Sabah and Sarawak
23.07.2012 - 04.08.2012
It is always an exciting experience to strap on my backpack, charge my camera, and take off to adventure destinations without knowing exactly what my plan is or what I was going to do, where I was going to stay. So... apparently in Borneo it's highly recommended to plan your trip beforehand. Lucky for me, I had enough sense to at least organise my trek up Mount Kinabalu a week prior to travelling, finding out when I got there that many fellow climbers had booked 3-6 months in advance, and that I was in fact lucky to find an available slot for the night.
As I was travelling solo, I found the most cost efficient way of booking my climb was directly through Sutera sanctuary. I arrived at the base, Kinabalu Park, picked up my pack lunch and my guide, and proceeded up the trail. To be honest, the trail itself was not difficult, a clearly marked path with distance and altitude markers as you ascend, as well as numerous shelters along the way to take breaks and refuel, but it was the altitude that finally got to me at around 2800m. I felt dizzy, light-headed and a massive headache on my left temple. I had to slow to a snail's pace, stopping for a few breaths every 50m or so. When at last I arrived to the laban rata guesthouse, I was relieved to find I was just in time for dinner. (5.30pm) Now I'd heard that the food provided was excellent, now I think it's not so much that it's excellent food, but that by the time you get there just about everything would taste good. After a quick freshen up in icy cold water, and a restless 4 hours of sleep, it was out of bed for a quick supper and off to climb the summit. Perhaps it was the fact that I'd already had the time to adjust to the higher altitude, but I did find the steep trek up the cliff face unusually easier than the previous day's venture.
The crisp air and cool wind, combined with breathtaking views and the exhilirated felling of having made it up the 4095m climb, made for an unforgettable experience.
Tip: Pack light, but take lots of energy-filled muchies for along the way. Bring warm clothes for the summit climb, and instead of huddling with the other 140 climbers at the top of low's peak, walk down about 150m to catch the exact same sunrise with privacy. Also, go slow on the climb down, not only did I pull all the muscles in my legs, but I've now had to bid farewell to two of my toenails due to extreme bruising.
After my climb, I decided to head down to the bus station, to see where I was going to go next. There I met a lovely dutch couple who shared with me their travel plans of going to Sepilok, to a nice little hostel they'd found. For want of a better idea, I followed them onto the bus and to a quaint little hostel/farm, which provided large airy dorm rooms, hot showers, and outdoor hammocks. Note-to-self: a 4.5 hour bus ride after the climb down Kinabalu was, on hindsight, not the best idea I've had for the muscles in my legs. The next day, I made my way over to the Rainforest Discovery Centre and the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre.
I found myself in Sandakan, after catching the public bus from the Sepilok sanctuary, and found out that for the months between July and October, if you haven't booked your tour to Turtle Island, you're not gonna get to go. So as an alternative, I booked a 2 day 1 night trip down the Kinabatangan River in search of all kinds of wildlife. A totally worthwhile experience, I was able to catch a few sightings of Orangutans, Proboscis monkeys, short and long-tailed macaques, kingfishers, hornbills and crocodiles. Unfortunately I was unable to catch a glimpse of the Bornean pygmy elephants due to time constraints.
Tip: Bring binoculars, and try to stay for 2 nights instead of 1.
It's a shame, now that I look back at it, that I didn't have the time to stop in Miri to see Niah caves, but I have to say that the 5 nights that I spent at Mulu were beyond a doubt the highlight of my trip. It wasn't just the spectacular cave system and abundance of wildlife, but also the people, and the constant connection with the nature and simplicity of the surroundings. Again, as I had not the foresight to pre-book my accomodation and tours, I was told on arrival to the national park that everything was at capacity, not only for accomodation, but also for all adventure tours and caves. I then went out and checke in at the first dorm facility outside of the park, and it turned out to be the best possible scenario. The guesthouse was family run by Edward, who was friendly and helpful, and on my first day I was lucky enough to meet and befriend their resident guide, A, a knowledgable and fun-loving local from Kuching, who was passionate about both the flora and fauna in the park. I quickly made the decision to book all of his tours, including the 4 main show caves and the 3 day 2 night Pinnacles hike.
On these tours, we spotted many forms of wildlife, primarily insects, spiders, frogs and reptiles. Highlights would include the nightly trek through the dark trail to find all the insects and animals come to life, the tour to deer caves to watch the "Bat Exodus", a steady stream of approximately 4 million bats of 17 different species come swarming out of the mouth of the caves, and the majestic clearwater caves, with ceilings high enough to house tall buidings.
The not-to be missed experience for me was spending 2 nights at Camp 5 en route to the Pinnacles, drinking rice wine under the moonlit bridge accross the river, enjoying a rustic meal of wild fern (picked by our own hands) and wild boar stew (freshly shot by Edward the night before), climbing up the mountain in complete darkness with only our headtorches lighting the way, and taking a daily swim in the refreshing river by the camp.
Tip: Stay at the River Lodge outside the National Park, and ask for the guide there, A. Bathe in the river behind the lodge, the cool refreshing water does wonders for the mind and body, and book adventure caving ahead of time, as this can only be done with the National Park tours and I missed out as it was fully booked.