feel completely violated after such an ordeal. They ripped out the temperature monitoring system, probably thinking they had nicked a nice little bit if equipment, but I checked the side of the door where the wires had been run, and they were still in place. They hadn’t even benefited from that, just mindlessly ruined a piece of equipment. Thankfully, apart from a sticker or two missing off the outside of the car, nothing else was damaged. We knew the risks when we decided to use the ro-ro option, but you always feel that it will be alright. Still, I comforted myself in the fact that there was no real damage and it gave us the freedom to get to Borneo and go remote, every cloud has a silver lining!
We drove back to the YH where we’d decided to stay for one more night. As a change to our usual routine of either driving, internet or meal and bed, we decided that we’d go and have a bit of fun and go on a date. With a city like KK, there is lots of stuff to keep you entertained. First things first we needed energy for the evening, so decided to treat ourselves and went to pizza hut, our normal choice of fast food restaurant when we crave a bit of home. A mighty meaty washed down with a coke, we then headed to our next port of call; the bowling alley. Having not practised for a while, I was a little rusty to say the least. Alex is pretty good at it, as he is with anything he turns his hand to, and was imparting his knowledge to try and improve my game. Now, with this new knowledge to hand, I was still throwing like a spaz. Alex was beginning to get quite frustrated, telling me time and time again how to hold the ball, move my arm and thrown it in a straight line. I don’t know about you, but just because you’re told how to do something, doesn’t necessarily mean you can instantly do it! The more frustrated Alex got with me, the funnier I found it (after all he was winning, what was his problem?!), and the funnier I found it, the worse I bowled. God it was funny. He thrashed me both games, but I did improve in the second.
After this hive of excitement, we then went to the flicks, popcorn and all, the first visit of the trip. Pirates of the Caribbean was the order of the evening, which was rather pleasant to dreamily watch Orlando and Johnny, but the movie itself was more of scene setting before number 3 comes out rather than much more. We’d had a great evening and it was nice to do something different! It brought a real sense of home for us, something that we’d unconsciously been needing for a little while I think.
The next couple of days took us south and east to Sepilok where the orang-utan rehabilitation centre is. Martin has given you the lowdown on the process of the rehabilitation for the orang-utan, the same process seems to be followed here too. Having missed the morning feeding, we had a few hours to spare before 3pm when the next session began, so with all the dive kit shoved into to any place it would fit on the back seats from our trip to Sipidan, we unloaded the car to repack so we were back to some sort of order.
The time had arrived for us to see these long armed, funny looking, hairy apes. A very different experience to what Martin seems to have had, Sepilok is a major tourist attraction in Sabah and the viewing platform full of camera-clicking tourists from all walks of life, had more of a circus atmosphere than a sanctuary. One male was rather entertaining, making himself centre of attention if not more than a little indiscreet, and pleasuring himself in the middle of the eating platform! It was incredibly funny and he seemed to know this, as the smirks and giggles just seemed to encourage him. It was interesting to watch the orang-utans swinging along, eating their fruit and drinking the milk provided. The Macaque monkeys were close in the shadows, the babies being much bolder than the older ones, sneaking up on to the platform snatching what food they could before running off again. A lot of orang-utans turned up but as soon as they’d had their feed they were off for peace and quiet again. Once the orang-utan’s had finished and gone, the Macaque monkeys braved the platform and scrounged what they could before zipping off into the forest as well. After the furore of activity, we returned to the car and headed for Sungai Kinabatangan, Sabah’s longest river.
The next day we arrived too late to do a tour of any kind, but we managed to organise ourselves for the next day. An early start would take us down the river to try and see some orang-utans in their natural habitation. We sat in a viewing tower just as the sun was beginning to set. The far side of the wide, mud coloured river, was lined with tall, green trees, side by side like soldiers standing to attention, except for one small break in the line to our right. Chatting over a beer, absorbing the scenery, we suddenly saw movement. To our amazement, 3 pygmy elephants strolled into the clearing, slowly walking through the forest and then disappeared as suddenly as they’d appeared.
