Tuesday 31 December 2013

Yet more snorkeling

Such a good day yesterday that we decided to go back for more of the same today.
We arrived early again and were dropped off at the jetty, which was just about deserted.
We had a lovely morning snorkeling around and I was surrounded twice by huge shoals of colourful fish. They are really inquisitive and come very close, but I am a little bit wary, as I forgot to tell you that yesterday something tried to take a chunk out of my leg!
It made me jump and I span around quickly, but didn't get to see what did it. My leg was bleeding when I got out of the water and now I have a little mouth shaped cut to prove it.
I also didn't tell you about the giant monitor lizards that were marching around the barbecue pit area once lunch had been cooked. Pretty scary don't you think?
Finally, our boatman came to collect us early to bring us back to the mainland today as a storm was brewing.
The wind was blowing strongly and the water was rough as we shot along at top speed. Fortunately we sat at the back near the driver as we sat at the front yesterday and although it was great fun, each time we took off and then landed again felt as if we were hitting a concrete block.
This time it was really extreme and two Russian tourists bounced along the whole journey.  When we were nearly home our driver, who was very cheerful and a bit of a joker, drove the boat at full speed towards the shore. At the last second he turned the boat so that we were tipping up at a 45 degree angle before stopping dead just in front of a concrete wall. He did laugh when the Russian lady screamed!

Monday 30 December 2013

Mamutic and Sapi Islands

Good weather forecast for today so we went on a speedboat trip to Mamutic and Sapi Islands, which are just off the coast of Kota Kinabalu.
We got lucky and caught one of the first, and fastest boats. The beach was almost deserted and Darren was just about the first person into the sea.
Within an hour or two it had filled up with tourists, mainly Malaysian and Chinese, I think. It was very entertaining watching them as although the sea was very calm and the beach gently sloping, they nearly all wore life jackets, and often arm bands and rubber rings too.
Someone took the emergency lifebelts from the beach and they floated around for the day, just to be ready for any emergency.
Once in the water, most of the tourists stood about waist deep and made no attempt to swim.
Most of them wore snorkels and masks, but rarely put their face underwater. I was sitting in the shade under a tree when one couple strolled past wearing the full kit, trying to have a conversation through their snorkel mouthpieces.
After lunch we sat next to a young couple who decided to go for a swim. The guy wore a life jacket, snorkel and mask and I watched them wade in. About five minutes later I heard a commotion and shouting. Suddenly a life guard shot across the sand, into a canoe and paddled out to someone in trouble. The person clung on to the side of the canoe and was brought back to the shore.
Of course, it was our neighbour and he looked very sheepish when he eventually returned. His girlfriend told me that suddenly a lot of water had poured into his mask and then his life jacket stopped working.

Sunday 29 December 2013

Mount Kinabalu

Got up early to try to see the top of Mount Kinabalu, which is over 4,000 metres high.
We arrived here two days ago, but the mountain has always been completely covered in cloud, so we did not even realise it was just behind our guesthouse.
Every morning just after dawn the sky is clear, but clouds quickly  gather, so there is a very short time where it is light enough to see the mountain.
We just about made it, but 15 minutes later it was gone for the day.
We are quite high up ourselves at 1500 metres, and you can see lower clouds in the second shot, with the tops of hills showing through.
We saw loads of beautiful flowers, particularly wild orchids in the undergrowth.
We got lucky today as we had to catch a bus from Mount Kinabalu back down to Kota Kinabalu. We did not know what time the bus would arrive, so we were prepared for a long wait and we did not even know where, or if a bus would stop.
We had just arrived in the right general area when four Indonesian boys turned up with their luggage.
They went and spoke to a mini bus driver and the six of us, plus two German backpackers that we had met a couple of days ago, all crammed in to his van.
We had a very speedy run down to sea level, a quick group photo with the friendly Indonesians, and less than two hours later we were at our hotel in KK.

