November 1985
Part I

If you want to skip directly to the other part, then just hit
Part II  - Visiting the Headhunters


This is an abridged description of a trip to Sabah in November 1985. The intention is to give a firsthand personal experience of how I did get to and through the country. Despite the fact that I did not book anything in advance at all (except for the flight) it was no problem getting any means of transport or accommodation on the same day. I only did some kind of pre-planning in so far that I wanted to be back in Kota Kinabalu at least a day before my continuation flight.

At the time of writing all this, more than 23 years have passed. What I had seen and experienced, may not be the way today anymore. Cultures and customs change rapidly in our global world, not necessarily to the better, especially for the indigenous people I met.

This is actually the first destination of my trip. The second is listed under the Philippines. I flew with Malaysian Airline from Amsterdam to Kota Kinabalu via Kuala Lumpur, then to Manila and then back to Amsterdam via Kuala Lumpur again. The fare at that time was 2080 DM. By the way, Sabah is located in the northern part of Borneo and belongs to Malaysia.

Sometimes, I slip into a writing habit: It's like a tic, I can't help it. If you won't read it, then just leave it and take the liberty to skip my silly poetry.

Arriving in Kota Kinabalu

It was in the very early morning hours when I arrived at the airport in Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah. It was not worthwhile to take a taxi to the city and pay a hotel room for just a couple of hours sleep, so I slept outside the airport on a bench until I could take the local shuttle bus. Again: it was my challenge to travel on the shoestring (with my Lonely Planet) and the hard way because I also needed some "survival training" after working in an office all day. I didn't even stay the first night in the city but continued same morning to Kota Belud with another bus from the bus terminal in Kota Kinabalu. On the way I did get my first glimpse of Mount Kinabalu, actually the main reason to come here and climb it, but not now yet.

Remark: The photos on the right side may not be correctly adjusted if you use Mozilla Firefox or Chrome. I propose to use the Explorer of Microsoft instead.

Click the small picture to get it enlarged

Kota Kinabalu Mount Kinabalu

Kota Belud

The reason why I went to Kota Belud was its famous and biggest market in Sabah, as a have read in my guidebook. Ok, it was interesting but more for their animal market and the people from different tribes coming here from around the country to sell their produce and deal with all kinds of animals, mainly cattle.
Mosque in Kota Belud Animal market in Kota Belud
This region here up in the north has been mostly inhabited by indigenous people. The Malays that are settled down in Sabah are more concentrated in and around Kota Kinabalu. Malaysia had done with Sabah the same as Indonesia had done with Papua: "What belonged to the same colonial power (here the British), belongs to us now after our independence". But as a matter of fact, Sabah should belong to and is also still claimed by the Philippines, because it is more traditionally connected and closer located to Palawan and Sulu (see Abu Sayyaf coming easily over to kidnap people, like the Wallerts, from the Sabah island of Sipadan). Sabah was even partially governed by the sultan of Sulu before it became a British protectorate.
Biggest market in Northern Sabah Peasant selling a buffalo
Fishers selling fish Farmers selling fruits
Many people dope themselves with a betel nut "joint". It makes them feel better and numb in the stomach, so that they do not have any appetite to eat, thus addicted ones are always very skinny. It's the best diet to lose weight, but also to lose teeth, as one of the side effects.
This lady doesn't need teeth to chew If I eat your betel nut I will look like you
She also lost her teeth from the betel nut This lady better keeps her mouth shut
I thought I could get a cheap accommodation in Kota Belud. But there was only one ugly hotel which only looked cheap but actually wasn't for around 40 ringgit (around the same in DM) the night for a very very basic room. There was just not enough competition around. A traveler scene has not been established, so there also were no private accommodations or guesthouses offered (not enough backpackers come here).

Kota Kinabalu

The same accommodation situation was valid in Kota Kinabalu, where I had to stay in a similar cheap looking hotel, which also was not cheap. I wasn't ready to sleep in a five star hotel.
The Hyatt was too expensive to stay What about staying in a church? No way
Sleeping under a palm tree? Maybe Or on the grass in the park. With this lady?
But by walking around I was lucky to see a banner announcing a tourist promotion fair. I went there and complained right away that there are not enough modest and cheap guesthouses around in Sabah. And what a luck: I was introduced to a Chinese guy who just passed by, who offered me a home stay for 10 ringgit a day including meals. I told him that I wanted to climb Mount Kinabalu first and then come to his place.
What a surprise: A tourist promotion exhibition with handicraft arrangements of local production
Mostly a lot of flowers arrangements But not many offers of accommodations
Only an old ancient truck as a museum's piece and a first class resort close to the beach

Around Kota Kinabalu

Next I went to the beach, took a look at the only beach resort and then strolled along the beach (which was not very much inviting) until I reached a small village with houses built on stilts way out into the sea.
The beach was no good for a swim in low tide But the local boys always have a good time
Next to the resort a small village at last Do they offer here bed and breakfast?
Oh really, an invitation: "Welcome to our home" And the neat children here can really be shown

Climbing Mount Kinabalu

Ok, next day early in the morning I took the local transport from the bus terminal to Porec, but did get off at the Mount Kinabalu National Park's head quarter. I had alread aquired a permit and also made reservation for a three nights accommodation at the Board of Trustees of Sabah Parks's office in Kota Kinabalu the day before (25.20 ringgits).

