Borneo - Part 2
18.09.2007 - 23.09.2007
As soon as I alighted the plane and stepped on the tarmac of Kota Kinabalu's (KK) modern airport I knew it was a place I'd like very much....the intense heat hit me as if I'd walked in to an oven and the cool breeze that followed enveloped my body as if in a welcome hug. The feeling of welcome continued as I collected my rucksack and exited to meet Vincent.
Vincent's the owner of the Tropicana Travel Lodge, he's in his late thirties and has been a resident of KK all his life. He collected me in his beat-up, dirty white, pick-up truck and before transporting me to his hostel he got behind the wheel and popped a can of beer, lit a joint and switched Bob Marley's Exodus on the cassette player....I was right, KK's going to be awash with hazy, lazy days :-)
Vincent & Sachiko
It took around forty minutes to reach the hostel and after floating most of the way there I was pleasantly surprised how homely it felt, I half expected it to be filled with cannabis related paraphernalia....Bob Marley posters, bongs and hippy chic rich kid students taking a gap year out to rebel against their parents.... or anything they could think of to rebel against!
One of the main reasons I booked the hostel was because the website advertised a balcony with a jungle view. Unsurprisingly the 'balcony' turned out to be a 3ft wide, 20ft long gangway and the 'jungle view' was nothing more than the overgrown garden at the back of the building! That aside, it was a lovely place to sit and watch the firefly's do their nightly dance, the butterflies brought forth their usual array of colour to the morning light and geckos scurried the walls, floors and ceilings as fast as their little legs would carry them. Geckos, it seems, are akin to how us westerners view mice,,,,vermin! When one of the female cleaners spotted one of these creatures she'd run screaming something in Malay and you wouldn't see her for the rest of the morning. Vincent, on the other hand, told me that he enjoyed flicking elastic bands at them....of course, he often missed as his stoned out eyes saw two or three geckos when there really was only one. I'm really not exaggerating or judging here, from the time Vincent awoke to the time he went to bed, he drank copious amounts of beer and smoked cannabis at a rate of at least twenty a day! Although, please don't misunderstand, he wasn't falling over drunk / stoned - he managed himself and his habits well. After all, he runs three or four very successful businesses. The hostel does well, Mook Lodge (in partnership with Justin) is a haven and the tours / trips that Vincent organises are truly experiences of a lifetime.
For example; the day after my arrival Vincent, Sachiko and I took a boat to Mamutik island to spend the day snorkeling. I was a bit nervous as I'd never snorkeled in my life as I can't see that much without wearing my specs... I was also a little nervous as Vincent had already drank a few cans of beer and smoked several joints for his breakfast! Anyway, we managed to arrive safe and sound, but the day was a bit of a wash out as it started to rain and the prescription goggles I was given made me feel as if drunk! The day got a lot better when our late afternoon meal arrived.Vincent excelled himself and really wanted us to have a memorable day. He arranged for several of the islands inhabitants to catch fresh seafood and BBQ it for us.....we ate like kings. Sea fresh prawns, crab, muscles and groupie were cooked and it was wonderful being served by the locals who also climbed coconut trees to bring us fresh milk. Sitting under the canopy that draped between the trees really endeared me to both Sachiko and Vincent as we chatted and laughed for a few hours until the sun came back out.
Mamutik Island Snorkeler
Vincent is very charming and seems to know almost everyone in and around KK....he says that he's a free thinking, unapologetic eccentric that loves life and the adventure it brings. Sachiko, on the other hand, is quite shy and says that she has limited experience of travel and life. She's a school teacher who lives in a village near Tokyo and KK was one of the first real holidays she'd taken in some time....she'd never met anyone like Vincent before, or I for that matter, and only the booked Tropicana Travel Lodge for the balcony and its jungle view.... she wasn't that impressed! Sachiko checked out the following day sighting that she could no longer cope with the smoke and the beer swilling students she shared her dorm with didn't help either! Then again, I don't think I could cope with sharing a six bedded dorm with five straight lads either.....or could I! :-)
My room was the only single at the hostel that consisted of four sleeping areas, two showers, two toilets, a lounge, kitchen and 'balcony'. Two dorms are for six people to share, one room is the family room which sleeps four and my room had a double bed, TV and DVD too. My room cost a lot more than the dorm rooms (about six pounds per night more!), but I value my privacy and haven't compromised this my whole trip. It's cost me to go private and my budget has been excelled as a consequence, but can you imagine sharing with travelling people....all that farting, bad breath and lack of personal hygiene! I'm not a prissy old queen by no means, though I know some of you might disagree, but sharing toilets and showers is my limit.
