We travelled on an inter-island ferry from Dumaguete (Negros Island) via Zamboanga (Mindanao Island) then on to Sandakan (Sabah). Before departing each port we would stand along the upper deck and watch the flurry of activity ashore. Various temporary stalls would be set up near the gang plank with vendors selling drinks, cigarettes, BBQ chicken and other food items. Unloading and loading of cargo would be in full swing, pretty much guaranteeing a delay in departure "every" time!!
Stayed in Sandakan overnight, where we immediately went looking for spicy food. Found some good satay chicken and nasi goreng at an outdoor cafe. We got up early the next morning and caught a bus to Semporna (east coast of Sabah). From here it was a short boat ride out to the Palau Sipadan Resort on Sipadan Island. We didn't waste much time "getting wet", with 2 scuba dives that afternoon. Even though we saw lots of huge turtles, it was disappointing due to the "junk" visability. The mosquitos were so bad we hardly slept a wink that night.! After another 3 dives the next day, we decided to move to nearby Kapalai Island. The resort there is built out on the reef, so it is quite unique and there were no mosquitos! The next morning two other guests (Wolfgang and Norbert), Terry and I requested a dive at Mabul Island. This was agreed to and we set off at 8.00am in the "only" boat at the resort. The dive under the oil rig was fantastic, the highlight being the frogfish and crocodile fish. We returned to the resort safely. As we stepped off the boat, the party on the scheduled 9.30am dive (the Resort Manager and his three guests from Japan), boarded and headed out to the nearby reef. We didn't realise that anything was wrong until we had suited up for our next dive at 11.00am. When we queried about the delay, our guide realised that the 9.30am dive party had not returned!! The dive boat was still out on the reef, and no-one at the resort could get the driver's attention (still asleep)!! To cut a long story short .. The divers had actually surfaced after 20 minutes diving, due to strong currents. They could not attract the attention of the boat driver (who was asleep), and they quickly drifted away from the reef. Due to gross negligence and incompetence, a full boat search was not launched until hours later! Finally a fixed wing aircraft joined the search, spotted the four divers "alive" and directed a boat to their location (now 5.00pm). After 8 hours in the water, they had drifted 30kms! It was a very tense day, and a great relief to see the divers returned. We were thanking our "lucky stars" - it could have been us!
We then flew from Tawau (a small town near Semporna) to Kota Kinabalu (KK). If you have ever sat near a child with a dirty diaper, then you will appreciate why we were thankful that it was a short flight!! Checked into our hotel and headed over to the Centrepoint Shopping Mall to check email. Found "The Net" (internet cafe) and were so engrossed at the keyboard that we didn't notice someone snatch Terry's backpack. Unfortunately we lost money, return ferry tickets to the Philippines, leatherman tool and ponchos. But the most important of all was both our passports! It was quite an "interesting" experience gaining new passports. At times it was difficult to keep our sense of humor throughout the procedure, due to many instances of misleading information from various authorities. See Stolen Passports for a more detailed account of this episode. (Use the 'Back' button on your browser to return to this page)
We were delighted to find out from the Sabah Tourism Promotion Office that a rafflesia flower was in bloom at the Rafflesia Reserve Park. Getting there involved a local bus ride through the Crocker Range (great views) and a short walk into the jungle. The rafflesia flower is fascinating. It is a parasite and attaches itself to a host vine. The bud resembles a cabbage head (black in color) and from this stage it takes 7-9 months to bloom. The flower petals are hard and stiff to the touch. It only blooms for 5-7 days, during which time it attracts the carrion flies to aid in pollination (apparently only the flies can smell the “rotting flesh” odour it emits). It then turns black and disintegrates. This particular flower measured 16in (40cm) in diameter. The largest recorded is approximately 35in (90cm)! We were extremely lucky to see one, as they are very rare! The flower was named after it's discoverer, Sir Stamford Raffles (Singapore fame).
There were plenty of celebrations going
on at this time. Kota Kinabalu officially became a city which was
celebrated with street parades, cultural presentations and fireworks.
Chinese New Year was in full swing. We joined in the activities at
the KK Yacht Club with some yachtie friends that we had met previously
in other locations (namely: Kate and Allen Barry, S/V Mendocino Queen and
Russ Hughes, S/V Karis).
