A Travellerspoint blog

March 2013

Cat City

Not much else to say...

sunny 30 °C

Back on a tiny plane and waved goodbye to Mulu as we headed to Sarawak's capital Kuching.

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Although the views from the plane was all I really saw of Mulu national park it was still spectacular.

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Kuching means "cat" in Malay and as we wandered round it wasn't long before we saw references to this...

Cats...

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Cats...

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And more cats...

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Oddly a lot of places seemed to be shut although the few that were open were full of cat souvenirs and there were stalls with the brightest multicoloured cakes, which I'm not sure if you would want to eat or not!

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We traipsed around for about an hour trying to find somewhere for lunch that was a) open and b) serving roti.... That's all I thought I could stomach but nowhere was serving it as it was mid afternoon... So after a exhausting walk in the intense heat we were back at our hotel for lunch instead....and then dinner...woops! But sometimes you need to stop.

If I'm honest Kuching didn't make much of an impression on me but then again I was still in a bit of a daze from being ill so I probably didn't fully appreciate it but here are some pics...

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We had read in the paper that it was meant to be possible to see a comet in the sky over Kuching and fortunately our hotel had a rooftop bar we could watch from. Unfortunately the clouds were against us and covered where the comet was meant to be!

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We had a couple of weeks to fill before our planned date to head into Indonesia so we decided to head back over to Peninsular Malaysia and the islands off there. Borneo had been a lot more expensive than we had anticipated and as a lot of things have to be booked in advance with tours/permits etc... we had lost the sense of spontaneity that makes travel awesome and despite how adventurous Borneo had been I think it being so organised took away the feeling of being on our own adventure.

But it was time to rediscover it....

Sxx

Posted by doyledan 22:02 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Mulu National Park

Relieved that we had made it out of the danger zone we could start to look ahead and get excited about Mulu National Park, which would mean leaving Sabah and moving into Sarawak. In order to do this from Kota Kinabalu we needed to hop on a smaller flight with MAS wings and transfer to Miri before taking the short 30minute flight from Miri to Mulu airport. It was well organised as we had to get off the plane in Miri and have our passports checked before walking back to the same plane whilst being handed a second ticket that would be for Mulu.

Upon arrival in Mulu airport we realised we had landed at one of the smallest airports we have encountered so far. One single runway was all the airport had and a small area for the planes to unload surrounded by jungle.

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It was also funny to see the that the baggage claim reflected the size of the airport.

This was it...

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Mulu is Sarawak's largest national park made of 52,865 hectares and was established to help preserve natural features, like the caves, the forest and the wildlife. One of the caves up until recently was the largest in the world before another cave had been discovered in Vietnam. It had featured on one of David Attenborough's nature programmes which was studying the millions of bats that lived within the cave. A quick 10 min Taxi from the purpose built airport to the park and we were already registering for a trips to the caves. In order to stay at the park you needed to book in advance and we opted for the dormitory which for 41 ringgit, about £8 each per night which was good deal.

Having spoken to Adam and Mandi about Mulu we knew we wanted to do the Secret Garden tour but was only able to do the pools tour rather than go further into the area and see a waterfall due to it being booked up. We were able to fit in a canopy walk in the morning before the cave tour and we also booked a trip to the wind cave for a last day so we would be staying at the national park for only 2 nights.

Everything was set up for us to enjoy the park the next day but over night Sarah took a turn of the worst with a travel bug and the next morning she was struggling with fatigue and dehydration that meant she had to call off any attempts to join the tour. The only thing we could do was keep her hydrated with hydration sachets (don't leave home without them) , and plenty of sleep. Those of you who know Sarah would be proud she had the sachets even though they were orange flavoured!!

So for Sarah, Mulu only looked like this....

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But she did manage to see a turtle with a little help from me.

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Because she was only going to be sleeping we decided that I should go ahead with the booked trip which wasn't ideal. We were fortunate that the national park gave us a full refund for Sarah which made it a little easier for her. Having tied up all ends I was off with our tour guide and a very friendly Malaysian couple who actually had been living in London and decided to take time off from working and see more of their home country.

The parks set up is quite good I thought because they have well built walkways that make travelling through the forest much easier than some of the treks we have done before, however you are are more likely to see plant life and insects then any of the mammals that reside in the forest. As we made our way to the canopy walk our guide pointed out things along the way. The first was the ants that live within this plant and in order to scare off any threats, when the plant is moved they all hit themselves against it at the same time to create a rustling sound. I took a video of it which hopefully you can hear.

Some other cool stuff we saw was this millipede.

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This colourful snail.

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A huge stick insect

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And a tiny lizard who was tucked under a fallen tree.

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The walk to the canopy was only about 30minutes and as we veered off the main track we passed a huge tree.

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Before entering the canopy I read up on some facts regarding the plant life amongst the canopy. Most of the tree species here will grow to the same height up to 25 to 30 metres spreading their leaves to form the dense interconnected layer and act like giant solar panel taking in all the nutrients from the sun. The other layers of species are the ground based vines and lianas which climb the trees. The name for plants that grow in this aerial habitat are called 'epiphytes'.

After my short lesson it was then our task to walk across the canopy, our guide had met up with another guide earlier and there a mention of a possible Viper snake hanging around the canopy, needless to say the guide went first.

