A trekking trip to Borneo

Day 1 Flying to Sarawak

The spirit of trekking - click here! Borneo, the land of steaming rainforests. Swampy and inhabited by leeches and tribes of headhunters who live in long communal houses. That was the romantic image. Quite a bit of it turned out to be true.

After a flight of 13hr we arrived at the new Kuala Lumpur airport, which had opened the month before. The staff at the information desk had no advice on how passengers should make international to domestic transfers! By trial and error we went through immigration, downstairs, and then on via a smart train to another terminal. From there we got our flight on to Kuching in Sarawak ( open map in second browser window ). At Kuching we went through immigration again and got a second entry visa on our passports! Then we flew on to Sibu where we met Anye, the tour leader for our trip. It was at this stage that we discovered that we had lost all our luggage!

We checked in to the hotel, which was fairly comfortable and had an afternoon nap. We wakened to find that my luggage had arrived but not Joan's luggage. Some others in our party were in the same position.

The missing luggage was worrying, but we put our worries aside and went out to dinner. This we had at a scruffy Chinese cafe, open at the side walls; a style to which we would soon become accustomed. The food was good; seafood with abalone, shrimps and the like. I also tried a red bean drink which turned out to be more like cold milky soup with a pile of beans lurking below the surface.

Our party numbered ten for the trip. Later we were to see a natural split into two fives by age. One group had ages from 21 to 35 and the other ranges from 52 to 63.

When we got back to the hotel we were relieved to see the rest of our luggage had turned up. Before going to bed we spent some time splitting the luggage into hotel store and rucksack contents for the next few days.

Day 2. Express boat on Rejang river

At 08:00 we left the hotel for a walk through already warm streets to the dockside. There, across the road from the chaos of the river wharf, were a row of open air cafes. We sat and had our breakfast of hot tea plus cakes or leaf-tubes of rice. These are waiting on each table; later they count the empties and charge you on that basis.

Express boat After a leisurely breakfast we got on the express boat up-river to Kapit. I use the word "on" advisedly, since we had opted to clamber on the roof rather than travel in the air-conditioned interior and watch television. The express boats are long narrow and elegant and driven by powerful diesel engines. The speed was astonishingly high: we all had our hair flattened by the slipstream and felt rather cool to the point of showing gooseflesh in some cases. It took 2-3hr to reach Kapit. We disembarked to realise it was actually stiflingly hot and humid. Kapit was bigger than expected, with perhaps 50 or so shops. Joan and I walked around the town and out past some hotels and houses before returning to the river bank. There we sat and watched the comings and goings of the many boats at the jetty. It was a noisy place since each boat blasted its air horn for some 10 minutes before departing.

Tatoos - click for detail A minibus had been hired to take us out of town to visit a longhouse. This was reached on foot via a suspension bridge across a small river. It looked fairly traditional once one was inside on the ruai (the covered walkway from which individual rooms open), although the corrugated iron roofs had formed a poor initial impression. The head man made a welcoming speech, assisted by a younger man whose English was better. We sat on the ruai floor on bamboo mats and were given rice wine to drink followed by a (mandatory) drink of distilled spirit arak.

We stayed the better part of an hour and wandered around a little. Certain features like fire extinguishers at intervals on the wall and tube lights suspended on wires made it clear the twentieth century had arrived. However there was still a bundle of human skulls dangling on display!

We returned to Kapit and all squeezed into a too-small speedboat to continue up-river to the Pelagus resort. When we arrived at the jungle lodge, we all felt it was too large and elaborate. However the rooms were comfortable and air-conditioned and there was an attractive swimming pool outside. We spent remainder of the afternoon in and around the swimming pool, retreating to our rooms when the days ration of torrential rain started to fall.

We walked to dinner along covered walkways then sat at tables on a covered terrace as rain hammered on the roof above and cascaded off the eaves to run into the river. We were the only guests on this first night. We sat and ate our food to the heart-rending cries of cicadas that had flown into a high-voltage insect trap on the wall. From time to time you got a smack in the ear as a hefty flying cicada collided with you. Just to add to the fun our youngest member, John, decided to amuse himself by knocking geckos off the ceiling using rolled-up table napkins.

After dinner there was a demonstration of gong music and traditional dancing. The slow movements through extreme positions lacked charisma, but obviously required much skill.

