Getting Drunk and Lost Part 5 : Malaysia

From the Cameron Highlands to Borneo and back…

With a quick overnight stay back in Bangkok, we didn’t plan any heavy night out. Neither were we going to get one. The Thailand King has died and the whole country was in mourning. Most citizens forced to dress in black or while and all the TV channels replayed his best bits. The bucket loving, pad Thai selling tourist trap had turned very somber. We did however managed to find a cheap Indian selling massive naan breads for 10p a pop so happy days.
Next day we were back on the overnight train for nearly a solid 24 hours.
Waking up to cross the border to Malaysia.
Another train, then a ferry later and we were in Penang – George’s town.
An almost deserted little colonial place with little to do but explore and eat.
We had been told it was the place for food in Malaysia but I think we must of missed out on those select places or completely bodged it.
One highlight was a small reggae bar which offered ladies free drinks – including free fun and tonic so Carla was sold. Even more so when they brought out 3 puppies to play with. Ok Ok dude you had me at free drinks.
It all got a bit too much as Carla wasn’t happy with their kennel situation and started to plot away of stealing them.
Too many gins I think.
After haggling for some cheap coach tickets we then made our Away to the Cameron Highlands for some serious nature exploring.

After spending 2 solid months in the heat I think Les, if not myself, was looking forward to some time in the cooler climbs of the beautiful Cameron Highlands. We hopped on a bus in Penang and after a massive traffic jam finally arrived in the highlands and were immediately confronted by the cold weather (about 15 degrees but certainly cold now for us) and had to dig out the jumpers and jeans! We were staying in a cute little b&b with an owner who spent the whole time in his office smoking and watching films. The lodge offered a tour of the highlands which we decided to go on our first day.

First stop was a tea plantation. The British remained in the Cameron highlands until the 1970s and the largest tea plantation is still owned by a Scottish family. We got to find out how the tea was processed and about the importance of it to the region. Next up was Gunung Basar the highest mountain in the highlands and it was amazing. Cold, misty and damp it was incredibly mystical and had a nice little autumnal feeling which helped us with the homesickness a little. After this we wandered through the Mossy Forest to a little clearing. Above the dense clouds it was amazing, like being at the top of the world. After this we went to a butterfly farm with a ridiculous collection of animals. Guinea pigs, lizards and turtles made up some of the collection. After this we went to a pick your own Strawberry farm like the brits we are and Les ruined my strawberries by covering them in chocolate. Yuck. It was still early when we got back so we decided to check out some of the local mountains and get a little bit of practice for our big mountain climb the next week!

Next day we decided to attempt a bigger mountain (Gunung Jasar) before we had to check out of the hostel. After looking everywhere for breakfast we stumbled across a Starbucks and looked like complete Londoners with our barely warn outdoor clothes and takeaway coffees. The way up was a bit steep and long and I had some grim realization that I am really not cut out for mountain climbing. However we persevered, careful to stay out of earshot of yet another traveler with a guitar- a ubiquitous site. The view at the top was stunning but the three guys just above us shooting at something hastened our descent. Quick stop for tea and scones… very disappointing … and we were back on a bus headed for the capital Kuala Lumpur. We’d heard nearly all negative reviews of the city and had only planned to spend the night there before heading to Borneo. As we arrived into the city the heavens opened and made the rather concrete grey welcome even more grim. Coupled with the fact that our bags were completely soaked it was a bit of a low point! After figuring out the tube system we headed to our hostel, had a quick street food dinner and nodded at the one proper tourist site – the Petronas Towers – before getting some sleep reading for an early flight to Borneo! Cue a very excited me…

