Archive for March, 2011

Things that go bang in the night.

March 30, 2011

The apartment in the condo where we are staying is all we could ask for; spacious, clean, reasonably well equipped… an internet connection would have been a bonus. We have scarcely seen our neighbours, let alone hear them. On one or two occasions we thought we heard workmen hammering away at something in an apartment, which is being re-furbished, on the same floor. Martin thought it a bit odd when he heard it at 6.00am.
But it wasn’t the workmen. A notice went up on our last day naming and blaming ‘the lady, who has been warned many times’. Apparently she has been chopping vegetables on a regular basis at 3.00am. Nowt so strange as folk.


A quiet couple of days.

March 30, 2011

Apart from an island trip, which we weren’t sure we wanted to do, we’d done all that we wanted to so we chilled out around KK and Tanjung Aru, enjoying the local food, spectacular sunsets, rainfall, sunshine, squabbling parrots and local music laid on for tourists just over the road on the beach. Not so enjoyable is the noise produced from older cars. The locals remove the normal exhaust and silencers and replace them with what look like tin cans; we guess that it makes them feel like rally cars.
Alison had the luxury of a shopping browse while Martin sussed out the railway station and race track and stables; nothing much to write home about in either department. The sole remaining steam locomotive is not in sight and not in service, but the preserved carriages looked presentable enough. We turned down the two and half hour trip to Beaufort by diesel railcar in favour of an island trip. The race track didn’t look as if it had seen a race for many months but the horses were well cared for.

Home for 10 days

March 30, 2011

Mt Kinabalu, 50 miles away

We are staying in a two bed-roomed self catering apartment a stone’s throw from the aforementioned Tanjung Aru beach and 50 miles from the highest mountain between somewhere and the Himalaya.
It’s safe to say Borneo is not like India. It does have the advantage of daily rain and lower population density, which keeps the dust down and makes the temperature more pleasant. However it also helps that, unlike India, it isn’t a permanent building site.
The roads, for example, look remarkably similar to those in the UK. Possibly better given some of the pot hole stories we have been hearing. Surfaces are good, there are pavements, there are road signs including traffic lights and people obey them. There is no garbage, but lots of green, plants, trees, flowers, and birds.
Even though temperatures are supposedly similar, so far Martin and I are finding it easier to bear here. I can sit outside without sweating, which I cannot do in Goa at present. And we walked 20 minutes to do some shopping without discomfort.
There is evidence of planning – car parks anyone? And spacious proportions to the buildings. I am watching the sunset, listening to the birds and actually enjoying the periodic background buzz of traffic without the ubiquitous Indian horns and reversing music. I lie! No, it’s a car alarm.
There are a few spots of rain, so I will retreat off the balcony soon and await Emma’s arrival. Emma picked us up from the airport today and it going to arrange the most important part of our journey – to see the orang-utans at Sepilok.
It feels good, if tiring, to be alive.

Seaside Sandakan

March 30, 2011

Fishing village, SandakanWe caught the last local bus from Sepilok to the former capital of North Borneo . Like Jesselton (now KK) it was bombed out of existence by the Allies at the end of WW2 in order to get rid of the Japanese military. It has been rebuilt like KK on the existing coastal strip and land reclaimed from the sea. All quite neat and tidy without losing its atmosphere.
Emma had recommended the Nak Hotel as being a bit quirky but good. She wasn’t wrong. Built in 1966 it was the town’s first notable hotel. The 60’s decor has survived well and newer changes fit in well and there is an odd birdcage theme. Excellent Italian food on a very pleasant rooftop, good wines (but pricey as all booze is in Sabah) and easy jazz music at a sensible volume.
The hotel overlooks the bay with islands on the horizon , a small naval dockyard and quite a lot of the town. The windows are set at an angle to the building making viewing interesting.
The next morning we did a few of the sites including a Buddhist temple high on the hill with great views, a fairly old Chinese temple and a war memorial garden. We’ll return here if we come back to Borneo.
An uneventful six hour coach journey returned us to KK by the early evening.