Day 3. The Pelagus region

The day started with a very modest breakfast of bread and jam, or something vaguely resembling it. At 08:00 we were away, plodding up a steep path behind the lodge through the tall trees. There were pitcher plants growing beside the first path. It was very hot and sticky. Soon we had our first experience of leeches. Usually they could be spotted quickly and pulled off. I had just one and it was removed by a guide before it could get sucking. We finally reached the top of the hill and a lookout point. We sat around there for a while admiring the view. Then we descended by an ultra steep route down to the river again. We walked along the river bank to a waterfall where a small side steam joined the main flow and two of the party went Bathing. This was also a lunch stop, but personally I did not eat my packed lunch in such a heat. Afterwards we walked along the riverside to get back by early afternoon. The prize sight of the day was a leech looping at full speed along the path in hot pursuit of some of our people who had just gone by!

Later in the afternoon I went along the river again, but kept the walk short since it looked like rain. It bucketed down again before dinner. After a buffet dinner we had a little blowpipe practice on the veranda, shared with a Dutch family who were now in the lodge with us.

Day 4. To Similajau National Park

Today we were away at 07:30 without breakfast. It was considered that a street cafe at Kapit would provide us with a better breakfast than our tourist board jungle lodge. The impracticality of the jungle lodge was demonstrated when we descended a muddy bank to our boat via a log with cross-pieces nailed to it: just the thing for a luxury resort so clearly aimed at those who liked their luxury! It was the same tiny speedboat to Kapit.

Breakfast was at a small cafe by the wharf. It was raining again so when we got on the express boat for Sibu we sat inside the salon instead of on the roof. The air-conditioning was set at about Alaskan winter settings - everyone felt cold. There were TV films provided: the main one was in Chinese and was of the Robin Hood type. A good half of the film involved acrobatic fighting, so it provided local colour of a Chinese sort.

At Sibu it was still raining and we had the time from 12:00 to 14:30 to kill. This we did by walking around the local cafes and markets, buying a stock of fruit. Even so we still ended up back at the hotel cafe, drinking coffee until it was time to go to the airport. We flew in a small plane to Bintulu, watching wisps of cloud rising from the forest below us. Once back on the ground we drove to the Similajau National Park by minibus.

The resort is fairly new and sits in a park 32km long and 1.5 km wide running along the coast. The accommodation was in large self-catering units linked in pairs via an entrance hall. Each unit stands in its own ground along the sea shore and is built on stilts over a swamp filled with frogs. For our meal we walked back to the wide veranda of the shop cum restaurant. After dinner we walked along the shore to look for crocodiles in the dark, but only found a notice saying beware of crocodiles. We walked back along the beach in the dark, stumbling over trees washed ashore as we looked for non-existent crabs.

Day 5. Turtle Beach

A tiny log bridge After breakfast we set off for our day out at the leisurely time of 09:00. First we crossed a river by a small ferry boat and entered the mangrove swamps by a very bourgeois looking wooden walkway. This must have taken an awful lot of building. At first we were wondering what sort of Disneyland trip this was going to be. Then after half a kilometre the boardwalk stopped and the trek started in earnest. The ground was fairly level; just small humps and hollows as the narrow path wound its way through the towering rainforest trees. It was gloomy and stiflingly hot, although there were not many leeches. We soon came to our first forest bridge which consisted of a tree laid across the obstacle (a river in this case). Everyone got across with a certain delicate Blondin-like waving of the arms. Little did I know what would happen later and little did anyone realise that this first log bridge was just a baby one.

At one point Anye spotted a "flying lemur" above us in the trees. We went to the base of that tree and, when Anye hit the tree, we were able to watch the lemur leap to the next tree using cloak-like membranes to extend its range.

We continued along the path and the bridges became more impressive, even including a long one over a fairly deep ravine. We all got across this. It was later that I managed to fall in the mud while negotiating a log laid through a swampy area, luckily without getting the cameras in my rucksack wet. By now the "youngsters" were well away out ahead and the rest of our group stopped at a place where the path passed close to the beach. That left Joan and I on our own. It was pleasant to feel we had the vast forest to ourselves. We continued for several kilometres until we unexpectedly heard some voices shouting to us. The other half of our group had continued along the coast and now met up with us again on the path. Meanwhile Anye had shot on ahead to catch up the youngsters who were heading for the distant Golden Beach.

