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Published: February 26th 2009
Someone stole my new flip flops. They'd only cost me eight quid yet I was a bit irrational about it and couldn't hear mention of their disappearance for about the next three hours. I think it was because I'd gotten comfortable not having to worry about things like petty theft happening in Kuching and I suppose I was surprised someone had actually stolen something here. They went from the stairway of the Singgahsana Lodge where it's polite that everybody remove their footwear before going into reception. I've no suspicion that it could have been any of the staff at the Singhahsana, recently an Australian girl told me and Lynn that in many parts of Asia its not the locals you need to watch out for, its other travelers. I think she's right. Are thieves going to come from societies built on manners and respect or are they going to come from back home? Of course not all Asian cities are Kuching.
After buying more footwear we went to an internet cafe to book some flights and the crushing dissapointment of the flip flop saga was forgotten when we booked some really cheap flights with the budget airline Air Asia, one
at only 9 pounds per person. No flight so far with Air Asia has been over 45 quid, I say god bless them and their extensive ozone layer depleting flight schedule.
After a flight to Kota Kinabalu we took a taxi directly to MT Kinabalu National Park. There was a problem during the taxi journey. It was dark and foggy on the roads, our taxi driver was being cautious but there were many taking really silly chances in a rush to overtake the heavy goods vehicles that were struggling up the steeper sections of road. Finally almost inevitably we turned a corner and there in front was the aftermath of a road accident. A 4 by 4 vehicle had tried to overtake a truck on a bend and collided with an oncoming truck and ended up spun round and wedged between the two trucks. The inhabitants of the car hadn't even got out of the vehicle at this point so it must only just have happened seconds before. Lynn went into nurse mode and went to see if she could help. There was no one seriously injured but a girl had a broken arm and a guy had a
after the storm
The morning sun forcing steam from the jungle after a night of heavy rain
head injury. The police and ambulance were called but we were told on this mountain road that meant was from 60 kms away. I went to have a look at the state of the car wedged in between the trucks and it was clear the road would be closed for a long time, possibly all night. The taxi driver thought so to and told me he wasn't waiting around and was off back home but not before he'd pass our fair on to another taxi cab which is what he did. This next taxi guy spoke no English. We'd been in the previous taxi nearly 2 hours and we knew we were only 20 kms from our destination. So I thought I'd walk around the accident site and see if there were people bored and frustrated enough with the delay to be turning their vehicles back the way they'd come in the hope I could fix a lift with one of them. But that didn't happen, people were out of their vehicles and happy enough to sit and smoke the night away as though this happened every day, which it probably does. So I thought I'd walk the line and
find someone to give us a lift but of the twenty or so parked vehicles there was no one who spoke English. Eventually after an hour a guy pulled up who spoke a little English and with his grasp of English and the International language of cash I sorted a lift for us and our bags.
As we left all this behind I saw an evidently poor man and his wife stood dejectedly on the grass verge of the road with their two kids sat in their pyjamas with their heads folded on their arms trying to sleep. It was a sorry sight. I'd seen them earlier and I'm not sure but I think they may have been passengers in one of the trucks involved in the accident. I was thinking, at what time if at all that night would his kids get to bed, and could he afford to just to dip his hand into his wallet and bribe another man to take him to where he wanted to go which is effectively what I did?
In the actual moment though I didn't think about it too much as I was just feeling relief for myself and Lynn.
wild banana plant
Just like bananas all over Africa these are fully grown, although in this photo not yet ripe. They are less than half the size of bananas in UK supermarkets but twice as tasty. What do bananas that end up in the supermarkets have done to them to end up twice as big yet tasteless?
But an hour later sat comfortably with my old friends beer and cigarettes I became introspective. Thinking, if I was really that bothered about the man and his predicament I could have offered him my ride out of there. It had only cost me 10 quid and I could have always sorted out another one. I thought to myself, you can't pat yourself on the back just because you feel sympathy for someone, what use is feeling compassion if you don't act on it? Its a circular argument that other peoples circumstances brought to the front of my mind on a daily basis in South Africa and on previous trips in Africa and Asia. It ends with the truth that even if you gave just a dollar to everyone you met who needed one here and in Africa very soon you'd be the one skint by side of the road and in need of financial assistance yourself............Life eh?
Our accommodation outside but not far from the entrance to Mt Kinabalu national park was called the Rose Cabin. The food was rubbish and overpriced as are most things in and around the park. Its because of tour companies. Most people
like the cartoon character
are ferried in just long enough for the time it takes to climb Mt Kinabalou (over 5000 metres, the highest point in Asia) then they go and other bus loads of people replace them. So the hotels can take the piss because no one's here long enough to care to complain. The saving grace of the Rose Cabin is the view of the mountain you get from your balcony in the morning. Looking at this view I could almost but not quite forgive them for the microwaved mushrooms they sold Lynn under the guise of stirfried.
