Day 5- Mt. Kinabalu to Semporna

I was up before the alarm and eagerly awaited the sunrise. The mountain was covered in clouds, we couldn’t see a thing- but made coffee anyway (they had some in the room this time) and sat out on the deck to see the show.

It was a CRAZY battlefield of dead bugs. So many beetles especially, you could hardly walk without stepping on them! I have never seen so many ever (note: we stayed here again later and there were no bugs on that patio, nor our newer one, so not sure what that was about). Bryan went on a quick scan of all the moths and stuff still hanging around- we saved a few from certain death in the driveway or on the steps. There were some really pretty ones- even one bigger than the palm of my hand that had pretty swallowtail wings. He got quite a few pictures and seemed thoroughly satisfied as he came back to hopefully see the mountain in the sunrise.

Swallows and some kind of other bird were swooping around in our view catching beetles- we could see them snapping them from the air. It got lighter and the clouds seemed to part a little bit more and a little bit more- and by the time it was about 7am, we could see the mountain! The sun was shining on it in that Maxfield Parrish, dramatic lighting way, it was SO pretty! And the valley below was like the terraced valley I’d tried to get a shot of…not quite as picturesque, but close (and will have to do). We just kept saying how lucky we were that the clouds went away and we could see it when there really seemed no hope earlier!

We went to have brekky and this time the lights were on and it seemed a few others would join us. The window near the table was open and the swallows were swooping around- one even accidentally came in and landed on the window sill, then didn’t know how to get out, so Bryan cupped his hands and directed it out. Despite its frantic flapping, it didn’t seem to be hurt, so that was good. The view was truly breathtaking as well- over a junlgey valley with fog in the lowlands and the different shade of hills, getting lighter as they moved further away.

We only saw the one side of the menu (the Asian side) and ordered an omelet, which was the only thing on there we could eat- but we later saw there was a “western” side too. We said veggies only again and asked for cheese (“keju”) but he said no to that- so veggies omelet it is! When it came out we had to laugh because there were two hot dogs on the plate (sausage I guess, really since they are not into pork here) and English bean in tomato sauce. We had some toast and fruit also- local papaya which is plentiful, and watermelon, which seems to be a popular staple here. They even have a yellow kind! It was good- the coffee too- and we just left the sausages. Bryan said maybe we should take them for stray dogs, but we decided against it for the sake of storage…although I think next time I would take them. I figured one of the staff probably was happy to eat them, so that seemed to be ok. Oh, and there were 2 other couples/ families that ate there too- way more people than seemed to be, staying there…maybe they’d arrived after we did?

We had to move along now as we had a long drive- so we checked out and got on the road. I quickly took my Bonine (motion sickness med) as I knew the road would be windy- and the constant turning tends to make me ill, even in the front seat (much worse in the back). Not too far down the road, we came to a Police checkpoint- they just randomly stop cars and trucks to check their registration and permitting. They did this in Madagascar too. The police checked Bryan’s international driver’s license (I got one too) and asked if we rented the car. We said yes and he just said, go on. We went through a few more of these but most the police just turned their backs on us and didn’t even stop us to talk.

We saw a hilarious sign that said “fish massage” which made us both burst out laughing. We could not figure it out- and then it dawned on me: maybe they mean the kind of pedicures where you put your feet in the water and the fish pick at them? I am not sure why this is such a desired thing- and the place it was at was a big company- had 2 giant fish around the gate…but I don’t really know what the point was other than they offer fish massages!

We started to see a bunch of flags- on the side of the road, on bridges, people’s homes…they were everywhere near the lettuce roundabout and that’s the first time we realized they were some kind of symbol, not just a decorative flag. The one most prevalent is a bright blue with white scales (like justice/ courtroom stuff). It seems to be some kind of political party thing- this will need to be investigated further. There were two others that cropped up as well- a lighter blue with a circle and sun, similar to the symbols on the Malaysian flag. The other reminded me of an Obama-esque thing, a kind of O. Oh, and one more- a red flag with yellow circle and green lightning bolt/ bird thing that Bryan and I can’t decide on what it is. I will ask around a bit, but for now, it’s a mystery maybe one of you will solve before I even get home.

There are some other funny things- like a lady walking along the road in 90+ degree heat wearing a sequin Santa hat. And there’s always a random person walking in the middle of nowhere- like Africa. Also, like there, people like to squat when they are waiting. I don’t know how someone can squat all day and find that more comfortable than standing, but they seem to do it everywhere in the world except the US (and maybe Europe)? Not sure because I can barely get up after spending a few minutes like that- all day just chilling/ waiting= no way.