In fact, I didn't disclose my sexuality to anybody in KK....of course, I'm certainly not closeted...more out and proud :-) I just get a little fed up of 'coming out' every time I meet someone new. Imagine if heterosexuals were to put their sexuality out there each time they meet somebody new? People can be so idiosyncratic (not all, but some), they can't see the wood for the trees and can discriminate the 'act' of sexuality rather than seeing the person as a whole. It was quite an experience as many people seem to assume that their fellow human beings are straight. Don't misunderstand, I never denied a fundamental part of my being, I was just careful with my terminology....if someone asked if I had a wife I could honestly say no, but I have a daughter and my partners a nurse!
After spending several days exploring KK....walking through the history of the Sabah museum, having a beer or two along the waterfront bars, taking in the beauty of the Islamic museum and the wonderfully kept heritage park with its replicated village scenes, lakes, bridges and walkways, through Vincent, I arranged my onward journey.
I flew to Sandanken and took a taxi to the Sepitok Jungle resort that's just a five minute walk form the orangutan rehabilitation centre....not that I knew there's a kind of Betty Ford clinic for monkeys....I was quite surprised that many of them abuse drink and drugs! :-)
It was pretty amazing to see these big ginger creatures swinging on ropes and trees to their feeding time platform....six of them in all, five adults with a tiny baby in tow. Thankfully, not many tourist go to the afternoon feeding time and this gave those who were there a great opportunity to observe the gingers in an almost natural environment. Although, I did wonder who was watching who? It seemed as much as I was observing them, they were eating their bananas while watching me.
Kitabatagan was my next port of call; I enjoyed a three day rainforest trek that included several sightseeing treks and cruises along the Kitabatagan river. A minibus collected me from the Sepitok resort at around noon and Christian and Kate were already on the bus, Zac and Jo joined us along the way and Now and Lisa were already at the camp site. Christian, from Sweden, and his English girlfriend, Kate, had started travelling the world a year ago and told some wonderful stories. Zac, form Nashville, and Jo, from Huddersfield, had met while teaching English to Thai children in North Thailand and are as alike as chalk and cheese. Jo being the love sick fag hag to Zac and Zac's so laid back that he almost walked horizontally. Now and Lisa, from Tokyo, are one of the sweetest couples I've ever met and I've met many people along this journey of mine, but honestly, the Japanese and Koreans are some of the most humble of people....kind, polite, quite unassuming and genuinely sweet. Need less to say, we all got along real well and shared the site with some wonderful staff too. Louise and Rebbecca were our cruise / trek guides ...strange names really, both are male! Actually, many of the men I met around Kitabatagan have female names, not that they're transvestites...although, I don't really know what they did in their spare time. I think their parents had watched western TV and misunderstood male and female characters....but, hey....who am I to judge :-) Anyway, they're were both splendid at guiding the party to some awesome sights.
Zac & Joe
Each day there were two cruises....sunrise and sunset....and two treks....mid afternoon and early night. The creatures I saw in their natural habitat was mind blowing. Several species of monkey swung the trees of the jungle and included orangutan, silver tail and the ones that look like Jimmy Durante - proboscis. The wild boar were scary, especially as they were just standing there in the eerie sunset shadows of a dense forest. Crocodile, lizards and snakes are as creepy as they appear on TV or in zoo's. And the hornbill birds are as colourful as a rainbow seen from a far distance. The night time treks are like being a boy scout on a new adventure. Tarantulas lurked in the holes of trees as tall as skyscrapers and bugs, the likes of which I've never seen before, were both beautiful and creepy at the same time. Millipede's, the size of a ruler, scurried across the jungle floor and bats hung from the branches of the trees near its ceiling. Storks and Kingfisher's flew across the breathtakingly blue morning sky while illegal loggers rode logs down a river so filled with life it was difficult to comprehend my actual place / situation.....It felt so exciting to be in Borneo and its endangered rainforest!
My accommodation at the camp site was very basic and had a kind of rustic feel. I had a small log cabin with a view of the river, a small cold shower was attached and a small fan limitingly helped cool the intense heat of the surrounding jungle. The camp itself is surrounded by an electric fence which keeps the tigers and elephants at bay, but, unfortunately, the water rats are free to roam! One evening I returned to my cabin to find that a rat had chewed a pack of crisps I'd left on the bed, nibbled at a book and dragged a bar of soap to a hole I discovered underneath my bed. I was left to imagine that the rat, I affectionately named him Roland, ate his dinner and wanted a good book to read before taking a shower....I did not sleep easy that night!!
I left Kinabatagan with amazing memories and again....I feel so lucky to have met some wonderful people there too. Before I did leave; I donated some of the money raised to the world wildlife organisation and if you would like to see what that money goes toward then please feel free to have a look at their site.... http://worldwildlife.org - if you enter the word 'Kinabatagan' in their search engine you can peruse many of their projects.