Archive for September, 2007

Singapore Slings !!

September 17, 2007

Mandy, Gerry and me just before the bungy takes off !!Mick, Sharon, Me, Kenny and Clive at Clarke QuayDear Hi All

Time to head to Singapore and what a transformation this place is undergoing. My plan here was to have a relaxing week just catching up with people and I’m pleased to say I’ve achieved that. I mean after the next few weeks it’s a full on 8+ month slog so why not ? Gone are the dorms and guest houses, I’ve been staying in Rachel & Mark’s luxury condo. Oh yes, a week of well deserved ex pat living will ensue. It’s taxi’s all the way for me (about the only thing here that’s cheap). I think Singapore is now more expensive than Hong Kong. Property prices have doubled in the last 2 years. Restaurants are shooting up all of the place and with a lack of landmarks to go by I have absolutely no idea where the hell I am. Well, I’m staying near Holland Village and my week here was so I could catch up with my former Hong Kong flat mate Rachel, Mark and the boys, Connor and Callam. Unfortunately, being the international property moguls that they are, Rachel was busy clearing up kangaroo pooh in their new homestead in Western Australia that had just completed. After a very efficient taxi ride to their place, I picked up a key from a  neighbour  and managed to figure our their incredibly complex TV system so I could catch up on a bit of rugby. I’m shattered from Borneo. I went down to the supermarket. Oh to buy….. brown bread, marmite and bacon – I have missed you ! I bought a few other bits for dinner and cooked the first meal at home in nearly 3 months. Mark was flying in at 10pm from Australia so we caught up and then it was an early night for me.  

It’s now quite overcast, I did have the thought that I’d top up the tan by the pool this week but it’s not happening. That evening I met up with Kenny, Mick, Clive & Sharon for dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Clarke Quay. It was great to see some of the old Hong Kong gang again. I know Kenny from the UK but he’s been here 8 years, Mick is in security (he could be of use later on in the trip) and Clive & Sharon have just relocated from the UK, and are loving it here. I can see why. In fact I’ve noticed that you tend to get an older level of ex pat here than Hong Kong. It’s a calmer environment but you can still have mad nights if you want them. This place is definitely growing on me.

The following day I met up with Sharon for lunch in Holland village and met her youngest Holly (very cute and potentially very cheeky, takes after her Dad) and then in the evening I decided to go to the Night Safari at the zoo. It’s actually been done really well and they are even breeding some of the rare animals. There’s a night creatures show which involves wolves, otters (who can recycle), bear cats, owls and a huge reticulated python. This was hidden in a box under one of the audiences seats, much crowd screaming ensued as they brought the python through the audience. They ended up sitting next to me. As a now converted lover of snakes I just sat there calmly chatting to the handlers. They then pulled  a guy out of the audience and put the snake around his neck. He could barely carry it and wasn’t the most comfortable of particpants – but it was all good fun. I then took the electric tram which crawls quietly around the park so you can watch the animals with as little interruption for them as possible. You can get off half way and walk around the trails. You actually walk in to the bat enclosure and they are just there hanging in front of you no barriers at all. It’s great. Mark was home when I got back so we had a couple of glasses of wine and a chat.

The following evening after yet another relaxing day (Mark had kindly set up the computer so I could do a  blog catch up) I went out to meet Mandy. “She was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar when I met her ” (in Hong Kong, “that much is true”). We went down to Boat Quay and had a couple of Martinis. As it was a Friday night it was pretty busy and all of the alfresco restaurants are trying to get you to come and eat in them. We then headed back to Clarke Quay. The Chinese mid autumn festival had just started so water was lined with junks and some great tacky decorations. Obviously a photo opportunity. At Clarke Quay we headed to a bar and were just about to order when my friend Gerry showed up. Wow, what a coincidence I thought. No, the schemers had done that deliberately. Unfortunately Sharon was poorly so her and Clive couldn’t make it. But you know Gerry, we did get you back….. Some wonderful wine later a mad Brit came in and insisted on buying us a shot. That was really kind of him but he really did seem a bit insane so we made our excuses and headed out for some food. On the way, there was a reverse bungy jump which some people were strapped in to and were about to be released so we stopped to watch. Before I know it, (I blame Mandy) we are in the queue. I’ve never done any form of bungy before, and Gerry suddenly went very quiet. He suggested that rather than go with us (it sat 3 people) he’d take photos. Finally, our turn came so Mandy and I were strapped in. With not very long to go Gerry suddenly jumped in to the middle seat. The camera was in the hands of a local and off we shot in to the air. What a feeling !! I think the reverse version must be easier though as you haven’t got to look down.  When we got off Gerry confessed that if he hadn’t done it , it would be on the blog so he had to join us – very brave !! I’m liking the new found power of the blog. Stomachs settled we headed for some local food and then it was time to say goodbye, the shot had kicked in. I’d set my alarm for 3am but I’m happy to say I slept through and missed the dismal English rugby display. Damn, they replayed it in the morning.

