. Got him to turn around anyway and it was a good job since we had another 1K walk with the bags from the main road up and down a lot of hills to Mountain Lodge where we had a reservation. We had booked in there for 3 nights and every time we walked up and down that side road the next few days we were both in disbelief that we’d managed it so easily with 20+ kg on that first afternoon! Mountain Lodge was a great spot, a big wooden lodge set into the hillside with amazing vistas from the outside veranda where we had our breakfast every morning. It was noticeably cooler up in the mountains and similarly to the Cameron Highlands on the peninsula, the fresh air was a lovely respite from the stifling humidity of Kota Kinabalu town and it felt really good, a bit of a novelty really, to be wrapping up in hoodies at night time.
Most people come to Kinabalu National Park to climb the highest peak in South East Asia, Mount Kinabalu, standing at just over 4000 meters. Now Tom and I had talked a lot about this before even leaving Ireland. We both love trekking and general outdoorsy type activities but Kinabalu is a bit of an unusual climb. Most of it is simply steps and so rather than climbing it’s more of a giant stairmaster. Much as I ‘love’ the stairmaster at the gym I wasn’t sure this type of a climb appealed to me. Also because of the climate, shortly after sunrise thick cloud descends and the summit is enveloped and so usually the climb is split over two days
. On day one, climb as far as Laban Rata, about 3 quarters of the way up and then set off in the pitch black in the early hours of the next morning to summit just before sunrise. The problem with this is that the trip has to be booked in advance to secure accommodation at Laban Rata – rooms here are limited, the Ranger won’t let you climb without a booking and an outfit called Suerta Lodge has a monopoly on all of the accommodation and it is ridiculously overpriced. To have forked out for it on a backpackers budget we’d have really really wanted to do it, it was all people on a 2/3 week holiday and a LOT of Japanese tourists on their package holidays – hence them getting away with the inflated prices. Even so we thought we’d head down to the park 2 K walk away and see if there was any availability before deciding for sure. Unsurprisingly there wasn’t and so the decision we were left with was whether to attempt the climb in one day and hope that our legs were up for it and that we could handle the altitude without altitude sickness setting in. Well I’m afraid that this blog isn’t as exciting as you think it might be because we decided not to do it (after a lot of umming and ahhing from me!!). Basically while we knew we’d be able for the day climb in all probability, we would have summited at 1 in the afternoon at which time there was zero chance of any kind of view and so while it is a box to tick in theory while in this part of the world, we just didn’t see the point and figured our money would be spent better elsewhere
. We talked to the staff at the National Park and since there were about 15 trails in the park around the base of Kinabalu there was plenty to keep us busy over the next two and a half days! That afternoon we did two of the trails and got back to the lodge just as it was going dark. We had dinner at the lodge that night and were joined by an elderly Japanese man who was doing the climb the next morning and two English girls who had just returned from completing the climb. Good company over dinner and the state the girls were in made us very glad that we weren’t going to be trying the climb in one day after all! One of them was particularly wrecked and when the chair collapsed underneath her at the dinner table she couldn’t actually get up and her friend couldn’t help her for laughing. Don’t know what the chances are of this happening but Leo the owner of the lodge came over with another chair all apologetic and then 10 minutes later the exact same thing happened and she was on the floor. Fricking hilarious! Best bit was when Leo came over again and just said ‘Again?’ totally deadpan. We were all in stiches – expect the girl who was still on the floor in a state of shock (she did laugh later so I’m not being mean here). Even better was when Leo then brought over a plastic chair and told her that she should be OK with that one.