The park rangers were very kind. They lent me a small rucksack for the provision (I actually was travelling around with a shoulder bag) and booked me on the guided climb the next two days together with seven Chinese. The permit for the climb was 10 ringgits. The guide was another 30 ringgit but for the whole group, which was already paid by my Chinese friends (paid the guide a tip though). The first and third night I stayed overnight at the Old Fellows Hostel at the park's headquarter and the second night in the Gunting Lagadan Hut.
Will I make it to the summit? With my new friends I can do it
The climb was strenuous but not difficult. I always was heading the crowd. The Chinese were restaurant personnel from Brunei on vacation and not trained for the Olympics. When my pulse went up too high I took a break to look at the beautiful surrounding with a strange flora and fauna, like meat eating plants.
The climb was ok with some rest mostly still leading through the forest
A pitcher plant with an insect caught Almost missed this station in the fog
The night in the base camp was very comfortable, not so much the next following night in the mountain hut. It was cold, even with two sleeping bags provided. It was raining all night and the water was pouring down a slope and turned to a waterfall beside our hut. We were lucky that the rain stopped when we did get up at 3 a.m. in the dark in order to make it to the summit by sunrise.
Finally the long awaited sunrise illumin-ating the wide country-side
And on top we were awarded with a beautiful sight. I also was the first to get to the summit in a height of 4107 meters. Only four Chinese made it with me. The other three gave up on the way up.
The view is really fantastique and then finally I reach the peak
A look back to the peak and down into a crevice
A view up another lesser peak and beside it into the deep
Looking up to the Donkey's Ears that's me with all my fellow Chinese
Then the way down was easy, not just because of the rope that was only a steep portion on a smooth rock close to the top. The rest was jumping down from stone to stone. But then after reaching the base camp my legs started to go limp and I hardly could walk for the next three days (despite my careful slightly bent knees in order not to push my joints). But it was all worthwhile. I even did get a certificate for my achievement to climb Mt. Kinabalu.
Then the way down supported by a rope but then jumping down from stone to stone

Hot Springs of Porec

From the base camp I took a local bus next day to get to the Hot Springs at Porec? Though the baths, while also changing back and forth from cold to hot water, didn't sooth my pain in the legs. I actually planned to stay overnight there hoping for a better healing and relaxing effect, but the accommodation didn't look too inviting. And also, nobody else was around, except two Chinese lawyers, who were just here for a short relaxing break. They left for Kota Kinabalu the same day with their own fancy car and I took the chance to ask them for a lift, what they kindly granted.
That's a good remedy for my body, and my legs especially These Chinese guys I met took me back to Kota Kinabalu city

Staying with the Chews in Kota Kinabalu

My Chinese lawyers dropped me off at the address the Chinese guy at the tourist exhibition gave to me:
Cecilia Chew
410 Jalan Saga, Kg. Likas
Kota Kinabalu
89400 Sabah, Malaysia
What a welcome. The whole Chew family came out to greet me with a welcome drink. I did get a nice room. And it was true: all for 10 ringgits including all meals.
Is this the house I am going to stay? It wasn't. But this is also okay
Mister Chew was a jack of all trades: a businessman, a farmer, a politician, a social worker and a good father. He threw a birthday party for his daughter and we all were invited. With we I meant two other guys.
Staying with the Chew's: "Home away from home" Mr. Chew trying to light his daughter's birthday cake as shown
I was introduced to two other guests: one Australian from Tasmania, having three month vacation from his navigation job on a cargo ship, and an American biology student girl doing research in the Kota Kinabalu National Park for a year but having some time off now too.
Family Chew with guests at the birthday barbecue party And here I am eating papaya with my next traveling buddy
My Tasmanian went scuba diving and turtle riding around the islands in front of Kota Kinabalu. I rather visited the islands by boat, but they were not so inviting above than probably the undersea world around them.
Fisher proudly present their catch at the pier I rented a boat with a boatman from here
Then cruising around on my own to visit some islands as shown
And then another day there was a big event at the school of the Chew children. It really was very interesting because this was a school teaching most subjects in English and thus many children with different racial, religious and tribal backgrounds did get together to use English as the Lingua Franca (as in Singapore). Also the Chew family spoke English at home. However, the Malaysian government in far away Kuala Lumpur was planning to forbid English schools and teach only in Malay. I do not know how far this has been implemented today. But this would be a pity.
A concert at the school of St. Agnes some musicians are already there
These girls are looking really cute in their native dress Also the boys in their native suits have done their best
This school event was also the only opportunity for me to see so many different traditional costumes. I didn't and still don't know of any multiculti festival or parade in Sabah where everybody comes together. There were already frictions between the Malaysian and indigenous inhabitants in Sabah. After one election, Sabah had two governors, one elected and one determined by Kuala Lumpur. Nobody recognizing the other.
Sabah girls Malay girls
Indian girl Muslim girls
Polynesian girl And our Chinese boy Chew
Who plays in many roles but he is always the king
But other boys acting as a sultan or fighting to become the next one
This school really shows how to live together and hopefully this will be the generation to pursue this into their adult life, king and sultan living side by side but having only one elected governor and no fighting anymore.
The girls love to sing to the tunes and like to wear nice costumes
Some like to be cheer leaders or others just ballet dancers
An umbrella dance is not the norm But everybody has something to perform
And the kids are very versatile as you can see from the pictures. Many ideas and many talents, so they will also become good professionals, someday.
Some boys seemed to be funny others had a lot of fantasy
This is a good shepherd that was the final concert
This was the first part of my trip to Sabah. Now I will be going to embark on a new adventure (see next).

If you want to skip now to the other part, then just hit
Part II  - Visiting the Headhunters

© WEW Tours