Tropical Islands to Rugged Highlands…Expedition Borneo (Nov. 15th – 21st)

After two different ferries and a cozy bus, we found ourselves back in familiar Kota Kinabalu at Summer Inn. Our baggage was still in their storage room and we resuscitated ourselves with a nice dinner of salad! So what now? With six days left, we wanted to check off the last two major things on our list. First we must dive Sipidan, and secondly, climb Mount Kinabalu! We booked our flight aboard Air Asia to Tawau (The eastern most city on Borneo) then fell asleep dreaming of coral gardens.

Early in the morning we woke up and taxied to the airport. Air Asia is definitely a cheap, low-budget airline and it felt like we were corralled like oxen into the plane. There are no assigned seats…first come, first serve which really make for a stressful boarding process when combined with Asian mentality. Eventually we were on our way, and we were fortunate to see the summit of Mount Kinabalu perched above the clouds as we passed by. I was anxious to mountain climb, but honestly, the mountain looked pretty intense. Fortunately ‘intense’ is my middle name!

While landing, I noticed the water around Tawau didn’t look that crystal clear. I was worried that the diving wouldn’t compare to Palau, since I had been spoiled in paradise. Regardless, we taxied from the airport to the tiny port town, and then reserved two nights with Uncle Chang’s Dive Company. Uncle Chang’s was a low-budget type accommodation, perfect for our budget…but not necessarily perfect for our itinerary as we soon found out. We loaded into a small motor boat with some friends we made (also staying at Uncle Chang’s; a cute couple in their early thirties…the man, Mexican, and the woman, Canadian) and journeyed out across the sea.

Finally, the browns of the sludge turned into the turquoises of the tropics. The further away we got from the shore the more pristine the sea became. In the distance we saw our destination….Mabul Island. Mabul is the base island for people traveling to dive Sipidan. Sipidan is a famous spot amongst world class divers for its premier mega fauna. Everything from Manta Rays to Whale Sharks frequent the location…since drop offs plunge hundreds of feet into the deep. Sea turtles also offer a certain charm to the locale. Apparently, they are everywhere, and if you don’t see dozens of them while you are out in the water, then you can’t read this entry unless your monitor translates my blog into brail. Mabul in the distance crept closer and closer.

After the hour long boat ride, we arrived. The island was tiny….with beautiful resorts jetting out on long docks from the tiny land mass. Bungalows were literally built on stilts over the aquatic calmness and connected by long boardwalks over the reef. It was definitely the type places you see in Dive Magazines or Tropical Getaway advertisements. Uncle Chang’s however, was not so elegant. It emphasized the fact we were only there for the marine life…not the classiness of our accommodation, so first thing first…let’s get in the water!

Our first dive wasn’t scheduled till tomorrow, but Michelle and I didn’t want to waste the daylight of the afternoon just sitting on the dock. We asked one of the employees how we go about renting gear. All we wanted to do was dive around Mabul…which offers fantastic Muck diving opportunities. Anyway, we were denied! Even from the manager himself, we weren’t allowed to rent gear!! This infuriated Michelle and I. See, Uncle Change and his posse of swindles would only rent us gear if we paid extra for dive fees and a guide. We had never run into this problem before…considering I’m an advanced diver and Michelle is a dive master, so we were a little ticked off. To make us even more upset, at the 4 other resorts we ventured too, we would have been allowed to rent gear if we were guests at their resort. It stinks to have to travel around with your own dive gear, since it’s quite bulky, but this event more than ever had me anxious to purchase my own equipment. Thankfully, we did have our own masks and snorkel so we angrily swam in the water and viewed the denizens of the shallows.

We saw a couple neat fish…some gobbies that looked like Manderin fish but different in color, and some neat pipe fish. Sadly, we saw the remains of a beautiful bamboo shark that was de-finned and just laying upside down on the ocean floor. I moved it to see if it was still breathing, but despite how recently the barbaric act seemed to take place, it was surly dead. So sad how people can waste so much for only so little…but I guess that’s what greed does. We took several pictures and after about two hours of snorkeling, we exited the water to an amazing sunset. Michelle played with some kids that were swimming in the sea while I captured some photos of the sun dipping behind the palm trees growing in the sandy soil of our little island.

