Kuala Lumpur, which means ‘muddy estuary’ in Malay, began life in 1857 when Raja Abdullah opened an area in the Klang Valley for tin prospectors. It has since grown from a tiny tin mining community into the cosmopolitan capital of Malaysia. And as with most countries East of the UK, the British have played a role in that history.

The strong Chinese influence can be traced back to the 1860s when two rival Chinese gangs, who had migrated south to tap into the tin rush,  fought in a bloody civil war. The victorious gang leader, Yap Ah Loy, rebuilt the devastated town and populated it with even more Chinese miners, as well as encouraging Malay farmers to settle in KL to provide for the miners. KL’s oldest temple, Sze Ya, was built in 1864 by Loy and remains the oldest Tao temple in the city today.

In 1880 the British envoy, Sir Frank Swettenham, drew up the first city plan, which pushed KL forwards to become a modern town. Colonial houses sprouted up across the city as people cashed in on the tin trade. As the price of tin rose, so KL expanded. The opening of the railway in 1887 connected KL with the harbour and consolidated its economic strength. KL remained under British colonial influence until 1957 when the Union Jack was lowered and the Malaysian flag raised for the first time. Tunku Abdul Rahman, as first Malaysian PM, declared independence (Merdeka) after 151 years of British rule. KL was chosen as the capital of the independent Federation of Malaya. In 1963 Malaysia was formed, incorporating Malaya, Singapore and North Borneo. Singapore has since sneaked off to become a country in its own right but Malaysia still comprises the Peninsular land and the states of Sarawak and Sabah in North Borneo.

A cultural melange

Modern KL is a cultural melting pot for Asia. Very much like Singapore, it has attracted a cornucopia of Asian settlers, from the Malays to the Orientals and Australasians. The streets are awash with a wonderful variety of skin tones, facial features and languages. Alas my camera memory card has broken so I can’t upload any photos. Just think brown, lots of it.

The Golden Triangle is perhaps the most interesting part of downtown KL. It’s the crossroads for the trading hub of the main cultures in town; the Chinese, Indian and Malay communities. A walk up the main drag of Jalan Bukit Bintang will tease the taste buds; strong aromas of North Indian and Pakistani cuisine waft out from a myriad of eateries. Our pick is Rashid’s Restaurant UK Asia, a place with a buzzing atmosphere, convivial welcome and excellent service. Oh and the food is incredible; the ‘all you can eat’ buffet for MYR25 per person will send your stomach home full and content. On the corner of Changkat you can find the Bangladeshi market. Like its distant cousins in Dhaka, the market is crammed with stalls and eager shopkeepers trying to tempt you into buying things you just don’t need. I walked in with my Bangladesh cricket top on, quite by accident, and soon remembered the quick smile and affable character of the Bengali people. They really are friendly and hospitable and if you show an interest in their country, genuinely delighted. That pride in one’s home nation is nice to see, something we often lack in the UK.

There’s no mistaking the transition into the Chinese quarters. Suddenly the neon beats out from roadside eateries and the smell of MSG fills the air. It’s a constant bustle as the road is full of tables, chairs, people, cars and stalls. The sharp tonal cries of Mandarin can be heard above the street din. As quickly as you enter, it’s over and you emerge at the other end into a street that shows no sign of Chinese influence. It’s very much like a Mr Ben episode, leaving the fancy dress outfit in the changing room.

As you wander north towards the renowned twin Petronas Towers, the energy of the bustling street vendors is replaced by the sanitised polish of shopping mall Mecca. Consumerism is live and well in KL and a pantheon of malls adorns both sides of the road. The most impressive, though also most depressing, is the behemoth Times Square. Arguably the largest mall I have ever seen, it was built by the Berajaya Group and consists of East and West Wings joined by a central hall. Each Wing has 10 floors of shops and stalls and the central hall throws in a few surprises. Bang in the middle towards the rear is Malaysia’s largest indoor theme park. There is a huge rollercoaster than rumbles throughout this area, wrapping itself in an inverse loop around bridged walkways and hurtling out into open spaces that overlook the shopping mall. You can be walking around sniffing out your next consumer indulgence as the carriages of the rollercoaster hurtle overhead. Despite my dislike for the shopping mall experience, I was impressed by the vision and audacity of man’s creativity.

My shopping experience was, however, rather sober. I was hoping to pick up an iPad2 for Muni jani (they are £150 cheaper over here) but there was no stock anywhere in Malaysia. Depsite the huge window posters in the Apple Store, no stock was due for 4 weeks. I asked why there were no signs advertising this and, quelle surprise, there was no answer. Typical Apple marketing machine; build the hype, deliver a small amount, drive the expectation to fever pitch, then flood the market with stock to nail the revenue. Predictable but it works because us humans are tech whores.

A vibrant, proud local music scene

I must admit I arrived in KL rather blaze about what another Asian city could offer. Singapore left me cold and dry; it was the dullest city I have been to and I just couldn’t get myself into its vibe. However, in KL we found something completely different and we loved it.

