Friday, June 20, 2014

Borneo beckons

It’s inescapable.

In the nucleus of Pantai Dalit Beach in Tuaran, hidden amidst the nature reserve, half an hour north of Sabah’s capital, Kota Kinabalu; lies a slice of paradise that sets the scene for one of the world’s greatest tourist destinations.

“Be careful!” warned the Kadazan gardener, firmly gripping a long wooden stick that he thought could save us all. His hands beckoning as he tried to keep us at bay from where he was standing. Resembling a spear, he pierced and plunged his mighty rod into the hedge in a sequential rhythm, as we all watched in confusion.

Before I realized what was happening, a cobra emerged from the beaten bush, swiftly heading in our direction. Like all men belonging to the Kadazan ethnic tribe of Borneo – bold and brave; this 32 year old gardener is on par with his ancestors. With bursting adrenaline and speed, he quickly caught the fleeing creature. Sealed it in a container and just as I made my first sigh of relief, there was peace.

It was not hard to imagine that like the Garden of Eden (minus the talking serpent but rather one of its predecessors) - Pantai Dalit Beach is home to the Shangri-la Rasa Ria Resort and serves as the bucolic backdrop of that pristine place in Genesis.

Its landscape cradles the verdant mountains humpbacked by the imposing physique of Mount Kinabalu, Southeast Asia’s tallest peak. Jungles that drop down to long windswept powdery beaches and the sea that spreads out for all to behold - in a moody canvas of turquoise and pale shades of blue.

To many locals they describe it as rasa ria meaning “the taste of happiness”. To us, my travel partner and I, we call it our Malaysian Eden. He was Adam and I was Eve.

In this 400 acre - tropical forest, we were joined by tourists who wanted to get away from the urban chaos. Most of them were families celebrating reunions, business travelers needing a break, couples catching up with romance and newlyweds retreating after the bedlam of their weddings.

Under the spell of the sea and the mountain, everybody succumbs. It’s easy to become a little aimless here when walking along the three kilometer stretch of sand with no particular destination and even hop on a horse if one is too tired to walk.

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