One thing Uncle Chang did get right was the buffets. Maybe it wasn’t the best of food, but it was definitely edible and there was plenty of it…Fish, Chicken, rice, and veggies. We returned back to our room right before a huge rain storm, just in time for dinner. We ate under an enormous awning at a communal table and met some of the other people at the lodge as well. A young British couple, about our same age, was loud and funny. In contrast, there was a quiet, lone Australian guy who convinced me to go to the World Cup in South Africa 2010…Count me in! Also, there was an older (50’s) English pair looking for a good time, and lastly a solitary Swede who emitted a creepy vibe but interesting nonetheless. Oh, and the Mexican and Canadian were there too. Michelle and I, as usual, were the only ones representing the USA! Tomorrow we all were heading out to dive Sipidan!

And that moment came sooner than expected! Even though the sun just came up, it was already shinning bright in the sky as we exited our room anxious for what we had heard so much about…Sipidan. We suited up with our equipment, then loaded the boat for the 20 minute ride out to the sister island. Even before we submerged, we could already check turtles off the list since their heads were seen bobbing above the small waves of the open ocean. When Sipidan became literally a five minute swim away, we tied the boat to a buoy and began our first dive.

The water was crisp, thank goodness for the wetsuit. The first thing I noticed was the million of triggerfish that schooled all around us. We were diving a drop off and the wall didn’t really support too much coral life. It had looked, in my opinion, like it had been over-dove in its day. As the dive went on, however, the landscape began to transform. Early in the dive I managed to find one nudibranch, but after that, the little sea slugs were no more. Instead of the inverts however, the turtles were everywhere. Personally, after living in Palau, I view sea turtles like I view parrot fish…a very common, edible food source. What I’m trying to say is I wasn’t there for the turtles, I wanted to see more nudibranchs!! If you wanted turtles however, this is your spot on the planet.

Sharks were everywhere as well…the typical reef sharks. They were abundant and patrolling. The conditions were very similar to Palau. To contrast….hmmm, let me try. Palau seems to have a much larger selection of high end dive sites, I mean after all it’s an entire archipelago of tropical reef. Here, Sipidan just has one tiny island surrounded by corals. There seemed to be more turtles compacted into the small space, but you are definitely guaranteed to see turtles in Palau and how many turtles do you need to see in order to be happy? I guess to sum it up, if you have one day to dive, I’d say they are both a great choice, but for a diving holiday where you can spend a week or two doing nothing but diving…definitely Palau is where you need to be.

While taking a break in between our second and third dive we had lunch. A giant water monitor slithered by us while we were eating, and everyone was a little hesitant of a giant predator lurking about….well, except Michelle and I. I wanted to get up close and personal, but I didn’t want to cause a seen and attract unnecessary attention. Obviously, monitors were inhabitants of the island, so I was anxious to finish eating and start snooping to see what kind of lizards I could find. Sure enough, just minutes from the pack still munching away, Michelle and I were face to face with a big boy! Taking a skill I harnessed in Palau, I sprinted at the adult monitor (probably ably five feet from head to tail), which sent him scurrying up a tree. Only thing is, adults being thick and heavy are no longer agile tree climbers. I ran up to the frantic reptile, seizing him by the tail. When his talons let loose of the bark, I had an enormous lizard doing what ever was in its power to sink in it’s hundreds of teeth and razor sharp claws into my skin. Nonetheless, I had it in a position where this scenario wasn’t an option. Eventually, when the opportunity presented itself, I was able to grab it behind the head.

The water monitor had rope around its neck like it had been stuck in a net. Anyway, I’m glad I was able to catch it in order to remove the hazardous collar. Michelle ran to get a knife which attracted attention from the rest of our fellow divers. Most of them came to see what we were up too, and became quite astonished to see what they found. I explained to them a little about monitor biology and felt like I was doing some sort of performance with the animal. Michelle returned with a knife, we removed the rope, and then released the beautiful lizard back to his beautiful home!

