And so on to Borneo. The mere mention of that name conjures up images of virgin jungle and exotic wildlife of varying shades of rainbows! How naïve! We arrived at KK from KL - I hope you are now ‘up to speed’ with the acronyms, dear reader! - and were surprised to find a fairly modern, compact and business like town - at least on the surface! The transport system is chaotic as we were to find out later. Most travel around Sabah is best done by air as there are precious few roads. Those that there are tend to be pitted with craters or simply run into stretches without any kind of surface whatsoever. There are four wheel drive ‘taxis’ which run between the main towns - KK, Kudat, and Sandakan!
We had sat and contemplated the wisdom of going to Sabah as there had been ‘a little local difficulty’ there in the past few weeks! About 200 Pilipino insurgents had landed on the Eastern coast and proceeded to take on the Borneo Army! There had been about 60 casualties! From what we could gather, it is a kind of Falkland Island situation! A Sheik in one of the
... only found in Borneo
southern most islands of the Philippines (which almost touches the Saban coastline) has some kind of historic claim to Sabah. Discoveries of natural mineral wealth (oil and gas) around the coastline have made the ancient claim spring suddenly into life again. The fighting was intense and, as a result, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office issued a ‘NO GO’ notice around the area. Kota Kinabalu seemed to be a reasonable distance from the affected area - so off we went! However the insurgents had played a blinder! They had effectively cut off the most popular tourist area of the country - and, incidentally quite a few of the places we had wanted to visit!!! Nevertheless, we decided to carry on and see what we would see!
Our hotel, the Gaya Centre, was a large building on the waterfront of KK. Whilst it is a fairly modern and generally well presented hotel, it had something of the waft of an old peoples’ home! The staff were charming as were the locals who again all engaged us in lengthy conversations! Even walking down the road could present a challenge as someone was very likely to walk up to you and enquire,
1) What was it advertised as?
2) What did it taste of?
‘Where you from? ’You could then kiss goodbye to the next hour or so! We really missed this amazing friendliness when we went off the Thailand - but that’s another story! We decided to visit the KK Zoo (about 30 minutes out of town by taxi). This was one of the poorest excuses for a zoo that we had ever seen! The highpoint of our trip was the ice cream at the end! We did however spot some pygmy elephants and Oranutangs.,
We also spent a day on Manukan Island just off the coast from KK. Getting there by ultra high-speed motor boat was great fun.
And now dear readers, it is time for the Hoggtrotters ‘Question Time!’ This blog will include a photo of an innocuous looking, yellow coloured bun (or roll). Janie purchased this item from the local food market. The question is ‘What kind of roll/bun was it ‘advertised’ as, and what do you think it tasted of? There will be a small prize for the first (lucky!) correct answer! You will certainly need to use your imaginations on this one! Best of luck!
If you take a minibus, or rather a fully loaded
Janie tries an exercise shaker!
Does my backside wobble in this?
jeep, from Kota Kinabalu and head north for about 4 hours you get to Kudat. Getting a place in the jeep is in itself an entertaining experience! As you arrive at the ‘coach station’ (a large area of broken tarmac!) you find yourself swamped by eager locals who pull you in all directions in order to get into their vehicle. At that moment we were approached by a rotund, middle aged man with 5 days of stubble and dishevelled clothes. ‘Good morning, Sir! I am Yousef and I am a pirate from the Philippines !’ I believe him! He smiles with a mouth full of half broken teeth. Yousef is, it becomes apparent, the man in charge who is supposed to inflict some kind of order into this chaotic situation. 25RM (£5) secures us a place on one of the jeeps. This is, we are told, a far better way to travel than the large coaches which stand idly at the other end of the tarmac. They are slow and stop many times, hence, for the locals, jeep is the preferred option.
These jeeps, however, operate by a peculiar set of Borneo rules which, to the uninitiated, can seem
Just off KK. A beautiful place to get away from the city.
really frustrating! They will only depart for their destination once a full compliment of 7 passengers has been assembled. 7 being the magic number! Having said that, if the existing passengers agree to cover the ‘cost’ of the vacant seats, the taxi will depart sooner. This means that it is possible to hang around for some time waiting for a full compliment of passengers.
After about 20 minutes we stop. One of the passengers gets out of the vehicle and crosses the road. We sit for about 15 minutes waiting for something to happen. Eventually the man returns with another woman (his wife sits patiently in the back seat of the jeep together with her baby) and two small children. They join the woman in the back seat - there are now 5. But the man is not done yet! Oh no! He disappears again only to return with 2 more small children! There are now 8 passengers in the back seat! For the next 3 hours these toddlers peer over the top of the seats in amazement! Who, they wonder, are these strange looking people? We peer back and pull silly faces!
We arrive at Kudat and,
as instructed wait at the Ria Hotel for our pick up. Kudat is a small, bustling market town towards the very tip of Sabah - the northern state of Borneo. However our destination lies a good way off. Another jeep collects us from the Ria. Alfrid introduces himself but then runs out of English! He silently drives us along shattered, broken roads to the very ‘Tip of Borneo’ and Tommy’s Place. We are both grateful for the large Ford 4 wheel drive ‘Ute’ as it tends to iron out many of the potholes and divots in the roads. We both wondered what we had let ourselves in for but were comforted by the fact that many of the most lovely places we have found have been those that are difficult to get to!
