Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Kota Kinabalu

Fri 15/05
Sabah starts to look a little more interesting on the ride into KK, the road winding up over the Crocker Range and then back down to the coast, where Mt Kinabalu dominates the horizon.

We’ve been thinking about maybe staying in KK for a month and renting an apartment, but have no idea how to go about this. So its a big surprise when, about 2 minutes after parking the bikes in the backpacker district, we meet a guy called Jack who has an apartment for rent. Or, that is to say he’ll move in with his sister next door and rent out his 3 bedroom apartment to us for RM500 per month. We arrange to meet him tonight and check in at a backpackers.

So far Lucas has managed to avoid sesame, but the law of averages and the fact that KK has a big Chinese population mean that it was bound to happen. We race out of the restaurant amidst utter confusion, Ann throwing money at the owner who won’t accept it (he thinks he’s poisoned us or something), to the backpackers to recover just in time to meet Jack, who’s taking us to his place.

Jack, who has recently split up with his wife, seems to be leading a bachelor’s life and so his apartment lacks a fridge, washing machine and a stove. Which is a shame, because otherwise its not bad and we’re pleasantly surprised with what RM500 per month buys.

Sat 16/05
Today we’ve arranged to meet Terry to talk about tyres, so eventually he blusters in with several Kiwis in tow, invites us back to his place later, draws us a mud map of directions and then blusters back out again.

We’d read a horror story about Terry’s driveway, a 5 kilometre gravel hill climb of a road, so approach it with a fair amount of respect. Luckily the author of the story was a bit of a wuss, because the road really isn’t that bad.

Terry is still in tour guide mode when we arrive, so we sit down and chat with Bryan, 5-time British motocross champion, about the dos and don’ts of riding on gravel and are reminded again about how little we really know about any of this stuff. What are you guys going to do when This happens and how have you prepared for That? He asks. “Um... we really didn’t think too much about any of those things.” we reply sheepishly.

There’s a party at Terry’s tonight, and the closest we’ll get to the Hilton on this trip is when his son Ben picks us up from out front. Its an interesting mix of people at the party, but the main attraction for us is what looks like (and actually turns out to be) real food, and are they bottles of Wolf Blass Shiraz? Our reaction to the potato salad gets a good laugh.

Sun 17/05
We’ve heard of another possible house for rent (everything seems word of mouth here), but in the meantime go to check out a place called Farida’s B&B, which is a few Ks out of town and has parking for the bikes.

On the way back we’re pulled over by an overly officious motorbike cop doing license checks. Seems they breed them the same here as they do in Oz. The whole thing seems pretty stupid. What do these letters mean? “Oh, well this one means I can fly a 747 officer.” Ok fine, you can go.

Mon 18/05
Farida’s seems to have a great vibe and her daughter Sophie is falling over herself to make us feel welcome, so we decide to stay here for the month and forget about renting the house. Its kind of a relief to have a place to call home after a few months on the road and we seem to click with everyone here, because pretty soon there’s talk of a G&T night tonight.

G&T night turns out to be G&T and caviar and all kinds of other decadent stuff we’d only dreamt of for months. KK is turning out all right...

Tue 19/05
The gastronomic tour of KK continues with Vegemite on toast for breakfast (which Ann unpatriotically turns her nose up at). We’re wondering what we’ve done to deserve all this generosity, but will gratefully accept it while it comes our way.

We also found a good restaurant across the road the other night and so go back there again for lunch. This will be the first of many times over the coming month when Zuraidah either refuses our money, or only lets us pay half the bill. What are people on here?

Wed 20/05

Not that we’re huge fans, but we finally get to see Star Trek today with no interruptions at a massive shopping mall called 1Borneo, the sound on par with any modern cinemaplex. There’s a sense in Malaysia though, that whilst the money, the will and the expertise (imported?) to build world class facilities and infrastructure are here, maintenance of those facilities is poor. Perhaps, as with the roads, the materials are substandard and so deteriorate more quickly. Perhaps, as we keep hearing, the Malays are an inherently lazy people and so farm out these jobs to Indonesians and Philippinos. Not a very nice thing to say, but we’re not passing judgement, just passing on what people tell us.