The little group of us walked on together until we reached Turtle Beach. This is a remote and beautiful sandy beach set in a curving cove. No turtles of course, but an out-of-place looking official looking notice was there to tell us what would happen to us if we disturbed any turtle eggs. By now we were all very hot and the beach and sea looked delightful, so everyone went into the water for a swim. Then we strolled along the beach to a rocky headland and looked at the next bay. It was as beautiful as the one we were in and all that a tropical beach should be.

Up until this point we had all been planning to walk on and reach Golden Beach, but now it was looking like there could be rain. We had got dressed and started to head for home by the time the rain started. At first it was just like a heavy shower. Joan and I got our faithful umbrellas up and kept walking. Then it really started to rain. Even through the forest canopy trees it was still lashing down upon us. Think of the heaviest rain you have ever seen in the UK and you have got the picture. This was to keep up all the way back to camp.

We reached the ravine bridge again. The others crossed it and I was the last. I got almost to the other side and then I fell. I hit the side of the ravine feet-first while still upright. I grabbed a small tree with one hand, but I could not stop and slid on down the steep bank through the bushes until I ended up on the river bed standing waist deep in water. Above me anxious faces were peering down through the undergrowth. I got the rucksack off and the cameras appeared to be OK. Mark scrambled down the bank and reached down for the rucksack. I clambered back up, wet muddy but unharmed apart from now having an extremely rickety umbrella!

The rest of the return journey went wetly but uneventfully for us. When we finally arrived at the big river there was a long wait for the ferry boat, while we hammered away at a length of metal pipe to attract attention. At last we were back at about 16:00 feeling very scruffy and desiccated. We all settled down for a drink at the shop - my choice was a litre bottle of chilled drinking water followed by a can of orange drink. Much later, John appeared in a foul temper, reckoning that he had waited the better part of an hour before finally attracting the ferryman.

After that it was a matter of showers and a rest, before watching a magnificent sunset over the sea and having a barbecue meal. Oh yes... and several cans of cold beer. Finally we went off to bed amidst a deafening row from the frogs under and around the cabin.

Day 6. Miri and Mulu

A late start today and then a drive of several hours to Miri to the headquarters of Tropical Adventure, our tour organisers. We walked around the town and market in stifling heat, hunting for some dried fruit to take on our walks over the next few days. We had more or less decided that we would never find any when we were directed back to the air-conditioned building containing Tropical Adventure. There upstairs, were shops with dried fruit for sale.

Back out in the town again we found a modest little snack bar where we had pita bread served with a dip of truly delicious sauce. It was washed down by iced lemon tea. Then a trip to the airport and a flight to Mulu, passing low over the rainforest which was sending wisps of smoke-like clouds up into the air above it.

We were driven from the airport to a really smart hotel on the banks of a river and disembarked amongst liveried doormen. There was a beautiful view across the river of attractive limestone cliffs and a meadow-like area. It was spoilt only by some scruffy buildings on the far bank. After a little wait they baled-out a battered little boat and used it to ferry us across to those same scruffy buildings. Once settled in to our dubious accommodation we did actually get a very nice meal, cooked by Anye himself. We had to eat it in the dark since the diesel generator had failed. The latter flaw was considered as just too bad, so after dinner we re-packed, piled into our little boat to cross the river again and packed into the van to drive to Main Camp. By now it was pouring rain in torrents.

Rainy Main Camp At Main Camp there were a few problems getting accommodation, but we eventually got into some multi-occupancy rooms and each of us got a bed for the night. The rain continued relentlessly and we noted with approval that all the cabins and paths were built on stilts. Before bed time, Joan and I put up our battered umbrellas and walked across the grounds and over a suspension bridge to the bar. There we had cold beer served under a roofed area while we watched some of the locals do traditional dancing.

Day 7. The Mulu Caves

It had poured with rain all night and was still going in a more gentle fashion during the morning. Joan and I were glad we had brought our umbrellas, although mine was definitely looking a little shabby after my earlier problems with the log bridge.