KL has a vibrant local music scene. Creativity, culture and history mix to produce a healthy choice for the discerning punter. Having failed to plan a night at a jazz club in Singers, we decided to get organised and search out the spirit of jazz before we landed. From our island bolt hole on Tioman, I looked at the options and found some excellent reviews from local press and KL residents on the No Black Tie jazz club. A brief conversation with them on Facebook netted a table for Monday 20th to see a performer called Isaac Entry (no, not Isaac Hunt…).

We rocked up after a much needed siesta and a belly full of food and took our table at 21.00 ready for the 21.30 performance. Now of course this is Malaysia, so 21.30 really means around 22.00, so we had fired down a few generous JDs before Isaac kicked off.  The venue itself is excellent; a small bar area is separated from the live stage by a thick velvet curtain, keeping the noise out. The stage is small with a handful of tables on the ground level and a small balcony above. Capacity is perhaps 60 people max and it was 75% full.

The interior design is smart wooden panelling on the walls with monochrome for the stage. It’s minimalistic so the focus is on the performer. Isaac was good but not exceptional, though he as a wonderful voice. The second half of the show was by far the better with him performing songs from his new album, which had a satirical bite to them. A brass instrument specialist, who joined in with regular solos on sax, bassoon and flute, and a talented mouth organ man accompanied him. For a free show it was a great way to spend an evening and I would recommend anyone coming to KL to book a table at NBT to experience a different side of the nightlife. By the time we got home I was so fuelled on whisky that I left my bro chatting to a cute Danish girl at the hostel as I went and passed out.

The curtain draws..

As a last stop on a 9.5 month journey, KL was a good friend. I am pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the few days we spent here. From daytime walks to soak up the culture and history in Merdeka Square and Chinatown, to nightime jazz performances, it has a lot to offer. Our base at the super friendly Step Inn Guest House made it easy for us to explore the city and come back to calmness when we needed to escape the heat. If you are planning a trip out East and looking for a stopover city, we’d recommend KL above Singapore; it’s much cheaper and much more fun. Of course, that’s a personal take.

And once more into the breach, dear friends. In 1hr we head to the airport to board the Air Asia flight to Stansted. A mere 14hrs of high altitude tedium stands between me and my jani. I’m not sad to be leaving my travels behind; I have had an amazing time and am looking forward to catching up with friends and family and attending to the small matter of organising a wedding and finding somewhere to live. Back to life, back to reality, back to the here and now…..

love jamer & bro

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I’d been looking forward to our 3-day stopover in Singers as a welcome interlude between bouts of budget travel in Malaysia. I’d reasoned that a return to Western indulgences, albeit in an Eastern location, would be a healthy tonic and make me yearn for the bounty in blighty. How wrong I was. After 3 days in Singapore, I am rather bored and hugely apathetic towards the glitzy shopping mall world that imitates the West without showing any interesting quirks of Eastern culture. Bangkok has adopted some Western values but it retains a quintessential Asian veneer; Singers has none of that charm, it is simply a playground for the rich and richer.

However, that’s not to say I’ve not had fun. There are some things we’ve done that I’ve loved, just that most of that has involved exploring the city’s green spaces and nothing to do with the obsessive consumerism. When we arrived, my brother said he thought I’d find living and working here exciting given the prominence of tech industries. Initially I was open to the suggestion but after 3 days I have realised that Singapore has none of the charm of the cities that I like the most, namely London, Barcelona, LA, San Francisco & Bangkok. There is little sense of history or culture on the street, just a huge melting pot of Asian pilgrims thriving in the economic boon. To find traces of the past or points of interest, you have to work hard. By far the most noticeable facet of Singapore life is the pursuit of wealth. From the monotonous bowels of the Marina Bay Sands casino to the ant nest of Vivo City shopping mall, the city teems with consumerism. There is no end of opportunities to spend vast amounts of cash.

Well they asked for it....

Our nod to the high end of city life was a combined trip to the Raffles Hotel to sup the infamous Singapore Sling and an elevator ride to the 57th floor of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel to soak up the views from the Skybar. The Raffles experience was memorable if only for the British colonial history that pours from its walls.; eating your bodyweight in monkey nuts and throwing the discarded shells to the floor was a nice touch of laissez-faire. The Sling was awful though; it tasted like a cheap fruit punch and left me rather underwhelmed. The brief visit to the Marina Bay Sands skybar was worthwhile; the views are good, though not spectacular. The view from the backside is of an enormous building site. However, at £14 for a simple JD & ginger ale, it’s not somewhere we had any interest in hanging around. It’s a shame that they fleece you so blatantly because given a more reasonable price, we would gladly have hung around to sup a few more drinks.

The highlight of the trip was the nature walk from the Henderson Waves through to Hort Park and its hilltop canopy walk, which offers a stunning vista of a WWII battlefield, now a landscaped garden. Though the structural iron arches of the waves could do with cleaning, the design is interesting and the walkway offers wonderful views of the city. What’s even better is that the half-day we spent meandering through forest and gardens was absolutely free. We saw far more flora than fauna but it was a relaxing stroll, though the humidity left us dripping like an ice-lolly in the sun. It was a welcome tonic to the evening spent in the glitzy world of Marina Bay the night before which felt rather soulless.

