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Published: October 11th 2017
In the weeks prior to leaving Ireland, I was often meet with blank expressions whenever I mentioned Borneo as one of the destinations we would be travelling to. So as an introduction.. Malaysia consists of two parts. One part is the peninsula at the southern tip of the Asian continent which is commonly just referred to as Malaysia and the other part is an island known as Borneo which is half owned by Malaysia and half by Indonesia. Borneo is the third largest island in the world which I did not know until we got here and it has featured many many times in the Planet Earth nature documentaries given its unique flora, fauna and marine life. This was one of the main reasons we choose to come to Borneo over other alternatives such as mainland Malaysia or Indonesia.
Kota Kinabalu city was our first stop and we used it to get in some beach and swimming time.. and in Mags' case to get some much needed colour! Our first day, we got a boat out to Sapi Island which is just off the coast of KK and is part of the Tunku Abdul national marine park. It was absolutely
sweltering at 32 degrees and the beach was jammers. Thankfully however it started to improve from lunch onwards as the crowds started heading back for the city, presumably to get out of the sun.. As I was admiring having such a beautiful sandy beach to ourselves and started snapping a few pictures, I noticed how dark the background in the photos were. Five minutes later, our boat driver who had said we wouldn't be leaving until 4, came running up the beach and asked were we ready to go. As we gathered our stuff and made our way towards the jetty, he was waiting ready to go on the speedboat and was shouting at us "Hurry! Hurry!" Having donned the life jackets, we sped off in the direction of KK where we could see huge dark clouds. Within minutes we were getting absolutely pelted by rain, so bad that everyone in the boat had to shield their eyes. As well as this, the flashes of lightening and subsequent rolls of thunder were becoming more regular.. Mags is not a religious woman but I'm pretty sure I heard a few Hail Mary's being said to my left! When we pulled into
the harbour absolutely soaked, we legged it for the harbour shelters but not before I saw some poor Chinese girl getting about 2 litres of rainwater tipped onto her head after one of the boats canvas gave way under the weight! ?
KK also marked my first time scuba diving, a long time bucket list item for me - about 70 quid for tutoring, lunch and three dives which was good value. ? We went down as far as 12 meters which while daunting at first, was not as bad once gotten used to. It helped having a top class instructor called Roy who had many years experience under his belt. We stayed close to the coral as it is popular with marine life who use it for feeding and for hiding from predators. Throughout the day we saw clownfish (made famous in finding nemo), lionfish, the colorful sweetlips, giant barnacles and many others. There was one weird incident (and it didn't just happen to me) where one of the smaller fish took a little bite at my leg. I jerked back my leg but rather than leave the scene, this fish, which was only about 3*5cm big, went
to make a dart for my leg again... It was kill or be killed. I was left with no choice but to smack it with one of my flippers which seemed to do the trick! ?
The definite highlight by far was seeing a hawks-bill turtle which is critically endangered. I had swam past it but Roy had the good vision to see it resting on the seabed below a ledge. Minutes passed as we admired it and it wondered what were these five strange creatures circled around it. Eventually it began to start swimming in the direction of open ocean and Mags in a panic began thrashing around in the water, apparently because she thought it was about to attack her... :D It was afterwards she found out that the hawks-bill turtle main source of food is the coral aka as vegetarian as they come! ?
The following day we ventured further inland two hours up the road to Kota Kinabalu National Park which is a nature reserve surrounding Mount Kinabalu, one of the tallest mountains in south east Asia. As climbing to the summit can cost in the region of 150e all things included we instead
opted to do some hiking around some of the different trails on the lower levels instead. We were initially held up as in true Borneo tradition at this time of year, the weather can change from being low 30s without a cloud in the sky to an hour long torrential downpour very quickly! Once it had stopped raining, we went on our merry way again. We managed to join in on a guided tour doing a particular part of the park where they try to keep some of the park's hidden gems. In particular we got time to see and hear about the fig trees , the pitcher plant which feeds on insects, the worlds smallest orchid, the kerosene tree (think fire) and the cinnamon tree. That evening in the hostel restaurant, from which we'd had a huge lunch earlier, I ordered a 14 rinngit priced chicken curry. As this is less than three euro, imagine my shock when after being given a plate of rice I was then given the biggest bowl of chicken curry I have ever seen to go with it! It was so big that when the family who ran the hostel sat down to their
own dinner later on I noticed that they each had a place of rice but just the one bowl of chicken curry (exact same size as mine) to go between the six of them! Believe me though, they wouldn't have gone hungry all the same! 😉
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