Our last and final dive was once again, spectacular. The turtles were so tranquil it easy to touch them…..even ride them. The coral was lush, and the abundance of fish species made a marine aquarium look monotonic. I saw several lion fish, clown triggers, and a couple blue tangs. Sipidan diving turned out to be better than expected…a more than welcoming surprise!

We cruised back to Mabul, just in time for dinner. That night we ended up deepening the friendship with the rest of our dive buddies. We had brought a bottle of rum to the isle, which we popped open and shared with everyone. What started out as a game of cards, quickly turned into a drinking match. Before we had too much time to experience the effects of the liquor however, a violent storm came spiraling through. The rain was heavy, but what was more memorable was the wind which picked up the cards and scattered them everywhere. Even though we were sheltered by a roof, the horizontal rain pelted us all. We had to call it a night!

Next morning, Michelle and I had a decision to make; re-dive Sipidan or do some muck diving around Mabul. The group we were with thought the idea of muck diving was ridiculous when Sipidan offered turtles and sharks around every corner…..but for Michelle and I, we were anxious for some of the ‘neater’ creatures.

When that morning came, we were jointed by our dive guide, the boat captain, and our Canadian and Mexican compadres. In no time we were back on the water heading to Froggy’s Lair, one of Mabul’s dive sites. We began our aquatic hunt for the bizarre. Two new nudibranchs were photographed, but the highlight of this dive was definitely the two gigantic cuddlefish. Personally, I never thought cuddlefish grew to such a size, I mean these two specimens were much larger than a basketball. They weren’t exactly as interactive as I had seen in the past, but nonetheless, you could look into their eyes and see that something was looking back at you…thinking…interpreting. They were inquisitive and curious. Eventually we parted ways.

After lunch, our next dive focused on pygmy sea horses. It was one of my main goals to see one of these guys, and after coming up short in Suluwesi, I was anxious to trap the tiny animals in photographs. Well, after spending endless minutes scanning the gorgonian sea fans, we never found one. Urgg…Oh well, still up there on the to-do list I guess. I mean I still got to have some thing to live for!

Well, no pygmy sea horse, but guess what? We did find two of the giant frog fish species. One was crimson read while the other was jet black. What…you don’t know what frogfish are? Well, they belong in the angler fish family, and basically look exactly like sponges. In fact, if you don’t know what to look for, you will never find one. When they are motionless, they are basically a sponge. They even have the pores that sponges do. Their mimicry not only helps camouflage them from predators, but keeps them hidden from potential prey. I was psyched to encounter these fishies….and after we surfaced back to the boat we now had just one last dive remaining for the entire, year-long trip!

Well, back to splashing in the water we went, this time over a man-made contraption attracting aquatic inhabitants. The last dive…..so sentimental. Well guess what…there were a couple things I was dieing to see and my wishes came true, can you believe it. The whole time I had been hoping to encounter the pink nudibranch with a dominant white strip down its sides, and sure enough we didn’t only see one, but three!!! Get this too…three more different species of frogfish! One was bright yellow, the other was a vibrant orange, and lastly, a little clown frogfish which was white and orange mixed. How cool is that…I couldn’t have asked for a better last dive. Michelle and I were so enthused. All I did was go from one awesome animal to another taking millions of pictures. It was definitely one of the most successful dives I had ever been on, but it definitely wasn’t for everybody cause the conditions were a little murky and the scenery was basically a bunch of two by fours bolted to each other. For me, it was a play ground of discoveries! What a great way to exit the water!

Back above the surface, Michelle and I went over how awesome our last dive was. We looked at some of the pictures and were ecstatic with how we thought they would turn out. Even though Uncle Chang’s was a little rough with regulation, under the water we couldn’t have asked for anything more. Sipidan and Mabul was truly paradise no matter what it is you look for in an incredible dive.