I feel a bit cheated by Singapore. I wasn’t expecting it to be cheap but I thought it would be more fun. Sitting at a restaurant in China Town and paying S$88 for a distinctly average meal, when you can get fantastic hawker street food for less than S$20, grates a little. Paying £5 for a small glass of gnats wee Tiger beer irks. Paying £35 per night for a basic backpacker hostel is crazy. I know that you can be stung in any city if you don’t know where you’re going but I’ve found the costs here out of kilter with my wallet’s ideals. I’ve been to enough big cities to know what good value is and quite simply, Singapore has not been good value. It has been a mildly amusing diversion but I don’t really see the point of ever coming back here unless in transit. You can’t love everywhere you visit and I’m sure this will help me love Pulau Tioman even more.

love jamer & the bro mo fo

x

The mighty Mahakam River (Sungai) flows 980km from the centre of Indonesian Borneo in the district of Long Apari to its mouth at the Makassar Strait, where it embraces the Celebes Sea. The sprawling, rapacious city of Samarinda, a longtime backpacker magnet, lies 48km from the river mouth. Its equatorial climate makes for a swift transit and its from here that we started our 3 day Sungai Mahakam adventure having taken an early morning bus from Balikpapan with Kiswono, our local guide originally from Jakarta, Java.

A popular starting point amongst the guides for river exploration is Kota Bangan, a disheveled riverside town some 4hrs by bus north-west of Samarinda. For the supply chain of East Kalimantan this daily trip is a battle of whit and nerves. Like many provincial roads in Borneo (both Malaysian and Indonesian), the road has been ravaged by the burden of overloaded lorries ferrying the spoils from man’s rape of the land. Trucks laden with coal and timber splutter along the shredded tarmac, increasing the strain on the already creaking infrastructure. During the day sporadic police presence curbs excessive loading but at night, with the authorities safely tucked up in bed, conniving truck operators plough the roads with cumbersome loads. The net result is a road that resembles war torn towns where the sight of flat tarmac is a welcome respite from potholes and crumbled rock. In places the road has collapsed entirely into the ravines at the side, reducing the width to a barely passable dimension. Along this road travel the masses; school children, farmers, housewives, fishermen, businessmen, middlemen and your everyday traveler. It’s 4 hours of mental torture; if the incessant thump of bus on rocks doesn’t break your spine, the cacophony of stressed engine noises and creaking chassis will split your mind. One journey tested our nerves; imagine what it’s like to rely on this route for your livelihood. The local people have to accept poor standards from a government that isn’t too bothered.

From Kota Bangan, public ferries provide easy and cheap access to the upstream villages. The inner river is littered with Dayak Villages, the homes of the indigenous people whose ancestral land has long since been invaded by the modern prospectors. The Dayak people have their own language, customs, law and territory. They are animist in belief though some have recently converted to Christianity and Islam, the dominant religion on Borneo.

Instead of bedding down in the large ferry, Kiswono employed a local boatman called Adi to whisk us upriver at a quicker pace. Our boat was better than anticipated for a motorised canoe; it had its own canopy to shield us from the unrelenting sun and cushions with back rests acting as makeshift seats. From the crumbling wooden jetty of Bangan we headed across the immense Lake Sanayang (apparently 40,000 hectares) towards Muara Muntai village. White people are rare commodities in these parts, so the children of the village are excited to see you and come running out to the wooden boardwalks to wave and cheer. It’s a beautiful welcome.

Dayak Village, Sungai Mahakam, East Kalimantan

The local villages are built along the riverbank. Work is exclusively as fishermen and the men, sometimes accompanied by their wives, plough the waterways every day from dawn to dusk and often beyond. The houses are made from wood and sit adjacent to the river with wooden boardwalks providing a path between the houses and down to makeshift jetties. Most of the jetties are simple planks or wooden logs meshed together. It’s basic and rustic but it works. Occasionally a bright shiny house leaps out from amongst the ageing timber. Interestingly, in every village, no matter how small or poor, the mosque (Masjid) is built from quality materials and looks in far better condition that any of the houses. The villagers obviously take great pride in their religion and its edifices. I can’t help wonder what is more important though, a nice shiny mosque or better buildings for the people?

A lake of many colours

In the morning of our second day we headed out past Jantur Village into the impressive Lake Jampang, even larger than Sanayang. It’s quite a journey just to reach the far end.

The lake provides an array of beautiful sights and colours. The deep brown water of the river and its tributaries gives way to a shimmering blue as you reach the depths of the lake. Above the intense blue of the sky glistens in the sun. Occasionally wisps of fluffy cloud break the monotony of the sunshine. Every now and then a floating tuft of forest debris drifts by, either clumps of vegetation and reeds or large logs broken away from fallen trees. On either side, floating forests emerge from the horizon’s mirage. There are large groups of trees whose base is submerged in water at high tides. These trees give the appearance of old forests suddenly flooded. They provide a wonderful reflection that makes for excellent photos. Tucked amongst these floating trees is a myriad of fauna and the sight of a hawk or eagle is not uncommon overhead.