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Although Sarah had been forced to miss this I did for one second think she might of struggled with it only because she doesn't do so well with heights when you can see the bottom, and as I took my first step I even had a brief catch my breath moment.

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It was fun being up higher and seeing the canopy layers but I think if you re not into your plant life this could get a little boring. It was a good timing then that we ended up seeing this chap!!!

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This Viper Snake's menacing face I was able to catch with the zoom! (Definitely couldn't macro shot this one).
The colours I really liked looking at, first wild snake spotting! Awesome!

After that encounter we finished up and I decided to walk ahead and wait at the bat viewing area for my next tour into the caves. It wasn't a long wait and I was able to amuse myself learning about bats and taking some photos. Without Sarah, I had to remind myself to keep taking photos because I've been so used to her taking the reins. The first thing I learnt about bats is that they are mammals, and it is normally the assumption that because they can fly they are birds. It was also interesting to see that a bats bones in its wings are essentially the same makeup as humans arm and hand with the difference being that bats fingers are elongated to facilitate the wings. The term "blind as a bat" is actually incorrect and most bats have better eyesight than humans. The use of echolocation means they can navigate and determine where there is prey in the darkness. Because there are millions of bats in Mulu cave there are minimal Mosquitos as this is one insect they choose to feed on, which was good news for me.

Whilst I was chilling out after my mini lesson I was visited by a confident butterfly who plonked himself on my thumb and incredibly didn't flinch as I continued to get out the camera and adjust the macro shot to capture the Dutch colouring.

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It wast long before my other tour guide and group showed up and we were on our way into the cave. They do not allow you to enter the cave without a guide and it wasn't till later when we went off-piste that I saw that it was for good reason. As we walked further towards the cave we began to see the sheer size of it appear in front of us as the cave opening towered above. The guide informed us that it was called Deer cave because it was deer that found it and led locals to it. The deer would venture to the cave looking for the salt that was in Guano (bat droppings) and locals would wait for the deer knowing that they needed salt.

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As soon as you walked further into the cave you could smell the Guano and see it on the floor. You could also see high above what looked to be a big black smudge on the ceiling on the cave. This was the colony of bats that numbered in the millions.

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The guide pointed out this funny silhouette formed on the rock as you looked out of the cave which was name Abraham Lincoln.

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We continued further into the cave and I was amazed just how big it was . With a maximum height of 125m you could easily fit Big Ben in here and still have room to fit a few houses. I don't know whether my picture really shows this but if you follow the rope line there is a small white light in the distance and that is from someone's headtorch!

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As I mentioned before we had to go off-piste in order to reach the garden of eden pools and this required traversing over rocks and streams in pitch black with only our head torches to guide us. It was great fun although was a little slow as we had a big guy with us who found it a little tricky. But to his credit he made it and the reward we all got was a fun dip in the cool water.

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I helped out a couple who were on their honeymoon with a few couple shots before we had to head back the way we came. I wanted to get more photos to try and put across the size of the cave and I think this one almost does it.

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On the way back we encountered a huntsman spider!! Creepy!

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When we got back to the path we continued along it and walked up to get an aerial shot of what we had trekked through. It was also an opportunity to learn about the Garden of Eden which was formed years ago when the cave collapsed in on itself (also known as a doline). Had it not collapsed the size of this cave would have been far greater. Walking back out of the cave I was able to grab another shot of the Guano that covers a large surface area in this cave and makes your realise just how many bats there must be to make this sort of pile.

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I even managed to capture a small birds nest that was in a small nook of the cave.

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After the Deer cave we moved on to Lang cave which was a lot smaller cave and named after the local who found it. For me it wasn't that exciting because I had seen so many before but it was still good enough for some photos.

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I decided not to hang around for the bats to do their daily exit out of the cave because I had seen this in Cambodia and knew that it would be quite similar. I was also aware that Sarah had been on her own for the whole day so it made sense to head back and make sure she was doing better. On the way I catched up with our guide and he pointed out a small leaf insect which had excellent camouflage.

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Sarah was on the mend but certainly couldn't do any tours the next day so we decided to cancel a visit to the wind cave and we chilled out in the cafe in the morning with the butterflies (and a huge moth bigger than your hand!) before making our way to the airport and taking a flight to Kuching. We decided that we needed time to allow Sarah to properly recover before doing anymore trips or treks so we booked a nice hotel in Kuching and planned to rest/blog and make plans for revisiting the Peninsular.

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Stay tuned for more tales.

Dan.

Posted by doyledan 04:05 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Gimme some fin...noggin'...Dude!! Sea turtles are awesome!

Diving with Scuba Junkie

We shared a taxi with Theo and Kat back to Sandakan. After jungle living we all decided to treat ourselves to a couple of nights at Swiss Hotel, a decent bed, rain shower and sea view was exactly what the doctor ordered!

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There's not much to report from our time in Sandakan, I still wasn't feeling 100% so it was good to just relax and sort out the next part of our trip. We met up with Kat and Theo in the evenings for dinner on the seafront which was fun and interesting to find out more about their travels in India. We weren't the only ones though dining by the seafront and were joined by a huge rat that snuck up on Theo and was sitting right by his leg! The local cats weren't much use but then again the rat seemed the same size and probably would put up a fight. We had decided to make our way to Mabul Island to do some diving with Scuba Junkie, a dive company we had found out about from Steve when we were in Thailand. We said bye to Kat and Theo who were heading to Turtle Island and got an early night as our bus was leaving first thing.

