Tropical Travels Part 11

After our week in Mulu, it was nice to be back in Kota Kinabalu.

We had our “free breakfast” – better described as toast and coffee – at Borneo Backpackers before heading out to the docks. The plan for the day was to explore the islands off the coast of the city.

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There are five islands in total, all forming part of the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. We had decided to go to three of them, and had carefully decided which.

Upon arrival at the docks, and being misdirected to multiple places, roughly 3km of walking later – we had tickets to head out to three islands. Annoyingly it turns out that we have no say on which three we go to – but fortunately we ended up with two of the three we wanted anyway.

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The driver of our boat seemed to be trying to show off, which meant a lot of hard banking for no apparent reason, and the occasional large jump that ended in a rather hard drop.

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Soon we found ourselves on Sapi Island. Most visitors are here for snorkeling, diving or the beach, seeing as Kota Kinabalu has a generally rocky coastline. We were here to see animals.

Each island has a sequence of trails. Sapi Island is only roughly 101 000 square meters, so we knew it wouldn’t take long to cover the full trail. The islands aren’t very flat, so the trails actually require some effort.

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We found the start of the trail, marked “point B” – so the obvious jokes about “getting from point A to point B” had to be made.

We bumped into another group who told us the trail was a dead end and included rock climbing. It was a rather odd comment (and completely untrue).

We saw two pied hornbills, which unfortunately flew away before I could get a photo. There was a fair number of macaque monkeys on this island. We had been hoping to see proboscis monkeys, but unfortunately didn’t see any on the islands.

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We had two hours on this island, so we were in no rush to finish the loop. We found a steep trail down to a beach on the far side of the island. We sat here for a while, watching the hermit crabs doing their thing.

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I also took a short walk into the sea – just to add another sea to the list of the ones I have touched, this one being the South China Sea.

On the last short stretch of the loop, we saw a large colony of black termites.

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We reached the end of the loop roughly 20 minutes before our time on the island was up, so decided to climb a tree – as is entirely normal for two adults – and ate our lunch while people stared at us and took photos. Eventually I started taking photos of the people taking photos of me, which resulted in a few laughs. Some people also started climbing other trees in the area. All in all, a good laugh.

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Soon we were back on the boat and on our way to Mamutik Island – the smallest island. The loop on this island was very short. It began with a few monitor lizards running away from us. But the third one we encountered had no interest in getting off the path.

As it turns out, Matthew has a very good understanding of how to avoid chasing animals away, and managed to get within a metre of this particular lizard. We spent more than fifteen minutes looking at it.

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Eventually we heard another group coming, and decided to leave the lizard by taking a detour through some thick overgrowth. A short time later, we heard the sound of the lizard snapping its tail to chase the other group away. Matthew had managed to approach it in a way that didn’t intimidate it, which was very interesting to watch. He later told me he had learned how to do this by watching Steve Irwin’s TV series.

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We finished the loop shortly after leaving the monitor lizard. This is the smallest island, but the trail around the island isn’t even 1km long. We decided to walk it a second time, in the opposite direction. The lizard we had spent all that time watching had moved off, but we saw a few more lizards on the way back.

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We were soon back on the boat, this time headed for Manukan Island. Sadly we were only given one and a half hours on this island. It is the second largest of the islands.

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We realised we had to walk the trail fairly fast if we were going to complete the loop in time. By this point, we had spent so much time walking through tropical rain-forests, so we didn’t stop to look at the view as much as we might have in a normal situation. We didn’t encounter any animals on this island, unfortunately. This was the island where we had hoped to see the famous proboscis monkey, but unfortunately they remained hidden.

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We reached Sunset Point in good time, but didn’t have much time to enjoy the view. It is a shame that this wasn’t the island where we had two hours.

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We made good time back to the boat, so we had some time to look around at the more touristy side of the island.

Matthew found some shells on the beach:

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And I found the square root:

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The water was very choppy on our way back to the city. Overall it had been a great day, and the monitor lizard had been one of the highlights of the trip.

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We had some snacks near the dock, including some ice cream. It is a hard choice between pistachio and coconut – neither of which are available in South Africa.

We found a restaurant with a very good rating on google and a name and menu that neither of us could read. We both had a chicken roti. Aside from having to pull all the bones out, it was one of the best curries I have ever had.