The stunning scenery can easily transfix you. The gentle lull of the boat quickly becomes soporific and only the regular shout of “Selamat pagi” from the fishermen wakes you from the slumber. It has to be one of the most relaxing ways to spend your time. However, after 7 hours in one position, your spine may well send a different message.

A step back in time at a traditional Longhouse

In Mancong Village, tucked neatly away down a small tributary of the Mahakam, you will find something truly unique. Behind the small wooden jetty, visible through a patch of trees, is a well-preserved traditional Longhouse. The Longhouse, some 60m in length based on a crude measurement, dates back several centuries. Before the 1950s the Dayak people lived in such communal houses with up to 4 families in each room. Today these longhouses are rare in Kalimantan, reflecting the pressure to preserve the unique social and cultural heritage of these tribes.

Dayak Longhouse, Mancong Village, Kalimantan

Kiswono lamented the lack of concern shown by central Government for cultural preservation in Kalimantan; their financial efforts remain focused on the established tourist destinations like Bali. The issue is compounded by the march of consumerism and capitalism amongst the young generations of the Dayak people; the teenagers are migrating to Indonesian cities in search of bright lights and better opportunities. It all leads to an impoverishment of cultural heritage and the likelihood that traditional village life could well die-out within 20 years.

Though the local government distills its rule through irregular communication, it’s still the Dayak tribal leader that the people turn to for guidance and governance. Old habits die hard. It would appear that the central administration is more concerned with extracting financial value from the Dayak’s ancestral lands, mainly through coal mining, than maintaining effective rule by direct government.

From Mancong, Adi expertly steered us along the Baroh, a shortcut that intersects the main artery of the Mahakam and takes you east towards the famous triangle at Muara Pahu where Irrawaddy Dolphins are often spotted. It had been one of the main objectives of our trip to seek out these creatures as they can only be found here and in parts of Thailand. Although we had seen one, briefly, in the morning, we hoped for more time observing their behaviour and beholding their beauty. Alas it was not to be. One hour of patience revealed nothing and with darkness drawing in, we had to head south and back to our base at Muara Muntai.

The incessant march of human greed

Since the 1970s, the Dayak people have faced an insidious threat; human greed. Their ancestral lands are rich in natural resources and the rape of the land is evident. As you pass by bus between villages, coal mining and logging projects leap out from the forest. Vast swathes of primary rainforest have been destroyed to make a quick buck.

To appease the locals, the Central Government insists on the big companies making concessions to the villages; this usually involves a token effort, perhaps a small cash investment in the community but nothing lasting. The state of the homes and buildings is lamentable; outdoor toilets that float on wooden logs over the river are ramshackle and seemingly held together by nothing more than goodwill. We passed one toilet hut that had broken free and was tilted at an impossible angle into the river. Downstream children were playing, oblivious to the human waste flowing towards them. There is innocence and there is low quality of life; here the two mix worryingly.

The big companies and Central Government are making the most from the Dayak land whilst the villagers continue their lives seemingly unaware. Kiswono believes that they will eventually wake-up to this exploitation as their patience and good nature has a limit; however, this epiphany may well be too late to preserve their culture and economic future.

It’s another tragic human story. The people are wonderful, their treatment by others more sinister. As we walked around Mancong village, children and adults greeted us warmly. Though the Dayak people are far more laid back than their city counterparts, the warmth of their kindness is no less glowing. Their smiles reflect an inner peace, a sense of synergy with the natural world. We can highly recommend taking a trip up the Sungai Mahakam and exploring the local villages. The scenery is spectacular, the pace of life soothing and the people incredibly endearing. But I wouldn’t want to live this way.

Love jamer & bro senior x

Having opted to avoid the long and costly journey to Flores in Indonesia for the Komodo trip, we used some of the freed time to sample the island delights of Semporna. We left Sukau on 31st May with a few nagging doubts about our chances of getting on the bus; other tourists had warned that booking in advance was required due to the busy routes from Sandakan and KK. Our taxi driver (you have to head out for 30mins from Sukau town to find the junction with the main road) reassured us by phoning his contacts and ensuring there were spare seats. With one of those rare twists of luck, we waited only 25mins for the bus and it was modern, clean, relatively comfortable with good A/C, the luxury of a toilet and on-board DVD system to kill the time. The planets were aligned.

We’d be warned that Semporna town was a dump but first impressions were better than anticipated. It’s not a beauty but we’ve both seen and stayed in far worse. I hadn’t realised that the resort I had booked was offshore so we had to take a 15min boat ride out to Singamata. It’s not often you arrive somewhere and instantly love it but Singamata is one of those places. We were greeted at the jetty by a wonderfully friendly Filipino staff and invited to sit down and relax in the restaurant area. The resort is built on stilts above the shallows that surround the coral reef. Though at least 3km from the mainland and about 1km from the nearest island, the water is no more than 3m deep and crystal clear. There are 360° views of turquoise sea and islands.

