Thursday, December 22, 2016

Adventures of Mel and Alex: Monkeying Around in Malaysian Borneo


Once again cutting it stupidly fine, in true Mel and Alex style, we managed to make the plane from KL just in time and arrived safely in Borneo. We have well and truly reached the point in our trip now which surpasses any pre-trip planning and organisation, and so we arrived in Kota Kinabalu, buzzing with anticipation of all the amazing things we wanted to do, but with no actual solid idea in place of how we were going to make any of it happen. Enter Kota Kinabalu, Land of the Tour Operators, but not much else…

Kota Kinabalu

We arrived at Halo Hostel in Kota Kinabalu in the early afternoon, and spent the afternoon looking round the town. It was… not what we expected. While we were by no means expecting the bustle of the hectic metropolis that is Kuala Lumpur, we thought that there would be someone there! The original plan was to have a wonder around, find somewhere a bit buzzy for lunch and do a bit of research about the town.

In the end we indulged our Western habits and got a cheeky Nandos, purely because there was one other family in the restaurant and we were so excited to see other people, being somewhat concerned that the zombie apocalypse had happened and we’d missed the memo. Admittedly, it was the middle of the day on a Wednesday, but still.

What KK does have, to make up for the lack of human life, is tour operators. On every corner there is a shop professing unique, once in a lifetime tours at the best rates. Mountain climbing, scuba, rafting, river cruises, monkey treks and animal encounters which all sound suspiciously similar to the one their neighbour was punting.

We surmised that KK is something of a stopover, which is convenient for entry into Borneo but doesn’t have such a huge amount to say for itself as a city in its own right. Full of shopping centres, but much like the tour guides all seemed to consist of shops selling the same product, and once you had seen one, you had seen them all.

This is of course with the exception of the Centre with a games arcade hidden inside, in which I spent an embarrassing amount of time fuelling my Tekken obsession, much to the amusement of the local kids.

I feel I may be being a bit harsh on Kota Kinabalu, there were some positives – there were a few very tasty restaurants including Chilli Vanilla, where I had tasty mango salsa tortillas, and which served excellent Hungarian food too.

I also came across a shopping centre in the South of the city, IMAGO, which not only had people in it but also had kitted out for Halloween – they had ‘escaped convicts’ running around the store the week before and also had a Live Maze right in the centre, which I thought was a nice touch, even if it was slightly out of place opposite Prada!

We also met the most eccentric, hilarious dry cleaner who delighted in regaling us with tales about stains in other customers clothes, her Philippino coin collection, and the fact that all white people looked the same to her!

Alex and I parted ways for a couple of days during our return to KK for our flight out; with Alex climbing Mount Kinabalu (which he will be filling you in on in a later blog). I went on a snorkelling trip across Gaya Island with Down Below Adventures.

Unfortunately the trip was cancelled due to weather on my first attempt, which left me toddling back to the Tekken arcade with my tail between my legs. The following day was beautifully bright and sunny… in hindsight a little too sunny as I now have a burned back and pasty white front from being face down in the water for hours!

The weather clearing up led to fairly good visibility, and on my first of the three swims I turned around to find myself face to face with a shark! Now, while my head vivedly recalls that it was a 15 foot Great White snapping distance away, I think what is more accurate is that it was a Reef Shark quietly minding its own business, until we frightened the life out of it and it fled.

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