Saturday, again relaxing and out for dinner with Mark to the hawker place in Newton. There are hawker centres all over Singapore. You could in theory just go to one and eat at a different stall every night. It’s great. After some crab and squid we went back to watch the rugby. It finally finished at 5am – how am I going to cope in New Zealand ? On Sunday I went for lunch in Dempsey road with Sarah, Luke and the children (Jack and Eve). I hadn’t seen them since 2002 in London (they are old Hong Kong neighbours). Again lovely to catch up and it’s great to see what your children turn out like. In Jack & Eve’s case incredibly sweet and chatty. More rugby to see in the evening.

Today. I’m finishing this and then it’s time to fly to Australia. It’s been lovely to see everyone here, and thanks sooooo much to Rachel and Mark for letting stay, and to Annabelle their helper for making me all that coffee. I hope to visit again one day. 

So on my 3 month travelling anniversary, it’s adios Asia (as you can see my South American Spanish is coming along nicely) and off to stay with friends in Oz. This time tomorrow I’ll be in Sydney, well life could be worse !! Oh, but first the sun has come out so I may just get an hour by the pool after all………….

Transport count :

Plane = 10, Bus = 26, Train =2, Boat = 10, Sunglasses = 5, Mosquito Repellant = 8

Take care

Sally x

Beautiful Bako – Sarawak, Borneo

September 17, 2007

Dear All,

Jennifer, Lay and I had all decided to go to Bako National Park. It’s a great place to see wildlife and the park itself is fantastic. After breakfast the skilled negotiator Jennifer had obtained a good price on a taxi so off we set. It’s only a 40 minute journey and then you have to get a boat which takes around 20 minutes to reach the park. Ideally you want to stay here over night but I just didn’t have the time. The scenery is amazing and you literally have to sail around the coast to get here. You could spend days just hiking the various trails.

As the tide was out we had to wade through the water to reach the beach. The girls aren’t great with animals and Lay was trying to avoid stepping on the miniscule crabs that were running around. All of a sudden I heard Jennifer call my name ahead of me. As I went through the clearing I saw a huge wild boar grazing on the grass in front of the ticket office. I let them walk behind me to get to the office – I am amazed how nonchalant I have become around the wildlife. We paid our fee and then headed for the Paku trail as this was supposed to be the best trail to see the animals. An hour later we’d reached the beach on the other side of the trail and not an animal in sight. We’d obviously missed their breakfast and had to wait until lunch time. The trail was really pretty as was the beach and as we made our way back through the narrow paths, tree roots, rocks and steps we suddenly saw some people pointing up at a tree. 10.45am and the probiscus monkeys had decided it was play time. They were partly hidden and I was getting bitten to death by mosquitos so we headed further back towards the beginning of the trail. We then came across a much larger group of Probiscus and watched them for ages. Eventually they decided that they’d had enough of humans staring at them and started throwing sticks at us – luckily, they missed.

As we walked back the tide had now come in and we headed to the self serve cafe for lunch. The animals are obviously used to a lot of visitors as the long tailed macaques had been joined by some baby wild boars at the cafe trying to see what food they could grab and I do mean grab. I would advise people not to sit by the tables at the edge of the eating area. One woman who’d just put her full plate on the table had it grabbed by one of the cheeky macaques, luckily she just got her hand to eat and grabbed it back. Penny from the long house trip had also had her sausage stolen off her plate at breakfast – not sure I’d have carried on eating.

Time to do another trail. Just as we were leaving a few people were gathered by the trees at the edge of the grass. On inspection a green pitted viper was curled up in a tree. Apparently they are quite poisonous. We set off for a new trail which was longer and steeper than the last and due to be a good example of the flora and fauna in the park. It meant climbing up a lot of trees and we saw some great pitcher plants on the way. These eat insects and trap them in their jug like (hence the name) petals. Suddenly Lay was no longer right behind us. We called out for her and all she said was “snake”. Jennifer and I went back to see yet another green viper curling it’s way through the tree on the edge of the path. We hadn’t even seen it. Once it got high enough Lay joined us. Unfortunately it then started to rain so we made our way to a shelter with a few other people and waited for it to stop. It didn’t so we had to make our way back. At the viewing platform by the beach we found a gorgeous baby probiscus monkey happily eating leaves all on it’s own. We must have watched him for half an hour. Typically my camera battery chose this moment to die so you only have a picture of the ones in the trees below to view. Our boat was ready and it was time to go. The boat wouldn’t start – transport always seems to break down when I’m with Lay and Jennifer. After 10 minutes or so the boat man repaired the engine and it was time to head back for the final time to Kuching (boo hoo !!).