Saturday 28 December 2013

Leech attack - a day of dramas

We started the day walking back down the track to the main road, accompanied by another guest, who stranded his hire car in a ditch in the rain last night and had had to have it towed out.
Suddenly I stepped on a large leaf that slipped under me and I slammed sideways onto the concrete road.  My shoulder and elbow took the brunt of the fall, and I felt very light headed, but after a little sit down we continued with our trip.
We decided to walk a trail in the National Park and set off up a dark and muddy track. We had been walking for a while and were bemoaning the fact that we never see any birds on our walks. Sitting silently around the next corner was the first other person we saw on the trail, a friendly, young Canadian ornithologist.
She pointed out some birds to us, including the Bornean Treepie, which is endemic to Borneo. She leant us her binoculars to get a better look, and it was a really great chance encounter.
After leaving her the track got wetter and trickier with very high tree roots and puddles to negotiate.
On one particularly difficult bit, Darren's trouser leg rolled up a little and I noticed that he had two leeches attached just above his ankle. He tapped them but they were latched on, and he told me not to lift my trouser legs in case I had any too.
He was calm, I was panicked and everywhere was so wet and dark we couldn't stand still to try to remove them. We set off to try to get to a road and I was practically running while Daz was being slightly more careful.
Eventually we got to the road and I was sooooo relieved to not find any on me.
I had to kneel on the floor when Darren lifted his trouser leg as I thought I might faint. Fortunately, one had gone but the other was still there and only about an inch long. As we were racing to the road I was thinking that there might be two enormous monsters, so it was a huge relief.
I sprayed it with insect repellent (which is probably not a great plan) but it fell off immediately, although Darren's leg started bleeding.
Ps, he is fine now and I am a bit put out that his drama trumped mine.

Friday 27 December 2013

Sandakan to Kota Kinabalu National Park

Today we left the heat, the bright blue sky, the sea and our luxurious hotel room, and caught a long distance bus to KK National Park.
It took about six hours to cover 230k and we are now over 1,500 metres above sea level. We had to walk the final 2k to our guesthouse and we could see a cloud ahead of us on the road. Suddenly we were in the middle of it and could only see a few metres in any direction.  We had to follow a very narrow, steep and slippery single track road into the jungle as our guesthouse is in the middle of nowhere.
We are planning on getting back to nature for a couple of days and seem to be achieving it. We only have hot water between five and eight pm, our room is made of wood - it has a garden shed look about it - and there is no telly.
The temperature has dipped from the mid 30's to about 15 degrees so it is a bit of a shock to the system.

Thursday 26 December 2013

Put Jih Shih Buddhist Temple

Caught a local bus to this beautiful temple which is on a hill overlooking the sea about 4k from our hotel. It was a short walk from the bus stop but uphill on the final section, and I don't think I have ever been anywhere that is so hot and humid.
Fortunately, the temple area itself was a little breezy and it was nice and cool inside.
The gardens surrounding it were beautifully kept, but there is a large symbol made from box hedging that is initially very disturbing. The same symbol is also all over the temple itself.
There is a key difference between the Buddhist symbol and the Nazi swastika. It is that Buddhists use the left facing from and the Nazi swastika is right facing and usually at a 45 degree angle.
In Bhuddhism it is a sign of well being and good fortune.

Wednesday 25 December 2013

Happy Christmas everyone

Happy Christmas from sunny Borneo.
We thought ahead and a couple of weeks ago we did a beach photoshoot so that I would be ready for a festive blog.
We were going to take our own photos but a passing friendly tourist took loads of shots for us.
The last one is from our trip to Hong Kong where I think the temperature actually did drop close to freezing!
I wore my Christmas tree hat down to breakfast this morning and it was all very jolly. The hotel have also hired a choir of about 20 local carollers and they keep appearing around the hotel and breaking into song.
We are pretending to be at home, so are just slobbing around for the day, which is what I hope all (both) of my readers are doing.

Monday 23 December 2013

Rainforest Discovery Centre

Between feeding times at the Orangutan Rehabilitation we went to the Rainforest Discovery Centre.
What did we discover?
1. All of the birds and animal stay hidden in the middle of the day so don't expect to see any.
2. The views from the platforms of the forest canopy are incredible.
3. The platforms are very high, scary and flimsy.
4. I bet you can't spot me in these photos as I am in full camouflage gear.  I am also holding on tightly and my knees are shaking.

