INCREDIBLE Borneo...Some of the WILD parts

Trip Start Sep 05, 2006
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Friday, February 9, 2007

Its been a while since I last wrote, but I've been away from civilization for quite some time doing some absolutely extraordinary things.  Sorry about the spelling this time, I havent used a keyboard for a while and Im to lazy to go over everything.  Since writting ive seen the worlds largest flower (a native resident of Borneo), climbed the highest mountain between the Himalaya and Japan, and done several days of diving at Jaques Cousteau's favorite dive site. 

Let me explain...

The largest flower in the world is the Rafflesia flower discoverd by some Dutch industrialist in the early 1800's when the colonial powers were off roaming around the world and digging through the soil of wild island pacific nations, they often came across rare and exciting species.  The Rafflesia really is an impressive sight.  It reaches up to 80cm across, its generaly fairly solitary, and after a budding period of 15 months blossoms for only 7 days.  What this means is that it is a fairly rare sight, and to see them in full bloom is pretty incredible.  OK so its a flower, but its still cool.  Sitting in my hostel in KK one day, a Brittish and Finish couple approached me and asked if I'd like to go hunting up in the jungle about an hour and a half away from KK by car for these flower.  Of course I do.  I made the mistake of not preparing myself with proper gear to go roaming around the highland jungle in Borneo, shorts and flip flops doesnt really cut it.  We had favorable weather, but it was picking leeches off my legs and feet by the handfull that go tiring.  Amazingly, I came out of the jungle with not a single leech bite.  Despite picking off at least 50, I somehow came out clean.  Completely accidental, but I think having only sandals was actually an advantage.  The other two folks who were with me had long pants, shoes and socks (highl recommended) but because of their socks, they each got leeches stuck inside that went unnoticed for long periods of time and thus had rather full meals.  Leeches are a nasty, devilish little creature, and like mosquitos, to keep the blood flowing they exreete some kind of anti-blood clotting poison on the bite wound.  The difference though is that they excreete about a million times more of this stuff than mosquitos do.  The result was that the legs of the two other Rafflesia explorers bled all evenening, all night and even the next morning.  Eww. 

Kristina arrived that evening, and we've been having a true blast really discovering some of what north Borneo has to offer.  Having spent all that time in the Himalaya, it was back to the altitude for us.  That blip on the map north of KK is where Mount Kinabalu stands.  It towers above the rest of Borneo, which is very hilly, but this hill has reached true mountain status.  Its stands at about 14000 ft, and there is nothing else anywhere near this high.  Unlike the himalaya, you really notice the altitude difference.  Clouds seem to fly pretty low in this part of the world, so to be standing 10000 ft above the clouds and looking down on the cloudy, rolling hilly landscape has an added coolnes effect to the sight.  Mount Kinabalu itself is strikingly remenicient of Mordor from the Lord of the Rings.  Its a cold, dessolate moonscape that explodes above the tree line to reveal jagged, black granite steep slopes only climable with help from the bolted ropes.  Its a two day climb, the first day it rained on us the entire day, the second day (the summit day) could not have been more perfect.  We were woken at 2am to begin the trip to the top.  It was a full moon, and not a cloud in the sky.  We watched the sun rise from the summit, watching it rise from above the clouds.  WOW.  Our knees took a real battering on the way down, we were both sore for a couple of days.  One of the more peculiar sights was at the lodge the night before we summitted.  Germans never cease to impress me as well as make me laugh, thank god for those funny people.  Two germans were doing the climb together, they were an older couple of guys with full everest assault gear.  But inside the warm lodge, there werent affraid to shed their clothes...all of them.  Well, one of the Germans wore what looked to be running shorts, but underneath he appeared to be wearing a speedo.  His running shorts weren't long enough even to cover a speedo, so his undercarriage bulged from under his running shorts.  It was an interesting look, one I dont think i've ever seen before.  Maybe Ill give it a shot.  Kinabalu is a great climb, even if its a bit wet, I'd recommend it to anyone visiting Borneo.

Now for the the real treat.  We debated heavily back and forth for a number of days about how to spend the remainder of our time together in Borneo.  After several days of this, we decided to head of to Pulau Sipadan.  Kristina had expressed wanting to take her Diver certification course, and I had been talking about Pulau Sipadan for months.  We are here, as close as we were ever going to get, so why not satisy both of our needs and just do it.  Diving is an expensive endevour, but let me tell you, Sipadan is a real treat.  The place is known around the world and every year it is listed in the top five dive spots in the entire world.  It was Jaques Cousteau's favorite place to go, so it had to be truly amazing.  Every ringitt we spent out there was well worth it.  Where else can you go where evey single dive you are guaranteed to be swimming with swarms of sharks and turtles along brilliant coral walls in visibility from 20-50 meters every day?  We stayed in nearby Pulau Mabul which is an impressive tiny island near Sipadan, they only place off the mainland where its possible to stay.  Not many people stay out there as it is, as the island itself has just a tiny delapidated immigrant Philipino village, and its truly tiny.  Its possible to walk around the whole island in 30 minutes.  The other two dive resorts on the island charge around 300 US per night, but in the past couple years, a small backpacker friendly outfit built a small, simple basic accomodation on the island where we stayed for about 15 US each.  As amazing the dive sites at sipadan are, the staff and divemasters at Uncle Chang's where we stayed on Mabul made us feel like family.  Kristina was lucky enough to get her course one on one with a german instructor.  As if having a one on one situation isnt enough, the guy was quite good looking making it all the better for her.  So, its not really possible to describe to you what the diving is like out there, pictures may be the only way.  I did three dives a day for three days which for me is quite a heavy load.  By the end of it though, all I wanted to do was be underwater seeing everything there is to see.  I cruised around on a sloping sandy patch at about 25 meeters where droves of 7ft grey reef sharks rested on the bottom.  Kicking off the coral walls groups of 3 to 15 sleek, fast, strong white tip sharks (look like mini great whites)hunted among the schools of grouper.  Turning toward the surface I'd usually see a turtle or two the size of a breakfast table glidding gracefully where the backdrop was a bright blue beutifully illuminated by the sun.  Or I'd come around a  pinacle to see a a school of fish several thousand strong, each the size of my forearm.  I liked spending lots of time right on the corral walls so that my entire field of vision was lit up by so many florecent collors it makes vegas seem like a dark place.  Moving really close to the walls, I'd find tiny neudibranch's in purple, yellow, turqoise, green, magenta.

Its so incredible to be down at 40 meters (120ft) underwater, a place where humans are not meant to be and know that you are seeing things so special.  Even just floating around below, experienceing complete weightlessnes and watching a world so full of life where humans arent even part of the equation.  I have a new love for diving, and I see myself spending quite a bit of time an money throughout my life continuing to explore what the ocean tries to conceal from us air breathing creatures.  This was an incredible way to bring the first part of my travel to an end, and Im so happy to have done this with Kristina and watch her benefits from seeing the underwater world.  The first time someone gets face to face with an 8ft shark within arms reach is pretty fabulous. 

In two days ill be on my way to NZ to begin working.  Its been such a life changing experience so far, and I hope that my adventures will continue to bring unexpected wonderful fantasies to life. 
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