My motorcycle diaries in Borneo, Sabah (part 1)

15/4 I had to get up very early in the morning and the kitchen of the hostel was still closed. Byebye delicious melon in the fridge. Also the reception was closed. Byebye key deposit. Who is trying to tell me to stay away from hostels? 🙂 Anyway, a German guy in my dorm tried to help out, but no luck. A pity we hadn’t spent more time together I thought 🙂 To the bus and to the airport of Gold Coast, Coolangatta. Another story there. I arrived at the gates and tried to spend al my Australian dollars by buying a salad and a huge expensive fruit drink I otherwise would never buy. It’s a good way for me to force myself to spend some money, I was thinking. Unsuspectingly I walked to my gate sipping and enjoying my fruit drink to find out that… there was another cabin luggage check and passport check. The airport officer in charged was already signaling that I could forget about bringing the fruit drink, that I had to drink everything at once. Fortunately he allowed me to bring the salad in. It was only then that I remembered that my knife was still in my cabin luggage. Fate was on my side, they didn’t see it, I had succeeded to bring a knife on an airplane! Actually it’s a bit scary because if I can do that who else? For my connecting flight I thought about a different strategy. I got lucky once but no way I could do that twice, let alone in one day. So I went to the counter and asked if there was somebody else going to Kota Kinabalu and willing to put my knife in their check in luggage. Eventually I found somebody who made my day. And then the flights: first eight hours AirAsia and only paid meals! I was stubborn and waited until Kuala Lumpur to fill my stomach with (Ah! Sigh! Cheer!) delicious cheap Malaysian food. After the endless que for the Malay passport stamp. Then another flight, connecting flight of three hours… After all that I was only just able to pay a taxi and check in into a hostel in the evening.

16/4 I met cs’er Jawhar and his friend in the morning. We had breakfast in KK. Ah! Sigh! Cheer! Asian style food, Asian style breakfast! He was very nice and funny and provided me with lots of info and patiently replied all my questions. I worked out a plan, made decisions and explored the city of KK. How it was wonderfull to be back in my beloved Asia. That climate, those markets… A huge fish market along the sea. Amazingly tasting mangos, durians,… My heart was dancing around in my chest! Meanwhile I figured out a plan. The plan was to rent a motorbike instead of a car/jeep to drive a loop around Sabah. Starting and ending Kota Kinabalu. First keningau, then sepuluk, through the jungle to tawau, semporna, diving (if Jawhars friend found a place for me in the top ten diving site sipadan, or else in Mabul), sandakan and ending with the tip of Borneo. In the evening we had diner together. Found out that Khaled’s song Aisha was translated in Malay and known here. (“Reine de Sabah”) Jawhars friend Fadli joined and eventually it turned out that I could sleep at Fadli’s place. We had some drinks together after, at Jesselton Point, and talked about our lives and beyond. I remember his view on Chinese/china and on the lost/kidnapped girl traveler and on the lost Malaysian plane. And he told me the governments plans on expanding the jetty/harbour, including the building of a big hotel and business center nearby. I was sad to hear that… In my ears it sounded like Jesselton point will loose its character. But I know that’s the way things have to go…

17/4 To my pleasant surprise Fadli had made breakfast! He made a lot of effort telling me where and how to drive, even drawing little maps for me! Meanwhile I did some last research, wrote couch requests, writing and saving some other internet things and left for the city. I decided I needed a galon to have some extra fuel, more water to fuel up myself, and a lock, so i wouldnt loose my precious way of transport while I was sleeping somewhere.
Found those things in the motor rental shop. And then it was time to take off…

On the ride…!
– Drove past a gate “Selamat datang – Bon voyage”, and was saw I couldn’t stop there to make a picture of it. It was perfect. Like they had put it there for me. I drove through it with the tune of “Because I’m happyyyyyy” in my head. My world in balance again. 🙂
– Stopped for sugar cane juice.
– Rice paddies again, finally, after half a year. I remembered it was on my bucket list to join them planting, but I didn’t join. I felt it was not ment for me to do that there. And besides, They didn’t look up or smile at me 🙂
– stopped for pictures and checking the map, Tina’s steamy windows in my head
– Nearly overran a dog that was crossing the street, “tested the brakes”.
– I ate soto ayam in Kimanis, blockhead’s Olympics insomniac in my head
– Named my motorbike Kawi