The next morning we were up for an early start to get in a full days trekking
. Since we were in bed before 9 the night before we had no excuse! It was a beautiful morning and talking to Leo at breakfast we decided to take a trail that wasn’t marked on the official map that would take us from the lodge and join another trail in the park – should take about an hour he said as it wasn’t direct and winded in and out of the forest a good bit. Sounded good we thought although he was trying to talk us out of taking this one and get us to take another, more direct trail, that was used more and was easier going. We were pretty fired up for a good trek and so without hesitation we had opted for the more difficult option. Leo checked what footwear we had on (with hindsight this should have been a big clue) and with his eyebrows raised pointed out the slight gap in the trees where the trail started. To get to this gap we had to traverse a steep hillside which had turned into mud with the overnight rain. I went first with the Bambi legs I always have starting out trekking, tentative I might have been but I got across fine and peered apprehensively into the dense forest ahead where the ‘trail’ was. I then heard a shout behind me and Tom who had been laughing and urging me to go faster seconds before was lying on the hill having slipped down about a foot. Couldn’t help but laugh especially as he was covered in mud before we’d even started. I don’t know how much faith Leo had in us coming back in one piece after witnessing all this! On we went undeterred keeping half an eye out for the splotches of red paint that marked the way and using the rest of our concentration to try and find good footing, stop ourselves falling and to spot any leeches that had attached themselves to us – of which there were lots and lots trying their hardest
! Now I’m not joking when I say this trail which took us about an hour and a half was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done, Tom said the same too and that he didn’t think many girls would have been able for it – ahem!! This was PROPER rainforest we were trekking through. While there were plenty of red marks there was absolutely nothing else to distinguish the ‘trail’ from the rest of the thick vegetation. The plants were up to my waist and shorts were definitely a bad idea as there were quite a few thorny stems the forest being as inhospitable as it is and my legs were shredded – more travel scars probably and plenty of opportunities for those leeches! It was also really tough going as you couldn’t actually see properly where you were putting your feet and so often we thought we had a good footing only to slip a good bit and in some parts there were steep hills to the side of us! We were just hoping that we were making enough noise to scare any snakes away. After a while I acquired a stick to flick off leeches and to clear away cobwebs as I kept plunging head first into them and was starting to get freaked out. The stick was named the wand since Tom watching from behind reckoned I looked like Tinkerbell waving the stick around and muttering to myself. Not long after I upgraded to a staff and I renamed myself Gandalf when Tom found me a deadly walking stick J The hardest part was a steep hill that we literally had to scramble up using our hands and Tom pushing me up by my ass when we got to parts my legs couldn’t reach a god footing on
. We eventually reached a bit of a clearing and the going got a little bit easier, then harder again and then all of a sudden we joined the other trail. Since that trail was managed by the park staff, although rugged enough it was at least a definite trail cleared out of the forest that could be trekked easily enough. Phew! We sat down and I stripped off my boots and socks to check for leeches – clear! We spent the rest of the day trekking through the park through a few showers and were on the go for a good 8 hours. The best trail out of these was the Ligwau trail (about 6K) which followed a river for the most part and had some good views and waterfalls. The only wildlife we spotted was some squirrels but we had been forewarned not to expect to see anything as most animals stay well clear of the trails. With about 20 K under our belts we made it back to the hostel just as it was getting dark. We’d stopped off for dinner at restaurant opposite the national park entrance but Tom had worked up an appetite and had a second dinner at the lodge while I slept! We had a good sleep that night, the kind of sleep you only get from the magic combination of being physically exhausted and having had lots of fresh air. Still we were up just after 7 for our breakfast and bound once again for the National park to complete the couple of trails we had left. We did all but one as the weather turned truly miserable and spent an hour in the Botanical Gardens there absorbing a few facts about the rainforest we’d been walking through and would shortly be seeing a lot more of on the next few stops in Borneo
. We arrived back mid-afternoon and met the new arrivals, an English couple who were planning on getting up the next morning to climb Kinabalu in the one day. We were nice enough to spare them what we’d heard about this and spent the afternoon nattering away before wishing them the best of luck as we all got an early night.
