So, on leg one of our journey, we have arrived in Koto Kinabula, the capital ‘city’ of Malaysian Borneo. I use the word city in inverted commas because, whilst it sure looks like an Asian city – grimy concrete high-rises everywhere you look, crumbling pavements and constant gridlock – you can walk across it in about five minutes.
This isn’t exactly a bad thing though, as a miniature city like this is a great way to prepare us for the more dramatic capitals later on in our trip – like Beijing, which I have to admit to being a bit scared of.
We’d booked to stay at the ‘Summer Lodge’ – or at least, we thought we had. When they never showed up to collect us at the airport, I convinced the Tourist Info guy to give them a call. Yup, they’d never heard of us. So we jumped in a taxi and edged our way through 40 minutes of standing traffic to get there.
The first room we were offered was so dingy I half expected to find Terry Waite in there chained to a radiator. We went back to the desk and asked if they had anything less squalid. So, for only a few dollars extra, we got to climb an extra two flights of stairs, to a room that, allegedly, had ‘a window’. Oh yes! Make no mistake, we were upgrading!
The second room – complete with window – also was not the Hilton. But we took it anyway, because we were dripping with sweat, knackered, and hadn’t slept in two days. So we paid cash, braved the stairs once more, and collapsed onto the hideously stained mattress.
The rest of the evening was one of discovery. First we discovered that the window didn’t work (it was covered with a blind which ripped out of the wall when Roo tried to raise it to look out). Then we discovered that the toilet leaked. Then, around midnight, we discovered that, had we been able to look out of our window, it would have offered us a view of the open-air karaoke bar directly below. That place seemed to heat up around 1am, but didn’t really kick off until 3. Murdering the hits of Lady Gaga and Katy Perry at 500 decibels turns out to be a popular pass-time here… It was in this way that we discovered the vibrating walls of our room – including the exterior one, housing our foot-square inoperable window – were made of thin plywood. Now, you kind of expect this with internal walls. Sure, it means you can hear every burp, scratch and fart for ten rooms in every direction, but that’s pretty much par for the course. But external walls? This was an eight-storey building, and we were on the sixth floor. I was kind of hoping it was built of concrete, or something similarly sturdy. Closer inspection (of the cracks in our walls, through several of which we could see daylight) revealed the truth. The frame of the building was concrete – great beams and columns in a grid pattern. But the walls in-between were filled in – not with bricks, or more concrete, or high-spec glass – but with plywood. If a shabbier high-rise exists anywhere in the world – well, I don’t want to stay there.
Nevertheless, stay we did. After a brief jaunt around the night (fish) markets, where scores of locals were eating (fish), we returned to the room to wash the (fish) stench off our weary bodies. This was when we discovered the drains also didn’t work, so that showering created an ever-rising pool of water in the bathroom that quickly became ankle-deep. It stayed there for as long as we did – which, to our shame, was three whole days. Not because Kota Kinabalu (or ‘KK’) was so enticing, but because we couldn’t seem to get out of bed. I know what you’re thinking – inappropriate! But no – we were just dead tired, both of us – and we spent more than half our time in KK fast asleep.
Being the terribly organised types we are, neither of us had given much thought to where to go once we actually got here. But in our bizarre state of exhaustion, we bravely made the decision to head for the beach…
And now, here we are! As different an experience as it’s possible to have, from the cramped, depressing room in the filthy, claustrophobic city, to where we are now… which is paradise!
A jungle lodge built out of sticks, in the traditional style of the native Rumpus people, and, a mile away – the kind of postcard-perfect beach that everyone dreams of one day discovering. Oh, and it’s EMPTY! Yes, this is the undiscovered bit of Borneo, right at its northern tip – and the only tour operator here is a bloke called Howard. We’re staying in his lodge, and eating in his beachfront restaurant right now – all built himself, staffed by locals to whom he pays a fair wage – and never have I found a more secret, tranquil slice of paradise on the planet. Believe me – you really wish you were here! As of course, do I. :0)
The only fly in the ointment – apart from the flies, and the lack of any kind of ointment – is that we’re both more sunburnt than we’ve ever been! At this point we put two and two together, and figured out our malaria meds were to blame. ‘Increased sensitivity to sunlight’ and ‘lethargy’ being two of the potential side effects… but holy shit! Both of us were wiped out for 12 to 14 hours a day, and we got so burnt from walking to the bus station we can hardly lie down! So, out went the malaria pills, damn them. And out went any chance of kayaking, sunbathing, taking long, leisurely swims or strolls on the beach…
The upside of this, is that a six-month supply of doxycycline just about fits into a shoe box, giving us a bit of space in our rucksacks to play with. Consequently, Roo has started shopping for shoes…
I’m not sure if that qualifies as good news, or bad.
But anyway. Here’s a few more photos, to whet your appetites…