As the taxi pulled into the bus depot there were touts everywhere shouting out destinations trying to get people on their buses. One guy even opened the door of the taxi to talk to Dan before we had even stopped! Our taxi driver had it under control and moved through them all to the bus we were after, okay so he got paid a bit of commission from the bus guys but it was win win for everyone.

It was about 4 hours to the coastal town of Semporna and other than two check points where the police came on the bus to check everyone's ID and passports it was a simple journey. Semporna itself is a bit of a dump, even though we arrived around lunchtime hardly anything was open and there was quite a bit of rubbish floating in the sea. We were defiantly glad we would only have one night here before heading over to Mabul Island the next morning. Later in the afternoon Dan found out that there had been shooting of policemen in Lahad Datu which was one of the towns we had passed through on the bus. Maybe that's why there had been police checking IDs as I'm sure one was at Lahad Datu. We didn't think much more of it at the time but this would become a big talking point during our time on the island...

Mabul Island is part of the Semporna Archipelago which is famous for its diving particularly for the dive sites around Sipadan, which are some of the best in the world. Being new to diving we did not realise until too late that to dive the Sipadan sites you have to book way in advance to receive a permit. Not deterred we had heard that diving around Mabul and Kapalai islands was also good and still being newbies we are still amazed by anything and everything! We were ready at the dive shop at 8am to get the boat to the island and bumped into the American couple Adam and Mandi who we had met at the bottom of Kinabalu. They were also coming to the island and local staff found Mandis name very funny as it means 'shower' in Malaysian.

Arriving on the island we were definitely pleased that we had chosen to base ourselves here rather than in Semporna with white beaches, red hibiscus flowers and clear blue sea. I guess the only 'eyesore' was the Bajau Bajau sea gypsy village near the jetty and the rubbish around there but the kids were really cute, making plastic bags into kites and flying them up and down the beach. We found out that there was a bit of a rift between the sea gypsies and the local people that lived on the other side of the island and that kids often fought one another.

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Day 1...

Settled in and sorted with wetsuits and fins etc... we were back on the boat being introduced to Marion who would be our dive master for the day. Our first dive site was called Sting Ray city and was a wall dive. The current was really strong and we ended up being swept all the way to the next dive site along called Lobster wall. It was fun just drifting in the current but as we were moving quite fast it was harder to spot life on the wall and also harder to keep track of where we all were. I seemed to drift faster than others which made staying behind Marion a bit of a struggle at times. We did see a turtle within minutes of descending though which was cool and turtles would become common diving companions whilst we were here.

Our second dive of the day was at Artificial Reef where man made structures and old boats have been sunk attracting marine life. We saw loads on this dive including a giant grouper fish that was as big as me (by far the largest fish we ve seen yet), chevron barracuda, a massive school of big eye trevally that literally was like a wall of fish (Dan missed it as he was looking at a turtle). It was fun to look in all the structures trying to find things.

After lunch our final dive was at Eel garden which definitely lived up to its name as we saw three different types, Napoleons snake eel, Ribbon eel and white eyed moray eel. We also saw 3 more turtles and also a big pharaoh cuttlefish which changed colour to red when we got too close, amazing! I was also excited to see my first lion fish too.

We definitely would need to hire an underwater camera for the next day as we were seeing loads of stuff!

Scuba Junkie resort was definitely the place to be as we bumped into Jennie and Jessica from Uncle Tans, who had been on the island doing some snorkelling although Jennie was keen to try scuba too. It was great to have some familiar faces around.

There were more and more murmurings about what was happening on the mainland and it turns out that what we thought was a small incident was actually more serious. We found out that 100 rebel fighters from the Philippine Island of Sulu had landed on Sabah in February claiming the land belonged to them and on the day we travelled through Lahad Datu this had escalated to a gunfight with several fatalities and the problem was spreading to Semporna! This was why most of the town was shut when we arrived and probably the reason for the ID checks too. It was a bit concerning but as we were on the island and nothing had been announced thought all would be ok.

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Day 2...

Today our dive master was an Italian called Alice with a very firm handshake! Armed with our underwater camera we headed to our first site which was off Kapalai Island called Black Ray Channel.

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Underwater dancing...

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Within a few minutes we saw our first stingray but it was moving too fast through the water to get a photo. We saw some more turtles and cuttlefish and Nemos relatives.

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Can you spot the crocodile fish?
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Leah a girl diving with us was amazed by the juvenile catfish feeding all together on the seabed.
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Generally the dive sight was quite quiet and towards top the end of the dive we found out why... Dynamite fishing! As we did our safety stop before surfacing everywhere we looked below us we could see dead fish! It was really sad to see and we found out that majority of the fish that are killed by dynamite don't rise up to the surface so it is such a waste and indiscriminate. It explained also why the stingray had been so scared and speeding out of the area.

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Our second dive was back off Mabul Island a D Wall (not sure have the name right). This was one of my favourite dives, the wall was massive and there was so much to see including our first giant moray eel!

