Friday, 13 December 2013

Sun 24 Nov - Mulu to Kota Kinabalu

Immediately after getting back from Camp 5 on the Saturday, I'd raced off the boat and got online to book tickets to no avail, then got the 5 min shuttle bus down to Mulu airport with my Pinnacles buddy Christian with the hope of getting a ticket for the next plane straight outta there. School holidays thwarted my plans, and I have still never achieved that ultimate indicator of footloose travel, buying a ticket and getting on the next plane. However, second best meant getting a ticket direct to Kota Kinabalu for the following afternoon, and that was good enough for me. 

The delay gave me a chance to do the Night Walk at Mulu which introduced us to some extraordinary insects (see Imaginary Menagerie post) and an impromptu drunken karaoke session at the bar outside the park HQ with my pinnacle buddies; I was too drunk to resist the call to the mike, but too sober not to be self-conscious, which just proves I still haven't got the hang of bloody karaoke. With the dorm also being booked up by a school party of american school kids, I'd treated myself to a private room at the end of Longhouse 1 in the park - such luxury after four nights of open-air camping/dorming.

So on Sunday morning I enjoyed a lie-in, and a slow breakfast then headed down to Mulu airport. I was not the only one having a lazy day, as this baggage handler would attest.
Kota Kinabalu is the capital of Sabah, Mulu is in Sarawak, they are both independent regions within Malaysian Borneo, so there was exit/immigration a little paperwork to be done at the airport.

The landing strip at Mulu can be seen at the top of this photo.
Interesting difference in colour of the water between the sediment heavy river and the dark forest lake on the left stained by rotting leaves.

Will and Phie had already been in KK for a day when I arrived, they were snorkelling at one of the offshore islands that afternoon, so I had a look around the town before meeting them. Kota Kinabalu is not a big city. It's only about six streets wide from the sea to the rainforest, but stretches down the coast for a couple of kilometres. Retail is clearly high on the agenda here, and there were several large shopping malls of varying degrees of luxury that provided shelter from the afternoon rain, though frankly I prefer the real jungle to this concrete one. Aside from shopping, fishing is a big preoccupation here, the trawling fleet provided foreground interest to a beautiful sunset (though not as extraordinary as the one I'll blog about on the following day)
Just off the coast of KK are several islands with good diving, snorkelling and fishing.
Just before sunset I met up with Will and Phie, they were getting up early for the flight to Mulu in the morning, but for this evening our paths were intertwined. We had a couple of beers in one of the pricey bars before heading to the fish market by the sea.
There are several night markets in KK, the one by the fishing boats is constantly busy with local families enjoying really cheap meals of fresh BBQd fish served at long plastic trestle tables under jerry-rigged gazebos. Being local and muslim, there was no alcohol, but the fresh fruit cocktails more than compensated. Sophie and I picked out our fish and trusted that it was those that we received ten minutes later directly from the BBQ. Will chose the chicken, origin: unknown.

It was fantastic to catch up with my bro and sis-in-law for the second time in as many weeks, but the night was a short one, I said goodbye to them at the door of their hostel and headed back to mine, the Kinabalu backpackers, 100 yards further up Australian Place.

The following day was another lazy one, getting laundry done and trawling the many sunglasses shops of KK. I'd lost my last cheap pair down a small, but irretrievably deep crevasse near the top of the Pinnacles, now I ended up with two new pairs. 

This is Kota Kinabalu viewed from Signal Hill, you can see how narrow it is between sea and jungle. The yellow building on the far left is in Australian Place (named to commemorate ANZAC soldiers who helped liberate Borneo from the Japanese in WW2), the small street is now colonised by backpackers'.

At 5pm I also finally committed to the big expense of booking the package to climb Mount Kinabalu the following day. In high season, apparently it's necessary to book weeks on advance. In low season, it's evident one can book in the last hour of business the day before, especially if you do it directly through the monopoly holding Suetera Harbour shop. I think I paid about 750 ringit, which works out around £150 for the passes, permits, guide, and one night accommodation at Laban Rata, halfway up the hill.

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