Jennifer was flying out that night so Lay and I had arranged to go to the Top Spot hawker centre for dinner. We’d invited a few other people from the dorm and after a teary farewell from Ian the Aussie who didn’t want to leave the Singgasana Lodge after nearly 2 weeks we headed out. The Top Spot is fantastic we chose a stall recommended to us and selected a fish and some huge prawns, jungle vegetables and rice. Including drinks it cost around $4 (amazing). I made it back to the lodge for the rugby and didn’t get to bed until 3.15am.

I woke up early as my flight was at 10.30am, unfortunately I hadn’t checked my phone the night before. I could have had a lie in as my flight had been delayed until 3pm. The president of Malaysia was flying to Kuching for the end of the independance day celebrations and so nothing could arrive or take off before he arrived. Honestly, didn’t he realise I had a social life to get back to in Kota Kinabalu. I have to say I was really sad to be leaving Kuching it’s such a great place for a trip. I boarded my plane and a Malaysian man called McCoy sitting in front of me struck up a conversation – I still cannot get over how friendly everyone is !!

I arrived back at Borneo Backpackers to find Mary and Tara sitting in the lounge. Oh dear, what had happened to Mary ? Her foot was completely bandaged up and she was limping. The dear girl had managed to fall down a gutter into some very smelly concoction (pooh – I think), and was full of bandages and iodine to stop infection. The poor girl has only just got rid of her Cat Ba stripe when she fell down a drain there. She’s now leading me 3-2 on leg injuries. Not that a mere injury would stop Mary.

We headed to the touristy end of town on the water front and had the most delicious curry. It was raining but not too heavily so we sat outside under an umbrella. We headed for a final drink at the “Cock and Bull” pub, it seemed the liveliest. We ordered a jug of beer and contemplated whether to stay or go and drink some more back on our roof terrace. I say “our” as the three of us had really taken over the back packers. A man on the next table suddenly bought us one more jug – how kind … The band then asked if it was anyone’s birthday and a lady put her hand up. This was too good an opportunity to miss (well, we are on a budget) and Priscilla put her hand up aswell much to Mary and Tara’s shock. If you haven’t met Priscilla yet she’s my alter ego or rather the naughty, cheeky me. Everyone sang me happy birthday and then I got called up on stage (didn’t factor that in to the equation). I got handed a slammer which I had to drink in one and race against the 2 other Malaysian girls – obviously no contest, I finished first. Then 2 other Malaysian guys came over to wish me happy birthday and ended up buying us beer all night. It was funny and the girls were good they never faltered and Priscilla had a great night. The girls also requested a song for me from the band – a really cheesy Malaysian one (which I can’t remember right now, but it’s one of those that you are generally embarassed to be caught singing – sounds like Peter Andre but isn’t ).Much dancing ensued and we dithered over going to a night club, but it was a Monday night so headed back. The locals would call out “I love you” and “Hello” and as we were a little tipsy at this point we would serenade back the words of Lionel Ritchie and Stevie Wonder.

Oh well a final coffee with the girls in the morning and it’s time to leave. The backpacker staff were all kissing and hugging goodbye. I have to say I genuinely feel really sad to be leaving, I could easily have stayed another month. I hope to see the girls in the UK when I get back. Mary will finally be going home after travelling for 2 years and Tara is back to Uni in London so it should be easy to catch up. Time to go to Singapore – I may even wear some make up, I won’t recognise myself !! 

  Probiscus Monkeys in Bako - before they threw the sticks !!Cheeky Long Tailed Macaque waiting to steal food from the cafe 

Transport count :

Plane = 9, Bus = 26, Train =2, Boat = 10, Sunglasses = 5, Mosquito Repellant = 8

Take care

Sally x

Lodging at the Long house – Sarawak, Borneo

September 14, 2007

Hi All

So my reason for coming to Sarawak was to stay in a Long house. You can do this independantly I believe but I didn’t have the time so I booked a 2 day / 1 night trip from Kuching. The mini bus picked me up from the guest house and also in my group were an Australian father and daughter, Penny and John and two Malaysian girls from Penang, Lay and Jennifer. Our guide Ben was great and as usual with most Malaysians his English was superb (they learn at school from the age of 5). None of us realised how long the journey would be and poor John is 81 but he handled the trip brilliantly. Initially we stopped off in Serian at the market to buy some spices to for our evening meal. Including a hollowed out bamboo cane that our chicken would be cooked in. I’m hoping the Asian supermarket at home has a lot of the things I’ve tried here. Although I’ll skip the Air Bandung – a shocking pink coloured drink I tired, it was awful. As it’s a muslim country the pork section of the market is kept completely separate.