We were shown to our room in C Block, a short stroll along a wooden walkway that connects all the buildings. It is a truly stunning place; basic yet comfortable, as peaceful and removed from the stresses of life as you can get. Although it’s a diving resort, the instructors are down to earth and there is no clique issue. It’s a touch more expensive that other resorts but the 100MR (£20) per person per day includes all meals. The buffets meals are excellent with a good choice of fresh, well-cooked food. You even get baked beans for breakfast! Superb value for money all round.

Singamata Resort, Semporna, Borneo

To the aquarium brother

We wasted no time shedding the sweat rags to embrace our attire for the next 2 days; swimming shorts. Having picked up our free-to-use snorkel kit, we made our way to the house aquarium, an enclosed space between the walkways that is used for diving skills training. The aquarium has a decent selection of bloody huge fish, from Groupers to Barracuda, and all guests are free to use it.

We jumped in and set about swimming with the big boys. There were 2 enormous Grouper fish, probably over half the length of my body (go on then, gags about them only being a few inches etc). I’ve never swum with any fish that big before so it was a nice experience, though not truly wild. I was settling into the calm of snorkeling when I felt something stinging my stomach. I knew there were no jellyfish in the aquarium, so looked down and then freaked out a little. Stuck to my stomach was a large (about 2ft) shark-like fish nibbling away at my skin. I hadn’t expected to see that, so thrashed about wildly trying to push it away. The cheeky little bugger wouldn’t take no for an answer and followed a little too eagerly. Finally I escaped my fishy nemesis and then went and found the bro. He had shared the same experience and from then on, whenever we tried to get back in the water sharkboy emerged from the darkness to tease us. Eventually, though the fish was not dangerous, the annoyance factor drove us out into the open sea. There the snorkeling was ok but nothing to get excited about. The highlight was the multi-coloured starfish clinging to the seabed.

Bro gets hunted by the sharkfishthing

Paradise found at Mantabuan Island

We pre-booked a day’s snorkeling trip for Wednesday 1st June and joined in with a diving party. Alas for bro we couldn’t get a Sipadan permit (widely accepted as one of the best dive sites in the world and only 120 people can visit each day so permits are like gold dust), so we went on the boat to Mantabuan Island, about 45mins boat ride from Singamata. Our fellow trippers were a nice bunch, mainly Malay though a couple of Asian-American girls were on board to ensure that everything in the world was “awesome”.

The day centred around Mantabuan Island, a beautiful Robinson Crusoe number encircled by bright sandy beaches and extensive coral shelves and shallows. The reef was very good with a nice variety of colours and sea life.

Mantabuan Island, Semporna

The highlight of the day was a solo swimming session with green turtles. The turtles here are more skittish than those in The Philippines and have become wary of humans thanks to a few idiots insisting on grabbing hold of them and scaring them. Now if you get close, they disappear quickly to the depths. Having seen only glimpses during the morning, I was on the boat and Si in the water when one of the Malay chaps spotted 4 turtles swimming past the boat. I kitted-up swiftly and leaped in; moments later I was swimming about 5ft above 3 turtles, gliding gracefully in the aquamarine water. The sun was shining down at the perfect angle to illuminate their shells. Bro emerged moments later telling me he had swum alongside a huge male turtle and I managed a brief glimpse before it journeyed deeper.

On the way home, Si spotted a huge turtle about 30m from the boat. It was playing on the surface, splashing around with its fins, a fitting end to the trip. We had a lucky day with the turtles and saw 8 in total. They might just be my favourite sea creatures.

If you find yourself in Semporna, book a stay at Singamata Adventures and Diving; we wish we could have stayed longer.

Love jamer & bro senior x

We checked out of the sanitised wildlife experience in Sepilok and headed south to the Sungai Kinabatangan, an area of dense jungle that Conrad would have written a book about. Kinabatangan is Borneo’s largest river (sungai), stretching for 560km from the jungle to a marshy delta in the Sulu Sea. Whilst primary forest is low on the ground, the secondary forest is thriving and in many places, an impenetrable wall. The deforestation for logging and oil-palm production has stripped nature of much of its virgin rainforest; ironically a by-product is the migration of a rich variety of fauna to the dense jungle and the river’s flooded plains. Eagle-eyed Joes hoping to catch a glimpse of a rhinoceros, hornbill, Orang-Utan, Proboscis Monkey or Pygmy Elephant, fuel the tourism boon.

Sukau is a sleepy little hamlet on the bend of the mighty Kinabatangan. It has a reputation for being the most relaxed place from which to organise independent travel by foot and on the river for wildlife spotting. We arrived mid-afternoon on Saturday 28th and signed-in to Sukau B&B, a basic shack at the far end of the road. Though basic, it’s clean and offers direct views of the river. It’s also has a quick-access self-guided trail through the forest if you want a bit of DIY adventure. At MYR50 per night for the room (£10) including breakfast, it’s a steal. It’s also as quiet as a whisper carried on the breeze.

Don’t hike in the rainforest in Vans

A French chap we met in Sepilok gave us the number of a local guide who he assures us would “give you ze real nature, not zis tourist big boat, snap snap rubbish”. So we called Ahmed and arranged to meet later that day.