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Me and a turtle dude!

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These pics are of the same pharaoh cuttlefish and it was amazing to see it change colours with bright blue spots as it swam away and then effortlessly change to great camouflage colours to hide behind some coral.

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At the end of the dive as we ascended up the wall there was a coral garden with hundreds of fish a great place for a safety stop, and we saw a another stingray hiding in the rocks.

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Our final dive was at a site called Awas which Marion had recommended as her favourite dive site as she loves 'muck diving', despite the name meaning Danger, and we had been told there was a possibility of seeing a sea horse so we were very excited.

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I spotted a sea snake!

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We also saw the biggest turtles in the world! Well that's what I think they must be, had no idea they got this big!

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Some turtle dudes where chilling out on top of a wreck.
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We saw loads more cool stuff like the colourful mandarin fish and weird frog fish but the battery had run out. Shouldn't have mucked around perfecting my Bruce Forsyth pose.

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When we got back from diving Theo and Kat had arrived on Mabul Island too. Most of team proboscis monkey were reunited and it was fun to catch up on their time at turtle island.

In the evening we laid on the beach to look at the stars, with hardly any light pollution the sky was amazing. I got a fright when I saw two big black eyes coming out of the dark heading straight towards my head. I shouldn't have worried though as it was a friendly dog who wanted a cuddle and would become our guard dog sleeping outside our bungalow at night.

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Day 3...

We decided to take a break from diving and just have a relaxing chill out day. Dan did some snorkelling around the jetty in the morning but we mainly chilled out on the beach, where we were joined by a very friendly ginger cat who thought the best place to sit was on your book as you were trying to read. She hopped back and forth between our sun loungers when she wasn't getting enough attention from one of us and when the dog from the night before tried to join us too she was very clear on who was boss! She didn't want to share us!

More people were talking and asking about the situation on the mainland. With Internet connection that rarely worked it was hard to get the latest updates and so everyone was trying to find out the latest. We heard that people were leaving Semporna and most of the places there were shut, petrol was running low and there were concerns that supplies might not get through to the island. We had met another Brit called Katie, who interestingly had been working in Laos for a charity to prevent human trafficking and was in Mabul to dive before heading back to UK, she had managed to get on the FOC website which advised getting out of the area and no non essential travel between Semporna, Lahad Datu towards Sandakan. We would need to reconsider how we were going to get back to Kota Kinabalu as we had planned to get the night bus from Semporna but it would travel through all these places.

We decided that when we left we would head southwards to Tawau and just fly to KK instead, it would cost us more money but we didn't want to risk it.

Day 4...Our final day diving :( for now...

Marion was to be our dive master again and Katie would also be diving with us too. We started the morning off Kapalai Island at Kapalai house reef site. It was here that we saw the biggest giant moray eel, nicknamed Elvis. He was huge and this is about as big as they get and definitely was not going to mess with him!

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Not sure what this is...but it's cool!
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Our second dive was a bit of a different one underneath a converted oil rig called Seaventures. Lots of marine life gather underneath the rig as well as lots of rubbish and other junk.

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This was also home to another giant grouper and we could see its huge silhouette looming above us as it cruised around the supporting poles of the rig.

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There were lots of fish with great camouflage like crocodile fish and reef scorpionfish.

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Marion got very excited when she spotted a hairy squat lobster. It was tiny and no idea how she saw it!

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Dan had his own close encounter with a trigger fish, this time it was the smaller Red tooth trigger fish (which is actually blue) but it was just as feisty chasing him around and gave him a good nip on the knee.

We also saw loads of lion fish which are awesome.

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For our final dive we headed back to the Awas site as Katie had not dived there yet. We didn't mind though as it meant we could say bye to the seahorse. Which we did although somehow I only managed to take photos is seaweed...totally missed it!!

The highlight of this dive was some teenage mutant ninja turtle action! That's right a turtle fight! As we watched one chilling out on the top of a sunken boat, another huge turtle dive bombed right over our heads to make it known that this was his patch, although he totally misjudged it and got himself stuck head first in a net on the boat. We thought we might have to intervene to release him so he wouldn't drown but all it took was a nip from the other turtle and he quickly found reverse and the battle commenced! With a few nips and shoves it was over and they decided to share the space although one ended up below deck.

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Day 5...

We d chosen not to dive on our last day so we would be able to fly in the evening and we would also be able to spend the day chilling on the beach before our boat back to Semporna in the afternoon. This didn't quite happen as I got sick along with at least 3 other people that were also staying at the resort. Not the best way to end our stay on Mabul!

As it got closer to leaving the island we were a bit nervous about going back to the mainland as we had heard that people had been moving their families out of the area and that Semporna was practically a ghost town. We d also seen some low flying aircraft during the day and heard that air strikes had happened. These worries were forgotten for a bit as we got completely soaked on the way back to mainland on the small boat we were in. Back in Semporna we stuck together with Katie and after buying our scuba junkie t shirts at the dive shop we were on our way.

We overheard a conversation that they only had enough petrol left for two boats and needed to work out how to get more. The problems were resulting in a shortage which we saw by the huge queues at the petrol station, although our taxi driver decided to go in through the exit to get to a pump and jump the queue. It was all a bit hectic but we got to Tawau airport with no problems and after saying goodbye to Katie who was starting her mission back to the UK we were in the air heading back to Kota Kinabalu.