– Me and Kawi climbed the steep mountain of 19% through Crocker Range, and then down again the other side. The higher I got the cooler it became. It reminded me of my motorbike ride in Thailand long ago, where the monsoon rain tried to wash my icy cold self away. Doi suthep near Chiang Mai (I admit, I had to look that up) Luckily this time it didn’t rain.
I hoped to reach sepuluk today but I was too tired and I searched a hotel in Keningau. Hotel evergreen. The shins in my head. Funny (typical asian?) story: I parked Kawi somewhere on the side of the road, where there were other cars. A lady came out to tell that my bike couldn’t be there, that it had to be in a yellow parking lot. I thanked her and moved Kawi a bit further. I checked in to the hotel and another lady asked me why I didn’t park my bike in front of the hotel. (Because it looked like a car free/motor free zone) but in Asia motorbikes are no same as cars. For instance you never have to pay the parking. So I guess this car free zone doesn’t apply for motorbikes. I asked her if the bike was ok where it was in the yellow zone, but she said no 🙂 Again, I thanked her and moved Kawi again.
Then in the hotel I asked if they could give me a discount (I read you always have to do that in low season) whereupon a men sitting in the “lobby” wanted to pay for me. I said I didn’t want that (I was too tired and didn’t want the feeling to owe somebody something) and I insisted that it was my room so I pay for it. Easy it was not…
Then I explored the city for a little while, people are obviously not used to tourists here. Eyes were everywhere. I bought some sunscreen because my arms were tanned, and looked if I could buy some speakers to listen to some of the songs that were playing in my head while I was driving, without having to use earphones in my room. But all of the speakers needed USB. It was a no go. In the supermarket i saw an old man putting a pack of cookies in his trousers. I was wondering if i should tell anybody that he was stealing. Eventually I didn’t because I might get in trouble or he might take revenge. I decided it would have been the same if I hadn’t been there…
I also walked past the cinema and asked the lady which movies were playing, but the only ones were a child movie and a horror movie, so sadly that too was a no go. Maybe “go home and rest” is what the situation, “the world” or my gardien angel is trying to tell me.

18/4 From Keningau I wanted to drive to Tataluan, and climb batu punggul. But first, still in the hotel, I booked my tickets Cambodja-Seoul and Seoul-Ulaanbaatar. (There were no direct flights so I decided to have a two day stop in Seoul rather then a five hour transit there) Hoping the Mongolian visa would couse no problem to get. With a full petrol tank I took off. Once again i thought i was made for this climate. The road was very beautiful through the jungle, and with magnificent views once in a while. I always found it a bit silly when friends in Belgium talked about driving around just for the drive, but now I started to understand the joy in it. Surrounded by unusual nature that is. But no view points of course, no tarmac places to pull over, so if you want to take a picture you have to stop ON the street and hope nobody is coming but most of the times I tried to find a possibility to pull over on a rudimentary kind of bank on the side of the road. Needless to say that many times I couldn’t get the picture I wanted. I was told that sepulut was probably the last place to get some petrol, so I filled the tank with two bottles of one and a half liters of each five ringgit. (normally one liter costs two ringgit) I tried to find tataluan but asking each settlement that I passed, and eventually drove about 20km past it anyway. But it was worth it to see the a sign that said “elephants crossing” and “malaria area”.

imageI turned around at the first restaurant (yes, there was a restaurant-eatery on this desolate road) and drove back. The children of Tataluan were the only ones sitting outside, and when I asked about Batu Punggul one of them ran to a house “orang puti, orang puti” (that means white man), and the man coming out of this house became my host. He showed me the house, his family, the village, the longhouse that serves for marriages,… imageOther villagers were interested in my wristband, asked me where I bought it. I replied I wove it myself in Vanuatu, of dried (palm?) leaves. Upon that I showed them pictures of Vanuatu and told the stories that go with them. To them it was recognizable. More or less the lifestyle of their grandparents. He told me they also hunt pigs, boars, but their boars looked different then the one in Vanuatu. And they hunt them with spears, not with machetes. (Though later I saw villagers walking around with machetes as wel) And he showed me the spears. My host, Philemon, loved talking to his visitors, and I loved to learn about their life and habits and shared what I knew. One house here hosts more families. 3,4,5,… In his house for instance, his brother lived as well, and his wife just gave birth 5 days ago. Like in Vanuatu, I could also choose the name. I said I would think about it. (Mateo? or Robin?) He works for a logging company. He plants the new trees. Not palm trees but some other kind. He also strongly believes. His religion was Basel, I never heard of it, but they also have Jesus and Maria and God.