As dark descended, we had a game of Carcassone to pass the time before joining one of the lodges for dinner, who we’d managed to secure a tour with the next morning. Camping in the only clear bit of land at the centre of the all the little lodges in the vicinity, we caused no attention to ourselves as it was dark and everyone seemed to be busy doing other things. A first. Up at 5.30 am we joined a Dutch family on their boat and began sailing down the river. It was very tranquil. Looking for proboscis monkeys and orung-utans we weren’t disappointed, again being the clever people we are, we left our binoculars back in the car! D’oh.
Once, a long time ago, the orang-utan could swing from tree to tree from one side of Borneo to the other without touching the ground. Sadly, this is long gone and blatantly obvious as you drive across Sabah with oil palm plantations every where you look. As we made our way down the river, habitation destruction is still taking its toll, as diggers continue to reshape the land behind the narrow corridor of rainforest that clings to the northern edge of the river. A saddening sight. As we entered the mangrove swamps, we were enveloped into the rainforest where it was time to get out of our boat and have a walk through the trees. Our guide was fantastic, showing us all the little insects you’d have missed otherwise. Trying to avoid the leeches, I did quite well, but the three children of the family we were with, were a little more nervous when they traipsed through the thick mud paths of the forest. Feeling a little claustrophobic, my feelings for the rainforest haven’t changed much and I was pleased when we got back into the boat.
Sailing back through the swamps to the main tributary, we saw lots of proboscis monkeys, chillies hanging out, showing their manhood. Funny looking creatures, with a huge, bulbous nose making them look like an old man who’s had too much to drink over the years. We headed back to the lodge for breakfast. It had been an extremely pleasant morning. The rest of the day was spent retracing our tracks and heading back towards KK. We drove until we reached Mount Kinabulu national park, where we found a fantastic little café for dinner of chicken and cashew nuts, prawns and rice. Camp was just off the road. Not as remote as we first though, as we were immediately found when we put the tent up, but after explaining in our best Malaysian that we were just sleeping, they let us get on with it.
The next morning we rose early to an excellent view of the mountain, with our cavalcade of onlookers. Returning to the café from the night before we had a delicious breakfast of boiled eggs done just right before continuing to Kudat and the tip of Borneo. The whole drive up we discussed the trip, our thoughts and what we wanted to do next. Feeling a little directionless, we couldn’t put our finger on quite what is was, but something was missing at this point in time. Was it that we’d been a year on the road and now tired of travelling? I don’t think so, but even so, we felt a little unsettled.
I’d read that Borneo is the land under the wind. Not sure whether that meant it’s under the wind, i.e. too low to get the wind, or under the wind, always windy. Having not noticed much wind since being over here, I’d have opted for the first, but after reaching the tip of Borneo, that was all blown to pieces, literally. With the wind blustering round the peninsular whipping the sea into a frenzy of white horses, it must have been near a force 6-7 gale. It was nice to feel the fresh air on the face, but bloody cold standing out in it too long. Deciding we’d find camp before dark, a novel idea, we drove down to a little bay to find the perfect alcove to park the car, sheltering out of the raging winds, but still a nice sea breeze to keep us cool during the night. We went for a paddle in the sea and sat on the rocks in the peace of bay to enjoy the break from the car.
Returning to town, we drove round for a while, not really finding anything that we fancied to eat. Coming to the point where we would just have to make a decision, we came across a nice looking restaurant on the water’s edge. Going to have a look at the menu, they had fresh grouper and prawns on display. We were sold. The fresh fish was delicious, accompanied by rice and mixed veg, we devoured the lot. A great way to finish the day and celebrate our one year on the road anniversary! Returning to the bay, we were disappointed to find the winds still, so much for our fanned tent to keep us cool. After the home comforts of the YH for a while, it had been nice to return to camping for the last week. We always feel at home in the tent. Although the oil palm plantations wreak havoc for the animals in the environment, they do make great camp sites for us, even if the mud is thick and uninviting, immobilising us on more than one occasion!