We only spent a night in KK before catching another flight to Mulu in Sarawak. When we finally saw a newspaper these were the headlines we saw...

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We were definitely glad we were out of the problem area and hope it all gets resolved soon.

Safe travels everyone.

Sxxx

Posted by doyledan 05:45 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

King of the Swingers

Sepilok Orangutans & Uncle Tans jungle camp

We recouperated in KK, hobbling around like a couple of pensioners as our thighs and calves made it clear that they did not appreciate us putting them through hell. We had to keep moving though or we'd seize up so after a good sleep we decided to explore one of the malls although we failed to realise until it was too late that the escalators only went up! We would have to take the stairs from the top floor all the way back down, which we only accomplished by clinging to the handrail and each other whilst laughing hysterically...it was either that or cry! Needless to say we got a few odd looks that day.

With Kinabalu ticked off the list it was now time to achieve another Borneo goal and find some Orangutans!

Uncle Tans Jungle Camp on the Kinabintang River had been recommended to us as a good place to spot wildlife and with their base in Sepilok we would also be able to visit the Orangutang sanctuary before we headed to the camp. Singing songs from the Jungle book we got a flight to Sandakan and then a short taxi ride to Uncles Tans base in Sepilok in time for lunch.

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We had the afternoon to kill and as I was still exhausted that meant nap time but I didn't wake up till dinner! Woops. By this time Dan had met Ines a lady from Germany who would be joining us at the camp so we would be spending the next 3 days together. She was a great laugh and little did we know how adventurous our trip would be. There were only the 3 of us at the base which had a large sitting area so we wondered if anyone else would be turning up. After unsuccessfully trying to get the TV to work we spent the evening chatting away and trying to work out what was making this noise...

Turns out it was frogs! One of them had cleverly made its home in the drain which would make his call even loader to attract the ladies.

Next morning we were excited about going to Orangutan Rehabilitation centre, we hopped in the free shuttle from Uncle Tans and were soon walking through the jungle to the viewing platform in hope to see our ginger cousins. As it got closer to the feeding time the platform got more crowded and noisy despite the big signs saying 'SILENCE'. I found this quite frustrating as there is no guarantee that the orangutans would come and noise probably wouldn't help.....then the heavens opened and it tipped it down!!

We anxiously watched the jungle and waited, hoping the rain wouldn't put them off. Then we saw movement on one of the ropes...one was coming...everyone craned their necks trying to get the first glimpse...and then the disappointed sign as it was only a monkey!

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More of his monkey mates came along and it was funny to watch the little ones jumping around.

Then there was a bigger movement on one of the ropes and we could see orange through the leaves and the rain...our first orangutan.

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Soon more arrived and it was great to see how they used leaves to keep the rain off themselves.

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It was amazing to see our first orangutans and watch the cheeky monkeys stealing their food. At one point one of the orangutans showed them who was boss deliberately taking hold of one of the ropes and shaking it till the monkeys fell off! It did feel a bit like looking at them in a wildlife park/zoo rather than in the wild and loads of people were using the flash on their cameras etc... This should not detract though from the fantastic and important work that the centre is doing by saving these young orangutans who have been orphaned through logging and deforestation or who have been illegally captured and kept as pets. It can take up to 7 years to rehabilitate a young orangutan!

You can find out more about the work they do here

We headed back to Uncle Tans and after lunch and a briefing we jumped in the mini vans for the hour drive to the Kinabantang River where we would transfer into boats for another hour to camp in the jungle! There were now 19 of us including two families that were holidaying together as well as some other back packers. Prepared for wet weather we split into three boats and headed up river.

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It was beautiful along the river and we spotted egrets and hornbills along the way

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We were then really lucky when one of the guides spotted an orangutan eating figs in a tree...this was more like it!

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At camp we were introduced to Lan who was the head guide and very likeable character who did everything he could to ensure we had a fun stay at camp. He took us through a briefing of what to expect over the next couple of days from night safaris to walks in the jungle. He also told us that where we would be sleeping had no door or windows and the precautions we should take against rats looking for anything and everything to nibble on.

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Once settled in and after a great dinner we were split into three teams named after the top animals people hoped to spot. The two families became team orangutan and team gibbon. We became team proboscis monkey along with Ines, Kat, Theo, Jennie and Jessica. Then it was to the boats for our first night safari on the river!

I was amazed at how the spotter could pick out wildlife along the river with his torch. Despite the rain we managed to see a baby crocodile, woaver spider, sleeping monitor lizard...

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We also saw two types of king fisher...stork billed kingfisher and the blue eared kingfisher

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It was possible to get right up close to them as they slept on their perches and oddly enough the light didn't seem to disturb them at all.

It was gone 10pm when we got back to camp and we would need to be up at 6am for our morning river safari to make the most of the wildlife waking up along the river. We definitely made sure the mosquito net was tightly tucked in when we discovered another roommate had checked in whilst we were out!

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In the morning we discovered he had not been our only visitor. The rats had come in the night and eaten holes in both mine and Kats day bags (luckily we d left our big bags back at base). As we tried to recall if we had heard anything in the night Kat remembered that she had felt something near her head but thought she was dreaming...on closer inspection of her bed she discovered that a rat had in fact chewed a hole through the mosquito net to get inside to a bag she had kept under her pillow, and had munched on the incense sticks inside!! Eek!