Later, while checking out the impressive mosque, it seems we’ve been noticed by two guys in a 4x4 who pull over to say hi. Matt and Massud own big bikes (a status symbol here) and so invite us for a drink and chat about bikes and stuff. We’ve said before what a massive pain in the ass these bikes can be, but now that we’ve had time to relax and reflect realise what a great way they are to meet people. These guys would never have stopped for your average garden variety orang putihs.

Farida and Arifen take us for drinks to his club, which is the oldest in KK and still has a slightly colonial feel about it. These two are unbelievably generous and seem to run the B&B for their own enjoyment, rather than a money making concern.

Thu 21/05
The bored looking staff at the fully staffed Rafflesia Centre at Crocker Range NP tell us we can’t walk in the park without a guide, and since there aren’t any around, turn us away. We’d been told otherwise, so make a few sarcastic comments about petty bureaucratic procedures (having just ridden 50Ks of mountain roads to get here), before turning around and heading back to a butterfly place we’d seen on the way up. It’d looked like a tourist trap, but we didn’t want to waste the day.

And... was actually pretty good after all.

Sat 23/05
The road up to Mt Kinabalu the next day highlights the driving mentality of your average Malaysian male. Its a car driving nation and so motorbike riders are generally treated as second class citizens. A bit like Oz actually. If you’re riding a big bike you’re expected to ride like a maniac, otherwise you’ll find a big black dual cab Hilux with a chrome grill driven by a test pilot about a foot from your rear wheel. Dual cab Hiluxes are the local weapon of choice, so its inadvisable to pass one unless you want a drag race. Its the penis thing again. Sigh...

Mt Kinabalu has some spectacular unspoiled beauty and we fart around on one of the trails most of the day, completely underestimating its steepness. It obviously rains a lot up here, it is a rainforest after all. But our rain jackets are a useless defence against the tropical (equatorial?) onslaught that hits in the afternoon. We trudge back to the bike soaked to the skin, freezing, and dreading the ride back down the mountain.

Tue 26/05
Someone mentions that Tenom is an interesting place to check out, but its a shame the old steam train is still out of action, having plunged off the tracks during a landslide a few years ago.

After visiting the agricultural park, we ride back to town and the polis station to park the bike for the night. Bizarrely, one of the cops there greets us with Where’s the other bike? “Huh?” we reply, confused. What happened to the other one? This is getting a little weird, until it turns out he’s actually read the article about us in the paper a few weeks ago and doesn’t realise that generally we ride 2-up on days like this. Sounds kind of corny, but we meet a lot of people like this guy, who dream of doing the bike thing.

Fri 29/05
Swine flu is front page news here, as it probably is everywhere. What with the financial crisis no longer at crisis proportions, the media obviously need something else to feed on. We wonder why people seem incapable of thinking for themselves and don’t treat this scaremongering with the contempt it deserves. Of course, we wondered the same thing with the financial crisis...

Sat 30/05
Up to Terry’s again for some brake pads, the only such rear pads in existence in Sabah, possibly the whole of Malaysia. On the way up Ann, who’d been complaining about the steering on her bike, loses it on the gravel. After checking the bike over later, its discovered the steering head bearings are knackered. Hard to believe on a bike that’s done 20000Ks, but seemingly a common problem on these 650s.

Sun 31/05
Believe it or not, neither of us has changed a set of brake pads in our lives, so we look at the little ones in the box with dread. Sure you can laugh, its all a learning experience right? Easy, when you know how.

Wed 03/06
Fitting new steering head bearings on the other hand is something we aren’t geared up for. At the workshop sits a brand new F800GS (basically the new version of our bikes), which is getting farkled up with all kinds of bits and pieces. We’re told the owner paid RM80000 for the bike, which translates roughly to AU$28500! This is almost the price we paid for both our bikes in Oz and is due to the ridiculous tax slapped on all foreign imports into Malaysia.

Thu 04/06

Thanks for the tyre Terry. Seriously, from the bottom of our hearts. However, there’s a good reason the online biker community refer to Bridgestone Trailwings as “Death Wings”, as Lucas discovers soon after having the new rear fitted. Possibly its a bad combination with the front Metzler, or maybe it needs running in, but man is it awful. The rear of the bike is all over the place and squirms badly under braking, the front now tracking every little imperfection in the road. On gravel, the bald Metzler had more grip. Scary stuff. But hey, its a new tyre. Woohoo.

