A mum, dad and their three kids from Tasmania, go on an epic adventure in Borneo for 3 weeks in December
The night was punctuated with cats complaining, children coughing and one in particular who roused himself from bed to his feet and promptly vomited on the floor. Thankfully Nani collected that one after asking me “what should I do?” whereupon I answered “wipe it up.” I’m not sure what the other options are for vomit.
By 6.30am sunlight was streaming into our darkened bacteria and mucous filled cave like a ray of hope that translates “I hope I get to see the mountain today”, “I hope the laundry gets dry before we have to push on westward to our final destination in East Malaysia”, and “I hope the kids get better today because I don’t think I can carry all their packs.” I mix up some gastrolyte because Lachie has just thrown up and is dehydrating.
I decide that after two days without one I ought to shower. I have hesitated knowing that using my travel towel will mean it won’t dry til we get to KK and will stink by then, but the sunlight means I’m in with a chance. The wall mounted water heater whirs into life sounding like my Breville food processor when I finally locate the mains switch for it and soon a thin dribble of water is burning hot. Evidently these double as an urn for making tea and coffee. I turn the stem of the knobless dial down a little and know with shampoo in my hair it goes cold. I try and clear my eyes and locate the dial again and ease it up. Various insects share the shower toilet cubicle with me including a large impressive green beetle swimming in the water bin. Nani had already cancelled her shower out of fear of the moths in there. I look out the gaps in the wall and across the valley. The fog has lifted and I can see for miles. I emerge from the shower feeling brand new, grab my daypack and head for The Mountain while Nani volunteers to man the ward.
By now after two days of taxi, bus, hard bed and cohabiting an infectious disease unit, I’m keen to pay the triple the local fee to get into what has become by now my Mecca Mt Kinabalu National Park.
As i walk the winding short 300m to the entrance past the nuggety black headed dog that looks part pitbull, past the half grown water buffalo bull with a rope through its nose, past the cafe that aren’t sure when they will serve food, I see it emerging from the canopy above the roofline of Park HQ.
Mt Kinabalu is the highest peak between mainland SE Asia and New Guinea and is a massive grey granite mountain along which several climactic zones determine what flora anf fauna will proliferate. While it was explored in the 1800’s as recently as 1966 climbing the mountain still meant that seven white chickens had to be executed to appease the dead spirits whom villagers believed made their home there.
The park itself is bigger than the island country of Singapore at 75000 ha and is now privately run by the pay-through-your-nose Sutera Lodges. I see bandana clad climbers readying themselves rushing from accommodation to buffet, packs of all brands mounded up outside the restaurant, to the pick up point where they will be transported the 4km to the Timpohon Gate where they will begin the grueling guided 8.7km climb at 1866m above sea level to Laban Rata where wet and cold they will pay through the nose for a cold shower and a bed for some of the night. At 2.30 am they will rouse pull on a headlamp, gloves, beanies, fleece tops and raincoats, to combat the cold and begin their ascent. If they have all their ducks in a row (or better still, seven white headless bloodied chickens) the gods will smile on the efforts of those who don’t have a stroke and they will see the sun rise of a new day at Lows peak 4095m above sea level walking a total of 8.72 km. The unlucky will have hearts racing and lift headedness from altitude sickness, possibly hypothermia, will be rained on and in the mists, drizzle and cloud at the top will see nothing. At this point tired from a lack of sleep climbers will descend to reach the bottom in the afternoon with legs no sturdier than Aeroplane jelly on a warm afternoon. Walking sticks are highly recommended.
I happily join the ranks of the 70% of people who visit without climbing the mountain satisfied I’ve made the right choice after getting short of breath just climbing the steps to Park reception (it’s the altitude).
I wander around and check out the breakfast buffet being served in the cafe (looks pretty flash). I continue around past various kinds of accommodation options inside the park along a walking path with generously provided shade stops erected with some rough seats and oddly little concrete barbecues. Odd because I can’t remember the last time I saw a dry stick that would burn.
I make it to the Liwagu Restaurant which opens at ten. Outside the restaurant in the foyer is an inviting lounge with a view of the mountains imposing green jungle clad flanks. This is where the climbers briefings are held the night before.
Upstairs is a visitors centre which is a small room with information about not only Mt Kinabalu NP but also the other parks in Sabah. Details on the formation and geology of the mountain I’m not interested in so I keep browsing. The only other person in the room is a Malaysian lady about seven months pregnant. We don’t talk. Vegetation and climactic zones are covered but the bit I like the most is the stuffed animals – rats, civet, python, tarsier, mouse deer – probably the closest I’ll come to seeing these in Malaysia.
