I arrived at Kota Kinabalu after an early flight and could not yet check in to my hotel. I left my bags there and wandered into the hot sunshine in the direction of the harbour. I sat for a while on the harbour front admiring the hazy view of the islands just off the coast. Then, after exploring one of KK’s many shopping malls, I looked for somewhere to eat. The local cuisine appears to be Italian, judging by the number of Italian restaurants. Well, when in KK, do what the Romans do, and eat pasta!
Back at the hotel, I settled in before heading out to the evening markets on the waterfront. These are dizzying with their array of local fruit, local fish, both fresh and dried, food stalls and all manner of other things. The smoothie stalls are tempting but probably not a good idea for foreigners as the ice may not be safe to consume. Tailors sit outside fabric shops carrying out alterations on beautiful old pedal driven sewing machines. KK does not have a lot of old architecture, having been almost completely destroyed by Allied bombing in the war in the effort to retake it from the Japanese. It is a funny city, aspiring to be very modern with its array of new buildings and shopping malls, but crammed with street markets. Even the malls are very different to the spacious western malls, as they tend to have narrow corridors and many small shops, more in the way of a souk.
The next morning I headed to the Sabah museum. This was really fascinating, housing an archeological collection showing the spread of man to Asia from Africa, and a collection of Stone Age tools. There is also a collection of photos showing the history of the Sabah Rangers, trained by the British to fight the Indonesians in the sixties. There is also a model longhouse interior showing some heads and the swords used for cutting them off, along with photos of head hunters and an explanation of the history of headhunting. The other side of the museum houses a beautiful collection of baskets and hats. The weaving varies depending on the function of the item and the ethnicity of its maker. This gives way to a collection of local dress, which is slightly incongruous in that it is displayed on blue eyed mannequins.
Outside, the museum is set in beautiful tropical gardens, where a photo shoot was taking place. I stumbled across a model in beautiful traditional dress and huge modern heels, posing with an unhappy model’s expression. Further along is the heritage village, which contains replica long houses showing the different design for different ethnic groups. I had to leave to get back for an afternoon excursion. Much to my frustration, the departure time was pushed back without anyone telling me. I only found out when I called to find out what was going on. This was annoying as I could have spent more time at the museum, as I had had little time to explore the Heritage Village.
Eventually my guide, Keli, appeared and we had a long drive to the Garama Wetlands. We stopped twice to kill a little time, as it was very hot and so little wildlife would be out yet. We briefly explored a local market and we stopped to photograph an impressive Chinese temple. However, my camera steamed up going from the air conditioned vehicle to the warm humid air outside and the pictures were all fuzzy.
Once at the base camp, I was given a cup of tea and some banana fritters before heading out on the boat. There were some macaques near the camp and we saw the flash of some proboscis monkeys disappearing as we got close, but otherwise we had little luck with the wildlife. Another long tailed macaque was calling a warning in a tree. It may have spotted a crocodile in the water below. Once it was dark, we passed herds of water buffalo lying in the water to cool off. My guide told me that in his culture he would have to pay a dowry of several water buffalo if he wanted to marry. It was easier when all you had to do was get a head, he lamented.
After dark, we admired the scores of tiny fireflies which light up the trees on the bank like Christmas trees. These tiny flies, each about the size of a grain of rice, blink furiously from their abdomens to attract a mate. It is amazing how much bioluminescence they emit given their small size.
We then headed back to the base camp where I had dinner surrounded by many skinny cats, which tucked into my tofu as soon as I left the table. We then had the long drive back to KK, during which Keli regaled me with tales of being caned with rattan for being caught drinking rice wine at school, and how he got into tourism as he did not meet the 1.70m minimum height requirement to become a policeman or fireman.
The following morning I just had time to explore the Sunday market before leaving for Sandakan. This had stalls selling bright sarongs and baggy trousers (much favoured by the backpacker crowd), beaded jewellery and souvenir key rings. At an intersection there was a large board containing condolence messages in memory of flight MH17. Along the side of the market, blind people were giving foot massages, which I confess I did not find at all tempting in the heat. After once again resisting the urge to buy souvenirs, I headed to the airport to catch my flight to Sandakan, from where it was a short drive to the Sepilok Nature Resort which was to be my home for the night.