Day four – off to see the old man of the forest

March 30, 2011

A moderately early start saw us catch the 7am coach to Sandekan, on the opposite coast to Kota Kinabalu. Indians take note – long-distance buses can come in a format that is clean, air conditioned, with video not played at an ear splitting volume.
The great advantage of the coach, over air travel or driving yourself, is that weather allowing you get a great view of the scenery through the Kinabalu Park. The first section of the 250 mile journey takes you very close to Mount Kinabalu – the summit of Borneo at more than 4,000m high. We had impressive views of this granite massif, which is the highest mountain between the Himalayas and the Snow Mountains of Papua Barat on New Guinea Island. It’s a considerable climb, taking between two and three days for most people.
We passed on through the Kinabalu Park, and got off the bus at Sepilok, to visit the Orang-Utan (old man of the forest) sanctuary.
We suspect plenty of people are disappointed with the sanctuary. You only have one chance to actually see the great orange apes – at the twice daily feedings. Even then, sightings are not guaranteed. We only saw one female with a baby. We saw this as a measure of Sepilok’s success. The sanctuary is a rehabilitation centre. They take orphaned and abandoned or rescued orangs and teach them how to be wild again. The when ready, the apes are released to live normally in the jungle. They can come back for food, but do not have to. So you may not see many apes as they should be fending for themselves.
There’s no access to the areas where they handle, care for and train the young apes. That’s because they are very similar to us (96% the same genes) and are therefore very susceptible to our diseases but they have no natural immunity to them. The situation is also true in reverse – we are susceptible to theirs.
Orang-utans will probably be extinct in our lifetime. They have two problems. They reproduce slowly. Females may be 15 or older before they begin breeding, and their babies stay with them for up to 10 years. They do not breed again until the previous baby has left. Given they generally only live to be around 35 years old in the wild anyway, one female may only produce two, maybe three, babies.
But their main problem is us: specifically, our dependence on palm oil, which is used in many household products and pre-prepared foods. Malaysia is one of the world’s biggest producers and once you get through the Kinabalu Park, great swathes of rainforest have been destroyed to make room for palm oil plantations. So the Orang-utans, who live in the rainforest, are running out of habitat.
It’s sad. They are such gentle creatures. We could do with more of them, not fewer.

Day three – success with the tickets to Sandakan

March 30, 2011

A Sabahan Bus, par excellence.We made our way to the long distance bus stand by bus (!) and have succeeded in getting two tickets for a 7am departure. It passes by the junction for Sepilok, where the Orang Utan sanctuary is, so we will get off there and walk, then get a local bus into Sandekan. We’ll stay the night in Sandekan, then make our way back to KK when we’re ready. That’s the plan, and plans tend to work in Borneo.
The only problem we’re having at the moment is we cannot get an Internet connection. It’s the concern arising from what we might be missing that’s the problem. It’s probably easier not to bother checking while we are on holiday. Ho hum.

Day two – off into the jungle

March 30, 2011

What? No brolly, no jungle gear?

We hired a car today for the three hour drive into the Kinabalu Park. Deep into the Borneo rainforest and it lived up to its name – it rained.
The road was largely good with a few unexpected undulations (due to subsiding mountains and falling rocks). We only scraped the bottom of the car on the pot holes once as we made our way through a particularly uneven section where the road was being repaired at Kundessang.
Stop one, fish. To be precise, fish that nibble your feet. Yes, you read that right. For the equivalent of £2, you can sit by the side of the river and put your feet in while the fish mill around and give you a massage. For £5 you can go in up to your neck for a full body massage. We were not quite that brave but it was a surprisingly pleasant time, just sitting by the water feeding the fish while they fed on us.
Next stop was Poring Hot Springs, outdoor sulphur baths. We were not bothered about taking the waters, however we did want to try the canopy walk. This consists of planks of wood with netting either side, suspended up in the jungle canopy. A great way to see the plants and flowers, and get a feel of the rainforest, and it was raining hard throughout. Got soaked as we walked the walk, then made our way to a waterfall. We could have gone on to a bat cave, however this meant crossing the river on foot just below the waterfall and with the day’s weather, the torrent looked just a little too challenging.