To walk off the aches of the taxi ride, we opted to explore the trails behind the B&B. As it was ‘clearly marked’, I opted for the Vans instead of my heavy-duty hiking boots. What a mistake! After the heavy rains, the path was covered in slimy, slippery mud that sucked my feet down and into its pain. After a few minutes, the purple vans were as brown as the river and my feet soaking. Schoolboy error. To add insult to injury, the trail was rather dull and apart from a few cheeky monkeys, it was void of animals.

Ahmed turned up shortly after dinner and we discussed the options for Sunday. He wasn’t overly encouraging but we stuck with the plan and booked a morning cruise & trek, leaving at 06.30. Queue exit stage left to bed.

I used to walk down by the river

But now I prefer to take a boat. Ahmed turned up bang on time at 06.30. Punctuality is not de rigeur in Asia, so this got the nod of approval. We set off up river against the swift current. Within minutes our choice of guide was validated; as we turned the first bend, he veered off course and headed straight to a limestone overhang covered by trees. We were non-plussed until he pointed out the 2 groups of Proboscis Monkey playing in the branches. Eyes like an eagle.

As the morning unwound we discovered how adept Ahmed was at spotting wildlife. His experience, having been born and grown up in these surroundings, meant that he instinctively knew where to look and when. He picked out other monkeys, hornbills, monitor lizards, small birds and bats with his own eyes whilst driving the boat. Impressive.

Sungai Kinabatangan, Sukau

After about 1h30 of boat action and a brief circuit of Ox-Bow Lake, we moored on a mud bank. We spent the next hour trekking in the dense jungle, with Ahmed in the lead hacking away like a true explorer with his machete to forge a path. He was a fountain of knowledge; every few minutes, he’d stop and explain something about the forest or the local culture. We learned, amongst other things, how to remove leeches and which tree the locals would never cut down because they believe spirits live inside. Back on the boat his leech lesson proved handy; despite wearing long trousers, I had 4 of the little suckers bleeding me dry. They’re really quite horrible creatures and I quickly removed them, leaving behind a few bleeding wounds.

Forest gimp, Sukau

We returned to Sukau B&B satisfied with an interesting and informative morning. Add to that the fact that Ahmed was entertaining with it led us to agree in principle to go back out that afternoon with him to look for elephants, provided his sources downstream confirmed sightings.

Find me an elephant Jeeves

Ahmed called as we were having lunch to give us the good news; there was an 80% chance we could see elephants if we set off at 14.30 and went on a long mission by boat to the other side of Bilit village. We didn’t need a second invite and a German girl from the B&B tagged along for the ride.

We set off around 14.30 in blistering sunshine. Ahmed turned up in a newer boat with a more powerful engine and his trusty boatman, a burly local chap with a hearty smile who proved equally adept at animal spotting. From at least 100m distance and whilst driving the boat at high speed, he picked out a young monitor lizard lying on the river bank. We didn’t spot it until we were within touching distance. These guys really know their environment.

We soon relaxed into the afternoon and started chatting to Ahmed about his work and life. He has been working for himself for 4 years now and owns 3 boats. He loves his job and has an affinity with the local area. Mid-sentence he flung his binoculars to his eyes and signaled the boatman to head over to the bank. We soon discovered the reason for his distraction; in the fork of a tree was a young male Orang-Utan. Unlike Sepilok, this boy was fully wild. I’ve only ever seen 1 truly wild Orang-Utan before and this moment was just as special.

The true goal of the trip was to track down the Pygmy Elephants that had apparently been spotted the other side of Bilit village. As we approached, the weather turned suddenly. A torrential downpour hit us and the rain got harder and harder. After 15mins of soaking, we saw 4 boats circling ahead of us. Ahmed announced elephants. As we pulled the corner, we could see the heads of two elephants bobbing in the waves near the shore. Moments later we saw the other two heads. We pulled up within 5m of the elephants and spent the next 30mins oblivious of the rain as we absorbed the wonder of the pygmy elephants. They were playing in the rain and eating from the grass on the banks. From time to time they would stop to tussle with each other, casting furtive glances our way. It was incredible.

Malaysian Pygmy Elephants

We headed back to the B&B through pouring rain and driving wind. It was a long trip back, about 1h in total, but the weather was irrelevant to us; we had seen wild Orang-Utans and Elephants. I was stoked for my bro that he had seen them as I had already had the privilege in Africa and Indonesia. Not that it diminished my enjoyment, they are two of the most wonderful species on this planet and long may they enrich our lives.

Love jamer & bro senior x

After the emotional and mental rollercoaster of Mt Kinabalu, a weary band of brothers arrived at the Mile 14 Junction on the road to Sandakan, the drop off point for the sleepy hamlet of Sepilok. A quick phone call summoned the promised lift and Nikki whisked us up the bumpy track to our home for the next 3 days, Paganakan Dii (try saying that after a few drinks).

Thankfully it was the perfect tonic to the rigours of physical exertion, a secluded bolthole tucked into the forest of a deer reserve, miles from anything resembling modernity. The open wooden bar and decking was enticing, as was the customary warm welcome from the staff, especially Nikki and Ella, two lovely local ladies (don’t worry my jani, you’re still wife material!). It was sweaty hot in the way that only humid equatorial countries can be and we were glad to be escorted to our AC licked cabana.