At 6am we were heading to the airport and found ourselves at our gate surrounded by families on holiday as we waited for Malaysians answer to Easy-Jet. After boarding a coach, yes a proper coach, for the two minute ride from gate to plane we promptly got delivered back to the gate again. We asked the staff what was going on and apparently the plane landed badly on arrival here and had a puncture. Whilst not ideal we felt it could have been a lot worse and tried not to dread the landing at other end too much! After dumping our bags we headed to the harbor and realized a not so great fact about Malaysia: alcohol was very expensive. After nursing a couple of bottles we headed off for some food. On the side of one of the buildings Les spotted a Nando’s sign and was insanely happy. At this point he’s struggling massively with food and even I relished the prospect of a cheeky Nando’s. And as luck would have it, the weather decided to bless us with the best sunset we had seen up to that point, right over the harbor. Heaven for some 😀

The next day we were getting a bus over the Sandakan the other main city in Sabah, the part of Borneo we were in. The hostel owner told us to hop in a blue minibus which would take us to the bus terminal just out of town. They leave when they are full and luckily we got the last two seats. Well, sort of luckily. Because we had four backpacks between us and absolutely nowhere to put them. One thing I’m really struggling with on the trip is being a tourist attraction and being stared at constantly. So the brief 5 minutes of trying to get on this bus intact was painful for me as the locals just out and out stared and refused to budge up even a little to help. Cheers! NB: we’d come to realize Malaysians are in general the least friendly of the southeast Asian countries and this was a scene that was repeatedly fairly frequently.

We were heading to Sandakan for one reason, which was to see some wild orangutans. The city itself was a bit of a dump but luckily we’d booked quite a nice hotel so as soon as we arrived we headed up to check out their rooftop bar. As an aside writing this is making me realize how much we are drinking!! We headed back to the room and I soon passed out asleep while poor Les was stuck under me, out of reach of the remote control, forced to watch three episodes of junior bake off!

Next morning we were up bright and early to travel to Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary in the morning. We spent an amazing couple of hours there. The sanctuary takes in orphaned orangutans and through the program of rehabilitation to release them into the wild. Twice a day they leave food on a big platform in case the newly wild orangutans need food supplementation. They only provide bananas to prevent a reliance on this food source but during the winter (including when we were there) fruit is scarce and many come back. So we were lucky enough to see a wide range of orangutans. Best of all was a huge mother with her tiny baby and they stayed for the whole time. There were also a couple of really cheeky ones who were swinging all over and working up the courage to go up to the platform and get some bananas. There was also a very small one probably just out of adolescence who would quickly steal bananas from next to the mum. It was magical and I could bore you for hours about it.
Anyway this lasted for about half an hour and then we walked down a walkway to the adolescent orangutans’ nursery. Here they are primed for life in the wild and have pretty much free reign through the park. We realized this when we walked back and one was walking along the rail. He passed right by us and I’ve never seen one so close. Some idiots were trying to take a selfie with him, of course! We got back to the hotel ecstatic and really didn’t think anything could spoil our day. And then we found out Donald Trump got elected. Sigh. The only response was copious alcohol and orangutan-based jokes at his expense.

