Published: February 12th 2007January 28th 2007
A glimpse of beautiful water after too long in unwanted wetness.
Touching down on unchartered soil we had no idea what to expect. A fully functional terminal building greeted us off the plane with pristine passport controls and efficient entry systems, no jungle in sight as yet.
A taxi took us to the centre of Kota Kinabulu or KK as the locals call it. Something felt strangely familiar, the airport highway turned into light industry parks, then residential suburbs with small parks, pavements and streets light about 100 yards apart finally this blended into a city centre where apartment blocks, shopping malls, restaurants and bars painted the landscape. This town could have been any town in England; they drive on the left, there are roundabouts and plenty of traffic lights directing the cars and a sense of organisation and development that we hadn't felt since leaving Manchester. If it wasn't for the heat and the interesting mix of Malay, Indian and Chinese people that make up Malaysia you could nearly fool yourself into believing we were back home.
Sleeping in a clean dorm this time we relaxed in the welcoming dining and living area with a fridge full of beer and snacks. Tomorrow we would go to Sandakan to embark
Borneo boy plays in the river
His spirits are high even through the monsoon...but how would we fare?
on on Uncle Tans tour.
As we touched down on the other side of Borneo we welcomed by terrifying torrential rain. Another clean check in and another taxi took us to Uncle Tans accommodation and head office. Thinking the driver had taken us to the wrong place we were puzzled that their office was on an industrial park in the middle of no where. Sadly he hadn't this was the Lonely Planets recommendation and as the rain soaked our shoes we trudged up to the doorway where we were shown upstairs to another dorm.
We knew romance was a long way off especially as we were going on a three day trek. We chilled in the dorm that night playing games and laughing at what we had left behind in Ko Lanta and how we loved spending nights in bunk beds in places you wouldn't or shouldn't ever dream about staying; try to imagine an industrial park in Middlesboro in dense heat with plummeting rain thrashing against the roof and your half way there!
That night the four of us cheered up as we enthusiastically envisaged all the cool animals we were about to see, Orangutans, Crocodiles, Maybe
How tall is the trunk of this tree?
Our first glimpse of how much this place was really flooded!
Elephants and wild cats and loads of tropical birds.
An even wetter morning greeted us as we went down river to the camp, we traveled on slippy roads in a cramped mini van plus the driver had bad BO. As we got out of the van the thick grey clouds lifted and we quickly got into our boat for the journey, it was exciting as we saw families of monkeys in the trees, lizards which sat on branches and magnificent hornbills perched on the tree tops. We turned off the main river on to one of its tributaries where the boat glided through thick jungle, now it finally felt the real adventure had started; this was Borneo. It looked like something out of Indiana Jones, we sat in the boat half expecting hoping
a tribe to apprehend us and make us eat monkey brain or trap us in a room full of snakes.
This daydreaming was quickly crushed as we arrived at the camp. Although we were told about flooding we had no idea to what extent. You could not walk anywhere without water above your waist, our accommodation had water an inch below the floor and rising,
Good luck drying your washing!
This is our camp. The huts are where we slept. They stood on 5 foot high stilts but all of this was underwater...and the water was rising an inch every hour!
our toilet was our front door and our windows and doors were made out of chicken wire. The feeling of wilderness was washed away with a sense of cabin fever to make things worse it started to rain again. We thought at least we would see more animals as it was rainy season but our glum guide said 'sure in rainy season but not rainy season like this[/]' That was a real low point for me, the first time I had wanted out, wanted home and the first time I was angry. Amanda's miraculous spirit managed to lift me up, she was still excited about by the night time boat trip tonight and despite the rain I managed to perk myself up for the river tour.
The night trek was cool we saw kingfishers; nearly blinded one with a camera flash and a few lizards. The next morning we were due to head out for sunrise but the guides woke us up late from our cages so we went out in the pouring rain and saw no animals, they were in shelter which seemed like a very good idea! Exhausted and feeling sick of the food which Louise saw
one guy sneeze onto in the kitchen. We wanted out, we had had enough and so had the rest of the camp. So they took us back up river except this time the rain was worse than usual, much worse. It smashed against your skin and forced you to hang your head. I drained the boat with a plastic tub which was a never ending job. We eventually hit land and sprinted to some shelter.
On our night time boat safari we saw some beautiful animals.
We heard about a place on the other side of the coast, Mabul that didn't have the monsoon and although it was a 10 hour bus journey our battered brains did it to get away from the weather. This arduous journey on cramped minibuses was not the ideal Birthday present for David, in fact he could possibly say this was his worst birthday ever. He did well not to crack completely and we all pulled together in the evening when we went for a slap up meal of steak and ice cream. Afterwards we went back to our room where the girls had filled it with balloons and presents.
The next day gave us some deserved delight but not before we had to barter with the locals in the fisherman market for a boat ride to the best snorkeling spots. Amanda and Louise were quickly swarmed by muslim men who buzzed about their exposed white skin. Amanda feeling intruded quickly learnt a way to reply to the marauding men in thier own language, she shouted "Janlan Chamkap Machamtu" which means "Don't look at me that way". They soon backed off and Louise found a good deal for the boat ride with some less leary and more pleasant Malay men for the boat ride.
Before we got to the snorkeling spot we stopped by the drivers family who lived in a tiny village on stilts to pick up some supplies. They were all very amused to se us, especially as we were all wearing our bright orange life jackets!
When we arrived the clear blue water was amazing, far better even than on my dive course. The variety of coral was spectacular; greens, yellows, reds and blues filled our vision. There were loads of creepy star fish, orange and purple ones trying to climb on the coral which supports all of the magnificent fish around you. Like being in a huge warm tropical fish tank the different fish were fabulous; there were families of Nemo's very interested in us, large sword fish that swam at your level with a mean look in their eye. Further out we saw two big Grouper fish with glum expressions on their faces Underneath some rocks deep down you could see a Moray Eel poking its camouflaged head out waiting for its unsuspecting pray.
After lunch we were desperate to see a sea Turtle so we took the boat to a few different sites. I took a giant stride off the edge of the boat and had a look but there was no sign of this majestic creature. We were about to head back when we saw a large shadow submerge in the distance. The driver knew it was a Turtle instantly so we jumped in and headed out. there was a very strong current that swept us towards the area it had been spotted. Louise saw the Turtle at the bottom munching on some coral, treading fast to keep level with the Turtle was tough but we had to keep up. I went down to take a closer look, as I sank close to him
he saw me, I held out my hand and he looked into my just for a moment. He turned his arm and floated off very slowly so we followed, he glided through the water and we watched as he scratched his head with hand in a cartoon fashion. All mesmorised we watched him swim off into the distance.
Amanda and Michael on the river
We managed to stay happy by singing songs although this was assisted by a level of delirium!
Looking up we saw the boat was very far away and the current was taking it further out of our view. We swam, swam fast and were making waves and getting closer to the boat. Eventually we made it, pulled ourselves up and sat down exhausted but exhilarated.
Due to our pre-booked flights we had to get back to Kota Kinabulu and after our nightmare at Uncle Tans we didn't want anymore wildlife adventure especially as it was still raining and getting worse. We settled into the same comfortable guesthouse in KK and set up camp for 5 days. Most days were spent shopping and playing football at the nearby soccer-dome; David and I won every game and played well, the level wasn't that great but it made us look good so we weren't complaining.
We thought this would
be the order of most days until one night over a few drinks in our living room when we met a man called Jeffery...
Boat ride to Mabul
The nice Malaysian men who took us to Mabul for the day.
There are more photos below