I had booked one of the new cabanas. Fashioned from local wood and built on stilts, each cabana is part of a pair with adjoining decking. Inside, the room is spacious, with a large double bed and single bunks. There are sliding doors that open onto a wooden balcony that affords sweeping views of the jungle and the river below. The ensuite is an outdoor number with modern bathroom suite and the calls of nature. For us it was bliss and after wolfing down a fat boy burger & chips (cultured us, you know) we hit the sack just after 20.00, completely exhausted.

Paganakan Dii B&B Sepilok, Borneo

Visiting our Orange Friends

We booked a visit to the Sepilok Orang-Utan Rehabilitation Centre on Thursday 26th so that bro could check out his genetic match, the wonderful Orang-Utan.

We took advantage of the free transfer from our place and rocked up just before the 3pm feeding. Unlike Sumatra, the feeding platform is set at ground level and is accessed via an impressive wooden walkway that winds through the forest. It’s also huge and can easily take 100 people, though thankfully there were far fewer on our visit.

We took our seat early and sat there, sweating slowly in the energy-sapping humidity. You can’t take any drinks in, they entice the furry critters, so after 30mins without water your mouth is like a parched desert. After a while we heard some branches twitching behind us and turned to see a young female and her baby making their way towards the feeding platform.

These set-ups are rather prescriptive and I tend to get distracted. On this occasion I walked off to take a peek away from the crowd and see if I could spot anything in the dense forest. As I turned the corner that led to the exit, I saw two young male Orang-Utans walking along the decking, playing. Though semi-wild and clearly part of the rehab program, they were not part of the feeding and were interacting naturally. I subtly called Si over and we followed them. It was a beautiful moment; they played like children and showed a genuine bond. Alas for us, a few gimp tourists had spotted and followed us, so I then had cameras shoved in front of my face as they fought to get the best picture. Still, the few minutes we enjoyed alone with the Orang-Utans were sweet.

No matter how touristic these experiences are, it’s still wonderful to see Orang-Utans, especially when the rehab program is designed to get them back into the wild and give them independence. Long may it continue.

Big nose, big libido

No it’s not a personal reference. On the Friday we headed over to the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Centre, a private reserve 14km west of Sepilok where the habitat of the simians is preserved and their lives protected. Again it is a sanitised wildlife experience but at least it ensures their continued survival.

During the 3hr visit we witnessed 2 feeding sessions and sat through an informative, if rather flawed, documentary explaining the history of the Proboscis programs in Borneo. The second feeding session was by far the most rewarding because there was only 1 other tourist there. We had an uninterrupted view of the proboscis and macaque monkeys as they greedily ate and frolicked in the grass.

The proboscis monkey is a fascinating specimen. Alpha males oversee large harems of females and father up to 20 children. Other males, evicted from their own family, unite to form bands of bachelors. These bachelors usually have a leader who will attempt to usurp an alpha male and take over a harem to mate with the females. Alpha males have to mate 3 or more times daily to keep the females happy. However, the females are easily distracted. It is the size and shape of the male’s nose that allures the female. A big, floppy nose means one thing only; this man’s hot to trot. During the second feeding session, we lucked in as one randy big nose went all Barry White on one of the cheeky females.

Proboscis monkeys getting it on, Labuk Bay, Borneo

If you zoom in you can see the look of excitement and the playing to the camera on her face. Women…..

Love jamer & bro senior x

As it turns out, perhaps I should have. I booked the bro and myself on a 3-day adventure trip after a leisurely first day soaking up the sun on a small island off the shore of Kota Kinabalu. The plan was to relax before indulging in some man v nature stuff. The relaxing part worked like a dream, with a chilled day spent sunbathing and snorkeling. However, we did have some sunshine bus material as we boarded the wrong boat back to shore and ended up in a plush resort outside of town. We opted to walk the 3km back until Si realised he had left his fins on the boat. We rushed back but soon realised we had no idea which company or boat we had arrived on. Queue some perplexed locals wondering what the hell we were asking. After much ado about nothing we had to head to town and face up to a cash penalty of MR50 for losing fins. Special kids.

We hit the sack early after sampling the culinary delights at the night market on the waterfront. The market is a wonderful place to experience Malay culture as the nightly throngs weave amongst the fresh food stalls. You can sit at outdoor camping tables and choose from the fresh fish and vegetables for some cheap, healthy eating.

To the rapids, and don’t spare the horses

The break us in to the adventure sports gently, Day 1 was white water rafting at Kiulu River, about a 1hr drive southeast of Kota Kinabalu. The weather was average as we listened almost intently to our very brief safety briefing from Jeremy, an exceptionally amusing Malay chap with an infectious laugh.