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

Caught a bus to the famous Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre this morning. The centre was set up in 1964 and takes in and cares for orphaned and injured orangutans. The young ones are cared for in a nursery where they are taught jungle skills such as finding food, building nests and even climbing. It is not possible to see this area, but as they get older they are gradually introduced and released into the local rainforest.
The Centre has a feeding area and twice a day tourists are allowed to walk to a viewing area, and food is left out on a platform a few feet away.
It is up to the orangutans if they come to the platform and some that are released never return, but others visit regularly.
We stayed for both morning and afternoon feeds. In the morning an adult female and her own baby arrived, together with a juvenile male. (see pics 5 and 6). They sat with their backs to us, ate everything they were given, then climbed the ropes and disappeared.
In the afternoon we got there early, just as a young female was climbing down from the trees. One of staff told us that she is one of three who are in the middle of the release programme. She can still return overnight to the Centre, but is often now making a nest to sleep in and staying out all night.
She was really cute and put on a good show climbing gracefully down to the platform.
No other orangutans arrived so she ate leisurely then ambled away, striking quite a few poses as she went.

Sunday 22 December 2013

Australian Memorial Park

Caught a bus to the eight mile marker out of town to the Memorial Park. It is now a mixture of garden and jungle and is on the site of a prisoner of war camp from WW2.
The majority of prisoners were Australian, but there were also many Britons at the camp. The Park is dedicated to the 2,428 prisoners who lost their lives building an airstrip for the Japanese.
It was a very peaceful place and we followed a path around the site reading the information notices.
The digger was initially used by the prisoners, but then one night an Australian sabotaged it and it has not moved since.
There was also a nice building with more info. Once inside a friendly local man came over and asked if he could take my photo with his children. We started with a group shot, then individual pictures with each of the four kids, then different combinations of children including me carrying the youngest, then some of the kids and Darren, finally a few of both of us and him.
He kept saying thank you and then shaking our hands in really complicated high five type moves, and then coming back for yet more photos.

Saturday 21 December 2013

Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan

This morning we flew from KK to Sandakan as the roads are very slow and twisting, and the flights are frequent and cheap.
After the terrible hotels in Hong Kong, and with Christmas on the horizon, we decided to for somewhere nice here. Darren found a great deal at the only international hotel - the Sheraton - and booked it over the Internet.
Upon arrival we found there had been a mix up and they had charged us twice. They were not keen to give us a refund, and as they were obviously not full, they kept offering us upgrades and extras instead.
We were totally against it at first, which is probably why they eventually offered us so much, but now we are in an Executive Class room. It is as big as our last apartment in Nottingham with great sea views. Initially we booked for a Standard room only, but now we have fruits and cakes delivered daily, we can use the executive lounge which has free cappuccinos, soft drinks and nibbles all day, then wine and cocktails from 5.30 until 7 daily. We also have breakfast included and a large credit that we are going to spend on Christmas dinner.
All this is still cheaper than the tiny room in Hong Kong. Although, to be fair, HK is a major city and Sandakan is on the east coast of Borneo and pretty remote.
We have a new and unexpected problem now - how are we going to tear ourselves away from this place to see the sights?

Friday 20 December 2013

Friday prayers

The weather forecast for today was even more certain than yesterday that it was going to rain all day. Imagine my increased surprise to open the curtains and find the sun shining again.
We decided to take a shuttle bus to a distant shopping centre to escape the forthcoming downpour.
By 1pm it was still bright so we returned the way we arrived. We passed the enormous KK City Mosque which can hold up to 12,000 people. We drove past it on a six lane highway and from about half a mile away cars were double and triple parked, some appeared to be almost abandoned at right angles to the road.
The nearer we got to the entrance the more cars were parked. Eventually the was only a narrow gap left on the inside lane on both sides of the road.
Right near the entrance to the Mosque the road was completely blocked and we waited in a traffic jam and watched thousands of men leaving the Mosque and heading for the parked cars.
Very quickly the road started to clear and then we were on our way again.
Yesterday afternoon we walked past the Sabah State Mosque, pic 2, which was also very beautiful, but not as large as it only holds 5,000 worshippers.
Frustratingly, it didn't rain at all yesterday and it hasn't started yet today, even though it is nearly 10pm.

