Friday, December 28, 2012

That line in the middle of the Earth: Borneo

Brace yourself for an epic tale of adventure.

Sabah, Malaysia...(cue: tropical bird squaking and bongos...) aka the north lands on the island of Borneo. Beaches, mountains, monkeys...mosquitos...some cliché expectations stirring? A huge island quite close to the we had informed several unaware locals there. I was quite excited to trek through the oldest rainforest in the world...and have an insane jungle adventure.

Panic. Yes. Panic and uncontrollable chatter filled my head as and I saw the jagged mountain summit peeking through the clouds....getting closer and closer as the bumpy, jungle roads twisted up towards Kinabalu National Park. Against my natural instincts, we were also chugging up on the left side of the road full speed ahead. For months, I'd gotten ready for this...packed...trained...but the day had come! 4,000 plus meters of thin air and rock were minutes away!

As optimistic as I was, approaching a rainy park headquarters, was actually a foreshadow of the downpours to accompany us the ENTIRE climb. It took 6 1/2 hours to ascend to the Pendant Hut where we would rest up and prepare for the remaining 3 km to the summit. Did I mention how thin the air was this high up? Did I mention I climbed over 2,300 wooden steps and climbed rocks in a washed out river bed (which later turned back into an actual river on the descent...)?

Step...breath...step...breath. Waterfalls caught our attention as we neared the top...The stilted, wood paneled hut was a sight for sore eyes considering we were drenched and exhausted...yet as the night went on, and the temperature dropped to about 30 degrees F, served only as four walls from torrents of rain and gusty alpine climate. Met some fun characters as the night rolled on...and curled up in a nice warm sleeping bag to grab a blink of sleep before the ceiling above us shook at 2 am with our mountain guides stomping us awake.

My freezing, wet shoes waited for me as we prepared to climb three more hours up to the summit and hop onto the Via Ferrata for some rope fun. FREEZE! Yes, I mean stop...and literally freeze...With headlamps and ponchos, we kept trekking up as all other groups were turning around...the wind picked up...the rain blew harder...a small river started hogging the path up...we had to turn back. After bickering back and forth about the crap decision that had to be made, we figured that 3 more hours of this would be torture to find a closed Via ferrata.

Back to the hut...shivers and all...waiting for 7 am for sunlight to aid in the descent down the mountain. I stuck boiling water in my water bottle to sleep with and keep warm. Sunrise slugged through the fog. Sooo.... under two jackets, and two ponchos I was still soaked to the bone headed down the flooded trail. My only aim...get to the bottom. Just a note, if you attempt Mt. Kinabalu request Friendy (with no L) for your mountain guide. He was great. Also, don't do the climb during rainy season. Which, being a rainforest is most of the year...

If you think this account was a bad experience...think again. IT WAS SO MUCH FUN! I found myself laughing most of the time. The Borneo jungle was amazing! Tree frogs, foot long-red leaches...people from every country trekking up with you...Epic. Epic. Epic fun! No, that wasn't a stutter.

Another adventure worth sharing is white water rafting! Kiulu River wasn't quite the ferocious river I was anticipating, but still met some great people and had some laughs paddling. I wondered, only people in our boat were falling out as we hit rocks head on....our guide was an idiot. haha. So were the Asians that kept splashing parasitic water all over us. We got them back...and paddled away as our guide fell out of the raft. Need I mention, a raft full of young American girls obviously calls for obnoxious male attention...

I was quite intreagued in the main shopping center in Kota Kinabalu when I saw an "Ear candle" sign. This was by far the funkiest thing my body has felt. A burning tube in each ear for about fifteen minutes managed to suck out about a 1/2 inch of ear gunk. GROSS! I know...but it brought on uncontrollable laughter from my part (and my partner in crime Melissa). The mute man and his son that did it for us served as even more ironic laughter.

Christmas day was spent island hopping to Sapi and Manutuk Islands. Sunny, beautiful, relaxing. The water was more green than I'd ever seen. The snorkeling, after finding the right places on the reef were beyond words. At one point I was floating in the middle of a school of tropical fish-clown fish, angel fish, parrot fish...I floated there amazed at how much effort must have gone into creating each one of those fish. God creates beautiful things for us to see...not to mention things to laugh at...considering I got bit twice by this obnoxious spotted fish protecting his "lawn".

I was pretty ecstatic when I found that the entire country, being mainly Muslim, eats no I definitely tried chicken and beef in every new form possible. From Indian, to Malay, to Christmas Eve room service...the food in Sabah rather mediocre. Jungle BBQ after white water rafting served the best meat ever! The fruit was amazing! Mangosteen (exploding looking plums...) and spikey green and pink Rahmutan (spelling?) are by far my new favorites. I still gag at Durian. Sorry...not happening people.

 I tried my hardest...but despite my efforts, suffered almost-dysentery for about 30 hours at the close of the trip...

Sunsets were by far the most spectacular sight I had while in Borneo....every night an explosion of colors overtook the skies to the west over the ocean... reds, purples, and oranges...along with the company of puffy clouds reflecting the sky's fiery colors. Breathtaking.

The weather was fantastic from Christmas Eve until we left tan proves the nice weather! I wish the climb would have been the same...oooh well.

So…Christmas in Borneo. If you are still reading, wow...thanks family. Ha. Not the traditional holiday I have taken part in for the past 24 years. It was a great change. So now, on the way back to Taiwan and back to normal life…I’m glad to escape the cat calling of creepy locals…but I loved every minute (well, give or take a few…) of this trip. The language is fascinating. The weather amazing, the people helpful…the wild life out of the ordinary (like the well know Probiscus, long nosed monkey…) One’s comfort zone needs to be thrown out once in a while. Plus our stay at Sutera Harbor Resort helped recuperate at the end of our hike…ha.


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