Thursday, May 14, 2015

Borneo back from the dead!

Was just getting around to updating the blog on all the great things happening down here in NZ when I came across an old blog draft for Borneo. I was in Borneo in Feb/Mar of 2013 but life was crazy and it took me a while to get around to posting some blog stuff on it. Unfortunately before I could get through the 1.5 month trip, I lost a bunch of photos on my computer (Always back-them-up!) including all of my Borneo shots. So it was a bonus to find a few extra photos buried away on this blog site. Unfortunately it did not include any of my adventures in Brunei or Sarawak but hey... still have the memories! So as a random interlude into all things NZ, here are some shots from the Tawau area of Sabah (Malaysian Broneo's northern state). 

For some background, Tawau is the only city in Sabah that does have tourists. Or at least that was my experience. It's a city of several hundred thousand, and yet there is not a single hostel anywhere and in my 4-5 days there I did not see a single Caucasian person other than the 2 Canadians and 2 Swedes that I convinces to follow me to this area.

When I first arrived in Tawau I was alone as the rest of the gang was scuba-diving off Semporna to the north. I took the time to explore the area on my own, at first in the city, and then by hitching rides out into the countryside. As a white non-local measuring over 2 meters tall, I was obviously a novelty and had to get used to gangs of kids and adults following me around and inviting me to various parties. As luck would have it, I ate some dodgy chicken at a Pakistani restaurant which meant that my forays into the countryside had to be scaled back a bit. More on that soon...
Sabah seems to be the heartland of Islam in Malaysian Borneo, and Tawau is probably one of the more Islamic areas of Sabah. (Note the mosque above and my bank of choice in Borneo). On our bus journey over to this side of Sabah, we were stopped several times by military personnel who were obviously searching for something in particular. It wasn't until after we had just left Tawau (headed back for KK on the west coast), that we found out that during our stay, a large party of Islamic insurgents from the southern Philippines had landed nearby and were hiding out in palm plantations. Clashes with police and the army ensued and a number of fighters were killed. This resulted in the closing of eastern Sabah to tourism so we were very lucky to have explored this area ignorant of some of these dangers. In many ways, Sabah feels more apart of the southern Philippines than Malaysia as most coastal settlements now are teaming with Muslim-Filipino illegal and legal immigrants. Many Mulsin Malays are also sympathetic to their cause and their is a historic link between these regions dating back to the Sultanate of Sulu in the 15th century.

This one is for Blake ;)
The unfortunate coincidence that I experienced my most hellish reaction to dodgy chicken on the same night I opted to rent the cheapest room in Tawau. No windows, a malfunctioning toilet, and a high risk of bed bugs (hence the newspaper). That was not an evening to remember. Thank god for the Pizza Hut across the street! Needless to say, I paid the extra $15 for a 3-star hotel room with A/C, TV, and a great view the following day.
Once the gang showed up, I was itching to get out into the jungle, so we headed for Tawau Hills Park. A beautiful reserve with very few visitors. For most of our 3 day stay we had the place to ourselves... well other than the mobs of macaques that came out each evening to try and score some grub.
Some sort of a babbler... my memory is too hazy right now and I don't have a field guide with me. I would guess it's a Short-tailed Babbler as there were a lot of them around. I scored around 36 lifers at Tawau Hills including these favourites: Blythe's Hawk-Eagle, Brown Hawk-Owl (Northern Boobook), Diard's & Orange-breasted Trogons, Red-bearded Bee-eater, Siberian Blue Robin, and Bornean Spiderhunter.
Erik the Swede, being Erik the Swede
One one day we did a long hike to some hot springs. The springs turned out to be luke-warm and pretty disappointing but still a great day.
The gang after a misguided decision to hike to the World's tallest tropical tree at night with only one light. I also was stoked with my idea of wearing sandals, especially when I stepped on a mass of fire-ants. In the darkness my screams were left open for interpretation, so let's just say there was some panicked running and screaming by everyone before I could explain what had actually happened.

The tall tree in the daytime. I believe it's around 91 meters. Didn't seem that much taller than the other trees though....
The sun sets over Tawau in the hotel I decided to splurge and pay $20 for.
Soooo much better than the $5 one!


  1. Looks like you had an amazing time! Thanks for sharing this great post.

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