Tommy’s Place is as remote as it gets! As it states on his website, his place is at ‘the very tip of Borneo’ - and it is! A 10 minute stroll along a trafficless road brings you to the very tip of the tip of land and the open sea! Across the road from Tommy’s fairly basic huts (which are, thank God, blessed with air conditioning)
The Beach at Tommy's
A crowded day with one sun worshiper on the beach!
is a 5 kilometre beach of fresh, powdery, white sand. To cap it all, we only counted 2 or 3 other humans on the entire beach at any one time. Most days the beach was ours and ours alone! The sea is gin clear and gently slopes out towards the open sea and the Philippines! This really was a half a step from what heaven should be like!
So what, I hear you say, was the downside? After all there always has to be one! Well, to begin with we realised on the first night that something was noisily munching our door. Believe me we tried to find out what it was but failed. In fact there are so many creatures that you hear but never see, especially at night. The air is full of strange, unfamiliar noises and shadows which are endlessly fascinating to the senses! The one form of life you do encounter is the dreaded mosquito. They swarm around at night and proceed to dine upon you. To add to this discomfort they are joined in their nocturnal feast by their friends the sand flies. These tiny little black flies appear to be completely inoffensive but
Sunset at Tommy's
There are dozens more like this!!!!
have a bite which makes the dear old mozzy bite seem like a tender kiss! In addition, the itches last considerably longer!
Being at Tommy’s Place was one of our favourite experiences. Every evening we would walk down to the end of the beach and dine at Howard’s - the only other sign of life in this part of the world. Howard is an interesting chap who hails from Stratford-upon-Avon in England! Somehow he found his way to Borneo and is now a kind of eco-warrior who is intent on saving the local Rungus peoples way of life from extinction. He has acquired a large chunk of jungle and delights in showing visitors around it at obscenely early times in the morning! And so it was that he picked us up at 6.30am one morning for a jungle walk. Although it was fascinating, I have to say that I sweated more that morning than I have during the rest of my entire life. . If you imagine the sound of a referees whistle, blown non-stop for about 3 minutes at a deafening level, the jungle was full of such noises! To begin with we thought that it was a
Rather like Cornwall? But 35c every day!
very loud and efficient car alarm being set off, only to remember that there are no cars in the jungle! Howard informed us that this sound was generated by some amorous chicaras (kind of large flying beetles) trying to catch a mate’s attention. They certainly grabbed our attention!
Borneo has a sly, sneaky way of presenting you with the unexpected and inexplicable! Birds, butterflies, flowers and insects are laid before you in a dazzling, kaleidoscopic display of every shape, colour and size. Most of these defy description - and would, in some way lose their magic in the attempt - but they sweep into your memory and will not fade! Nevertheless, one or two such images demand some kind of attempt. For example the most gorgeous sooty, jet black squirrel which scampered up a nearby tree and into the forest. He really was worthy of an animal cartoon character and turned to show off his deep red chest. We were later informed (needless to say by Howard) that this was a Consort Squirrel. We also saw all manner of birdlife including shimmering iridescent, azure kingfishers, majestic sea eagles, and beetles the size of Janie’s mobile phone! The
most startling ‘guest’ at Tommy’s was Maurince (our name for him!) the monitor lizard. He was a beautiful, if somewhat intimidating specimen about 2 feet long who had a tendency to bring his dinner (rats, mice etc) up on to the ‘restaurant’ decking and proceed to dine with us. Jessa would grab the nearest brush and heave him over the edge of the decking and back to his appointed quarters.
In addition to this bountiful supply of breathtaking images, Nature also treated us nightly to a formidable display of just how beautiful the darkening world could be. Sunset was a never ending show of deepening red, blue and black colours which, no sooner had you taken a photo, went on to become even more dramatic! The result was a lifetimes supply of sunset photos!
Howard’s wife, Lareen, a local girl, is a charming young lady who oversees the best cooking in town - town being two sets of huts (Tommy’s and Howard’s) 5 kilometres apart! We particularly enjoyed the chicken rendang - so much so that Loreen offered to show us how to cook it! So cook it we did! Janie blanched at the
amount of sugar and coconut milk which was employed in the making of it, but it really is lovely!!
We both agreed that Tommy’s was very special and that it would figure in our ‘to visit again’ list - if only to catch up on the places we had missed out on this time. Tommy himself is a charming chap who proceeded to ‘upgrade’ us to one of his newly created, three posh villas for the last two nights of our stay. We were very sorry to have to wave goodbye to Jessa, Anna and Tommy’s Place itself. As Janie had managed to drop her sunglasses into the sea at the very tip of the tip of Borneo, we have persuaded ourselves that we will have to return to look for them. Well, they were genuine Gucci (honestly) and cost £3.
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