We were both sad that we couldn’t spend more days together so I could learn and share their lifestyle, but he had to go to KK the next morning, his daughter Casey needed an operation, and the other villagers couldn’t speak English. And I had another plan myself. So Philemon arranged for two of his brothers (Murut have large families, his father had 14 children) to guide me to Batu Punggul the next morning.

19/4 An adventure, climbing Batu Punggul. First boat, then through muddy jungle (it had rained the day before and during the night) where we could here the moves of a monkey above us, and then free climbing up the karst rock (a long 3, with some 4 moves in climbers terms, haha).

imageI was happy to have climbing experience, because it was not easy and not the time to be scared of heights or falling.

imageIt would have been better if I had something else than sandals… From the top you could see jungle all around. And the village of Tataluan.

imageMaybe you could see even further if it was less cloudy.

And next thing… The long ride to Tawau. Without phone connection from Tataluan to Kalabakan. Once in a while switching off the motorbike to listen to the sounds of the jungle. Again past the “elephant crossing” sign, (I looked and looked but saw neither elephant nor monkey) again past the restaurant. From here on, some parts were gravel. It’s probably one of the last possibilities to ride the gravel because they were bituminizing the road at the very moment. One piece of the road had been prepared for that, with as a result a lot of small loose stones to drive on.

imageThat was quite scary. I was happy that I hadn’t chosen Kawi for nothing after all.  And all that so the logging trucks could drive the road faster. A lot of logging there. The weather couldn’t make up its mind. Sunglasses on and off and on and off. And then it started raining. I took shelter in a restaurant. (Yes, another one!) and had a milo. Everybody was interested in a white woman riding a bike alone over such a distance. When the worst of the rain passed, i moved on. I still had to drive 2,5h more to reach my destiny. I was happy to see more gravel. The real old road this time.

imageIt hadn’t entirely disappeared yet. I think there was about 40km of gravel.

Apparently the worst rain hadn’t passed yet, then clouds were getting darker and darker, and it started raining more. And just when I covered my bag and myself, it stopped again. But as soon as I took my plastic cover back off, it started raining again. I decided to keep on driving. I had a lot of distance to cover still, and I was thinking that at least it was still warm. Not like in Belgium where rain comes with cold temperatures. Still, it’s a pity driving most of this in the rain…
When I arrived to Kalabakan I didn’t enjoy it anymore. So until Tawau it was just pushing it. By the way, I didn’t have to bring the canister of petrol. I could have filled up in the village of Tataluan, and reach Kalabakan (where there is petrol too somewhere) with one tank. Oh well, better safe then sorry they say.
Finally I reached Tawau and the sun did too. It was about time because a little after Kalabakan I had lost my plastic “raincoat” cover (putting it on and off all the time, it had to happen). I found my host Daniel in the language school he had taken over one year ago. He had some life stories, and we talked the rest of the evening.

20/4. Sunny! Hiked up a mountain close to Tawau with Anthony, who also lived at Daniels place. Nice view from up there.

imageThen biked around the city of Tawau, bought some goodies at the market. (Fresh pineapple and water melon and roti) And chocolate in a supermarket because it was Easter! Then had lunch with Daniel, Anthony and some friends, and shared the chocolate. Time to leave for Semporna. Dark rain clouds arose. What do you think about some rain accompanying me? Nothing new. A thunderstorm. Much better. 🙂


This entry was posted in Borneo, Sabah, Malaysia, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to My motorcycle diaries in Borneo, Sabah (part 1)

  1. peter says:

    Alweer een bijzonder avontuur om van hieruit mee te volgen. Die foto straalt ook veel “goesting” uit 🙂 ‘t klikt tussen Kawi en Ellen! Have fun, be safe! Bedankt voor die fijne verslagen en foto’s, heerlijk om volgen…

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