Day one in Kota Kinabalu

March 23, 2011

Jesselton Hotel. KK is not photogenic

We spent the morning exploring Sabah’s capital, Kota Kinabalu. It is a modern town, rebuilt after destruction during World War Two, when it was called Jesselton. The photo is of the first hotel built in the early fifties after the bombing.
From early on, it is clear we are not in India. We managed to get a Borneo SIM card restarted, work out local transport, take a bus into town,orient ourselves and change some money all before lunchtime. And then we did a little shopping and arranged some car hire for tomorrow. Work that would have taken four days in India, completed in less than five hours.
We investigated the local markets for fruit, vegetables, fish and seafood. The latter was so fresh it was jumping off the slabs onto the floor.
We met an English woman yesterday whose only complaint about Borneo was that for serious shopping, she had to go to Singapore. She should try living in Margao – KK is far better for shopping than anywhere in Goa, and easier to navigate around than any of the bigger Indian metros.
We’d been thinking of getting in touch with the ex-pat community here and in view of not being able to get on the net easily we were lucky that Martin spotted a group having a quarterly jolly just over the road from our apartment. We acquired some useful contacts and discovered that two chiropractors are already established here.
It was a great start.

Finally, arrival Borneo

March 23, 2011

From the flat

Greetings from Tanjung Aru, or specifically, our balcony overlooking the beach at Tanjung Aru, an attractive bay within 10km of the centre of Kota Kinabalu (KK), the capital of Sabah in Malaysian Borneo.
It’s 5pm in the evening and it’s been a long day. After the shenanigans of Dabolim, all went fairly smoothly in Mumbai. Alison got through immigration with just a question about whether she needed a visa for Borneo. Martin was asked a few more questions but we both escaped.
Arrived Kuala Lumpur airport in the dark. Difficult to tell you much except it’s modern, clean, and western (a Body Shop next to a Starbucks and a Macdonalds on the way in). Check in for the internal flight to KK was a bit of a farce. One woman in long orange and yellow with matching headscarf wouldn’t go away. She checked in one piece of baggage, then disappeared and queue barged with more. We don’t think she was Indian. Then there was the party of seven who had to be rounded up from all corners of the airport when the person with the tickets didn’t have the identification documents.
We needn’t have worried. Our flight to KK ended up two hours late after a sequence of four different delays. First, the incoming flight was late. Then someone on the flight was drunk and the women sat in front of him refused to take their seats (and it was a full flight). We pulled off the stand finally, only to halt out on the tarmac for 15 minutes. Eventually it was announced that we had a minor problem, so we went back to the stand until it was fixed. We did eventually take off, only to have to sit out on the tarmac once we had landed because there wasn’t anywhere to park; the bays were occupied for VIPs who were due to arrive at the airport in the next hour.
Starting one hour early and arriving more than three late didn’t take the shine off arriving in this beautiful part of the Island of Borneo.

Nothing like stress at the airport to start the holiday well

March 22, 2011

One hour early

Most people generally approach air travel from one of two perspectives. There are those who arrive in plenty of time (like Alison); and those who favour last minute sprints through the terminal (like Martin).
Yesterday, Dabolim airport in Goa saw Alison and Martin trying both approaches simultaneously. We arrived at the airport in what we thought was plenty of time – 3.15pm for a 5pm departure. Only to be told that our Spice Jet flight was delayed two hours. What to do? We could not afford the two hours as we would have missed our connecting flight to Kuala Lumpur.
So, a few hasty phone calls later, it was agreed to rebook us on to another flight with Go Air. At 4pm! This could have been simple but we do not think the Spice Jet personnel had bargained with the Go Air people doing a very good impression of not knowing how to reissue tickets. Add to this time wasted because the credit card machine wasn’t working, no one being able to tell Alison where the ATM was, Alison then struggling under pressure to work out which ATM card to use with which PIN, then the police woman on the entry door getting upset because she wanted to recheck Alison’s new ticket …
Still we experienced being fast- tracked through security, and walked into the departure lounge, straight on to the plane and took off…. one hour earlier than planned.