Thursday, January 7, 2010

Borneo Day Three: Kinabalu Park

On our third day in Borneo, we checked out of our hotel in KK and headed up to Kinabalu Park, home of the impressive Mt. Kinabalu. The first part of our day consisted of roaming the city with our backpacks, trying to find the mythical bus station where the bus would take us to Kinabalu. The guidebook failed us, and the directions we got from the hotel front desk people were incredibly convoluted and ultimately incorrect. After roaming a chaotic dirt parking lot full of buses, we found an office, and the man inside directed us back across town to the mini-bus station ("station" seems a strong word, as it was really just a parking lot with signs and vans and men selling tickets). Anyway, on the way to the mini-bus, we stopped for some mediocre Indian food, and I was again astounded by how cheap food can be in SE Asia- for two meals, a bottled water and a can of pop, we paid 10 ringgit- about $3.50 USD. Crazy.

We secured a spot on the next mini-bus leaving for Ranau (they dropped us at KP on their way), and then we sat and waited a while- the vans don't leave until they're full and we needed two more people. Well, we ended up with an entire family of five. The driver put Bryan in the front passenger seat, and the family of five and I got cozy in a row of three seats. The family was really nice though- a local couple with their three beautiful little girls, who couldn't resist staring, wide-eyed, at me for much of the ride. Again, the ride was very scenic, and it was a great chance to see some more of Sabah. We passed this lovely mosque on our way out of town and I took this mediocre picture out the window of the van.

Before long, it became obvious that we were headed into the mountains, and we just kept going up and up and up, right into the clouds. The temperature dropped quickly and the air started feeling crisper and cleaner. Every once in a while, on the side of the road a view would open up, and you could see down into the bright green valleys. It was really great. The driver pointed in the direction of Mt. Kinabalu, but we couldn't see it because of the clouds. I began to feel that we were probably getting pretty close, and I was looking forward to getting there. Then the oldest of the three little girls, who was sitting on her dad's lap, gave a meek little cough. Her dad acted fast, clamped his hand over her mouth, and opened up a trash bag, which she promptly vomited into. Then I really couldn't wait to get where we were going. Thankfully, the van stopped about five minutes later, and let us out at the entrance of Kinabalu Park.

We checked in at the main desk, and then walked about 10 minutes to get to the Hill Lodge, where we were staying for the night. We splurged a little on a nice room for ourselves (Sutera Sanctuary Lodges pretty much runs a monopoly on lodging in and around Kinabalu, and their prices are a bit high) and we were glad when we saw the place. It was a cute little mountain hideaway with a bamboo ceiling and a comfy couch and a porch with a nice view of the woods in the back- a nice space all for us!We got dressed in warmer clothes and hiking boots and went to check out some of the trails around the base of the mountain. We'd opted out of climbing the mountain, partially because of the time commitment it requires (it's recommended that you stay there the night before you climb and one night on the mountain), but we were planning on hiking around the base. We found a trail near our place, and walked along a little stream, stopping periodically to check out unusual plants- Kinablu is a World Heritage Site, largely because of its plant biodiversity. I love how the ferns start out all coiled up and slowly unfurl as they grow.Bryan was looking like an avid birdwatcher and I found a giant leaf.I was determined to find some frogs...Eventually Bryan was the one who spotted about five or six of them all together. I'm not sure what kind they are, so if anyone has any frog expertise they'd like to share, I'd appreciate it.Some insane fog rolled in, and it was hard to see even a couple feet in front of our faces. It really felt like we were walking around in the sky, and I suppose in some sense, we were. The fog rolled out just as fast as it had arrived, and then came back a few minutes later. It was pretty trippy, being stuck in clouds like that. After the fog cleared, we discovered some funky fungus and some pretty flowers that looked vaguely carnivorous.After our hike, we went to a little place in the park called Liwagu Restaurant. I had a tasty vegetable tofu pot, and Bryan had the weirdest burger I've ever seen. It was a totally unnatural shade of pinkish red, but not because it wasn't cooked through, just because that's the color the meat was. I have no idea what it was, but I'm guessing it wasn't anything like the kind of beef you'd get at an American grocery store. We also had a couple of drinks we'd never heard of- Oranjeboom beer and Jolly Shandy, which is lemonade mixed with beer. Yum!After dinner, we spent the evening holed up in our quaint mountain room, reading books and drinking Sabah tea under the blankets- it was cold! It was so peaceful to hear the bird and insect sounds outside, without any of the city sounds to which I've grown so accustomed. We were excited for the next day, and some more time to explore the trails around Kinabalu Park!

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