We returned back to the lodge and found a boat ready to take us back to Tawau. Leaving a special spot is never fun, but I met two Germans that talked enough to distract me from the sadness. When we got to port, we said goodbye to our English friends and mini-vanned it to a bus stop down town. It was dark when we arrived, and we scouted around for a hotel. We found a nice room for a decent price, dropped off our luggage, and returned to the streets for some food. Both deciding on some Thai Coconut Curry and combining that with some salad, we brought it all back to the hotel room….definitely one of my favorite things to do! We ate to a movie on TV (even though it didn’t come in well), and fell asleep still thinking about how privileged we were to experience a world so foreign and beautiful, under the waves.

THE MOUNTAIN

Next morning we were sitting on a plane heading back to Kota Kinabalu. Not knowing too much of what to expect from our next expedition (even more so than all our other mini-excursions), we taxied back to Summer Inn to exchange gear in preparation for mountain climbing. Switching masks for hiking boots, and trading dirty cloths for clean laundry (we dropped off before diving), we packed enough equipment to fit into just one backpack (Michelle’s, cause it is smaller). We topped off the pack with some food supplies from the local mini-mart, then left the rest of our gear in the baggage room of the Inn. We found a mini-van headed for Ranau, with the plan of jumping out three quarters of the way at the Mount Kinabalu Park Head Quarters. Off we went on the hour long ride….. well, this is Asia, so it took three!

Crazy huh, just the same day we returned from our diving holiday and now we were set out on our mountain climbing expedition. Ahhh, a life this boy could get used too! We ended up arriving at HQ around 4 o’clock and signed in for the next morning. We arranged to climb the longer, more difficult trail (What’s wrong with us???) since it was supposedly more scenic, and after paying the fees we hitched to a nearby village under the shadow of the immense rock. Just our luck, this little village was having a cabbage festival!! Haha, I cared less, but Michelle seemed to be in veggie heaven…who knows sometimes!

After gathering our bearings, we decided to walk down a long dirt road in the direction of a referred hotel. What I didn’t expect was to be pointlessly trekking the day before ascending South East Asia’s highest mountain. About two hours later, as the sun was setting in the clear sky (revealing a treacherous looking peak), we made it to a hotel….well, resort really. Oh, it had the cost of a resort as well (about 50$)! Being one of the last few nights of our trip, we decided to splurge and sleep in luxury! And eat in luxury too….since the price included a buffet for breakfast and dinner!!!!

The room was spacious and clean. The bathroom had a calming blue hue emanating over its deluxe amenities. The view was even more spectacular from our balcony as it spanned out over an endless valley to the west. It was a relaxing way to spend the evening, the calm before the storm so to say.

Next morning we scheduled a hotel bus to give us a ride to the trail head, but when we negotiated a cost, it came to something absolutely ridiculous. The 20 minute drive was going to cost 70 Ringits a piece, that’s nearly 25 bucks per person. We refused to pay, so we began walking in hopes to hitch. Literally five minutes later we were in the back of a pick up heading towards the cabbage festival village. From there we caught another ride, wasting only ten minutes of time but saving much needed money. Eventually, we switched host cars for one final ride to the trail head. Everything worked out great and here we were, bright and early, willing and able!

The name of the trail was Mesilau, and it was there we were introduced to our guide. He seemed nice and we handed him and all the other guides extra oranges we didn’t want to carry up in our pack. Within no time, we began the ascent….and within no time, I was out of gas! Honestly, I may not be in the best condition, but I knew I was in better shape then what my performance was leading on. It was the backpack!! The scale at trail headquarters revealed its 19 kg mass, and everyone was making fun of me. I knew if we were to get to the lodge half way up, not to mention the summit, something was going to give. Thank goodness we were just told about the lodge selling food, which allowed for us to dispense some of the canned items we had in our pack….so out they went (our guide ended up taking most of them). There, that’s better…let’s do this thing!

Well, the scenic route offered no special privileges…only more agony. The day was cloudy as could be, and never cleared….so our extra kilometers only added pain and suffering with no pay off. The higher we ascended, the more it rained and colder it became. Michelle and I were scantily prepared as well. Coming from Micronesia, and Florida, my blood was thin as could be. Michelle was a little tougher, but nonetheless, we were constantly passing climbers decked out with thick, water-proof jackets and thermal gloves. Most of the trekkers thought we were crazy, and with that thought I think they had something going there.