Time to get back on the road and then we stopped for lunch and it started to rain. We also had to buy presents for our hosts. We bought some sweets and exercise books and pens for the children, whisky for the chief and biscuits and crackers for the rest of the adults. Eventually at 4pm (we left at 9am) we arrive at the river. I almost slip over going down the hill but keep it together and get in the tiny narrow motor powered boat where we are taken in the pouring rain upstream for around 20 minutes. Ben very kindly leant me his coat so I wasn’t too wet.

Climbing up the bank we could see the long wooden structure that is the home of the Iban people, picture below. We were staying in an adjacent long house which just contained wooden partitions with a mattress and mosquito net. Basic but comfortable. After a nice cup of local tea we were taken for a tour of the house.

Inside there is an extremely long communal area (it really does have a commune feel to the place) and then there were 24 doors off this where the 24 families (about 200 people in all) had their private areas. Currently this is the longest it can be they would need government permission to extend any further so some families have built individual houses next to it. The private  areas were obviously out of bounds unless you were given permission to enter. Apparently tourists visit this particular house twice a week and it has helped bring income in to what used to be a wholly subsistence lifestyle. We met the medicine man who was 88 and the old chief who was 89. The government also provide some funding to houses that participate in to their schemes so on the whole life is slightly improving but you do wonder long term whether this may be spoiled by our modern way of life. The children get sent to a  boarding school down river and return once a fortnight as the journey is too far to return every day. Everyone shares their food around and they are growing various crops outside. Apparently earlier in the week they had reported a problem with the pig tailed macques stealing their crops (if you report them you can kill them). So to solve the problem they caught them and bbq’d them. Thankfully that was not on the dinner menu this evening.

Back to our lodge for our wonderful feast and we were due to return to the house for the evening’s welcome dance. Just as we were about to leave Ben shone his torch on the wooden wall which divided our mattresses with the dining area. There were 3 spiders sitting there which turned out to be black widows, apparently they get quite active at night. He seemed a little concerned and said that they were very dangerous – great, the nearest hospital must be a good 2 hours away.

Off we went to the house. We were in luck the old chief was doing the first dance. The tradition is once he’s started dancing a visitor has to hand him a glass of local rice wine. We then have to toast 3 times and then we all drink together. It had a sherry like taste to it. Then a younger guy and two women took it in turns to dance. More drinking and toasting followed. We all then had to get up and dance and yes more drinking. The older men were previously head hunters. They firstly killed the Brits and then the Japanese during dawn raids – on the whole the Iban are a fierce proud lot and probably the largest tribe in Sarawak. I must say the skullsof previous ancestors to ward off the spirits weren’t the most pleasant sight. You can see a photo of my new family below. The brew changed to a stronger rice wine and then the whisky. The others left but I stayed with the guides and locals a while longer – I wasn’t keen to get back to the spiders.

Torch in hand I headed back. The spiders were still there. Oh and even better I counted the no. of partitions and then counted on the other side – yes the little darlings were on the other side of my bed, great. I tucked every possible square inch of the mosquito net around my mattress and amazingly fell straight to sleep.

Well, that was until 3am. Did I not say another Iban tradition is cock fighting ? Although a lot of gambling in Malaysia is not allowed this is big business and they had a wonderful coop outside of the entrance of our long house. Who ever said they crow as dawn is breaking hasn’t been to Sarawak. They just didn’t stop and this then set off the hunting dogs (all howling in tune). I was starting to feel pleased that I’d only gone for the 1 night option.

After breakfast we were taken on a jungle tour. Firstly, we were shown a blow pipe demonstration as this is how they used to hunt. At the end of the 5ft long pole was a spear so that they couldn’t finish off their victims in life. We were then shown a target and had to take it in turn to shoot. Well, imagine that, I’ve now found my calling in life – I was the most accurate with the blow pipe and was the only one to get a direct hit. Not sure how I can make use of this when I return although I’m sure it will come to me. It could be fun!

The jungle tour was great, we got shown plants that are used as sand paper, plants that lower blood pressure, ants eggs and wild boar prints. We were also given a tour of their graveyard, some are now christian but the traditional way is to have a roof structure put over their grave and they get buried with all of their wordly goods, tv, tools the lot. Nothing gets passed down apart from their knowledge. Just as we’d passed the pepper plants and were making our way back a huge dead branch fell off a tree and hit the girl in front of me on the head. Luckily she was wearing a baseball cap so although a little stunned she only had a small cut. The jungle is a dangerous place !!