We also ended up behind a tour van which seemed to be going from KK (Kota Kinabalu, where we landed) to Sepilok- the organutan center where we’re going in a few days…and it’s a LONG drive. The van was full of Europeans, and maybe some Kiwis (I saw an All Blacks rugby shirt). I saw them slowing down and I saw a tail- and I thought that it didn’t look like a dog tail…it was monkeys! There was a small troupe (or whatever you call a group of monkeys) and they looked at us for a second (not long enough for me to get a picture, especially without someone crashing into us), but we saw them for a second, that counts! We hope there will be more…sadly, we later saw a dead monkey by the side of the road…and a dog or two we couldn’t tell if they were dead because they also lounge half way in the road napping as well- but honestly with the way the dogs do lay half in the road and don’t seem to care one bit about cars, we are surprised there are not tons. That’s the only road kill we have seen- whereas there’s always a ton it seems around us as home.

We also knew the tour guide of that van would know where to stop for the bathroom- and just as I was thinking that, they were stopping and I asked Bryan to stop too. We followed them and just jumped in the line- good thinking. We’d seen a few and far between “Tandas- 30 cents” signs- and even used one when driving to Mt Kinabalu, but it’d been a while since we’d seen one- and the place we ended up stopping would not have been one I figured had bathrooms…and we didn’t even have to pay! We got a cold drink (can’t find that enough here either) to “repay” them for the toilet kindness and got back on the road.

And here’s where things turn a bit depressing.

When I was younger the movement was to save the rain forest- and in Borneo, this “effort” has failed miserably. The entire heart of the country is deforested to grow palms for palm oil. And I am not talking about some farms- I mean literal, clear cut for hundreds of miles and hours of driving, the entire heart of the country was cut down and these palms put in their place. It seems hard to imagine the widespread devastation- all the animals that would have died, all the plants, including medicines and things yet to be discovered…for palm oil. It’s heartbreaking- and made nearly 5 hours straight of the 7-hour trip, gut-wrenching…just palm tree after palm tree as far as you could see.

This is what I was told was happening in 3rd grade- and I came too late to see it in all its glory…but I am glad to be here now- although sad that so much has happened- but better now than when it’s all completely gone…honestly, after seeing that, it’s hard to imagine there is ANY rain forest left at all! We will soon get to see some of the preserved portions, but I can’t imagine that will be for long.

It was a few hours into the ride we realized the cigarette outlet charger had not been plugged in all the way and the phone was nearly dead- but the road was mostly straight for a while, so I turned it off to save battery and allow it to recharge. However, when I turned it on the recheck directions, it started downloading texts from a year ago for some reason and it occupied the phone and used up battery just doing so- and this happened more than once. It was really annoying!! Thankfully it was starting to charge again- hopefully, we would get where we were going without incident.

We stopped for gas at the last “major” town before we’d hit out destination, Semporna. They have full-service stations here and the girl started looking under the car after pumping and then all the attendants came over to do the same. They told us we couldn’t start the car, we had to push it to the side because the gas tank was leaking! This was a first because we’d already gotten gas once, so what the heck? The sides of the road were a bit bumpy and Bryan had hit a pretty good-sized pothole, so could that have loosened the tank or cracked it?

We were starving at this point and wanted to eat lunch, realizing half the sauces had spilled everywhere and had no napkins- just 3 Kleenexes I’d kept for some reason (which I never do). The food was spicy and making me sweat and my nose run, then it was 1000% humidity and we were in the sun and the sweat was just pouring down my face. Bryan even asked if I was crying because I was sniffling and my face was drenched! We weren’t sure what to do about the gas tank, but after eating we checked the ground and the tank didn’t seem to be leaking then, so we decided to go for it. Bryan noted that the girl kept topping the tank off, then went too far and kept going, so unfortunately, she probably did something (and we paid for it to spill all over)…but at the very least, it seemed to be not a bigger problem- for now!

Finally, we got to the outskirts of Semporna and this quickly became the chaos that we remembered in Madagascar- the crazy bustling swarm of people and traffic that is pretty hard to drive in. Bryan went into the roundabout (not on his turn) and almost hit someone (to be fair it was a half-roundabout and was a little confusing), but thankfully we were ok. We were also having trouble finding the hotel- it kept telling us we’d arrived- but when we actually found it, it was still a few blocks down the road passed the announcement. We had to go around the block to get back, but we made it!

The hotel was relatively new and as such, had very few reviews we could assess (with a grain of salt, of course). It looked nice in the pictures and being new we figured maybe pretty ok. It seemed to be aimed at the Chinese for the most part- called the TD Mantiara (TD standing for Tang Dynasty). It looked like an old bank in the lobby with odd choices of marble and décor, but it was cool with AC blowing and definitely newer. It was especially nice there was a good-sized parking lot for the car- especially when we realized we were leaving it for 5 days on our boat trip and did not know otherwise where to leave it!? Once we saw the area where the dive shop was (our first intention) and we realized in no way would the car be safe or was that an option, we were truly grateful for the large, safe parking lot.

Our room was clean, stuffy- again no screens- and then although this place had air it didn’t seem to be working. After much struggle, we realized you have to put your room card in a slot (near the door) to make the power turn on in the room- so when you leave you can’t leave anything on and waste electricity, which is kind of cool. Also, everything has a switch- even the outlets. There was even one behind the tv you had to turn to get the tv to go on- for all of 2 channels and neither came in more than grainy lines (why bother with tv it seems?). We realized maybe there was a switch for the AC- and sure enough, there was (not marked of course)…none of this stuff was explained to us either. I guess it was expected that we’d know- maybe this is a thing in other developing countries too?