The beginning was beautiful with a couple waterfalls and several pitcher plants (my favorite). Despite the mountain’s cold temperature, we got to catch a beautiful red snake that flattened out like a cobra below the tree line. We got some nice pictures before continuing the torture. The final stretch to our reserved hut (half way point) was sheer hell. Rain was dropping in buckets, and the wind’s constant gusts did not help one bit. The now microscopic trees offered no barrier to the chilling drafts. With sore and aching muscles, Michelle and I basically ran up the remaining kilometer. At the time it felt like we had no choice, so we had too.

When we finally got to our hut we were relieved for a moment, but then infuriated when we realized we needed to go up another couple hundred feet to the lodge to claim the key. With only heart pushing us on, we sprinted up through the sheets of rain, slippery rock, and bone chilling breeze before finally making it. Hell ya! Warm showers….NO WAY. Michelle and I were so excited, and off came the freezing cloths.

The showers were far from hot, but at least the nozzles were dribbling out water warmer then myself (that could have been any temperature above freezing). Unable to thaw out, I had to leave the shower still shivering. I put on some dry cloths and then found a spot to hang up my wet ones….that was until I realized they had a drying service!!! NICE! This mountain climbing thing was rough, but without these extra-unexpected comforts, things would have been much worse. Oh, and get this, they had a buffet up here, and a quiet good one indeed. It was expensive as hell, but hey, we’ll take it. Honestly, we knew we were going to get taken, but at this point, I would have sold my body for a hot beverage (rather then for the normal quick fix, self-esteem booster I’m used to). For the rest of the evening, Michelle and I stayed in the lobby of the lodge clutching warm tea. We watched the rest of the climbers file in frozen and dieing (basically). In all, there were probably 50 – 70 people anxious to get to the top tomorrow morning. We filled our tummies and talked to some of these crazies (you got to be to want to do this). Two of the guys we spoke with climbed Kilimanjaro two years ago, and said they never experienced such a difficult climb as the one we were doing. I felt good about that, but at the same time I was wondering what we had gotten ourselves into. Ha, I guess we were about to find out!

Oh thank heavens…this place rented out jackets too! I’ll take two please! Michelle and I rented out a couple coats a piece….not great jackets (I think it was out of the lost and found pile), but much warmer then the T-shirt I was going to have to wear. I’ll take it!!!

After dark, we decided to descend the couple hundred feet to our unheated huts. With flashlights in hand, we stumbled to our door only to realize another couple was already inside sleeping. We unfortunately woke them up with our scurrying about, which led to a conversation. The woman was fed up with this mountain, and wasn’t planning on continuing, while the guy seemed to be enjoying this self inflicted torture. We went to bed with blizzard like conditions occurring outside the paper-thin walls. Thank goodness for the thick, heavy blankets they provided!

Ok, so I slept fine, that was until about 2 am! Our alarms went off, and it was time to continue the hellacious endeavor. The plan was to get to the summit by sunrise, but when my worst nightmare became reality (continual rain outside), the goal was simply to get to the peak. We loaded our pack with only the necessary things for the 5 hour hike up and then five hour trek back to the hut. We met up with the guide at the lodge only to be given the news that the top of the mountain might be closed off to trekkers….NO! I was ready to sneak past the check point if necessary, I didn’t want all this to be in vein. Fortunately, they never shut us out, so in the miserable conditions, we moved one step after the other.

Oh man, this rock was intense. At times we were pulling ourselves nearly vertical across cliff faces. It was dark too, and when looking right or left, all I saw were free falling scenarios. I was worried Michelle or I would slip to our deaths, and this possibility kept being reconfirmed by our guide at certain spots where he told us people really did die. Why did I sign up for this again???? We trucked on…as fast as possible. I wanted to get to the top, then get down this God forsaken place. AHHH!!

