Crazy Commando Bus
28.04.2013 - 11.04.2013
The bus journey to Semporna, the archipelego paradise of Sabah (Malaysian owned Northern province of Borneo) was scenic, comfortable although nothing too eventfull. That was until the man with full barraclava, machine gun, oh yes and sunglasses, jumped on the bus.
The eastern part of Sabah had been an off-limits zone for a few weeks. This was due to the conflict between 250 (alledgedly) Philipino radicals and the army. These Phillipinos apparently were trying to claim sovereignty over Sabah (population 2.5 million). Not really outnumbered then!
Although the area is now pretty safe there is still strong military presence. Anyway I was quite relieved when in true Montypythonesque style, a rather meek but unfalteringly polite voice asked (voice muffled by layers of combat gear) "can I please see your passport?". Then ..."welcome to Semporna". His fellow officer also boarded the bus but withought the faux SAS garb. Partially apologising for his friend all he could declare was "sorry, crazy Commando." Dodging terrorist attacks we proceeded with our jorney.
I declare that Sabah is the adventure capital of Asia or the New Zealand of Asia. We had 2 weeks to explore the rugged terrain of jungle, mountain and coastline. This is however quite achieveable as Malaysia has an efficient and reliable transport network.
We flew into the province capital of Kota Kinanbalu. This is a likeable town with some good see views, great, cheap food and harbour setting. The architecture is uninspiring following much bombing in WW2. Enough stuff to do to bind our time though whilst we planned some trips.
First trip was up the 4095 mountain of Mount Kinabalu. This is the highest mountain in SE Asia. At first this appeared unlikely due to the cost of the fees and the fact that the sole accommodation on the mountain, 80 quid a night dorm bed gets pretty full up. There was one solution however when we spoke to some British trainee doctors. You can always do it in a day.First trip was up the 4095 mountain of Mount Kinabalu. This is the highest mountain in SE Asia. At first this appeared unlikely due to the cost of the fees and the fact that the sole accommodation on the mountain, the 80 quid a night each dorm gets pretty full up. There was one solution however when we spoke to some British trainee doctors. You can always do it in a day.
And do it in a day we did. Ever lung bursting, heart pounding, knee crunching step attested to that. A day ascent only has a 50% success rate. In addition the authorities only let several people up a day with a guide. Even after that strict restraints are imposed. Base camp must be reached by 10.00 am. We got there at 09.53. The summit must be reached by 1 pm. We got there at 12.20. The view from the top was ample reward. The following days soak in a hot spa provided further relief.
A transit stop took us to a non entity of a town. It as this place we almost forcibly befriended by a gang of heavy drinking forestry workers. Their diminutive half Japanese boss was both their social and work based leader. Best way of describing him was Joe Pesci in Gooodfellows. Too many "you think I'm funny" moments for my mind. The evening looked like it was heading into a classic gangster movie direction when we were lead into a dodgy bar. We made our excuses and left. "Oh shit we just realised we have a flight due". The next day we needed to escape from this urban wildlife
The next organized part of our tour was the wildlife element. We had seen various bird life and the biggest moths you are likely to see at Kinabalu national park, although all I could see climbing up the mountain itself were my feet. What followed though was something amazing. The chocolaty brown river Kinabatangan cuts through some pretty dense jungle. This is therefore a good way to see the wildlife. We did this on an organised trip consisting of several boat journeys along the river and walking jungle tours. We saw the lot Crocodiles, Orangutans, snakes, Tarsiers (cute alien like mini primates), Hornbills etc. Even at the accommodation flying things were attracted by the lights in the shower block. This includes bats dipping pretty low, and almost entering the shower cubicles. Also flying stick insects galore. Also common were huge beetles headbutting the light fittings. If you don't like creepy crawlies then not for you. 2 leeches hitched a lift on me on one trek.
South East Asia is all about the sea. Our journey then took us to the Semporna Archipelago. We stayed on this idyllic island of Maybul. It is so small you can walk the circumference of the island in a about 90 minutes. The accommodation is mainly stilted bungalows along the jetties. This replicates the ramshackled housing that the locals and sea gypsies reside in. The area is diving and snorkeling heaven. Barracudas, rays, turtles etc. The lot. Joe was circled by Barracudas on a dive.
Another overnighter took us back to Kota Kinabalu for another island trip and a trip to the flicks to see a typical American action movie by numbers (Olympus has fallen). Now I had not suffered from any ailment since leaving blighty. I was however on the verge of profuse vomiting in the cinema. The bombardment of corny US jingoism can cause acute nausea.
4 am is just about the most sleep depriving time for a flight. The next day we took the red eye to the Philipines.