We’d been contemplating visiting the Poring Hot Springs the following day as it was in the National Park but on the other side and so therefore only a slight detour from the road we’d be taking South East to Sepilok. In the end we decided to miss it as a lot of the countries we’ll be going to have hot springs and these ones weren’t supposed to be mindblowing. Instead we were going to get the first bus to Sepilok (the Kota Kinabalu - Sanakan bus) which passed by the National Park Headquarters just after 9. Getting an early start we were hoping to get to Sepilok in time for the afternoon feeding at the Orangutan Rehabilation Centre which is the main draw for visitors in Sabah after Mount Kinabalu. We got a lift to the National Park as we’d done so much walking the last few days we simply couldn’t face that 2K with our backpacks and were only waiting 20 minutes before Tom flagged down a brand new double decker coach which was bound for Sandakan. Just to point out that before this he had stopped 3 other buses as most of the buses passing didn’t have the destination displayed – bit different to Dublin bus
. Anyway we climbed on board and got great seats right at the front of the top deck from where we could take in the scenery of rainforest, mountains and rivers and unfortunately palm oil plantations as we went. While I was taking it in anyway, Tom was glued to the TV screen over his head which was playing first kareoke and then a very bad 80s action movie from what I could make out! Will write more about the palm oil industry in Borneo in the next couple of blogs but there is only really one main highway in Sabah which would once have passed through primary rainforest on either side of the road. Once we had left the Kinabalu area behind, the forest was replaced more or less all the way down to Sepilok by plantations where rainforest had been razed for as far as the eye can see (from the top of a double decker this is quite far) and replaced with rows and rows of palm trees. The palm trees are harvested for their palm oil which is used in a wide range of products consumed worldwide without people realising the effects on the environment and destruction of habitat caused by the production of this ingredient. Anyway more ranting on this topic will follow but suffice to say that while I was mega excited approaching Sepilok in anticipation of seeing some ginger apes, it was quite a sobering experience to see so starkly the loss of their home and in many cases the reason why these apes require the sanctuary of the rehabilitation center.
I still don’t, and never will, know how we managed to carry our backpacks that kilometer to the hostel, it was exhausting even without the bags
I don’t think I ever had any intention of climbing Mount Kinabalu in one day. Its supposed to be exhausting doing it in 2 days (the girls at the hostel couldn’t walk down stairs after it!), was glad Karen eventually talked herself out of it!
I must be getting fitter though, we easily did 20km of proper hiking in the jungle that second day, and I’d say there hadnt been anyone on that “trail” we started off on in months. Well impressed with Kaz. One of the hardest hikes ive ever done, had to laugh when we finished it and the first thing Karen said to me when she caught her breath was “We’re hardcore!”
Really enjoyed the hikes even if we have turned in to an auld pair going to bed at 9pm and getting get up at 7!
And that ancient 80s Action flick on the bus was Universal Soldier… Quality! That was until they switched it midway through to some Jason Segal rubbish… I was gutted but when I looked round I reckon I was the only one watching it.
Also Palm Oil Plantation = Not good. You get facts of the number of football pitches of rainforest that are destroyed every day which are shocking enough, but when you begin to see the sum of all those football pitches, where the rainforest used to be… well its hard to convey the kind of sense of waste you feel. Right I’m off to hug a tree here.
We loaded up and set off from the hostel for the bus station just 5 minutes down the road. Had no problem getting the right bus, or minivan I should say as a bloke came over to us straight away asking "where you wana go?". Made ourselves comfy in a newish looking van with nice seats and 5 minutes later the van pulled off more or less full up. We went up the hill, round a corner and then the van pulled up at the side of the road next to another ramshackle looking van. Haha I joked “this is where we change buses” referring to our experience in Thailand where we changed buses at least 3 times on every journey. I wasn't being serious at all but just after I said that the driver opened the van door at said “change buses, everybody get off”. So funny! Just had to laugh as the bus we got on was ancient, Tom sat behind the driver and there was this rusty metal lever that jerked up whenever the door was opened and we ended up squashing onto a two seater seat with an elderly Malaysian man. Two hours later and with 2 numb bums we arrived at the National Park I had a few 'words’ with the driver as he’d said he’d drop us at the turn off for our accommodation but instead was trying to leave us at the National Park Headquarters 1K away