My fingers froze..I think literally. I never needed a break from my feet, but I did have to stop a few times to thaw out my fingers. I was really worried about frost bite….I wanted to climb the mountain, but not at the expense of my digits. I warmed them in Michelle’s armpits (Thanks Michelle), but after they left that humid-hairy crevice (just kidding, thankfully), they seemed to just refreeze right before my eyes. This is nuts!

Finally, boulder after boulder, I could see the top. There it was, and we made it! We reached the summit of Mt. Kinabalu! We had absolutely no view due to the endless rain clouds, but at this point, I wasn’t in the mood to relax to a beautiful vista. I wanted to get down, and NOW!! We captured a few pictures in about a ten second span, then began descending. On the way down, about an hour after leaving the top, the sun began to come out, and we could see what a unique landscape this mountain top truly was. Everything was wet and slippery, reminding me of the moon. Huge boulders appeared out of no where, some smooth, some jagged. Waterfalls from all the rain seemed to cascade everywhere in all directions. The trail was only denoted by ropes embedded into the granite, and often fast flowing currents would criss-cross over the slick rock in the directions we needed to traverse. With the sky now a bit clearer, the mountain began to appear more beautiful then frightening, and although my body was still in a freezing state, the magnificent ambience, plus the high of actually summiting, began to warm my soul. Check list, Mount Kinabalu….Done! Well, that is if we can get off this thing!

At about 11 o’clock we were back at the hut. We had a quick breakfast lasting half an hour (Ramen Noodles we brought with us), then we continued down to Head Quarters. This time we went down the quickest way possible…still a good hike away (5 hrs). Fortunately, with each step it felt like it was getting warmer. I couldn’t wait to get down.

While returning, we passed hikers climbing upwards. We definitely prepared them for the torment they were about to endure, but told them it was possible if they were prepared for pain. Haha, honestly, I don’t think the hike was that bad….just the conditions being so horrible made it as treacherous as it was. In fact, only 30 percent of the people that attempted to ascend that day reached the top. Most had to turn back. That made Michelle and I pretty proud of ourselves, and before we knew it, we were back in the trees!

A Dutch man we encountered gave up the climb, deciding to turn away from his group that was heading to the camp that day, to trek down with us for the remaining few kilometers. Passing through different stages…cloud forests, tree fern forests, then humid jungle, we finally made it to the road where a mini-van picked us up. We returned back to headquarters happy (and probably as smelly) as a wet and soggy clam. High five girl…We Did It!

Back at headquarters, we went out to the main road and waited for a bus. We now wanted to get to the town of Ranau in order to catch a connecting ride to Pouring Hot Springs…a locale we had heard so much about! A couple hours later, that’s where we found ourselves.

What brought us here you ask….well, the hot springs for one, but there was also an orangutan that lived in the region and wild Raflessia flowers in the jungle. The orangutan named Jackie was expected to come down from the trees at four o’clock, so we ran to the botanical gardens were we thought she was going to be. Well, when we got there, we realized this was not an organized program with lots of tourists and animal handlers involved. It was basically a platform attached to a tree where we saw some bananas just laying on top. We were the only ones there, and we sat and waited. Unsure if this was the right place (the staff didn’t even really know what was going on), we got restless with the idea of sitting on the jungle floor in the rain with the leeches, and decided to remove orangutans from the list. Instead of waiting around for the primate, we decided on something a little bit more wild….haha, ironic if you asked me…the fact we’d rather see a flower than a great ape, but nonetheless, here we were, taxiing to the location where a bloom was in progress. See, these flowers are the World’s largest, but they only last for a few days, so it’s rare to catch one in all it’s glory. Well, we were lucky, cause after paying a guy five bucks to take us to a bloom he had growing on his jungle property, we now found ourselves face to face with this rotten smelling, lava looking, bubbly pedaled massive bloom. Calling it a flower is putting it nicely. Actually, that’s a lie. It really was beautiful. It was about 2 feet across, maybe that and some inches. The flower was so breathtaking in fact, I started to cry….that’s a joke too, but I was happy to see it!

