Saturday, March 09, 2013

Hitchhiking Malaysian Borneo: Mount Kinabalu to Sepilok

As I stand at the edge of Kinabalu National Park waiting for cars to pass, I can hear the callings of the exotic birds in the dense forest to my side. There’s a calmness that sets in with the mist that starts to cover the road. A group of men repairing a house not far from me stare in amazement as I stick out my thumb.

They talk to each other in Malay while looking in my direction. I imagine the types of things they are saying about me, but from the neutral tone of their voices I cant decipher if they are positive or negative. They continue to look on with curiosity long after their conversation about me ends.

As quickly as the mist rolled in, it disappears and the coolness of the morning is lost as the sun peaks through the clouds. Cars start to pass more frequently, and while nearly everyone is waving as they pass, no one stops yet. I hold a sign for Sandakan, but soon opt to drop the sign and just use my thumb.

That seemed to work well as a silver 4×4 Isuzu pulls over. It’s a young couple, and they are headed to Ranau; not so far, but I opt to take the lift anyways. Ming, the driver and his wife Awu were driving home from Kota Kinabalu. Ming runs a sheesha cafe at a beach outside of KK until late at night and then drives back with his wife early in the morning.

We talked the whole way to Ranau, and as usual in Malaysia, they offered to drop me off at the bus station there. While nearly everyone understands the concept of hitchhiking, and knows what you want when you’re standing on the side of the road, they still don’t grasp the concept that you plan the hitchhike the entire way to your destination. So again, as usual I say that it’s ok to leave me at the side of the road.

Ming asks if I would like to join them for a tea before I continue and since it’s still early I say yes since I was quite enjoying our conversation. Ming also tells me that the cafe we’re at makes a great ‘Bak So’ soup. I had no idea what it was, so I decided to give it a try. Ming explained that it was a meal originally from Indonesian Borneo but with immigration came the soup as well. It was quite delicious with noodles, chicken breast, balls of meat and boiled egg inside. Ming refused to let me pay, even though I insisted. I’ve found this also to be a pattern in Malaysia.

While sitting at the table, Ming called his cousin who lives in Sandakan to check about the road blocks along the way because of the situation with Filipino rebels that was going on at the moment. I had no idea what they were talking about, but after he hung up he told me that he had good news. Ming and Awu were going to visit his family in Sandakan, which was just past my destination of Sepilok.

I can’t be sure, but it just seemed like too good of a coincidence that they happen to be going an extra 220km (they had only taken me 20km so far). Maybe they were concerned with my safety. Or perhaps taking me was just an excuse to visit family, but in any case I lucked out.