Kiulu rapids are graded I-II (which means for pussies) and after 5mins it became abundantly clear why. They’re more like a gentle current with the occasional rapid thrown in to maintain your enthusiasm. Jeremy asked us why we hadn’t plumped for something more challenging and the answer was simple; we didn’t want to mame ourselves before embracing the mountain. Sense precluded adrenalin junkie status. Although the trip was rather calm, the river still managed to deposit bro in the churning water and capsize another boat full of Koreans, much to the delight of Jeremy.

Bro senior struggling with the harsh rapids of Kiulu

We had a surprisingly good buffet lunch before being driven to the Kinabalu National Park to register for the climb. Our driver then told us of a change of plan. Instead of Mountain Lodge, we would now be staying in the hostel near the park HQ. It sounded ok until we discovered they intended us to stay in a dorm despite having booked a private twin room. As we wanted peace and quiet before a big climb, I demanded they sort it out, politely though. Fortunately a private room was available and after politely declining to pay the ‘upgrade fee’ we checked in to a small but well furnished room.

Later that evening we had a perfect clear view of the summit of Mt Kinabalu, an imposing wall of rock in the distance. It was a beautiful sight to behold.

Into the lap of the gods

A sleepless night was gifted us by some irritatingly noisy Koreans. So a pair of weary brother checked in at 07.45 and hooked up with a guide called Cornelius. Without so much of a word of advice or briefing, we were escorted to the starting gate and set off just after 08.00.

Day 1 involves a climb up to Laban Rata base camp at 3,270m. You can see the camp in the distance from HQ and it looks tantalisingly close. But in the mountains even something close is oh so far. The climb is quite brutal; from the off you hit a steep wall of mud and rock. It’s a 6km winding path snaking up the crest of the mountain and there is no respite. Each 0.5km has a wooden plaque to remind you how slow your progress is.

We both struggled with early morning fatigue and sweat was running off us like a misty river of acrid odour. Our legs were heavy and as we pushed past the 2,000m altitude mark, you could feel the lungs tighten a little. Despite my Kili success at 5,985m I could still feel the altitude. Eventually, after 3hrs of almost constant climbing, we reached the base camp and found it empty. We were the first climbers there, the only other visitor that morning a mountain goat chap who had already climbed the summit and was heading down to finish the trek in 1 day. We made the most of the early arrival, taking a refreshing freezing cold shower and drying the clothes in the sun. We retired to our hut; an agonizing additional 5min climb, and hit the sack to rest.

We rose around 4pm to enjoy the views of the now clear mountain and valleys. It’s a wonderful experience to be sat at 3,300m, breathing fresh air and staring vacantly at rolling mountains that stretch to the coastline on the horizon. At night you can see the city lights of Kota Kinabalu blazing in the distance.

Bro senior at foot of Mt Kinabalu summit

We climbed down to the Laban Rata huts for dinner at 6pm and hooked up with an English couple and a solo female traveler who we had met briefly at HQ. After an entertaining dinner of sarcasm and abuse, we all strolled back up to the lodge to get some much needed rest ahead of the planned early summit attempt. Due to our quicker speed, we were scheduled to leave at 03.00 whilst most others were heading off between 02.00 and 02.30.

As expected I didn’t really sleep. We lucked in with our own room but still the mountain climate killed me sleep. Perhaps it was the cold, perhaps the nervous excitement ahead of the climb; either way, it was annoying. I must have drifted off eventually as awoke to the 02.00 alarm and it was then it all unraveled. I leant over the top bunk to see my bro throwing up in the bin. I did a double take as I didn’t want to believe it. He told me he had been up since 11pm being ill and had bad stomach cramps and a mild headache. It didn’t take a genius to realise it was altitude sickness and that meant no chance of making the summit. At altitude you have to go for safety first, altitude sickness can be incredibly dangerous and set-in rapidly. It can be life threatening if not dealt with sensibly. After consulting Cornelius, we agreed to let Si sleep until 06.00 then look at making a gentle descent.

The 06.00 alarm came and I gently coaxed the bro from his slumber. I felt sorry for him because being ill is bad enough but being stuck in a tiny cold room, at 3,300m where you have to climb for 3hrs to get any relief, is mental and physical torture. Remarkably he rose to the challenge without any moaning and told me he wanted to set off immediately and not mess around.

With tender steps we made the 6km descent back to HQ. With no sleep, an empty stomach, cramps and a headache, it’s a demanding path down. Si clearly struggled but did well to make it down without any long stops. Shortly after 10am we arrived at HQ, picked up clean clothes and took a much needed hot shower. Luckily the mountain was not visible, hidden by a solid wall of cloud. To have seen the summit would have been a bitter reminder of our bad luck.

A challenge yet to be conquered

And so it was with mixed emotions that we left Kinabalu National Park. As a climber, it’s hard to accept you haven’t reached the summit. It’s happened to me before in the UK on Snowdon due to weather and time but this was different. The freak of nature that is altitude sickness threw a spanner in the work. It was so near yet so far. I was ready. We both were. We were both fit and have sufficient climbing experience over 4,000m. Yet at 3,300m for some reason it nailed my bro in the middle of the night like a shadowy thief. Shit happens but we would both like to come back and try again, if only to beat Madden’s time (yet to be validated by another living soul!).

Love jamer & bro senior