With time wasting…and hot springs to dip into, we finished our three hundred pictures of the motionless bloom and headed back to the taxi. We checked out a budget hotel room for a couple bucks, then headed across the streets to the springs. I’m used to these beautiful botanical oasis’s in Costa Rica, all natural in appearance and steamy enough to truly relax in, but here, Pouring Hot Springs was a major disappointment. Everything was concreted, and the jungle was out in the distance rather than all around you. I lost my desire to get wet, but Michelle talked me into filling up a tub and relaxing in it. In my opinion, it didn’t sooth the soul, and I think Michelle felt the same way, cause about thirty minutes later we were back at the hotel ordering dinner from the restaurant attached to the same building…now that’s relaxing! Even though the mountain gave me a head cold, we ate up (some chicken noodle soup) to some television in the air-conned room after a day of ascending the highest mountain and uncovering the World’s largest flower! What a trip!

Next morning, unbelievably, I was healed from my cold. I thought for sure I’d be full on sick for the rest of the trip, but that was not the case. It was a miracle! Another revelation was that my longing for the floral world was not yet satisfied. There were the World’s largest pitcher plants hidden somewhere in the jungle, and I wanted to witness them for myself. We headed back to Mesilau trail head, and instead of selecting the summit trail, this time we opted for a location our mountain guide referred us too, two days prior. When at the ranger station, a mandatory guided walk up to the plants cost a ridiculous 100$ a piece. Refusing to pay that, I mean who would, we pretended to leave when we actually walked to the location to which our former guide had referred. Unsure whether we were on the right path or not, we found ourselves confronting a rope bridge across a river, supporting a huge, locked gate at its entrance. Searching for a way to sneak past, I simply squeezed my hand through the backside and removed an unlocked padlock. Thank goodness it was that simply, otherwise who knows how we would have traversed the obstacle. Continuing onward.

Once on the other side, we immediately found a species of pitcher plant we had yet seen. They were zebra-like stripped and probably about 5 inches in height. These were not the main mission of this trek, but were a welcoming sign. We continued up the trail that zigzagged over a grassy hill. I was able to recognize the similar leaves that all the pitcher plants have, and when I followed one of them to the base, I noticed a huge pitcher! There it was…not as large as I was expecting, but the species nonetheless. Then there was another…and another!!! Each larger than the one before! We found the mother load!! And all by ourselves!! These pitchers were so large, some had the ability to hold up to two liters of liquid. These massively modified leaves were big enough to trap frogs and even rodents in their lethal concoction of fluids. I was in awe…Michelle was in ecstasy. They were purple in color and beautiful if you ask me! I was surprised with their abundance…they were definitely the dominant plant after whatever grass species was about. I can’t believe it, pitcher plants in Borneo…Dream come true baby (Ya, I’m an odd one)! Michelle found a different, tinier species to be adorable. We were in pitcher plant paradise!

After about 3 hours of frolicking amongst carnivorous plants, we returned to the ranger station hopping to hitch a ride with a passerby. It took a little longer than expected, but we managed to join a couple leaving work. The girl…a server at the restaurant, was actually headed back to Kota Kinabalu, the city where we were headed as well. She mentioned how in order to bus back to KK, we must first return to Ranau. We blindly followed her advice, which proved to be an enormous waste of time. We ended up driving all the way back to the city, before connecting with a different bus and returning back to the cabbage festival village we had just come from. Eventually from there it was off to KK, but because of bad traffic, we ended up arriving somewhat late, around 9pm. We returned to Summer Inn, unloaded our gear, and enjoyed some dinner. Tomorrow it was off to the airport to fly back to Manila, Philippines to conclude our unbelievable tour around South East Asia.

In one word, UNBELIEVABLE! From Jungles to Reef to Mountains…for any outdoors person, Borneo is a wonderland. Probably the most fun, definitely the most adventurous, and most certainly the most compact, back to back action of the entire trip. And having everything work out, loving every waking moment of it in one way or another, simply… ….UNBELIEVABLE!!!!!!!!!

One Response to “Tropical Islands to Rugged Highlands…Expedition Borneo (Nov. 15th – 21st)”

  1. I really enjoyed this. What a good Article!!

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