Time to get back in the boats and head back to Kuching. We dropped Penny & John off at the Hilton’s version of a long house, yes, completely different and Jennifer and Lay were staying at the same place as me. On the way we ran out of petrol but with true Malaysian efficiency the company boss came and got Ben to take us the rest of the way in his car. I tried to find somewhere to watch the rugby but couldn’t so had dinner in the Chinese tea shop and went to bed.

All in all the long house is definitely worth a visit !!

  I’m a new member of the Iban tribe

The Longhouse

Transport count :

Plane = 8, Bus = 26, Train =2, Boat = 8, Sunglasses = 5, Mosquito Repellant = 8

Take care

Sally x

Catty Kuching – Sarawak, Borneo

September 14, 2007

Cat Statue - KuchingRiver Taxi - Kuching

Hi all

I took an Air Asia flight to Kuching in Sarawak the other state of Borneo. I have to say Air Asia is fab. Cheap, reliable it’s about time the cheap airlines got to Asia. I turned up at Singgahsana Lodge, and I have to say so far that this is the best guest house I have stayed at. The owners are amazing. If you go please say hi to Donald, Maria and Richard for me. It’s also one of the cleanest places and the dorms (yes still in a dorm) are pretty spacious and you get your own locker.I decided to go out and take a walk around the city (well it is a city but it feels more like a town). The old side has a main river front called the “People Place” and is full of colourfully painted buildings and colonial building courtesy of the Brooks when they were the 1st and 2nd raja’s and given Malaysia’s mixed ethnic population feels considerably integrated. You are warned that people may snatch your bags but I really didn’t see anything that would insinuate that. I adore it here, it’s just soooo pretty. The city is full of arts and crafts there definitely seems a better selection than what Sabah had. The oldest street in the city is full of Indian traders and they even have an Indian street and a Chinese street to celebrate the historial population mix. Did get kerb crawled by an older Chinese guy but clocked him straight away and sent him packing. The majority of people old, young and new just say hello all of the time but in a friendly hassle free way. The guesthouse also has the coolest bar on the top floor which opens at 5pm and sometimes never closes. So I had one beer and then went to bed early to catch up on my missed Mount Kinabalu sleep.

After breakfast I grabbed a taxi to the Matang Wildlife Centre, I’ve only got 5 full days here so I wanted to pack in as much as possible. Kuching is also a great base to visit the surrounding areas. Matang doesn’t have much there and is quite small but today my legs are really feeling the effects of Kinabalu so I didn’t want to go too mad. I entered the gated enclosures and just listened to the sounds of the jungle around me. There were only about 4 other people in the park. After passing the crocs I saw the bear cats and civets and met one of the volunteers. She has been there a month and is leaving tomorrow and was just getting her photos taken with the animals before she left. They had frozen fruit ice cubes to supliment the asnimals diets like a little morning ice lolly snack. On to the sun bears and then the pig tailed macques. Much larger than the long tailed cheeky ones he impressed me with his stunning reflexes. A fly would land on his cage and before it had a chance to go anywhere he’d catch it and eat it. On to my favourites the Orangutans. They had decent sized enclosures and the whole point of the park is that they do try to rehabilitate animals back to the wild. From the viewing podium I was staring at 6 year old Doris. I put my hand on my head and so did she. Then one of the other visitors called up and she got up  came to the wall and put her hand up towards us. Everyone else left so I went to take a look at  Aman at a huge male (orangutan). He was asleep and previously blind. He was the first Orangutan in the world to under go a cataract operation to repair his sight , it worked and he’s now a Daddy. Suddenly I could hear raspberry noises, Doris wanted all the attention so I went back to speak to her. Apparently I was lucky as she normally throws stones at the visitors and although attempts have been made to release her in the wild she prefers the park.

The park called me a taxi and then dropped me off to the world’s first and probably only Cat Museum. Hence the title of this page. Kuching is the Malay word for Cat. Yes they are cat crazy here, there are statues around the town and various moggies hanging around the streets. If you like cats then this museum is for you although it’s not a must see, it was just on the way back and I thought why not. It appears that museums are all free to get in here which is great. It had donations of cat items from all over the world, stories like “Puss in Boots” and even posters of pop groups like “Curiosity called the cat” (those were the days!) adorn the walls.

I jumped on a minibus back to the city and arrived in time to do the sunset cruise along the river. Includes orange squash and cakes more views of the colonial buildings and some local tribal dancing at the end (although that was rather amusing). Back at the guest house I popped up to the bar where the owners Donald and Marina were there to welcome their guests. There was also an English couple and we chatted until midnight. As I was leaving a group of Scottish guys gave me a beer and made me tell them about climbing the mountain. At 4am after a power cut, games of shithead, pool and a few tunes later I sneaked back to the dorm.

