Monday, May 09, 2016

Kota Kinabalu: A taste of Borneo

In searing tropical heat I can feel trickles of sweat running down my neck.

My t-shirt clings damply to my skin but the exhilaration of standing on an island in the heart of Borneo outweighs anything so ordinary as a bit of perspiration.

I've found myself standing on the white sand of Pulau Manukan, one of five islands off the coast of Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah, Malaysia in Northern Borneo.

On the short boat trip from our resort on the mainland a thick smoky haze has reduced visibility to almost nothing but now it's beginning to clear.

Our guide explains it's from local fires due to a long dry period, and crop-burning in Indonesia.

Locals apologise for the haze and tell us it isn't like this all year round.

Some wear face masks and it does make me wonder what the longer term health effects must be for those living in it day after day.

It is mid-morning and after a tour of Manukan's small resort of 20 villas it's time for our first swim. 

Replacing sweat with the still blue water of the South China Sea is bliss.

We're revelling in the comfort and re-setting our body temperatures to normal when a resort staffer casually strolls up and tells us to watch out for the jellyfish.

He points to a large red blob on the shore and then, seeing our panic, says there were many more last week.

I don't run out screaming - as I know my teenage daughter would do - but begin urgently scanning the water for red blobs, desperate to stay in the water. But it's time to get out, this is just the start of a day of island-hopping activities.

As we approach the next island, Pulau Sapi, the jetty is surrounded by a melee of water taxis all hustling to drop people off or pick them up.

The jetty itself is packed with tourists either posing for selfies or getting ready to go diving.

The beaches on each side of the jetty are packed with groups of divers, families snorkelling and more selfie-obsessed teenagers.

Some are taking a break for lunch and have set up at one of tables and chairs under several marquees.

There is a cafe but many have brought their own food and are taking advantage of the barbecues.

Soon we're on the water taxi again zooming across to the neighbouring island where we find two young guys waiting to kit us up for the zip-line.

A poster advertises it as the "World's longest zip-line in Borneo".

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