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Published: January 16th 2007
Sleepless in Malaysia Kris:
We left Singapore by bus on the 2nd of January and planned to head straight for Kuala Lumpur. This plan was scuppered however by there not being a bus until the evening when we got to the station. With this development we decided we'd head for Mallaca, stay the night and go to Kuala Lumpur (or KL if you're cool) the next day to catch our flight to Borneo. So, we had one night in Mallaca and one in KL (see? I'm cool). Can't really report much on them as we weren't in either place long enough to do more than a quick wander. All that was notable was the complete lack of sleep we had in either city. Both places we stayed had paper thin walls and we could hear everything for miles around. Ever door slamming, every person coughing and every bodily function. In Mallaca the room was blisteringly hot with a very noisy but largly useless fan and in KL in was shiveringly cold with air con we couldn't control. Both rooms had twin beds which were the narrowest beds ever invented and also very short. Even Kate's feet stuck out of the bottom.
Majestic Mount Kinabalu
The view from our lodge door at 6.30am....
When the alarm went off at 4.50am for our flight in the "cell" in KL we sat bolt upright in bed and got dressed, confessing that neither of us had actually slept for the last 2 days. We wondered when the hallucinations would start as we went and grabbed a taxi for the airport and the presumed serenity of Borneo...
Kota Kinabalu and the Crazy Frog
Arriving in Kota Kinabalu (KK if you're cool) in Sabah, north Borneo, we took a room in the Summer Lodge guesthouse and it looked very promising. Really nice room. Air con we could control, free tea and coffee and drinking water 24 hours a day, hot showers, free movies, free internet, breakfast included and friendly staff...not to mention toilet roll and free soap! Bliss. However, that night when we settled down for a well deserved kip all hell broke loose. Our window (oh yeah, it had a window too - this is a real selling point as the last 2 places were windowless boxes) was directly above an open-air stage where 2 singers started performing Robbie Williams covers until midnight. Following this...silence fell for half an hour until they decided to fill the
calm with repeats of the Crazy Frog soundtrack. Yeah, the Crazy Frog. It was horrific and a bit like some kind of torture. We wondered if we'd ever sleep whilst in Malaysia.
Luckily, the Crazy Frog experience was restricted to the 1st night and not repeated. We later wondered if this was part of a joint hallucination as a result of lack of sleep. We may never know...
Anyway, during our time in KK Kate's bad stomach returned so we spent a lot of time in the room at Summer Lodge listening to the guy outside singing such Robbie classics as "Angels" and his female counterpart crooning "Man, I feel like a woman" by Shania Twain. Which was nice. The free movies helped alot, we spent many an evening watching The Grudge and Star Wars very loudly to drown out the singing. Kate
: We did explore some of Kota Kinabalu. The city used to be called Jessleton before the 2nd world war, when Sabah was British North Borneo and run by the British North Borneo Company. When the Japanese invaded Borneo, the British levelled the cities. Then, they bombed them when they were trying to win Borneo
back. Consequently there are no old buildings in Kota Kinabalu, or Sandakan. Its all a new city built on linear streets. The only old thing there is is the Atkinson Clock Tower (see photo), which was the only thing to have survived the bombing.
After the war Britain took over British North Borneo, but they got their independence and became part of the newly formed Malaysia in 1967. British North Borneo became Sabah, and Jessleton become Kota Kinabalu. Kris
We did manage one trip to one of the few bars in town though - Hunter's Bar. No, not a theme bar for the area of Sheffield of a similar name - that would be silly and too specific - probably a bar owned by someone called Hunter. I dunno. Anyway, we popped in for a quick drink while we planned our next move and got talking to a bloke called Daniel from Brunei. Daniel's a policeman in Brunei who drives to Kota Kinabalu every now and then on a booze cruise. Brunei is a dry country and alcohol isn't sold there due to a law passed by a muslim government. You can take booze into the
Fleeting view out of the window of the lodge
Only visible for 2 hours in the morning though...
country though, as long as it's for personal use. I guess Daniel wasn't muslim, as he sat at the bar swilling Tiger Beer like a professional and telling us he was filling his car boot with the stuff before the drive back. He was clearly in need to drinking buddies as he bought us loads of drinks. Everytime my glass was half full, a new bottle of Tiger appeared in front of me. Twice I demanded that the barman put a few bottles on our bill (probably in my most half-arsed way, I admit), but Daniel then said something in Malay to him and at the end of the evening we found we'd bought our 1st drink and one other bottle. The nice Brunei policeman even suggested we visited Brunei and stayed at his. I have his phone number in my wallet. Although I do wonder if we'll have to bring several crates of hard liquor with us too...