Rising in the morning we found ourselves in the middle of a mosquito bath, so swiftly decamping we drove to the other side of the peninsular, where the winds had died down and we parked the car overlooking the beach. Alex needed to check the brakes as we’d heard that all too familiar noise of screeching, indicating metal on metal for the brakes. Off came the wheel, a little more difficult than normal, as one of the wheel nuts had been cross threaded onto the stud when the tyres were changed in Thailand. The brakes were near the end of life, but fine to get us back to KK, so replacing the wheel, Alex began to screw on the nuts again. One by one they went on, until he got to the one which had been cross threaded. Trying to get it back on to the stud, gently easing it back on, one too many turns on the talk wrench and ‘snap’ the stud broke. I was amazed at how composed Alex stayed as I was expecting the air to turn blue as he made it felt exactly how upset he was! Back to KK to get it fixed. It’s been a while I guess. We went for a swim in the sea to cool down before showering and getting ready for the drive back to KK.
We made it back in plenty of time, booked ourselves back into the YH for a couple more nights then Kamarul kindly met us and took us to his regular garage to get the work done we needed. We had the spares we needed, just needed the labour. The garage guaranteed they sold genuine Toyota parts, as we now needed to get some spares, but as the manager had just brought out a genuine Toyota oil filter and non genuine one, all wrapped up nicely in the Toyota packaging (as some people prefer the non genuine I was told), we didn’t feel 100% confident when he brought out the brake pads to sell us. Asking if there was a Toyota near by, they said that the parts were much more expensive (maybe proving to us they were genuine compared to what he was selling us), but after we insisted that we’d prefer to spend the money, he said if he bought them, we’d get them for cost. One of the mechanics zipped of on his scooter to seal the sale and returned with the real deal. After comparing them with the ones which the manager had shown us they did actually look identical, but we felt happier knowing we’d got ours from Toyota.
Having enjoyed going to the movies last time we were in KK, we decided to make another trip. This time it was to see ‘The break up’. Probably best described as a ‘chick flick’, it was nice to lose ourselves in Hollywood for a while, but I would only class it as OK, with a pants ending. Having made a base again at the YH, we spent the next day doing admin, getting some more business cards printed as we were beginning to run low on the ones we’d bought in the UK and chatting to fellow travellers. 2 people we got talking to were Ian and Robyn, an Aussie couple who had been travelling for the last few years, intermingled with returning to Oz to do a bit of work before setting sail again round the waters of these big islands. Divers as well, I could only imagine what fun they must have being free to dive where they wanted and where the breeze blows them. Maybe a hobby for Alex and I to take up when we get to Oz! We shall return to the UK by water….
They recommended visiting the local night market for dinner, so off we trundled to feast on sate, BBQ’d fish and nasi goreng. A great recommendation guys. Having started a trend of going to the flicks, we decided to gorge ourselves and return once more before heading west. Tonight’s showing was ‘The Lady in the Water’, having no idea what it was about apart from “a thriller, no horror, no erm, I’m not really sure” – the cinema staff’s opinion, I enjoyed it much more than I expected. Returning to the YH for our last night, we slept like babies.
Up at the crack of dawn, which was our usual routine for KK, we busied ourselves until it was time to meet Kamarul for a coffee before we left for Brunei. Heading back to his house to say goodbye to Rachel, they very generously gave us a bottle of port as a ‘good luck on your way’ present, a huge treat for us and extremely welcomed! Rachel also gave me a couple of lovely typical Malaysian style necklaces. After a few photos, we bade farewell and then followed them out on to the main road where they guided us out of town before we carried on our own to Brunei. A HUGE thank you to Kamarul and Rachel for looking after us so well during our time in Sabah - it was great meeting you guys.
Having a date to meet Paul in Brunei, and receiving texts from him in the morning asking how we were doing, it was a little embarrassing getting back to him at 1pm saying we were just leaving! The drive is made a little more tricky by having to pass into Sarawak, then through the borders of the first part of Brunei till you emerge back into Sarawak for a second time, before getting more chops by re-entering the second section of Brunei. The whole drive took 6 hours, once we’d passed all the customs and immigration for each specific section of the journey, and we arrived at exactly the same time at the border as Paul. Having asked for directions to his place, Paul said it would be easier for him to meet us at the border, specifically the Malaysian side. It was only as we got nearer, we remembered Brunei was a dry country and we were a great excuse to come over for a beer and to stock up the cupboards with a few treats!
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