After breakfast we piled into a longboat powered by an outboard motor and set off up the river huddled under our umbrellas. There was a stop at a local settlement to charter porters for those who wanted them later in the week. Then we continued up-river through the rain to reach the limestone caves. These were gained via some timber stairs and galleries attached to the side of the cliff. We all put on our headlamps for the caves although they were actually very well lit by electric lights and had good paths built through them. The formations were spectacular and on a gigantic scale, as were the caves themselves. A second set of caves followed and these were equally spectacular. They are known as the Wind and the Clearwater caves.

Afterwards we descended to where we had left the boat moored. Nearby was a large area under water. The water was crystal clear and there were plants growing in it. Over the water were built a series of small pavilions joined by walkways. Here was where we had our lunch, sheltered from the rain. It was an attractive place despite the greyness and the steady rain.

Boardwalk In the afternoon we returned to Main Camp and after a short rest in our chalets we set off along a raised wooden pathway. It was an impressively long path (2 km?) through the rain forest; appropriately it was raining. This time we were on our way to the Deer Cave. This had a very different character and a most distinctive one at that. The cave chambers were very high, lacked the pretty stalactites and had a fairly draughty nature. At intervals there were heavy showers of water from the roof which had to be traversed (umbrellas again). We also had to wade through a fast-flowing river which came to mid-calf; well above our boot tops. The other notable feature was a consistent thin coating of a dark slimy material over everything - bat shit!

Water falling from cave roof Despite the above unglamorous description we found ourselves quite enamoured of these caves. They were dark, but from time to time there were openings in the roof or walls which showed the brightly lit green jungle outside and rays of light would frequently illuminate shafts of falling water droplets falling from the ceiling. It was spectacular. After a longish walk we got to a viewpoint of the far end where a large opening could be seen, above us and beyond a river. The opening was big enough to frame large numbers of rain forest trees and the light was blindingly bright to our eyes now accustomed to the dark.

The way back was taken at a slightly faster pace which produced some problems for Joan and me. After the morning in the well lit caves, we had not bothered to bring our headlamps and a couple of times we got separated from the people in front. The path was well constructed and had handrails and well made concrete steps. However, feeling one's way along when all is covered in bat shit is a significant and memorable experience.

After wading our way out through the calf-deep river again, we found ourselves back out in the rain at a place where one is recommended to sit and wait for the evening bat flight. We were warned that there would be some while to wait, and that the bats tend to spend the night at home when it rains. All of the "youngsters" packed up and set off back to camp. Four of us "oldies" waited grimly for just over an hour and we were rewarded by a hose-like stream of bats snaking their way across the sky. It was a spectacular sight and well worth the wait.

Bats fly from cave mouth We watched bats for some while but it was getting near to dark, so we had to set off. By now Joan and I were on our own since Val and Roy had already gone. We trotted merrily along the raised plank walk in the rain and the gathering gloom. We had been getting along well and rather enjoying ourselves when suddenly the path ahead ended abruptly. This came as something of a surprise. We could not understand what was happening since the path was so well built and we had come this way in the morning. Finally I had an inspiration and I tried inserting my foot into the water just beyond the end of the walkway. Bingo! There was the rest of the walkway under the water. Now it was just a matter of pushing forward cautiously until finally we saw a continuation of the path above the water. Simple when you know. The water had risen during the afternoon and flooded a low-lying section of the walkway.

Once that problem was solved we were back as it got dark ready for dinner, a visit to the bar and in bed by 10.

Day 8. Long Letut to Melinau Gorge

We got up at a leisurely time and packed our rucksacks with the gear for the next few days and were ready to leave by boat at 9:30. We followed the same course as yesterday, the big difference being that it was now sunny and agreeable. We continued past the Clearwater cave and on up the river to Long Letut where we had lunch on the river bank before setting off on our trek to Camp 5 on the banks of the Melinau river 8km away through the jungle. We arrived with boots full of blood from leech bites.

Anye at Camp 5

Camp 5 is a well constructed timber building with waist-high platforms for sleeping and a pleasant open-sided common area. We were steaming hot after our plod through the jungle and I spent some time soaking in the river to cool off. For most of the afternoon it rained in torrents, but it let up before dark. Joan and I went for a short walk. The highlight of this was the finding of a small and somnolent snake.

