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Published: February 27th 2006
When we walk down the gangplank this morning, a colorfully dressed Malaysian woman greets me by putting a necklace over my head. Alan gets one too. Our Radisson tour, "Borneo Extravaganza"
is about to begin.
Our guide, Vicki, begins the tour by giving us background information on Kota Kinabalu. Now I know why there are so many modern buildings here. The city was destroyed during WWII.
Soon, the bus passes the city mosque which is a replica of the Taj Mahal. This white building, with blue tiled roof, can accommodate 10,000 worshipers. There is no photo stop so we don’t get any pictures of the beautiful building.
Our drive continues on a road that has been built upon land reclaimed from the sea. In fact, the entire area of new buildings is built on reclaimed land due to a lack of flat land. The modern buildings are impressive and provide a good first impression.
The sea is close by and I can see people standing in the water near their fishing boats looking for crabs and fish. We also pass wooden stilt houses with tin roofs. The occupants are squatters living on government land. When the government decides
to claim the land for a new project, the squatters are relocated to another area.
We drive by a circular glass tower that overlooks the South China Sea. The column-free designed building houses government offices. Next, we take a short drive through the University of Malaysia Sabah. The attractive buildings are elaborately landscaped. But, I have a feeling that not all of Kota Kinabalu looks like this.
Our first tour stop is at Kellys Bay where we will fish for crabs and learn batik painting. The bus turns off the pavement and lurches down a dirt road passing a village of stilt houses. Water buffalo and cattle roam the street.
The bus parks and we walk to a landing on the river. A log raft with a thatched roof is waiting to take us across. The raft stops on the river where we are taught how to throw crab traps into the water. Are we fishing for our lunch?
When we arrive at Kellys landing, a guide leads us to a large, covered shed. Rows of long tables hold cloths that have been nailed to the table. The cloths already have a wax design. Each table
section has a jar of brushes sitting in water and jars of different color paints. Everyone chooses a design and we begin to paint. It’s like water coloring with no rules. Once we’ve labeled the cloths with our names and cabin numbers, they are collected for processing and will be returned to us before the end of the tour.
We have 45 minutes left here so Alan and I take the path to the beach. Insects buzz around us. It’s a good thing we used our insect repellant. Walking out of the woods, we jump down a small dune. The beach is long and wide bordered by small hills on either end. I can’t resist. Taking off my shoes, I go for a wade in the South China Sea. Then, Alan and I walk on the beach for awhile as do many others from our group.
After washing off my sandy feet and saying goodbye to the ocean, Alan and I go back through the woods to the large thatched building that hangs out over the river. We must take off our shoes to go inside where they are serving a special tea and pancake with curry sauce.
We board the raft again and stop to check the crab traps. Out of ten traps, we only caught two crabs. Vicki walks around the raft showing them to us. “Ouch! The crab pinched me,” she squeals. Throwing the crabs back into the water, we are relieved to learn that we weren’t fishing for our lunch after all.
We board the bus and drive to lunch. Guyang Seafood Restaurant is on a bay where the owner farms shrimp, crabs and other seafood. Two buildings with open rooms and thatched roofs sit on stilts out into the water. The restaurant is surrounded by mangroves and dense vegetation. We sit at a large, round table with a lazy susan in the middle. Our lunch consists of boiled “live” shrimp, soft fried crab, breaded fish in a sauce, green choy and other vegetables, rice, lemon chicken and fruit. How are we going to stay awake for the rest of the tour?
After lunch, it takes a while to load the bus. All the ladies want to wait for the one “western” style restroom. The others consist of standing over a porcelain hole. An attendant throws water in the hole to
Monsopiad, a cultural village, is our final stop. It’s about a 45-minute drive away and now we see a more realistic part of Kota Kinabalu. Passing through several suburbs, shops and buildings look crowded, more dirty and well-worn; and there is none of the luxury high-rise feeling.
When the bus stops at Monsopiad, I spot a water buffalo lying in a field with an egret standing on top of him. We are at the village of headhunters. A guide greets us and leads us to a large wooden structure with a bamboo floor. We must take off our shoes to enter. Large pillows are arranged in rows on the floor before a raised stage. Musicians sit in a balcony over the stage entertaining us with traditional music on instruments that sound like steel drums. Dancers perform folk dances from the Kadazan and other indigenous groups. One of the dances is done between horizontal bamboo poles that are clanged together. When they ask for volunteers, not many of us want to sacrifice our feet.
After the entertainment, we are led across the street to the House of Skulls. The small museum houses a portion of the 42
skulls collected by famous headhunter, Monsopiad. Then, we go back to the village to watch a demonstration of rice wine making. The guide offers me a small wooden cup and I taste the yeasty, fermented wine. When he offers the distilled rice wine, I know better than to say yes.
After viewing a blow dart demonstration in the yard outside, we walk to the suspension bridge which is our last exhibit to experience. Alan walks across but I choose to stay back and take his picture. It begins to rain as we board the bus where Vicki is distributing our batik creations.
It’s been another hot and humid day. Once aboard the Voyager, a cold shower feels good. Soon, we’re back in the Observation Lounge to watch our departure from Kota Kinabalu.
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