The next day and with legs feeling normal again I decided to view the museums, again these were all free and beautiful colonial structures. So after the Sarawak museum, the museum of Islam and a private museum where women were weaving the traditional wall hangings I returned to the guest house. The Scots had only just surfaced, they’d carried on until 5, I had some local food and then an early night as tomorrow it’s off to the Longhouse and my reason for visiting Sarawak.

Transport count :

Plane = 8, Bus = 24, Train =2, Boat = 8, Sunglasses = 5, Mosquito Repellant = 8

Take care

Sally x

Conquering Kinabalu – Sabah, Borneo

September 14, 2007

Success - The summit, Low’s Peak sunrise Mount KinabaluDear Hi All,

Well we all said our goodbyes just before 9am, the girls and Pieter were off to Sepilok and I headed to the office of Sutera Sanctuary to catch the bus to Mount Kinabalu park. It seems to be incredibly busy to climb the mountain these days but my advice would be just turn up at the park as they get daily cancellations. Also avoid a tour you can do it on your own and get paired up with a group for a fraction of the price.

The bus journey to the park takes just under 2 hours. Upon arrival I paid my park fees and registered to share a guide for the following day. I was escorted to the hostel and was the first one there so reserved my bed and went off in search of calories. I found a restaurant and helped myself to the delicious buffet. I then took a walk to the botanical garden. The park itself is very beautiful and there are a number of trails you can walk without climbing the mountain. I felt a bit tired so headed back to the hostel to read and rest before the big day tomorrow. In the hostel I had been joined by Keith and Jane (who’d broken her toe a couple of days before) and Gill an American girl. There was also a Dutch couple who’d organised their own tour. At 6pm we headed to the restaurant by the park entrance for our briefing. We met another girl Kate so now we had a group of 5 to do the climb together. We had dinner and then decided that rather than do the standard route we’d climb up the Mesilau route and then come down the standard Timpohon way. Mesilau is longer but less used and as we suspected more beautiful. We headed to bed ready for our arduous trip the next day.We met for breakfast and picked up our packed lunches. Although I’d packed sparingly I managed to half the contents of my day sack and left them in the safety box as the park entrance. The weather forecast was good – I haven’t met many people who’d seen a sunrise in years gone by although in the last week there had been one every day. Even the Lonely Planet says you’re lucky if you do. I like personal challenges but as I looked up at the peak poking it’s way above the cloud line I thought to myself ………….”have I taken leave of my senses ?”. Oh well the money’s paid, there’s no turning back. Two further Hungarians had joined our group and we became the “Lucky 7”. I bought a walking stick – someone said to me get a stick it will be your best friend….this is a must……my stick was so good to me I’m considering adding him to Facebook as a “Top Mate”. We paid for the guide and then found that as our journey to the start was 45 mins the transport wasn’t actually big enough to take us all. The guide said we should just do the standard route but we’d paid and we wanted to be different. Quick thinking from Gill meant his superviser found us a new minivan and we were on our way.

After registration we started our climb. It was extremely hot, 8.2km to go and you’re literally climbing up steps made from tree roots. The first 0.5km mark seemed to pass really quickly. There is a lot of natural forrest and it’s great to see how the terrain continually changes the higher you go. Our guide Luke, stayed at the back of the group, in fact you would hardly know they are there. It’s more for the safety aspect. We had regular water stops and I have to say a 5 minute break helped you feel rejuvenated to carry on. The Mesilau route is very up and down and should take us 6-8 hours in total. We crossed a bridge over a waterfall but as the path was quite overgrown we didn’t get many great views. We’d left the forrest behind and were now stepping up on to rocks and climbing little wooden ladders. We stopped for lunch after around 5.5km. You tend to get quite split up so we hadn’t realised Keith and the two Hungarians were just behind us when we stopped. As a consequence we waited for quite a while over lunch. I hadn’t snacked on the way and my stomach was literally growling. I have to say the mini carton of Milo I drank was the best I’ve ever tasted. We came across a few other groups at this point some who’d set off 2 hours before us and were really struggling. At 6km the two routes join although the next marker you see is only 4.5km which is a bit disheartening. You can now feel the fact that the air is thinner, but I felt pretty good and just steadily made my way to the Laban Rata base camp. The earth is now a red/orange colour and the steps are getting steeper there are a few squirrels running around, as we pass through the cloud line it starts to pour with rain. We take shelter but our guide says we should keep going. The rain stopped and the last hour provided stunning views over the valleys and a rather imposing view of the top. There is a line where vegetation ceases to exist and it looks like black charred rock just staring down upon you. I walked with Keith and after a total of seven and a half hours we reached Laban Rata.