The Mountain Lodge
On leaving KK we headed for the nearby National Park of Kinabalu, which surrounds Mount Kinabalu, apparantly the highest mountain between the Himilayas and Papau New Guinea. The main reason for people visiting the National Park is
to climb the Mountain,a feat that takes two days, one day climbing to a hut and then a 2am start the following day to get up to the top for dawn, as that is the only time when you can see anything at all from the top (the rest of the time its in cloud). We had decided against the climb, basically cos we are lazy and not really up for the challenge of a mountain trek. While in KK we also met people who had done it. They walked like they were 90 years old and if they sat for more than half an hours their legs seized up. They said it rained the whole time, your clothes never got dry, it was a really steep climb and pretty dangerous and not to do it. We really didnt need telling twice. However, we wanted to visit the National Park for a walk around and to experience the mountain from the bottom. Accommodation inside the park is pretty pricey so we thought we'd try and grab a bunk not far from the entrance. We booked into a little lodge and jumped into a share-taxi to head up there.
change in climate as you approach the mountain is really striking. We only drove for an hour and a half and the clouds gathered round us and the rain started and the temperature dropped. Eventually the driver chucked us out at a bleak looking crossroads surrounded with clouds and mist and saturated with that fine rain (that gets you wet through). The car drove off and we followed the directions on our leaflet to the lodge up a muddy road just off the junction. It didn't have a sign and was a lonely building by itself - "that can't be it" we thought. It reminded me of the zombie house in Evil Dead or the one out of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Cosy.
When we got there it was empty, but a young bloke was following us up from the restaurant over the road. He was surprisingly friendly and nowt like Leatherface or a zombie at all. He let us in to our new sitting room with an open fireplace. Although the lodge was a bunkhouse with several rooms it was completely unoccupied and we had it entirely to ourselves. Admittedly, the showers and kitchen looked pathogenic, but the
living room was cool and the bedroom was fine. Plus it was cheap. We decided we could survive without a shower for 2 days and maybe restrict our eating to the restaurant on the bleak junction. Kate
: The lodge was surprising very much like one of the bothys on Rum. In fact, what with the accomodation, scenery and the weather it seemed like we had left Kota Kinabalu in a share taxi and arrived 2 hours later in Scotland. Brewood folk
: if James had walked in the lodge door while we had been sat there I wouldnt have even batted an eyelid! Kris
Anyway, that night we sampled the cuisine at the restaurant. "Restaurant" is used in the loosest sense. It was more like a bus shelter that served food. We were the only customers other than some jovial Malay guys knocking back the beer and occasionally grinning and shouting stuff at us across the room. The roof leaked and we ate very bony chicken full of ribs and skin. I'm sure I consumed the parson's nose at one point. We'd love to know who or what gets the chicken breast in Malaysia, because it rarely arrives on our plates. We seem to generally get the back or the ribcage.
We slept soundly that night, going to the toilet with torches when the generator stopped...and I never once imagined I saw monsters in the shadows...
Majestic Mount Kinabalu
So when we arrived at the lodge all we could see was mist, but figured that we should have a good view. We seemed to look out over the edge of 2 valleys. With this assumption we got up at the crack of dawn the next day hoping we'd see some scenery before the clouds fell (experience shows that this tends to happen later in the day). We did. Much more than we expected. Mount Kinabalu was directly in front of the lodge - huge and wrapped in wisps of cloud thrusting up out of the valley. We gawped at it for a bit and watched it start to disappear under cloud...then went back to bed for an hour or two cos it was cold.
There's something slightly ironic about people living in this incredibly beautiful landscape, but generally only seeing it if they get up at 6am, because for the rest of the day it's shrouded in fog. Bit cruel really. Aw well...it explains why the men are constantly knocking back cans of beer in the restaurant/bus shelter.