Next day we were back to Kota Kinabalu ready for our 2 day climb of Mount Kinabalu. We’d arrange our climb with Amazing Borneo as it’s pretty much impossible to do it on your own. They picked us up and took us to our lodge for the night at the foot of the mountain. It was gorgeous and incredibly luxurious compared to anywhere we had stayed up until then. I mean it even had an endless supply of hot water!!! However the view of the mountain made us both super nervous of the challenge that lay ahead and the complete lack of preparation we had done for it. Next day after stuffing ourselves with a massive breakfast (I would be in deep regret about this in the next couple of hours) we met our guide Freendy and set off for the start of the mountain. Only 109 people are allowed to climb per day as you have to stay at a lodge halfway up. Once we had registered we were off and beginning our 6k walk up to the midway lodges. At the 1km mark I was fairly ecstatic, taking a picture and enjoying the amazing views, fresh air and exercise. By the 2km mark I was having serious regrets. Mainly about the amount I’d eaten and the little I’d prepped and how long 2k had taken but determined not to be too down. 3km I was a mess. Halfway!!!???? Surely this couldn’t be right. We were stopping at every shelter roughly 1km apart and I was still having to sit down and catch my breath here and there in between. This was going to be very tough! Whilst relaxing at the 4km point and eating our packed lunch Freendy told us that a big earthquake a few years before had destroyed one of the midway lodges so they were rebuilding it to allow more people to climb. This explained the guys we kept seeing walking up the mountain with all kinds of stuff: steel girders, gas tanks, food etc. There was only one way to get these building supplies up and also keep supplies coming to the lodge. I wasn’t even carrying a bag (thanks Les) so I could only marvel at these guys who made it look easy. Well maybe not easy but they were stopping to smoke every 30 minutes! He told us they got 20 ringgit a day for this which is about £4. Kilometers 4-6 were a blur of pain, slippery rocks, annoyance at our past selves for not exercising, jealousy over the people with proper sticks, and being overtaken. Because at this point the mountain became seriously steep and Les had now joined me in a world of pain and lack of technique. We just hunkered down and made it to the top for around 2.30pm – around 6 hours to do 6k . Shattered!!! The lodge was not heated and being so high up was absolutely freezing. We were above the cloud line and the views were incredible but we could only pop out for a couple of minutes at a time. A sign outside the shower that said hot water would only be provided by solar was unwelcome. Ok no hot water tonight and certainly a lot less luxury than the night before. Despite going to bed at half 7 we hardly slept and the 1.45am alarm was met with much disapproval! We had to be up and out for 2.30am to ensure we reached the summit for sunrise. It was freezing and pitch black and half asleep we stumbled up the first kilometer using ropes to get up the slipper parts. The top was only a further two kilometers but the second one was incredibly steep. We made extremely slow progress, more than 2 hours, as we crawled up (sometimes literally on hands and knees) using the rope. I then started to get really sick. I felt very very drunk all of a sudden, with a raging headache and sickness. I would stumble for a few meters and then collapse and this carried on for well over an hour. Les and Freendy the Guide were fantastic and never made me feel like the little bitch I felt like. With their encouragement (My personal favorite from Les to “make the mountain my bitch”) I struggled up to the top and we arrived around 6am just in time for the sun to rise. As Les euphorically took in the views it took me a solid 15 minutes to stand up from the rock. However on looking around I certainly wasn’t the only one. The top was full of people absolutely dying. And their guides next to them happily smoking away. Once I staggered up and joined Les on some slightly higher rocks I was blown away by the view. Way above the clouds and with the sun just rising it was the most beautiful view I’d ever seen and we both felt incredibly proud of ourselves right now. However we couldn’t stay there long mostly because it was around 0 degrees so we begrudgingly set off back down in glorious sunshine. I immediately started to feel better and this was one of my favorite parts of the climb. We hadn’t realized in the dark but the very last section was basically a sheer cliff edge. Les was very wary at this point and admittedly it was a bit frightening. However I think I was just happy not to feel so ill anymore and was chatting away to the guide about all the accidents in the past. After a breakfast stop at the midway lodge we set off again around 9.30 to get to the bottom. As we got up to leave our legs gave way a little and we looked at one another like this is going to be really hard! And it was. We had figured the walk down would be a breeze and obviously completely hadn’t thought about tired legs and aching feet. Added to this it started to rain which was bad enough but then it made the way down super slippy. Normally such a clumsy person myself it was actually Les who went sliding a couple of times on the way down. Finally arriving at the bottom was amazing and we headed for a massive buffet lunch before catching a mini bus back to the city center. On the way back Les immediately passed out and I listening to everyone else talking about how this compared to all the other mountains they have climbed. Harder by and large. I chuckled thinking about how ridiculous we are always doing things without thinking them through enough!!

Anyway I don’t want to end this blog on a low and the next day in Kuala Lumpur was a low, so let’s skip over that and on to the next…

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