After a quick cuppa we were back in the boats on the misty Kinabantang.

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To begin with it was mainly birds that we saw from Bee-eaters to huge herons and even an eagle!

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Then we had the treat of seeing Borneon Gibbons. After not seeing any gibbons on the gibbon experience in it was great to see how they swooped effortlessly through the trees.

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Further up the river we saw yet another orangutan. Team Gibbon and Team orangutan had had a good morning but we still had not see a proboscis monkey so our team had yet to get our points!

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Back at camp we had French toast for breakfast. Turns out 10am was footie time and the guides even turned up in the proper kit. As it had been raining in the night it was slippery but that didn't take away from the fun. As I wasn't playing I explored more around camp and spotted a huge monitor lizard climbing out of the tree in to the water that seemed to be slowly consuming the camp. After the game the boys cooled off in the river.

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We then went on a jungle walk to look at the plants and bugs. We definitely were pleased we had rented their wellington boots as in places the mud came right up over your foot (if you're short that is). I've now forgotten the names of the plants which is not very useful! One of them was used to make rope that was really strong, so strong that even a crocodile would not be able to break it. Dan and Theo gave it a go but didn't succeed...

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This is a Pygmy squirrel...so cute

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A lantern bug

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Poisonous caterpillar

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After lunch there was the option to spend the afternoon fishing on the river or chill out at basecamp before the next river cruise at 5pm to find the proboscis monkey. Not fancying 4 solid hours on the boat Ines and I decided to stay behind at camp and we were glad we did as it started to chuck it down as soon as the others left on the boat... camp was definitely going to get more flooded!

Ines spotted a black and red broadbill, with its amazing blue beak!
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By the time we went to join them later in the afternoon the rain had stopped which was good. As the others were already up the river we jumped in a small boat and sped off to join them. Sitting at the front of the boat it felt a bit like being in a James Bond movie and the theme tune was going through my head when we came to a bend in the river. It was at this moment we saw another boat speeding towards us, I recognised Theo in the boat and was about to wave when I realised that any second we were going to have a head on collision!! Both boats swerved and managed to just avoid each other but our smaller boat couldn't cope with the sudden change in direction at speed and capsized!

Somehow my reflexes had kicked in and as I fell out the boat my hand shot up in the air to save the camera. Miraculously even though the rest of me went completely under the water the life jacket had enough buoyancy so my hand didn't go under and the camera survived! I was relieved when the other boat came back to us and dragged us in. It was only then that I could see that our boat had almost completely sunk and that the driver was still in the water with it, dragging it to the side of the river. Fortunately no one was badly hurt but Ines had not been so lucky with her camera.

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Bedraggled and a bit disbelieving of what had just happened, it would have been so worse if we had collided and no one had been hit by a propeller or anything, we continued on to try and find the proboscis monkey!

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We saw loads of them, although the male renowned for his huge nose eluded us!

Back at camp it was good to get out of wet clothes and have some warm food. We were meant to be doing a night jungle walk but after all the rain and 'excitement' of the day we all decided it would be better to have some beers and a singsong instead. It was a funny night Jennie and Ines lead us in a tribute to Madona, Dan got the crowd going with a rendition of Britany Spears "hit me baby one more time" and when he started to play U2 suddenly a mum from one of the families jumped up on the table and sang "With or without you" all the way through. The night got even more random when Lan produced a huge scorpion and tried to convince everyone to hold it. Knowing my recent luck I decided best to give that one a miss!

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By the next morning the camp was really flooded with water and in places almost coming up to your knee. If it rained again I wouldn't be surprised if it came into our room. It was a bit unnerving walking through the water not knowing what might be in there and so I think it was good that it was our time to say goodbye to Uncle Tans.

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It had been a fun couple of days with one or two unexpected surprises and definitely glad we went.

Huge thanks to the rest of Team Proboscis for making it so fun, was great to meet you all :)

Safe travels

Sxxx

Posted by doyledan 18:02 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Nothing is Impossible

Mount Kinabalu

We made our way out of Cameron Highlands catching the early morning bus that was bound for KL. Not before having a delicious breakfast of Roti. The trip back to KL was a little uncomfortable due to the winding roads but we managed to crash out during the trip to catch some sleep. I missed an altercation that occurred with the bus driver and one of the passengers which Sarah later told me about. Apparently the young passenger hadn't taken too well to the winding roads and decided to be sick. But instead of using a bag he had used the floor, so you can understand the drivers annoyance however I was surprised to hear that the driver was physically taking his anger out on the young guy smacking him on the head and was adamantly making sure that every other passenger had a bag and used it! I was thankful for missing all of that I must be honest.

Upon reaching KL we needed to get a taxi from Pudaraya bus station to KL Sentral so we could get another bus to the airport. We pulled it off with little problems apart from the non-metered taxi driver charging what I thought was too much but when he is the only one available and you've got your bags to carry and its stifling hot and raining you just have to lump it.