Fri 05/06

Terry and Rose’s is a palace, something straight out of Grand Designs, and now the Kiwis are gone they invite us to stay over. Its high up in the hills of KK, the view from the infinity pool looking straight out over the city and the harbour. Someone makes the comment that today’s sunset is just “average”.

Sat 06/06
Bryan bangs on at every opportunity about standing up on the pegs (we swear he’d ride from Brisbane to Sydney standing up), so we give it a try on some gravel roads today. We can see what he’s on about (he’s the man after all), but still don’t trust our skills with the weight of the bikes.

Sun 07/06
Kota Belud supposedly has one of the better markets in Sabah, so we find ourselves wandering through the stalls this morning, saying selemat pagi to the locals and looking for photo opportunities. The markets are a bit of a disappointment however, and while we’re thinking about cutting our losses and maybe heading for the beach a young guy approaches Lucas and asks if he’d like to take some photos of a bride. “Sure, why not?” he replies.

So we follow Anol to a little bridal shop where, oddly in our eyes, both the bride and the groom are being fitted up for the wedding. After a while we thank him and are about to head off, when his uncle suggests that maybe we’d like to come to the wedding as well. So Ann hops into one of the bridal Hiluxes, which heads slowly through town and out to a little village, with Lucas following behind on the bike.

The wedding is in two parts. 1st the traditional western (Seventh Day Adventist) ceremony is held, followed by lunch. It seems like the whole village is here and while we sit back and wait for the lunch queue to dissipate one of the family invites us to eat with them at the main table. Pretty soon the karaoke fires up and everyone, except us of course, is clamouring for their turn. There are only so many Tom Jones impersonators we can take, so while waiting for the wedding couple to return for the 2nd ceremony we wander off to check out the gongs and the football match in the backyard.

After a while the bridal party returns, dressed in traditional Malay ceremonial costumes. This ceremony is much more relaxed and informal and the bride and groom are actually smiling now. Its been a great day.

Wed 10/06
Another day, another beach. Life’s tough.

On the way back we stop for lunch at a little roadside warung and chat for several hours with the school teacher and her friend who run it. We’ve done this sort of thing before, and its a real luxury to have the time. People often ask us what our “program” is today. Answering truthfully can sometimes get us some incredulous looks.

Fri 12/06
Farida has another place at Kuala Penyu, a sleepy seaside town a couple of hours from KK. All the “boys” are here today (the Filippino and Indonesian servants), doing odd jobs around the place or even just carrying Arifen’s luggage. The whole man-servant thing seems kind of weird to us, but its how they do things here, and keeps people employed. Some, even legally. There’s a massive population of illegal immigrants in Sabah, but since industries such as palm oil now depend on them, the government faces a bit of a dilemma.

Mon 15/06

We have another chance encounter with Massud and are invited back to his place for dinner (read feast) with his two wives and families. “How do you manage two families Massud?” we ask later after everyone else has cleared off. Well... sometimes things not perfect. he replies.

Wed 17/06
The trouble with staying anywhere for too long is the goodbyes. Its a gloomy morning which promises rain and as we ride off from Farida’s we wonder why we’re leaving at all.

Pretty soon its bucketing down, so our concentration is on the road and trying to pass the countless trucks which clog it. It seems to be an unwritten law in this part of the world that all trucks must stay under 50kph. Sure, some are clapped out wrecks or so overweight that they can’t go any faster, but most are just plain slowwww...

The whole Sabah-Sarawak-Brunei-Sarawak-Brunei-Sarawak thing is a tedious 10 checkpoint affair, so we decide to split it and stay in Limbang on the way through. We have no idea of visa costs in Brunei, but because we’re only transiting decide not to buy any Brunei dollars beforehand. Surely there’ll be a money changer at the border. Oops.

After a polite discussion with Brunei immigration officials, who will only accept their own currency, we turn around and ride about 10ks back to the Sarawak border, which is really just a ferry crossing. Ann then proceeds to hop back on the ferry and knock on car windows until someone kindly changes up enough ringgit for the visa.

We ride into Limbang late in the day, an awful knocking noise emanating from the bowels of Lucas’ bike. Sounds kind of terminal. We kind of hope it isn’t...

1 comment:

  1. OK , so now we have got to the 17th June , still a long way from todays date , the 22nd July. Still very interesting to read. Hope your both ok , havn't heard from you for some time :(
    Take care
    Love N.