It was the same AC unit we had used multiple times and in Africa even, but this one was definitely rigged not to do what you asked it to- and the fan at “full” was very faint, as was the temperature very mild. We never have it very cold anyway, but this was kind of a joke. Plus, it went off on its own shortly after bed and no amount of switching things or taking the room card out/ putting it back would make it go back on again. There was no ceiling fan either- but it wasn’t as hot or muggy as I pictured it would be, thankfully.

We were really getting hungry for dinner and knew we had to figure this out pretty fast. We asked the concierge (who was very nice and offered to let us use his personal phone to call Hertz regarding the car, if we needed) said there were some restaurants down near the jetty, where the dive shop was. He said it was a 15-minute walk- so we thought maybe better to drive. We were so wrong.

We turned the corner off our main street and were in the middle of the street vendors and hundreds of people walking inches from the car, which freaked Bryan out (for good reason). However, he forgets they are very used to this and he has the right of way for the most part, so he kept hesitating and it was freaking people out a bit. One lady even thought a second time about crossing in front of him and grabbed her grandchild and pulled him off the other way! I tried to explain this to him so he’d relax but he was just upset about all the traffic and how stressful so we just drove quietly to the shop, completely mesmerized by all the people.

We found the shop and there was no way we could leave the car there- and there was no easy way to get out…so we had to do some maneuvering to get the car out and back to the hotel so we could instead walk back again. We immediately asked the hotel guy if we could leave the car there for our dive trip, to which he seemed to think it was no problem at all- much easier than the convincing we thought we’d have to do! Awesome. It was then as well, we thought maybe we should change our reservation from the different hotel we had the night coming back to this one- as a reward for helping keep the car and because we knew what we were getting into with this room…meaning it was beyond acceptable and who knows what awaited us at the other!

Bryan told me the hotel was called the Floating Dragon Inn and it sounded really cool, but he said it was budget and didn’t know what to expect. We saw it the next day when leaving the docks- indeed it looked cool and for a second, I regretting choosing to stay at the other hotel again, but then again no. It can be a gamble for sure and we’d had enough of that for a while- so we’d stay where the car was safe again. We changed the booking online and that was that. One big problem resolved!

We walked back the way we came: into the chaos. It was very crazy and I have to be careful because if I am not always half-smiling I look angry because I have “bitchy resting face”- so I have to make sure not to seem angry to anyone so they don’t get the wrong impression and or say things to me like “smile” or whatever that makes me uncomfortable or seem like a bad American tourist. So, I just have to smile at everyone and nod…thankfully, I think the people are usually kind of mesmerized by us- with our tattoos and my colored hair- they forget to put the pressure on for sales pitches and so on…we tend to get a little bit of a pass when it comes to being approached aggressively for sales, which is always nice.

We found a restaurant not very far in and I was keen to just pick one, eat and be done with it- but Bryan has decision-making issues and often cannot decide. I should have guessed this and made the decision for us, but I’d never have guessed what would happen if not…so he hemmed and hawed at the menu, we smiled and thanked her and moved on. We walked around for a bit- a guy chased us down with a bucket of mussels and some really pretty colored lobsters or prawns, but we said we only eat vegetables. He laughed. He popped up a few blocks later too and pointed us to the grocery store which seemed good, especially since Bryan had not chosen anywhere to eat…

We went shopping and got some chips, nuts and tried a new wine and some other kind of drink- realizing too we’d have to carry all of this- and all our luggage- from the hotel to the dive shop tomorrow am, so we couldn’t get too loaded down either. I tried to get some oranges but she said we needed to pick one with a sticker so she could ring it up- but none had stickers…I told her it was 99 cents but she said the same again so we put the oranges back. Oh well- fruit seems to be something e can get pretty readily anywhere, should we be fearing scurvy 😉

This time I was really hungry and Bryan said let’s just go back to the first restaurant and eat then- to which I rolled my eyes a bit…but it was closed- as were all the other ones around! It was near sunset and everything closes- so we had nothing for dinner! I wasn’t mad, as I knew Bryan would be the one to suffer far more not eating a “real meal”, but I sadly wasn’t surprised either. He apologized and I said it was fine, I could have made us eat there, twisting his arm- and who would have known everything would shut down either…so whatever.

We got back to the hotel and collected all the food we had, which thankfully included 2-day old cheese (Laughing Cow type) that had not been refrigerated, but we figured would be fine. We’d brought some rolls just in case, so had old cheese and roll sandwiches- and the whole bottle of wine which made it all taste a bit better! We got everything packed up and ready for the morning and went to bed pretty early again- partly because we were just exhausted and for me, the wine!

One last note: I have unexplained itchy bumps again- one which got really big. I think I am allergic to travel?!

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