We agreed that we would do the Proboscis Monkey and Fireflies boat trip the following day, so we signed up for this at a local shop and made our way back to Borneo Backpackers for the night.

Christmas Day, our last full day on Borneo

Seeing as our boat trip was after midday, there was no urgency in getting up. Matthew was fast asleep, so I decided to go and do a bit of exploring (more accurately described as going out to catch some Pokemon on my phone).

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As it turns out, the oldest building in the city (not very impressive at 113 years old) was right by where we were staying. It happened to be a Pokemon Go Gym, so naturally I had to go and claim it – I probably wouldn’t have found it without the game, so the game does clearly have some value!

I got back to the room to find Matthew still asleep, so I went for another short walk and returned to find him still asleep.

After a Facebook video call between Matthew and his father, we went out to find some items to take home. I bought a few shirts, and we bought a toy proboscis monkey for Matthew’s little sister. Hopefully she finds it cute – they aren’t exactly the most beautiful looking creatures on earth!

Naturally we had to also get some ice cream – you know, for research purposes!

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While waiting for the bus to arrive for our river trip, we discovered that our accommodation was built as an Australian Liberation Camp during World War Two. Matthew and I are both very interested in history, so we were both very interested to learn this. A shame it was converted into a backpackers and not some form of museum – but such is life.

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We spent the two hours discussing Roman armour and weaponry. Very interesting topic, although one on which I can provide very little input.

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We had tea and biscuits before heading out on the boats.

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We saw a few proboscis monkeys on the trip, as well as some macaques. We were both a bit annoyed at how short the boat ride was, compared to how long we spent having tea. But, seeing as Borneo is the only place on earth where you can see proboscis monkeys, and this was the easiest way to do it, at least we did get to see them.

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We had supper before heading out for the fireflies. Having seen many in South Africa, I wasn’t overly interested in the second part of the trip. But it was actually very impressive – they joked that it was Christmas lights in the trees. By far the most fireflies I have ever seen.

Naturally I had to ask the guide “is it true that an English Firefly can kill a Panther?” – the guide seemed confused by the question (understandably), but at least Matthew got the joke.

The drive back to Kota Kinabalu was long, but we were back before 10PM.

Boxing Day

It was our last morning on the island, and we needed to be at the airport by midday. The only remaining stop on our to-do list was Kota Kinabalu Wetlands Park.

We checked out of our room, and stored our bag in the storage room. We caught a Grab to the park and met Prof Arba’at Hassan at the entrance. A very interesting individual who spent his career studying wetlands.

Matthew started the visit by throwing away his destroyed shoes.

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The park uses chickens as a form of pest control.

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We saw some mudskippers and crabs, but not much else. Sadly the elusive horseshoe crab also eluded us – it was something I had really hoped to see.

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I am generally a big fan of conservation projects like this one – but there was so much litter and so little wildlife that it wasn’t ideal.

We saw some egrets at the bird hide, as well as a kingfisher. There was also an eagle in the distance, which was good to see. Unfortunately the bird hide looks directly at the line of planes taking off – so we mostly saw aircraft.

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We finished the loop by climbing the bird watching tower. We didn’t see anything from it, but I always head up these when I can.

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We had lunch back in town, before heading to the airport. Last time we had found the airport to be very slow and our Grab had taken 20 minutes to get to us, so we gave ourselves plenty of time.

Luckily this time our Grab arrived on time, and we managed to get through the queues fairly quickly. While waiting for our flight, which ended up being fairly late, we sampled some of the chocolates for sale at the Duty Free. I could still taste the durian chocolate two hours later – not something I will eat again in a hurry!

Being on Air Asia meant that you had to pay extra if you wanted to chose your seats, so we were seated in different rows. I was on the aisle, but was seated next to a mother with little children that took up more than one row. I asked her if she would like to switch so that she was closer to her kids, and thus got my traditional spot at a window seat!

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I was both happy and sad to leave Borneo – it meant my holiday was basically over, but two weeks on the island was plenty.

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The flight was uneventful, and after catching a grab to the apartment, we decided to head out for some shawarmas for supper.

We put on some long overdue laundry and Matthew copied my photos.

The Dr Seuss quote “don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” seemed very fitting here. My holiday was drawing to a close, but it had been one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

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