Day 9. Climbing the Pinnacles

Up at 6:30 today and away by 7:30. A no-nonsense day. We were set to climb to the Pinnacles about 1000m above the river. The path rose straight up behind the hut and kept a fierce gradient all the way. It was not hard to ascend since the ground was a mass of limestone blades standing vertically through the tree roots. Getting a good grip to haul yourself up was no problem. The heat was oppressive and we were each carrying 2 litres of water, some of which we cached on the way up to drink on the descent.

Track up to the Pinnacles As we got nearer the top there were a few artificial holds on the steep limestone in the form of inserted metal loops. Also there were a number of aluminium ladders lashed in strategic places. The Tourist Board sure does a good job in these parts! Despite such man-made intrusions we thoroughly enjoyed it. The forest was terrific and the climbing led up through the trees as often as it did along the rock. From time to time there was a window of view out across the tops of the trees and all the time the forest was echoing to exotic sounds.

We reached the top at 12:00. This proved to be something of an anti-climax since the Pinnacles were all in cloud and initially there was nothing to be seen but a few rat-faced squirrels begging for scraps and a colony of pitcher plants.

I was advised by Anye to look over the edge of a big flake of rock and found a fascinating set of huge rock blades visible below me in the cloud. An impressive sight! Minutes later the cloud parted long enough to get a glimpse of the main pinnacles. It was an impressive sight of these tall jagged spikes of limestone. I like Val's description of them as looking like a "meeting of the Ku Klux Klan".

Descending a ladder The descent was initially great fun. However, when we left the upper steep sections the work became a chore. Stepping down had to be done very carefully since the rock flakes were razor-like and one could ill afford to fall. The limestone was slippery as it could be, the rain poured down, the temperature rose as we lost height and our legs became very tired. Finally, after four exhausting hours we made it back to camp again. On arrival, getting into the river, clothes and all, was a really good idea.

The evening which followed was subdued, but everyone had a feeling of satisfaction after a good and interesting day.

Day 10. Trek/boat to Rumah Bala Lasong

Roy fording river - click for better view Another interesting day. We shouldered all our kit and set off north to cover around 12km of forest. The walk proved interesting, with a plentiful supply of leeches and a waist-deep river to be crossed. In the later stages of the journey I didn't have to worry about my poor performance on log bridges - there weren't any! Wading through mud and water to some depth above boot tops became commonplace. We particularly liked the wet bit where the water hid a hot spring under the surface - just the thing for tired feet.

Eventually we had crossed the watershed and got down to reach a navigable river again. Miraculously there were two boats waiting for us; such efficiency is not common in third world countries. There was a short wait before we left and I clambered into the river adjacent to one of the boats to blissfully float in the cool water.

As we set off, one of the boatmen donned a site engineer's hard-hat, which gave us some food for thought. After an hour of pleasant travel (it was not raining at all) we arrived at a forestry village and stopped for some very welcome tea, drunk in the shade underneath a smart bourgeois little bungalow on stilts. This stop was within a short distance of a border post on the Brunei border. Afterwards we completed the second half of our journey to the Iban longhouse at Rumah Bala Lasong.

The ruai of a longhouse This was much more of a traditional longhouse than the previous one, although it did have electricity, fridges and cans of cold lager for sale. We spent what was left of the day drinking lager, having showers and wandering around the longhouse and its surroundings. The evening meal was in the headman's house and we spent the night in sleeping bags on the ruai. It was not a peaceful night. Our youngsters had managed to buy a bottle of rum and were not in a mood to settle down. This was setting off a handicapped local youth who began disturbing people. Finally, most of us got some sleep in the period after 2am.

Day 11. Medamit, Limbang then Brunei

We were up at daybreak and away by 7:00. It took about an hour on the river to get to Medamit. Conditions were pleasant and cool. There was mist hanging around the tops of all the jungle-clad hills.

The village of Medamit was small and scruffy. There we got on a local bus and bumped along a rough road for another hour or so to the small town of Limbang. The town did not immediately impress. However the hotel was memorable for its general scruffiness. Our room was the first one I have ever stayed in without any windows at all. To compensate it did have air conditioning and a shower. We were getting ourselves and luggage generally tidied-up when the phone rang. It appeared that most of the others were chartering a minibus and going to Brunei and did we want to come?

