Farewell to “The Land below the Wind”


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Asia » Malaysia » Sabah » Labuan
April 28th 2018
Published: April 28th 2018
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Friday 27th April 2018

I am writing this blog aboard a ferry from Kota Kinabalu to Pulau Labuan. It is an old ferry, somewhat cramped here on the upper “Business Class” deck. The gods may or may not know what it is like down below! It is a three and a half hour journey west across the South China Sea and the notice on the exit door warns us that we are strictly forbidden to open any doors to go outside until we dock. This has nothing to do with adverse weather, the sun is shining and the blue sea is smooth. Our cameras and binoculars are put away (the windows are grubby) so we have missed the pretty islands passed by. Malaysians are not comfortable on the sea, we have seen few who enjoy swimming. So that is why we are locked in and I am typing a blog rather than standing on deck as expected enjoying the voyage. I am also praying that I don’t need the loo because there is only one for 162 passengers! Ah! The joys of travelling! So, now to catch up on the last few days…..

On Tuesday ANZAC Day was celebrated at the war memorial at 7a.m. We missed this event because we didn’t fly in until the afternoon, so we did a little detour the next morning to look at the floral tributes. It was very moving. Labuan, by the way, where we are heading now, is where the Japanese surrendered after WW2 and the war graves of 6,000 soldiers, mostly British and Australian, who died in Borneo, are there. After visiting the memorial we walked to Jesselton Point to get a twenty minute boat ride across to Pulau Sepanggar to have a lazy beach day. It was exactly that, with an excellent lunch as well. The snorkelling was disappointing. The water was a bit murky and mucky with rubbish from the stilt village around the headland. Sepanggar, like most of these islands strung along the coast of Sabah, are covered in lush tropical forest, fringed by white coral sands and a turquoise sea; also a plethora of plastic floating along! It’s a sin! Later, walking back to our hostel from Jesselton Pier, about a half hour walk, although early evening, the temperature was still 32°. On Google it said “real feel 40°”.Yep.that’s about right! Silly heat

Yesterday, Thursday, we decided to have an easy day and join an organised tour rather than organise it all ourselves, to the Mount Kinabalu National Park. Roger, our guide and driver picked us up at 7.45 a.m. five other passengers were already on board and we picked up two more on the way. Our group of nine consisted of two Brits (us), two Poles who lived in London, a Japanese boy from Osaka, two Filipino girls on holiday from Manila and a Swedish mother and daughter from Stockholm.

Once we left KK the scenery was splendid. We drove for over an hour through pristine rainforest with stunning panoramic views as we climbed higher and higher. Sadly, both sides of this one and only road over the mountains was spoiled by litter; yet more plastic! The higher we climbed the less litter marred this beautiful countryside, thank goodness. Our first stop on the tour was the obligatory tourist craft market, here we got a drink and loo break and time to wander around the stalls. Leaving here we ascended higher up the mountainous range towards Kinabalu. After another hour we arrived at the National Park to walk one of the lower trails.
Not great snorkelling...Not great snorkelling...Not great snorkelling...

.....but a chilled beach day after the jungle hiking is very appreciated!
Roger, our guide, was very knowledgeable and he taught us a lot about medicinal and culinary wild plants in the forest as we hiked. We ate some wild pink berries (relative to blueberries). The hike wasn’t long, but unlike the forest trails by the Kinabatangan river, it was hilly, so I found it a bit challenging (the asthmatic lungs don’t do too well in this damp heat) but enjoyed it anyway. The forest is so very beautiful. The park is a World Heritage Site, designated by UNESCO as one of the most important biological sites in the world, with over 4500 species of flora and fauna. It is unspoilt rainforest covering 754 square km and Mount Kinabalu itself rises to 4095metres; awesome scenery. Next stop was lunch and then on to the Poring Hot springs and canopy walk. We were now high up at 1500 metres, which is 4921 feet (higher than Ben Nevis at 1345 metres). The air was getting a bit thinner. Well folks, I didn’t get to do the canopy walk, but maybe I can do another one when we get to Sarawak, a bit lower down. It wasn’t because the height bothered me, in fact John said it was far less scary than one we did in Australia. That one was just rope so one couldn’t stand with both feet together and crossed a deep gorge and river, whereas this one was a wooden plank 25 cm wide, with supporting waist high ropes each side and although over 100 metres long it was in three sections with two platforms in between. I never got to see it myself. To get up there the 250 metre climb through the forest was like ascending a giant staircase (ok for very tall people) made of mud, boulders, tree roots and slippery wooden planks. Ignoring the sign which said people with asthma were not allowed up there, we set off, but half way up, just about 130 metres, I gave up. I had a real problem with climbing in thin air. John continued on but even he found it hard. I crossed the gorge by a little bridge lower down and we met up after his descent. I was a bit disappointed but we went up another trail (still ascending but much more gently) to a pretty waterfall. Back down again we soaked our feet in a sulphur pool from the hot spring then headed back to join the others and get the minibus back to KK. We had hoped to go to a viewpoint to take photos of Mount Kinabalu but the weather closed in, we were driving in thick clouds until we descended down to lower land, then torrential rain followed us back to KK. We got back after 7 p.m. it had been a long strenuous day! We went out for our last meal in Sabah, with a bottle of wine, then up today and off to the ferry (which we are on right now). So, “Farewell Sabah, the Land below the Wind”, so called because it is under the Asian cyclone belt. We have loved it here and could have stayed much longer, however, Sarawak awaits. We now have just four weeks to get down to Kuching for our flight back to Kuala Lumpur. Right now, I just wanna get off this ferry!


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