Advice – at 3272km Laban Rata is base camp. Book heated dorms, this means you get to stay where the restaurant is. I’d upgraded as I’d been booked in to Gunting Lagadan – you want to avoid these. Not only are they 200m higher they are not heated and you still have to come to the restaurant and go back up anyway. The restaurant was pretty full, I’d ordered some pasta and then got a huge headache (altitude). I always take aspirin and paracetemol so took some more. It amazes me how some people are completely unprepared there were English guys with shorts and t-shirts borrowing extra clothes. There was a badmington court outside the restaurant – strange no one was playing !!

Unable to shake my headache I went to bed and fell asleep around 8.30pm. Well we did have to get up at 2am. 2 hours later I’m awake and have to run to the toilet. Oh dear , not good. I went back to bed but 45 mins later the same thing happened. I decided I shouldn’t keep waking up the dorm so went downstairs to the now closed restaurant. There a security guard was watching – yes football – and Chelsea vs Aston Villa. I can’t say I’ve ever watched a football match 3200m above sea level before. I watched the game , 2-0 Villa (hurray!). Then with a remaining 1 hour to go went back to bed but didn’t sleep. We got up for breakfast and I decided it was too risky to eat , I really did not want to get stranded on a mountain in the dark so just had a coffee and water. 3am and head torches ablaze – departure time. I think I probably had the most clothes on but I didn’t want to get cold and at last I can again wear that jacket I’ve been carrying throughout Asia.

The torch worked really well and we started up what seemed like eons of steps. It was pretty warm and people were discarding clothes, I took off my gloves..ladder after ladder, on and on it went. A girl came back down crying, obviously the altitude was too much for her. I would say the majority make it but there are quite a few that can’t. We passed the cold dorms and then we could see a white rope that you basically follow all the way to the top and use as a marker so you know you’re on the right route. Up and up we go, it’s only 2.7km from Laban Rata but it feels a whole lot longer.

To my horror we suddenly come across rocks only. All vegetation has gone and you have to grab the rope to haul yourself up on a ledge. No one told me about that part. You can’t see very far ahead and it feels like you’re climbing in to a dark abyss. Also the wind has now picked up. I have to say at this point I really was not enjoying myself, a strong case for mind over matter ensued. After the ledge I stopped for a break. The sky was full of stars, the clouds were a long way below and it really did feel like you were on top of the world. I still felt a bit scared but gradually the rock changed into a gradual slope up to the summit. Time to zig zag my way over the rock.
I met a lovely guide called Kenny and followed his path. 1km to go or so he said. 5.10am and the first shards of red are visible over the horizon. I thought sunrise was due around 6 but he told me it was and that I would make it in time. I’m now counting down every 100m. 200m to go and the flat rock turns into steep rocks that you have to climb up. I gather every ounce of energy I have left and haul myself upwards. 5.55am I’m there at Low’s Peak a full 4095m above sea level and on the top of the highest mountain in South East Asia. Of course there is that little known range near Nepal that’s a lot higher !!
Sunrise was beautiful, I sat with Kate as we watched the ever changing spectacle and felt extremely lucky. The picture is of me at the top. The advantage of being so warm was that I could stay at the top for quite a while. There is nothing worse than doing all that work and leaving after a few minutes as you’re too cold. However, what comes up must come down so after half an hour or so we started to make our way back. Off course your legs are so used to walking up that it’s not that easy getting down. Back through the Sayat Sayat check point and an hour later I’m back at the base. It doesn’t look half as imposing in daylight. It had been raining further down and was quite slippy, I can understand how people fall as your legs are so tired at this point. Back at the base people are literally holding tearful reunions, it can be quite emotional. After some noodles and an hours rest we headed back to the start down the Timpohon route. The Hungarians has a bad knee and a twisted ankle between them. I have to say initially I was full of bounce and then the tiredness crept in. Going down step after step (the man made route) was extremely painful and I could feel a couple of blisters growing by the minute. Having gone up the other route we’d had the added advantage of not seeing people on their way down. Everyone was congratulating us but we were joking saying only another 20km to go – hahahha!! Of course on the way up are porters carrying essentials for the base camp. One even had a kitchen sink but I suppose everything had to get up there somehow. For the record the fastest time up and down is under 3 hours, the youngest person was 5 years old and the oldest climber 96 both Japanese (must have been past and future contestants on that old Japanese show Endurance). I realised that those cocoa leaves at Machu Picchu must have been more help than I thought, or maybe it’s that you acclimatise first. After 4 hours I turn a corner and there are one further flight of steps up to go. I think I muttered “you must be joking” at this point. At the top of the steps one of the rangers opens an iron barred door to let you out. Not that I’ve ever been but it did feel like I’d been let out of prison after a rather long stretch. I shuffled (like an 80 year old woman) to the bench where some of my group already were and waited for the Hungarians to finish. All 7 of the group correct and present. Only a 15 minute drive back to base and I shared a taxi back to Kota Kinabalu city with the Hungarians and promptly fell asleep.
Back to Borneo backpackers and bed. I bumped in to Sophie who had suddenly come back to KK unexpectedly and then went to bed. I’d been there about 10 minutes when I heard the familiar voices of Pieter and Lisa back from Sepilok so I got up and we spent the evening on the roof top chatting. I left them at 11pm for fear of falling in a coma.
The next morning I had breakfast with them and then it was time to go and catch my flight to Kuching in Sarawak, my legs didn’t feel too bad. I have to say it felt like hell at the time but within 4 hours of being back I was so glad I did it !! So Mount Kinabalu, no pain no gain, it’s worth it…..