At the gated and locked Botanic Garden I jump on the Silau trail and cross a small mossy arch bridge nearly losing my footing on the slick timber. I love temperate rain forests and the little busy creeks and streams that run through them. Shafts of eye piercing early morning sunlight stream through the foliage ricocheting of wet leaves and puddles. The fresh cool air a welcome relief from the sick bay that is our hostel room. As I walk up the yellow muddy trail there seems to be more bird life here than in the tropical rainforest as I hear more different calls than I have in the other places we have been.
There are kilometers of beautiful walks of lengths ranging in a few hundred meters to a few kilometers around the park. I’m sorely tempted to bum a ride the 4km to the Timpohon Gate where the climbers begin so I can take a short sneaky walk up the first part of the actual climb but in the back of my mind I know Nani is looking after the kids catching all kinds of nasty and voluminous expectorant variously blown, coughed and vomited out.
I enjoy a breakfast of cold Nescafé Kopi Latte in a can (why haven’t these taken off down under?!) and a few Kuih Kacang Hijau which is a yellow bean filled pastry similar to moon cake minus the moon.
I’m camped on the steps of the Gallery waiting for it to open right across from the Dewan Kinabalu Exhibition Centre World Heritage Monument whose massive timber double doors aren’t open either. The info sheet handed to me by the nice Sutera Sanctuary Lodges girl says opening time is 9.00. It’s now 9.15 but no signs of life. I persevere because maybe things run on Malaysian time here. The toilet is being cleaned but the lady lets me in for a leak anyway. I’m not shy. I continue my stake out, which only serves to lift my expectation. It’s 9.40 a.m and a few cars arrive but they’re only tourists. I go to the little book cum souvenir shop and ask “what time open?” They can’t work out what I’m saying. I wish I had a Malay phrase book. I show her the map and point at the building with the opening times next to it. She indicates that the building I’m pointing to is up the road. Hmmm there are two galleries and world heritage monuments?? I walk around the road, and up the steps (puffing) and bingo I’m back at reception.
It’s ten o’clock now and I probably would have been charged pay-through-your-nose-foreigner-Sutera-sanctuary prices to visit them and only have minutes to spare now so I chalk it up to serendipity. I figure the mountain will still be here for another eon or so and when I come back I will buy another Kopi Latte, suck it down and vacuum up with my eyes everything I see in those buildings. I later discover it is Sunday…. Opening time 10.
I notice the mountain is already gathering her misty skirts and quickly disappearing from view barely 3 hours after the sun rose and exposed her peaks. Soon climbers will be shrouded in mist, slowly making their way up her side but I’m confident for most of them they will be focused on their next step.
If we’re going to have any hope of catching the 11.30 through to KK I will need to get back now and survey the damage. I put the kids chest infections, runny noses, coughs and vomiting down to travel tiredness and cold AC reducing their immunity, and not being able to fight off foreign bugs (we haven’t seen any locals with coughs
or colds). I guess it’s something that was inevitable and their immune system will be better of for it. On the upside I’m chuffed that they don’t have the squirts. Now that would be a disaster of epic proportions.
The kids are all sick. They are sniffing and coughing up great gobs of phlegm swallowing it, then vomiting. Their temperatures are running high. I dose Oscar up with strawberry flavored kiddy paracetamol and he rushes out of our room half naked wearing just a top to vomit. He comes back and says he doesn’t make it. I kinda expected this to happen and tell him to come with me and make him stand next to the vomit so no other guests go for a slide. I find a rag on the sink and try and wipe it up but it’s a conglomerate of sticky yellow mucus and pink paracetamol and is the sort of think that must be juggled and won’t be soaked up. I manage to get most of it and then try and wash the rag out but it’s clingy stuff. I pass it to Rumia’s daughter and explain it’s been on the floor and needs to go in the laundry.
I re-dose him by smashing up a tablet and mixing it with Ribena from the next door “Bayu Restoran”. Lachie swallows one and Abbey holds out. She gets worse and eventually caves in a takes a dose.
It has been raining all day. Mist covers the mountain and visibility is about 100 meters. The temperature is low 20’s and the air is fresh. We must be the only family to travel so far to stay at Mt Kinabalu and not bother going into the park. On the other hand being so wet and rainy (our laundry isn’t drying outside) and the low visibility would make it useless so there wouldn’t be much to see anyway. It is a great place for a recovery day as the kids sleep on and off waking to drink a little and eat a little without air con freezing them and drying their throats out. Nani bums a ride with an old couple to Kundassang the nearest kampong and buys some Chinese cough medicine.
