Thursday, May 30, 2013

Borneo or ... Things that go munch in the night!

And so on to Borneo. The mere mention of that name conjures up images of virgin jungle and exotic wildlife of varying shades of rainbows! How na├»ve! We arrived at KK from KL - I hope you are now ‘up to speed’ with the acronyms, dear reader! - and were surprised to find a fairly modern, compact and business like town - at least on the surface! The transport system is chaotic as we were to find out later. Most travel around Sabah is best done by air as there are precious few roads. Those that there are tend to be pitted with craters or simply run into stretches without any kind of surface whatsoever. There are four wheel drive ‘taxis’ which run between the main towns - KK, Kudat, and Sandakan!

We had sat and contemplated the wisdom of going to Sabah as there had been ‘a little local difficulty’ there in the past few weeks! About 200 Pilipino insurgents had landed on the Eastern coast and proceeded to take on the Borneo Army! There had been about 60 casualties! From what we could gather, it is a kind of Falkland Island situation! A Sheik in one of the southern most islands of the Philippines (which almost touches the Saban coastline) has some kind of historic claim to Sabah. Discoveries of natural mineral wealth (oil and gas) around the coastline have made the ancient claim spring suddenly into life again.

The fighting was intense and, as a result, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office issued a ‘NO GO’ notice around the area. Kota Kinabalu seemed to be a reasonable distance from the affected area - so off we went! However the insurgents had played a blinder! They had effectively cut off the most popular tourist area of the country - and, incidentally quite a few of the places we had wanted to visit!!! Nevertheless, we decided to carry on and see what we would see!

Our hotel, the Gaya Centre, was a large building on the waterfront of KK. Whilst it is a fairly modern and generally well presented hotel, it had something of the waft of an old peoples’ home! The staff were charming as were the locals who again all engaged us in lengthy conversations! Even walking down the road could present a challenge as someone was very likely to walk up to you and enquire, ‘Where you from? ’You could then kiss goodbye to the next hour or so!

We really missed this amazing friendliness when we went off the Thailand - but that’s another story! We decided to visit the KK Zoo (about 30 minutes out of town by taxi). This was one of the poorest excuses for a zoo that we had ever seen! The highpoint of our trip was the ice cream at the end! We did however spot some pygmy elephants and Oranutangs.,

We also spent a day on Manukan Island just off the coast from KK. Getting there by ultra high-speed motor boat was great fun.

And now dear readers, it is time for the Hoggtrotters ‘Question Time!’ This blog will include a photo of an innocuous looking, yellow coloured bun (or roll). Janie purchased this item from the local food market. The question is ‘What kind of roll/bun was it ‘advertised’ as, and what do you think it tasted of? There will be a small prize for the first (lucky!) correct answer! You will certainly need to use your imaginations on this one! Best of luck!

If you take a minibus, or rather a fully loaded jeep, from Kota Kinabalu and head north for about 4 hours you get to Kudat. Getting a place in the jeep is in itself an entertaining experience! As you arrive at the ‘coach station’ (a large area of broken tarmac!) you find yourself swamped by eager locals who pull you in all directions in order to get into their vehicle. At that moment we were approached by a rotund, middle aged man with 5 days of stubble and dishevelled clothes. ‘Good morning, Sir! I am Yousef and I am a pirate from the Philippines !’ I believe him! He smiles with a mouth full of half broken teeth.

Yousef is, it becomes apparent, the man in charge who is supposed to inflict some kind of order into this chaotic situation. 25RM (£5) secures us a place on one of the jeeps. This is, we are told, a far better way to travel than the large coaches which stand idly at the other end of the tarmac. They are slow and stop many times, hence, for the locals, jeep is the preferred option.

These jeeps, however, operate by a peculiar set of Borneo rules which, to the uninitiated, can seem really frustrating! They will only depart for their destination once a full compliment of 7 passengers has been assembled. 7 being the magic number! Having said that, if the existing passengers agree to cover the ‘cost’ of the vacant seats, the taxi will depart sooner. This means that it is possible to hang around for some time waiting for a full compliment of passengers.

After about 20 minutes we stop. One of the passengers gets out of the vehicle and crosses the road. We sit for about 15 minutes waiting for something to happen. Eventually the man returns with another woman (his wife sits patiently in the back seat of the jeep together with her baby) and two small children. They join the woman in the back seat - there are now 5. But the man is not done yet! Oh no! He disappears again only to return with 2 more small children!

There are now 8 passengers in the back seat! For the next 3 hours these toddlers peer over the top of the seats in amazement! Who, they wonder, are these strange looking people? We peer back and pull silly faces!

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Borneo or ... Things that go munch in the night!