Monday, May 23, 2016

Sunny Interval: Silent in Sandakan

Many confuse Sandakan with Samarkand for no other reason than the names sound similar.

I knew Sandakan as the Land Below the Wind, thanks to the writings of American author, Agnes Keith in the early part of the last century.

Ian knew Sandakan as the location of WWII allied Prisoner of War camps and the start of many forced death marches from Sandakan to Ranau.

Marches of POWs that left only the six who managed to escape alive out of more than two thousand is cited to be the single worst atrocity suffered by Australian servicemen at that time.

We both knew that this was the place to go to explore both the Orang Utan Sanctuary at Sepilok and the wildlife of the Kinabatangan River and that it was two and a half hours away from KL, in Sabah, back on our beloved Borneo.

We flew to Kota Kinabalu and hired a car, driving the five hours or so across the country to Sandakan.

Much of our journey took the Sandakan Death March route.

Breaking for lunch at Ranau, we visited the tea plantation and discovered the poignant Quailey’s Hill memorial to those who lost their lives and that overlooked the lush landscape.

With thoughts of cruelty in our minds we drove the rest of the way in silence, incredulous that such a gentle landscape, peppered with kampong-style houses on stilts, banana, mango, coconut and papaya trees swaying in the breeze beneath a wide blue sky, could have seen such horror.

We stayed at the Four Points by Sheraton Hotel, located slap bang on the waterfront in Sandakan, with a view over the Sulu Sea to a string of islands in one direction and overlooked by Agnes Keith’s house behind.

Sandakan feels stuck in a fifties time warp. Many buildings remain and few, apart from our hotel, rose higher than three or four storeys.

Like I said, it’s a gentle landscape and one that feeds my soul.

Somehow it feels a couple of degrees cooler and less humid here than KL and though Keith claims it lies ‘beneath the wind’, we enjoyed surprising wafts of cool air that crept up unexpectedly.

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