We had to buy our ticket for the bus to the airport but there was plenty of guys organising people so we got on the right bus, double checking to make sure we were going to the right airport as it was an international flight. Which didn't really make sense because Sabah is part of Malaysia. Anyways I think it was due to the fact that we were flying with Malaysia Airways and not Air Asia. We had reached the airport in good time and needed some food. Looking around it seemed all that was available was a food court which to be honest didn't have the most appealing choices for what we were after. It wasn't till later that we walked towards the arrivals area and found more places that were up our street and succumbed to having a Burger King, we only had some chips though.

The flight was good although delayed somewhat and we made it to Kota Kinabalu in a couple of hours. Our hostel had agreed to pick us up from the airport and had waited for us despite it being late evening and we met up with Prince (a name he gave himself) who was the local driver come guide come frontdesk worker for Bunibon Backpackers. He was really friendly and helpful giving us some info on Kota Kinabalu or KK and even tipped us off about the local fish cuisine being potentially dangerous due to red tide disease, and three people had already died from it so we weren't going to have fish for a few days that's for sure.

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Knowing that our booking was sorted with Sutera Sanctuary lodges the day after next to start our climb up Mount Kinabalu we took time the next day after landing to walk the city and gather supplies and essentials for what for both of us was the first time tackling a mountain climb.

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Needless to say, the nerves were present but we distracted ourselves buying new stuff which we hadn't done in ages. I bought a new raincoat and Sarah bought a new warm jumper. We also found a great outdoor store, oddly called Tech City, which is rammed with anything and everything you could possibly need for any type of outdoor adventure where Sarah picked up a head torch, walking sticks, batteries and I grabbed some hand warmers you shake to make warm.. (Little did I know at the time how important this purchase was going to be).

Whilst we stayed in KK we met a nice fella from Canada called John who had just done some of Sabah attractions and he invited us to join him for dinner and we heard some stories from him which was quite fun. We didn't do much else in KK mainly due to there not being much there. It's quite a uninspiring city if I'm honest, and it really is just a launch pad into Sabah from what I could fathom.

The next day at 7am we were waiting for our taxi that we booked with Bunibon the night before only to find out the Prince wasn't aware he was taking us to the Mount Kinabalu Park entrance. This didn't help because we needed to be there before 9:30am to register! We got to the entrance in the end with half an hour to spare but that was only due to Prince driving at some speeds that certainly would of been breaking the law back home and I think Sarah kept her eyes shut most of the way there. It wasn't pleasant but it was made a little easier as he was giving us mini tour of sights as we whizzed by them. We got our first glimpse of Mt Kinabalu from the car and it was huge and we stared at it and wondered how we would get to the top whilst Prince joked that it wasn't too late to turn back! I was glad for having Prince drive us as he was really helpful making sure we got our guide and the paperwork done before setting off.

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He also gave us three tips to remember

1. Respect the spirits of the mountain
2. Take in the nature and don't always look at your feet
3. Don't listen to your heart as it will tell your head to stop

It was in this time that a fella came up to me and asked me about our guide and when we we going. His name was Mark and he was from Germany and he was asking whether it would be cool for Sarah and I to split the cost of the guide with him and his friend so we could save a bit of cash. Seemed like a good idea and with a bit of to'ing and fro'ing we sorted it out and were jumping in the shuttle bus that would take us to the entrance gate for the Timphon Trail.

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Before taking our first steps on the trail we posed for photos which I think visually shows the difference in size between Mark and Christina compared to Sarah and I.

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It proved to play a part in our ascent being different, and to be honest fitness levels were against Sarah and I as well as short legs I reckon. That being said the first 5k was sort of even and we were able to meet up with them at each shelter stop for a little while. But as we got higher and the air got thiner everyone needed to walk at their own pace and so we split up.

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On the way up we were met with rainfall almost immediately and I was thankful for buying my new coat. As you walk up the trail you begin to see why people say the trail is harder on the way down mainly due to the amount of steps that you have to walk down which destroy your legs!!

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For the moment I didn't think about that and tried to enjoy the trek, taking Princes advice.

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This guy has to be some sort of hero for tacking these steps with that huge thing on his back. It kind of made a mockery of your struggle but if you did it everyday then I'm sure it would be easier.

On the way we managed to get a photo of the pitcher plant in full colour.

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There were friendly squirrels at the breakpoints.

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And even met up with the resident cat of the mountain who resided at one of the stop off points where the guides have a sort of office.

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On the way as well there were markers for each kilometre we reached and we stopped every so often to grab a photo.

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As we got higher and higher it was decidedly more difficult to try and stop and take photos all the time as you needed to rest and get your breath back. I had a little second wind before reaching our stop off point at Laban Rata.With this second wind I managed to grab some photos of the mountain side and fortunately as we had gotten higher the weather had improved as well. Sarah and I posed for a photo and the backdrop showed one of the peaks that we would have to climb towards. It looked a looooong way away!!

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It wasn't long before we reached the make shift helipad and we knew we had made our first target of Laban Rata which was a 6km along the trail and 3272m above sea level! We had made it in 5hours which was a decent average time.

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At this point poor Sarah was starting to really feel the affects altitude so we were thankful that what laid ahead for the rest of the day was food and sleep!