The higher altitude of the park meant that humidity wasn't a problem for a change. (Lynn's had enough of humidity, after washing there's no way for to dry her hair out properly so it frizzes and causes her much consternation) In the park we walked a 7km trail by a river that was through temperate forest and felt pleasantly warm, like a summers day in England. I'd expected to see the carniverous pitcher plants that David Attenbrough on TV told me grew here. But they apparently only grow at a higher altitute on the mountain itself. The largest flower in the world grows here
(the 'Rafflesia' up to one metre across) although it only flowers briefly once a year so we hadn't expected to see one in flower and didn't.
After this we took a bus to Sepilok to base ourselves for a trip up the Kinabatabgan River. Lynn found the Paganakan Dii guesthouse on the internet www.paganakandii.com Its a newish guesthouse built on stilts and surrounded by rainforest, it was cheap, clean, served good food and had only a few other guests staying there that had bothered to find the place like us. Another good find by Lynn, instead of the usual black eye this year I really should sort her out with a Christmas bonus to recognise her work as my accommodation finding secretary.
The Kinabatangan was not flooded when we went but swollen with recent heavy rain. It is weird weather here in Sabah, thunder storms start after hot afternoons in most places around the world but here thunder storms start during the night and last the whole night, and sometimes all the next day. The Kinabatagan is a monster of a river, in a boat low in the water you can see the swirling currents and eddies and
THE EXPLOITED - PUNKS NOT DEAD
Why is a young muslim girl wearing this shirt? no one spoke English so I'll never know. * The Exploited are a hardcore punk band from the 1980's. I saw them many times, they are still gigging, they wern't known for their subtlety.
feel the power of the enourmous amount of water your being carried on.
The Kinabatangan is wildlife rich, but the bad news is its because the Kinabatangan is beset on both sides by palm oil plantations that the wildlife is hemmed into patches and corridors on either side of the long and winding river. You can see this plainly in arial photos of the area. The good news is the expansion of palm oil plantations and logging was made illegal in 1999. That doesn't mean it doesn't go on illegally though.
A trip down the river through the ancient forest is a thing in itself. We had hoped to but not expected to see wild Orangutans, amazingly we saw them from the boat twice. They were camera shy and stayed in the uppermost branches of the riverside trees, but this is how it should be. In the state of Sabah there are only 3000 Orangutans in the wild. To look at it in context commercial logging only started in Borneo in the 1950's and before this the whole massive island was forest entire and the Orangutan's habitat for 100,000's of years. So it felt great to see some in the
An improbabe looking bird, but very gracful in flight, like an open chinese fan gliding from tree to tree
wild as they should be, and an achievment for the guide to have spotted them at all. Hopefully the recent swing towards consevation will prevail in Sabah and guarentee their immediate future.
The best thing about the boat trip for us was going up a tributary of the Kinabatangan called the black water river. So called because leaf acids dye the water black. The jungle really crowds over the river here over-shadowing and squeezing out the natural light. This combined with the river that really does appear black and the monkeys hooting and braking branches up ahead to show their displeasure at your arrival gives the place a real primeval feel. Like sailing into a lost world. It was the scene I'd pictured in my mind of Borneo months ago and it was the first time I felt we were in the 'real' forest.
Here we saw what must be two of the worlds most distinctive birds based on shape and colour. Oriental hornbills and Pelican billed Kingfishers, the kingfisher is Borneo's largest and it looks like a colour mad lunatic has spray painted it when you frst see it sat still on a branch, in flight it has
a blue neon blaze across its wings and back. These and the hornbills looked all the more vivid against the gloomy backdrop in this part of the forest where they choose to live.
The next day we had yet another jungle walk and then were transferred back to Sepilok. It was muddy climb and we saw nothing of interest. I didn't think we would, I know by now you don't see much walking in the forest because, your in a forest. At the end of the walk I felt my legs were shot, I think me and Lynn have both done enough jungle walking for the while. This walk had leeches by the trail, I took a photo of one but deleted it as they are just too disgusting to look at. They're about 2 inches long and hang off leaves with one end ready to attach itself to your clothes as you pass. As you approach the free end of the thing waggles about madly as if blindly searching for you. And if you stand still within a metre of them they detach themselves from their leaves and come wriggling towards you across the forest floor. Its disconcerting
to know something so small is that aware of your proximity and is willing make its way towards you just as fast as it can with its malevolent ambitions.
Borneo's wildlife mainly centres around primates of which I think we've seen eight types, the scenery is more or less the same all over the whole island, it can be a bit one dimensional. Borneo for me comes in behind Southern or East Africa for diversity of plant life, bird life and changing scenery.
We came to Borneo for the widlife but more than that we've enjoyed the interaction with the local people, they're generally hospitable and polite and its been a pleasure, especially in Sarawak.
It sometimes felt like because you're foreign you have minor celebrity status in Borneo, especially on public buses where groups of achingly shy school kids would try and make eye contact with you just to exchange a wave or try a word or two of their English on you. Or the random old men I've had come up to me in the street and ask us where we're from then personally welcome us to their country. We've not long left Borneo but are
Whenever anyone asked about leeches he laughed his head off, he had no plan A or plan B about what to do if they get on your clothes. I burnt mine off with a lighter and what a fight they put up, I nearly set my clothes alight.
already thinking of making time to visit there again before we leave Asia.
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