Kinabalu Park: Bring waterproofs
Once awake on our 1st full day we set off for the national park just up the road, impressively clad in all the waterproof technology Great Britain has to offer. We looked like proper professionals adorned with our hi-tec space age breathable fabrics and such designer names as Crag Hopper, Karrimor and Peter Storm. I honestly don't know how I survived previously without my "Dual Density Impact Chassis" on my Karrimor trekking boots...
So you can imagine our surprise when we found all the locals in flip flops and disposable, carrier bag-like ponchos. Clearly our cool apparel attracted their attention as on the way to the park several cars slowed down so people could point and laugh and even take our picture while driving past and shouting "Excuse me mister!!". How charming.
So instead of climbing the mountain, we went on a few walking trails through the forest in the pouring rain. It was rather wet. Consequently we saw no animals except for an insect thing that looked dead and the larval skin of a cicada - which I got most excited about, but Kate wandered off in boredom.
Just before we left the park, while soaked to the skin - we saw several small, brightly coloured birds. That was it. Another successful safari...
The Park Staff Uniform...
Alright, it was disappointing not spying a stray macaque in the canopy or anything, but in the absence of anything else to look at (unless you're a botanist..) there was the highly professional looking park staff. The blokes and a large proportion of the women were dressed like jungle adventurers - all kharki, epellettes, combat trousers and jungle boots. Then there was a small proportion of the meet-and-greet female staff who wore a variation on this theme. Still in kharki...but this time with the tiniest mini-skirts (with a big revealing slit in them), figure-hugging shirts and high heels. Hmm. Not particularly appropriate for jungle survival methinks. I would have asked Kate to take my picture with some of them, but by this point I was soaked with rain on the outside and soaked with sweat on the inside and I hadn't showered for days so thought better of it.... Kate
: Bear in mind also that we are in a Muslim country, and many of the countryfolk were wandering around clad in full length clothes and headscarves which made it even more weird. Im just glad the Yorkshire Dales National Park didnt make me walk around in high heels and a pencil skirt when I was working with them. Kris
Being Unmanly and Wishing I'd Listened To Ray Mears...
So remember that open fire place at the lodge? Well, obviously we'd been encouraged to light a fire in the grate to warm our cockles and dry our percistently damp clothes. So I announced that I was fantastic at lighting fires and started out gathering small pieces of wood and twisting newspaper. The only problem being that the wood was a bit damp...which dampened the paper...and the fireplace was soggy from rain lashing down the chimney. On the 1st evening we sat watching the paper burn out depressingly and decided it was never going to happen.
We decided firelighters were the way to go on night 2, but couldn't find any. People looked at us blankly and tried to sell us cigarette lighters. In desperation, we asked the guy at the restaurant (the non-zombie one). He puzzled over the curious idea of "firelighters" for a while as if it was western magic...then decided he was going to light us a fire and came down to the lodge with us.
My failed attempt still sat in the grate and we had to remove it before he could work his magic. He sent his friend to get something to help and began arranging great big planks of wood in the fireplace. "Ha!" I thought "He'll never get those lit!". I expected his mate to come back with a gallon of petrol or something but instead, unexpectedly...he returned with a small piece of rubber. Yeah, rubber. That's what it looked like anyway. Then they huddled round the wet fireplace with their rubber, some damp planks and a lighter for about 10 minutes. When they stepped back, there was a roaring fire in the grate.
I haven't a clue how they did it but I realised I was rubbish at lighting fires and I've started wondering how people who live in rainforests do it. Everything is wet. If anyone's read Ray Mear's Survival Guide, please let me know the answer - I'm sure my dad will fill me in when I phone him though... Kate
: I have to say that Kris is being abit hard on himself saying he was unmanly to not be able to light a fire. Having lived in a very similar bothy for many months where all the wood is wet, I didnt even know where to start lighting a fire without my trusty firelighters. I certainly didnt see anyone else on Rum light a fire without them.....
Not wanting to go through the embarressment of the fire-lighting ordeal again (and needing a shower), we left after the 2nd night for Sandakan, Sepilok and orang utans....
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