We frequented the Muslim eateries most mornings for breakfast. Our favorites on the menu were either roti (flat bread) or murtabaks. The murtabaks were made with the roti dough but were stretched out to a very thin layer, then wrapped around an omlete mixture and fried - yum!! Both were served with a variety of curry sauces. You never quite know what "western treats" you will find in these places. Sandy tried her first A&W rootbeer float!!
Kuala Lumpur (Peninsula Malaysia)
Flew to Kuala Lumpur (KL) to secure new passports. This was definitely not on our itinerary!! There were more skyscrapers there than we have seen for a long time! The Twin Towers are a famous landmark and happen to be the highest building in the world (shopping and offices). The Menara Telecommunications Tower offers great views over the "concrete jungle" from the observation deck. It was a nice surprise to find a forest walking trail right in the middle of the city. We stayed in Chinatown which ended up being a very central location and at night quite a few of the streets were blocked off to traffic and became a series of Chinese eateries all lit up with colored lights. They also had fruit stalls along the street and we found the biggest mangoes we have ever seen. Would you believe they were actually from Mareebra, Australia.
The Batu Caves, situated about 13km north
of KL is the site for the annual Hindu Thaipusam Festival. Unfortunately
we were not there at the right time to witness this bizarre event.
The devotees subject themselves to masochistic acts such as piercing the
tongue and cheeks with hooks and skewers or carrying small pots of milk
often attached to the skin by hooks!! However, we thought the 272
steps leading up to the main cave entrance would be good additional training
for Mt Kinabalu!!
Back to Sabah
Arrived back in KK with temporary passports in hand! Our next adventure was to climb Mt Kinabalu, the highest mountain in SE Asia at 13,500ft (4,100m). We stayed in the Kinabalu National Park for a couple of days, taking advantage of as many of the wonderful trails as possible. The summit trail took two days to complete. The first day was a perfectly clear morning and we were even able to see the summit from the Reception Office (rare, as the peak is usually obscured by clouds)!! Started our walk from the Power Station and gradually ascended for 4 hours to the Laban Rata Resthouse. The trail was well maintained, consisting mainly of steps (either manmade or natural rocky surfaces). We detoured off the trail at one point to see some large pitcher plants. The Resthouse was a "welcome" sight and the hot shower was certainly a treat! Everyone retired early as we had to be on the trail again by 3.30am the next morning! Ascended slowly to the summit by flashlight via steps, rocky trails, and stretches of rock surfaces with ropes in the steep sections). We made it in plenty of time to see an awesome sunrise. It was freezing cold on top of Lowes Peak, but the climb was definitely worth it ... what a fantastic view! After our photo session, we were more than happy to descend back to the Resthouse for breakfast and hot coffee!! A short while later we began our descent. Terry set a mean pace and we made it back to the Power Station in 2hrs 40mins. We could sure feel our knees from all those steps by then. We had sore legs for a couple of days afterwards but felt elated by the whole experience ... highlight of the trip so far. Some tips for the climb ... train on steps (it was tough); bring rain gear and warm clothing (including hat and gloves); small water bottle (plenty of water refill stops on the trail); no need to bring food (the meals at the Resthouse were good and affordable); and a head flashlight is preferable for the summit climb so that you can use both hands on the rope sections.
Last stop was back in Sandakan where we visited the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre at Sepilok. Quite an extensive program going on there. Many adult orangutans were being killed by the palm oil farmers, trying to protect their crops. You know, the same old story, as the jungles are being cleared for development, the wild life has to move closer to civilization looking for food. Now those same farmers are informing the Centre of the apes whereabouts and they are being transported to Sepilok, hence ensuring their survival. Many baby orangutans end up there too – starting off in the nursery and being bottle fed! They have a scheduled feeding session twice daily. We were lucky to see as many apes as we did, because the organized feeding is purely supplementary to their natural food. They are free to wander wherever they wish and so coming to the feeding platform is solely their own choice! As we were walking along the boardwalk Terry had a “close encounter” with one! He/she (?) attached himself and would not let go. They are quite curious and so this one was trying to get at Terry’s watch, wallet etc. He handled the situation very well, considering the animal was also biting him “gently” on the arm and leg. There was a report a while back of a French tourist being “stripped naked” by such an encounter!!! We would not be amused!!
Sabah certainly had some unique attractions and we thoroughly enjoyed our stay. Returned to Negros in the Philippines via Zamboanga on the same ferry. We were greeted in Dumaguete by a beautiful rainbow on arrival.
Losing our passports was an inconvenience
.... nobody can steal your sense of humor ---- you can only give it away!