Thursday 19 December 2013

Tanjung Aru beach

The weather forecast last night was showing heavy rain for the next five days, so we were surprised to find the sun shining when we opened the curtains this morning.
We didn't think it would last long so we set off quite early on the local bus to Tanjung Aru beach. It is about 4k from the town and just next to airport.
No other tourists had the same idea so the beach was deserted.
The South China Sea was unbelievably warm and very inviting, although it could have done without the plastic bottles and other items along the shoreline.
I decided to practice my cartwheel technique which always feels quite elegant while I am performing, but the photos speak for themselves.

Wednesday 18 December 2013

Kota Kinabalu

Spent the day exploring Kota Kinabalu today. It is the capital of the state of Sabah in Malaysia, but it is actually on the island of Borneo.
It is a large modern town with loads of building work going on. I am very pleased to find that our hotel is quite traditional and actually has a door and walls to the en-suite facilities. It is also quite a nice large room with great views. The first shot is our view of the town and we also have a sea view!
There is not actually much to see in the town itself. We walked to the Atkinson Clock Tower which was one of only three buildings left standing after the Japanese occupation during the second world war.
It was very small and a bit disappointing, being surrounded by repair work.
KK is a very friendly place and has a relaxed atmosphere so we are not in a huge hurry to sort out our next move.

Tuesday 17 December 2013

Beautiful Spratly Islands

Caught a flight from Hong Kong to Borneo this morning and we were both lucky enough to get window seats. I sat looking out of the window for ages and all I saw was blue sea and fluffy white clouds, until suddenly it looked as if a little heart was in the water.
Looking closer it was actually a beautiful island with a lagoon in the middle. A few minutes later two more islands slowly sailed past.
I knew we still had about an hour to fly to Borneo so it was a real surprise to see them, as I didn't realise there was any land on the journey.
I looked them up on Wikipedia and they are called the Spratly Islands. Their ownership is disputed and they are claimed by China, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan and Brunei.
Interesting facts - the total amount of land is less than 4kms spread over 750 atholls, reefs and islands in a total sea area of at least 425,000kms.
Amazing the information we have at our fingertips.

Monday 16 December 2013

Wishes on the wind

Walked in the rain tonight down to Statue Square to see 'wishes on the wind'. It is three twenty feet high dandelion clocks with some of the fairies already blown on to the floor. It all lights up and changes colour every few seconds. The idea is that you make a wish and write it on a snowflake shaped card that you hang around the square.
I made my wish and left it with the hundreds of others, but I can't tell you what it was otherwise it won't come true.
In the background you can see the famous HSBC building designed by Sir Norman Foster which lights up every night in the colours of Nottingham Forest.
Afterwards we made our way down to the harbour. Every night at 8pm there is a sound and light show. Hotels and prominent buildings on either side of the harbour light up in time to the music.
We have seen it three times now and it doesn't really live up to the hype, but it is a dramatic skyline.

Sunday 15 December 2013

Lost on the Peak

The weather is truly terrible today, but not easily disheartened, we set off to ascend the Mid-levels escalator. It is 800 metres long and is the world's longest.
The first thing we realised was that it was a bit of cheat as there are were at least 10 gaps where we had to get off, sometimes cross a little road, sometimes turn a corner and get back on again.
It was really interesting though and took about 20 minutes to get to the top. (Sorry the first pic is not of the escalator but a walkway on the way to it.)
At the top we wanted to go to the Botanical Gardens, but couldn't find them, instead seeing signs to The Peak.
We followed them upwards and then came to a very steep staircase that went up into the jungly undergrowth. Up and up we followed the route until it disappeared. We had to scramble back through mud and down a very rickety metal ladder before we found the right route.
Eventually got to the top viewing platform and couldn't see a thing.
Absolutely freezing we decided to do what 99.9% of the tourists do and caught the tram back down. Strangely, we were the only people on the tram who had not bought a return ticket at the bottom.
Just sitting in bed in our hotel room with a pot noodle trying to get warm.