We rushed to get ready and set off at 12:30. The journey and the border crossing took some long time. Finally we arrived at the capital town, Bandar Seri Begawan. It was fairly modern and nondescript. There was a vast and costly air-conditioned museum to visit; free of charge courtesy of the Sultan of Brunei. There was also the water village to be toured by boat: acres of houses built on stilts over the water. We got soaked in the spray while exploring by small speedboat. There were vast and elaborate mosques. Finally there was a remarkably good Chinese restaurant where we enjoyed a good meal. Afterwards we passed up the chance of rides on the gratis funfair (Sultan again) and made our way back to Limbang. The day ended with a drink at a cafe before returning to the windowless room at about 10:30.

We were glad we had seen Brunei but it was a little too refined for us. A few weeks after we returned from holiday, the Queen visited Brunei and spent several days there as the guest of the Sultan. I hope they found sufficient to keep themselves amused.

Day 12. Kota Kinabalu (KK)

Up at 7:00 today and down to the dockside for breakfast. It was tea in a Chinese cafe with some strange things that Anye bought for us to eat. They were spherical, pale purple and made of warm rubbery foam. Surprisingly perhaps they tasted quite good.

Our journey was on express boat to Lawas. We all settled ourselves on the prow of the boat, ready to sunbathe. There was some deck cargo, including a large cardboard box full of durian, which did not smell too bad as long as the boat kept moving fairly fast! John let us all anoint ourselves with his American "Bullfrog" sun lotion. It was quick drying and non-oily and it was waterproof. Why can't we buy anything like it in the UK?

Vehicles trapped in mud Near Lawas our boat slowed in the middle of the estuary and one of the passengers was met by some friends in their little boat. At Lawas we were decanted into a couple of small vans and continued by road to Kota Kinabalu. This proved to be interesting, since there was a section of road with some deep sticky clay and several big trucks were bogged down on that section. We all got out and waited while the trucks did a self-help act, pulling each other out with strong steel hawsers. Both our vans then managed to drive through empty, slewing wildly as they went. Some other vehicles were less successful and there was beginning to be quite a pile of them in the mud by the time we left.

When we arrived at Kota Kinabalu we found we had a very comfortable hotel and enjoyed a good clean-up before going out to dinner in the evening. This meal was eaten in the open under a canvas awning in a square where several restaurants competed for this outdoor trade. The canvas roofs worked rather well and were given a thorough testing by rain during dinner. In our case dinner was one where you put chosen items of raw food into a gas-fired boiler on the table in front of you, then eat it when it is cooked. It was interesting rather than tasty.

Later the "Oldies" went for a walk across town to a palatial hotel, where we had cocktails or coffee in the lounge, according to taste. We got back to find John still awake, but all the other youngsters had retired to bed. It was his 22nd birthday today. A bit of an anti-climax for him to spend the last half hour of his birthday chatting to the oldies over a beer in our own hotel!

Day 13. To Mount Kinabalu

We went by minibus to Mount Kinabalu Park and set ourselves up in a park hut in a dormitory with bunk beds. During the journey I managed to do something I had attempted for 8 years: I bought some fresh mangosteens, which rank very highly in my tastes.

Pitcher plant Once at the park we had lunch in the park cafeteria. The afternoon was free so Joan and I went for a walk along one of the trails prepared in the area. It proved to be very quiet and peaceful with just the narrowest of paths cut through forest on steep hillside. There were a few lookout points and shelter huts at the more distant points, but not many people. We did see quite a few squirrels in the trees. After a good walk we spent some while at one of the shelter points talking to a German couple.

Back at camp again we got ready for dinner and walked to one of the park buildings where we had to undergo a semi-compulsory slide show before dinner.

Day 14. Up Mount Kinabalu

An early start with breakfast in the park cafeteria. Then off at 8:00 by minibus to the power station gates about 1900m above sea level. From there we trekked upwards relentlessly for 5-6 hours to reach a mountain hut situated at around 3450m.

Sunset from hut The lower part of the trek is through dense tropical vegetation and mist shrouded rainforest with giant ferns and mosses. There were pitcher plants to be seen and photographed. The path is well maintained but long, steep and short of oxygen. There were a number of shelters built along the route, all well inhabited by fat and well-fed squirrels. Each stop had a tank of spring-fed drinking water. Despite luxury surroundings we were very tired when we reached the large Laban Rata hut at 3450m. There we sat and shivered and drank lots of hot tea. Afterwards we found that the little bunk bedrooms were fiercely heated by electrical heaters, so we retired to bed and by tea time everyone was fully convalescent. Afterwards there was dinner to eat and sunsets to be looked at, before it was time for an early night with alarms set at 2:30 for wake-up in the morning.

