20.05.2010 - 21.05.2010 35 °C
Kinabalu National Park is one of Boreno’s main attractions and having spent two days here I can see why. Located in the tropical rainforests of North Eastern Borneo (see map), the national park is home to Mt Kinabalu – South East Asia’s tallest mountain. The mountain stands proudly and ominously at a whopping 4095 meters above sea level. For those of you who aren’t regular mountaineers (such as myself...) this equates to being half, yes half, the size of the Mt Everest and in Scottish terms, four times the size of Ben Nevis – the British Isles tallest mountain. In short, altitude sickness is common, it typically takes 2-3 days to climb (depending on fitness levels) and it is regarded as one of the world’s most spectacular climbs. As I struggled for air in the unrelenting heat, with my newly accumulated Australian beer gut weighing me down, it was quite clear that even Warner might have bitten off more than he could chew with this one. What I forgot to mention was we were still at base camp trying to organise the climb for the next day.
To embark on the climb, there is a lot of bureaucracy (some would call it health and safety), which is very untypically Asian. Firstly, you need to organise a climbing permit and compulsory guide. This is due to the fact that it’s bloody difficult and the second day commences at 2AM (in darkness) so you are able to catch sunrise on the summit. Organising a guide was a not a problem, there were plenty of them. The second task is you need to book compulsory accommodation midway at Laban Rata which is the only rest house on the mountain. This is where you are meant to sleep for the night, adjust to the altitude and obviously rest. Excusing the pun, things started to go rapidly down hill from here. To our shock, the only rest house was fully booked, not for a few days, but for 4 weeks. As we stood around national park HQ (observing and talking with other travellers in the same situation) it became clear our adventure to visit Borneo, to specifically climb Mt Kinabalu, had turned into a slight disaster. The only other option was to try and complete the climb in a day by departing at sunrise and returning for sunset. This was however unadvisable for inexperienced climbers due to altitude sickness, the late-afternoon thunder storms and the obvious risk of getting stuck on the mountain. Again we arrived unprepared, expecting everything to fall into our laps and this simply doesn’t happen in Borneo. Disappointment was an understatement.
Instead, we opted to do the Liwagu Trail which is the most strenuous of all the trails in Kinabalu NP. The trail took over 6 hours, and as we hiked ‘around’ the circumference of the mountain, we trekked through jungle, avoided snakes, crossed over rivers and waterfalls and overall, it was a worthwhile experience.
Nevertheless, (and not be ungrateful) it was a substitute for the real thing. For example, it was like turning up to Hamden Park (Scotland’s national stadium) having bought a fake ticket from a tout, to be told by the ticket inspector to watch the game in the pub next door. Or getting on a flight and walking through the business class cabin thinking ‘oh this is nice’ to realise your economy seat is at the back of the aircraft. Or chatting up a beautiful girl in a bar to find out she has a boyfriend once you have spent all your time, money and energy, but at least she wants to be friends. Overall, this was all slightly annoying.
But I hear everyone say...’Poor Karl and Paula, how did you recover from such a setback and mishap?’. Well on the next day when we should have been making our Kinabalu descent, but still with our PMA (positive mental attitude) hats on, we decided to search for bigger and better things to do. We then spoke to a local who said, ‘You must go to the Poring Hot Springs – they are one of the world’s natural wonders – my taxi friend will take you for special price!’. As we had nothing better to do, we negotiated a special price and after a 1 hour taxi ride, we arrived at the Poring Hot Springs. While in the Taxi, I had this image of relaxing in a volcanically powered hot spring in the middle of the jungle, blinded by natural beauty, and only slightly distracted by the ‘egg-ey’ smell of sulphur. Instead we turned up to this:
Yes a range of bathtubs, some full, but mostly empty. Basically, we travelled 60 miles for a hot bath. In all fairness the hot water was from the springs, but who in their right mind in the +35 degree heat wants a hot bath. Well obviously the locals (and Japanese) do, they were going nuts for it. Filling their bath tubs up, laughing, chuckling, giggling, snapping like crazy to running tap water on their Cannon SLR’s, it was quite obvious they were having a grand old time. Unfortunately, I struggled to share the same sentiment. My theory for this is a hot shower, never mind a bath is a total rarity in Borneo, so the masses must congregate for this luxury. The Japanese on the other hand is a mystery. Thankfully, we decided to do a few treks and accidently stumbled upon a massive waterfall which led onto a freshwater creek. We then discovered some Western tourists, all of whom where bemused by the purpose of the Poring Hot Springs. After our refreshing dip, we then went for food at a local restaurant and ordered the old faithful Malaysian curry. As we thoroughly enjoyed our meals, we put the day down to a ‘memorable experience’ and headed back to the national park, to catch our bus to Sandakan to embark on the next stage of our trip. Karl’s top tip for today, if your visiting Borneo for a short space of time, plan beforehand and make sure you come prepared.
Mt Kinabalu, Borneo.