The food was very nice and as it was a buffet we got our fair share before deciding that we needed to go to bed at 5pm just to make sure we were awake enough for the next morning as we would be leaving for Low's Peak at 2:30am the next morning.It was pretty easy to have a nap at first after the walk we had done but we both found that we woke up during the evening and it was quite disorientating due to the change in sleep pattern. I ended up needing to sit out in the corridor of the dorm beds and play Tiger Woods golf for a while just to have a change of scene before trying to get some more sleep. It was a decent round of 18 holes and I managed to bring my handicap down!

Sarah didn't have the best of sleep and the effects of the altitude was doubling up with her general feeling of being ill and when it came to morning there was a moment when we thought that she couldn't go. But to her testament she forced herself to get up and eat a little before starting the next leg, which was in the dark.

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The group shot before was obligatory.

The start of the walk was slow as the crowds on the steps were meeting each other too soon and it actually made it harder because you couldn't get into a rhythm. Fortunately we managed to push on passed the small crowds and from there it was a test of patience and determination to keep walking up steps and steps and steps.

On the way Sarah was feeling more and more feverish and so was very hot and therefore she decided to wear only one top for the first couple of hours. At the time it was helping but what we realised after was that really she should of forced herself to wear her warming clothing. I had looked at her to check for any signs of hyperthermia and tried to convince her but I think in her own mind it felt better not to and when you are sure of your own state of mind it is hard to take advice. We later realised also that the guide although was good at showing us the way was non-existent in terms of advising about the cold weather in combination with the altitude. It is the problem that occurs when young guys are employed to take tourists up and perhaps not given any training in order to help.

So with her body and mind against her, Sarah battled on up the steps and even up the cliff face which needed to be ascended by pulling yourself up a rope. As it was dark the rock faces felt steeper and more dangerous and as we got higher you could see in the distance the lights of towns that were easily 50-60km away.

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During this time it wasn't possible to stop for photos due to the combination of staying warm, staying alert and not holding up people. But when we got to the 8km mark (having pushed on passed quite a few people it has to be noted) I managed to grab a photo and it is here we realised just how much the effects of the climb had taken its toll on Sarah, at least she had put some layers on by this point, but a little too late.

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Not far beyond this point we had to stop and it was so close to the top we could see the lights of the people who had made it up earlier, but by this point Sarah knew she couldn't push on any further and she stopped just 300metres shy of the top. It was then a worry because she was really cold so I got out the foil blanket and the guide offered probably the best thing which was his thick coat which really did help. I also got out the hand-warming sachets and it proved to be a saving grace because as the sun started to rise it was hidden by the clouds and therefore the warmth Sarah needed wasn't there.

Once Sarah got warmer she was able to offer me to go to the top which I was reluctant to do as the guide had gone onwards to check on Mark and Christina, but she reassured me and I decided to go. For some lucky reason I found the altitude no problem and although the climb was difficult I found going at a steady pace meant that I felt fine at the top. I was in an adrenaline mode after Sarah said I could go to the top, thinking that I needed to get up and down quickly so that she wasn't on her own too long. With that I raced up the top climbing up the rocks passing people and managed to get a porter to take a photo of me. I even managed to get to the top in time to have photos with Mark and Christina who I found out had waited for us at the top a which was really nice of them and it was just a shame that Sarah had had a bad climb that we couldn't have the group shot of us all. At the top it was freeeeeezng!! My fingers were starting to ache and that wasn't even for very long so I can't imagine how Mark and Christina felt. After getting the obligatory top of the mountain marker I raced down to meet up with Sarah, and found her still perched in the same spot looking out at the morning mist.

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Despite not getting to the top together we were both proud of what we achieved and the guide told us she would still get her certificate. Yay!!

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As the light creeped passed the mountains edge and the plateau we had ascended revealed itself we really began to see the sheer size of the mountain and also how barren the area was. I managed to grab a cool photo of Mark with the sun in the background which kind of summed up the that feeling of being on top of the world.

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We got a picture of Sarah at the 8.5km mark two prove she had made it almost to the top.

From then on it was the long descent we had to contend with. The best thing about being at heights we reached was the skyline and we got our fair share of stunning photos to remind us that we had been there and climbed a Mountain!

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Afterwards we cursed every step as we made our way down back to the bottom, stopping off at Laban Rata for a rest bite. It is true to some extent that going down is a lot harder mainly because the days after your legs hate you and want to make you fall over because you can't even walk down a sidewalk. Sarah's luck had ran out during the trek down and she even managed to slip on some of the wooden steps, smacking the back of hers leg and fortunately being stopped by a bush. Thankfully her backpack took the brunt of the impact but as always she still bruised like a peach!

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We were so thankful to be at the park entrance to have some food and the prospect of getting back to the hostel to sleep was almost too good a notion. Unfortunately we had to wait a while as we got stuck in a traffic jam on the taxi ride back to KK but we did meet a nice couple from USA called Adam and Mandi who we shared the taxi with and were doing a similar trip to us. They were kind enough to give us some tips about Sarawak.

I think I can speak for Sarah and say that she has no desire in the near future to climb another mountain but really glad that she did it. I for one am glad because its been on my bucket list for a long time and I was surprised how much fun I found it. Who knows maybe another mountain is beckoning me to climb it before too long. Watch this space ....

Stay tuned for more tales

Dan

Posted by doyledan 06:25 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

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