5.10am near the summit 

Transport count :

Plane = 7, Bus = 24, Train =2, Boat = 8, Sunglasses = 5, Mosquito Repellant = 8

Take care

Sally x

Happy Birthday Malaysia – 50 today !!

September 6, 2007

Dear All,

Actually the birthday was on 31st August – I’m generally a few days behind on the blog.

The girls very kindly offered to drive me back to Kota Kinabalu. Such a nice change to be in the back seat of a car and stop when you want rather than be on a bus, even if it was for a 6 hour journey. I must have been half asleep on the way there as I didn’t realise how mountainous it was. We stopped half way at a little town called Ranau. Everyone was using large bamboo poles and hanging out flag poles for the upcoming celebrations. If you didn’t hang a flag out then you could get in to trouble, so best to do so. However, you weren’t allowed to makes cakes with the flag on it as you weren’t allowed to cut in to it !!

Back at the guest house I found clothing identifying the fact that Mary and Tara were stıll ın town. Unfortunately there was no room at the ınn for my new frıends but Borneo Backpackers kındly got them a room around the corner – so nıce….

I found the gırls a few streets away at an Italıan wıth a  rather expanded group whıch consısted of a combınatıon of Mount Kınabalu clımbers and dıvers – so quıte handy to get a few tıps from. I had a glass of wıne……blıss…….the house red was Wolfblass……there ıs a God ! I have been mıssıng decent wıne. We then had one further beer before headıng back to the guesthouse. As Iive already mentıoned the guest house ıs fantastıc and they allow you to ınvıte frıends up and sell beer cheaper than the supermarket so we all ended up playıng cards (as usual). After everyone had gone I stayed up wıth Mary chattıng untıl 3am – well we had to fınısh off the Arak.

After a rather long lıe ın I fınally got to have my fırst Indıan curry. Tara was off dıvıng so I went wıth Mary and a Dutch brother and sıster Pıeter and Lısa. On the way back we notıced that the celebratıons for the 50th annıversary of Malaysıa’s Independance were goıng to be startıng that evenıng wıth fıreworks around mıdnıght for the 31st.

I’d arranged to meet the Bılıt gırls for dınner and afterwards we headed to the park for the festıvıtıes. Unfortunately Barbara was a lıttle tıred so they went back and I started to look for the others – after all how hard could that be ? Of course, they had been swıftly escorted ın to the stands behınd the VIP seatıng and were watchıng the varıous acts on the stage. There was no way I would have found them and ıt started to raın so I walked around the craft market and then thınkıng they’d be gettıng wet and ın a bar had a quıck scout around. I ended up back at the guest house and went on the roof at mıdnıght wıth the staff to watch the fıreworks – they were so loud. The streets were at a standstıll and much flag wavıng and car hootıng followed. So happy bırthday Malaysıa. The next day I just really relaxed and watchedMalaysıan Flag at the celebratıons the bırthday parades on TV and then met the gırls ın the afternoon ın a cafe on the waterfront and then just grabbed a few essentıals ıtems for my upcomıng mountaın trek. The 5 of us once agaın ended up on the roof terrace playıng cards and Tara and Lısa went to get pızza (must get back to Asıan food), although gamblıng ıs ıllegal money dıd change hands and I must admıt I saw some new competıtıve streaks comıng out of my fellow travellers…..very amusıng !!

Oh well tıme for bed, I love Malaysıa and the people but now ıt’s tıme to go clımb that mountaın……..

Transport count :

Plane = 7, Bus = 23, Train =2, Boat = 8, Sunglasses = 5, Mosquito Repellant = 8

Take care

Sally x