Day 15. Summit of Kinabalu

Not a lot of sleep during the night. We woke at 2:15, some 15min ahead of schedule, when Val came in from the youngsters room where she had spent the night. (They were intending to set off half an hour later than the oldies.) After breakfast we set off out into the dark at 3:00, leaving Joan safely tucked up in bed since she did not want to make the ascent to the peak.

The ascent was bizarre. It was pitch dark; everyone had headlamps or torches. It felt like hundreds of others were on the march and certainly the number exceeded a hundred as they came from other huts and converged on the unique trail. Everywhere were sets of steps, ladders and handrails. As we got higher there were fixed ropes by the mile up the slabby rock. The Malaysian Tourist Board had certainly been busy and was well-funded! During our journey we were overtaken very early by the youngsters. It appeared that Val had made a poor job of switching off her borrowed alarm clock; by the time one of them had got up, searched for the clock and killed it, they did not feel like going back to sleep!

Val on Kinabalu

The speed of the ascent was set at a sloth-like pace by our mandatory park guide. Even so we enjoyed sunrise from a little below the summit. We continued up by the first light of day to the summit proper. It was pretty crowded there and we had nearly to fight to get our photos taken by the 4101m plaque at the summit. We sat around for a bit and peered down into the top end of the infamous Lowe's Gully and then set off downwards by the easier route.

The descent was easy. The rock had friction as good as the gabbro on Skye and everyone soon got used to marching confidently down the steep slabs alongside the fixed ropes. It was a pleasant descent so did not seem too long until we were back at the hut and meeting-up with Joan again. We had some lunch and a short rest before continuing down. The scenery was good and the paths were pleasant. However the relentless descent of over 2000m played havoc with one's legs and certainly mine were tending to buckle under my weight on some of the easier-angled sections.

Finally we reached the Power Station and got a minibus back down to park headquarters. There we made the acquaintance of Borneo's lemon tea flavoured ice lollies (I ate three) and then made our way back to KK and the hotel. In the evening Joan and I had a meal in a vegetarian Chinese restaurant, which was novel and quite good. Finally a beer at our own hotel and off to bed.

Day 16. Sapi Island

Up for a relaxed 9:00 breakfast then some souvenir shopping. This posed some problems. Crossing roads was difficult because my thigh muscles were so stiff and painful that it was difficult to step down from the pavement on to the road!

Later we set off by taxi down to the wharf and took a motor boat to Sapi Island. This is a small sea-island within sight of KK. Most of the visitors there were fat elderly Japanese who had come to eat a huge lunch at tables on the beach near hotel-owned barbecues. Consequently the beach for swimmers and sunbathers was not crowded. We passed a pleasant day snorkelling amidst brightly coloured fish. Val met a sea-snake. I managed to get myself in amongst a shoal of small fish under the jetty, so I had a few thousand accomplished synchronised swimmers for company.

Later we had a little trouble from a bunch of foraging Macaques. Despite these, it was a very pleasant and relaxing last day in Borneo. By 16:00 we were back on the mainland and getting tidied and packed. There was a little ceremony in the hotel to present us with our ascent of Kinabalu certificates. About that time that Jackie was found to be missing. This was extremely worrying since, when last seen, she had been going to look for a cashpoint machine. The time for dinner came and went. Some of us sat in the restaurant and some hunted around the town for Jackie. Eventually she appeared. It seemed it was just a case of absent-mindedness. We were all very relieved. Dinner was good. Then an early bedtime with the flight home in a few hours.

Day 17. Home

Up at 3:00. It was chaos with Mark missing and confusion over room numbers. We managed to ring and awaken every single one of the "late flight" people before locating Mark and departing at 3:30.

A good flight to KL airport, then a 4hr wait there. The new airport is an ideal place to loaf around and to souvenir-shop so the time passed happily. After our flight to Heathrow we arrived in the middle of a bomb scare. We walked to the edge of the security-cleared zone to get an airport bus and then we were on our way back home again for another year.


This one was enormous fun the whole way and full of interest. Anye was superb as a tour leader. Explore did well when they contracted this trip to Tropical Adventure.

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