We meet some Aussie medical students from South Australia at night in the Restoran who are climbing the mountain the next morning. They are playing cards and Lachie watches on. They switch to Gin Rummy so he can join in. I decide that Bayu Lodge can’t be that bad if these guys are staying here. Pity them though climbing in this weather. The final stage is started around 3am to summit by dawn so in this weather it would be single digit temps, dark and slippery. Not my idea of fun especially if I had to pay the 1000rm to do it.
In actual fact Bayu Homestay is pretty good. It is clean, the hostess Rumia is helpful and runs a pretty good operation. There is no tea, coffee, sheets or towels provided free and no wifi but it is comfortable enough (except the mattresses are too thin) and because there’s no-one else here after the students leave we have the only bathroom mainly to ourselves. The Restoran next door is pretty reasonable and cheap. Front of house seems to be run exclusively by teenagers. Oddly when we ask at night for rice porridge for the kids they say it’s all gone. In the morning at 8.10 we enquire again. Same answer. I look around confused as there is only a handful of people here. How could it be all gone? It gets the better of me so I ask “When will you have rice porridge?” the girl says “maybe tomorrow?” I say “what time?” She says she doesn’t know. I think she just doesn’t want to say no. They have rice porridge by lunchtime today. Amazing.
Three cats are yowling and stalking each other right outside our window. Annoyed, I watch them for awhile trying to figure out what is going on. The dark brown tabby sounds like a midget that has been stung by a hive of wild bees howling incessantly with a high pitched “Yeow! Yeow! Yeow!” I figured maybe it was on heat and desperate to be raped maybe by the ginger tom that prowled and slunk around under the silver Isuzu Vanette outside our window.
These are the same cats that woke me up with their feline hijinks last night. By this stage something primal has been unleashed inside and I’m pissed off. I’ve put up with it for long enough and I don’t care whose fucking cats they are. Right now i want to rape the back of its skull with one of Rumia’s mountain walking sticks that have recently been banned by the park rangers presumably because they are cut from an endangered mountain tree. (Used to hunt feral cats when I was a kid and sell their hides for $7.50 a piece. Good money for a little tacker)
I decide to get out there and give them a dose of Aussie curry. I head out of my room carefully ducking my head (Awas) and the tabby has gone round the back of the restaurant. I grab a stone (not big enough to kill it) and pelt it. It runs past me and I put the boot in (my aqua shoe actually) and it disappears under the pagoda, but not for long enough.
Rumia tells me they aren’t hers and they belong to the restaurant. I decide I better not get caught killing their cats in case they poison me. I once saw my dad castrate a Tom cat and since it turns out that the tabby has balls (Rumia thinks he’s calling females) I turn my dark thoughts to bagging it, cutting a small hole to pop his nutsack out and razor blading it open and deseeding the little shit. I guarantee he will lie low for a couple of days after that. Oscar wishes it would get run over. If I was at home I would trap the little shits and the last thing that would pass through their minds would be a hollow point piece of lead about .22 of an inch in diameter.
I notice a rat disappear from around the back of the rice cooker and disappear into the laundry and wonder why the hell these damn cats don’t do what they’re supposed to do and why aren’t any of those mangy thin tick-ridden yellow dingo-like dogs loitering around here to keep the cats minds off sex and fixated on survival?
Nani and I wander up to the cafe near the park for lunch leaving the comatose kids to their comas but a handwritten paper on a sandwich board announces they are not making food and only serving drinks. We ask what time will they start serving food and they say they don’t know. These people take being laid back to the level of grand master.
We wander into the park in search of something other than Bayu Restoran food but the guard at the gate stops me. He wants 30rm for us to get in. I try expanding we’re only after food but he’s adamant. Later I manage to get past him and find some tourist information on times for the botanical garden and guided walks.
The upside of having half dead kids is there’s very little bickering which provides for quite a happy day from my end of things. At one point Abbey musters enough energy to tell her brother off with “Oscar don’t wipe your snot there. Other people have to sleep in that!” This coming from the girl who just vomited in her mouth and proudly swallowed it to my relief but then said with dismay that a portion must have escaped because there’s now some on her pillow. A feverish Lachie managed to spill most of a bottle of water into his mattress by not capping it properly so I flipped it onto the other side. Snotty tissues decorate the floor pretty much making this room the room from hell. Oscar successfully makes it to the dunny this time to spew so things are improving in that department. Our hostess must be wondering what on earth she has struck and is probably looking up the centre for infectious disease to report an outbreak. If you ever have the pleasure of staying at Bayu Home Stay be sure to request a room other than the one at the front door.