Sabah Sabah

this adventure starts off with a Brunei exodus via jungle boat taxi starting from the capital city of Bandar Seri Begawan then into Sarawak, Malaysia then back into Brunei’s Temburong district.  from the small river port town of Bangar it was an easy bus to the town of Beaufort and we were back in Sabah once again.


we spent the night in Beaufort: a small Malaysian town of little excitement.  we procured cheap lodging across the river at a Chinese run motel and made friends with the young bar maids at the “Comwel” bar near a small market.

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the next morning we caught the train back to Kota Kinabalu where we spent the next several days plotting our next moves, recovering from our last moves and making frequent visits to the cinema.  over the last several months i have become increasingly more of a sucker for the cinema.  after weeks of hard travel a good night staring at the big screen can be just the thing to make me whole again.  this time however, we went a little over the edge.  i wont tell you exactly how many films we saw but i will say that it was way more than a few.  we must have been the Centerpoint mall’s best customers by the end of our stay there.

20130917_222736on our fourth morning we embarked on our new Sabah adventure starting with a seven-hour bus ride to Sandakan on the east coast of Sabah.  Sandakan is home to a very disturbing and lesser known piece of World War 2 history called the Sandakan death marches.  it was here that the Japanese brutally tortured over two thousand Australian and British POW’s, tried to make them build an air strip and finally failed, then marched them 260 kilometers west to Ranau while they slowly died of starvation, dysentery and malaria.  the few that made it were crammed into unsanitary huts and left to die.  after the war ended the Japanese executed the remaining soldiers and torched the Sandakan POW camp in an attempt to hide the evidence of their war crimes.  luckily a handful of prisoners were able to escape and survive long enough to tell their tale and bring about justice.  many of the events have been pieced together in this PDF book if you are interested in a quick read.

one curiosity of mine that had to be satisfied while in Sandikan was the whereabouts of the mysterious ferry to Zamboanga City in the Philippines.  i was fully intending to take this ferry until my hopes where crushed a week prior when Zamboanga City shut down due to an unfortunate battle and hostage situation that broke out there.  having been fixated on this ferry trip for so long, part of me was hopeful that they rerouted the ferry to a more desirable local but i think i mostly just needed to hear the words “no Roark, you will not be boarding that ferry” in plain broken english.  since the mysterious ferry embarked from an equally mysterious port some miles from town, we were directed to a hotel in town where all ticket sales were handled.  the manager there then directed us to a different hotel a kilometer south of town where we were directed yet again to a place called “Block H” across the street.  soon after crossing the street we realized we had stepped into a different place entirely.  here, row after row of long oppressive concrete buildings stand four stories tall along the waterfront all marked with a letter A to Z.  it had the look of a concentration camp gone rogue.  each building had a little character that had crept into it over the years.  the locals were happy to make our acquaintance.  after a few failed attempts at speaking Malay to them i came to realize it was a large seemingly isolated Filipino community, some of which had just arrived and some of which had already become Malaysian citizens.  we finally managed to locate Block H but the trail went cold from there.  i never found the answers i was looking for but by this time i was too distracted to care, especially when we traversed the coast a little further and discovered a small water village sandwiched between a clump of fishing boats and an old rusty barge.  the village was so rundown and ill maintained that negotiating what was left of its walkways was nothing short of an obstacle course.  when i reached the end of one walkway i was greeted by a dozen hyper charged children who got a little excited when i set my camera to video mode.


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several miles west of Sandakan is the Orang Outang Center and we arrived just in time for feeding time!


our next stop on this adventure was Sukau: a very secluded small town in the jungle built along a meander of a river.  the man who ran our guest house took us out on his boat as we searched out crocodiles and proboscis monkeys.  the monkeys were abundant and the crocodiles would occasionally bubble under the murky surface then reveal their long scaly backs to us.

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down on the southern east coast of Sabah is the small dirty port town of Semporna.  this is the jumping off point to many islands including the very exclusive and coveted island of Sipadan.  only 120 people per day are allowed to visit it and they usually need to book 6 weeks in advance and pay a pretty penny to partake of its world class diving.  rather than jump immediately into an island adventure i decided to let myself get a little distracted.  i wandered into a water village with my guitar and made some friends.  then later i got well taken care of by some locals at a nearby bar.  we played songs late into the night, had arm wrestling contests and engaged in long winded borderline inappropriate conversations about our cultural differences.

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from there i hopped on a boat to the island of Mabul to meet up with Nicolas who had gone there the day prior.  this island is small enough to circle on foot in 30 minutes and for whatever reason has an obscenely large population of children.  the water is so shallow among these islands it’s common to see water villages and structures built miles off shore.  Mabul has an interesting mixture of scuba diving eco-conservation enthusiasts and illegal Filipino immigrants who dump rubbish into the sea and fish with dynamite.  sure there is tension between them but it’s masked with smiles exch20131002_180459 (copy)anged at a very laid back island pace.  my first day here was spent swimming, scoping out the village and sipping rum smuggled in from the Philippines.  my second two days here were spent coping with the effects of a flu-like illness i had contracted.  when my fever finally lifted and my apatite regained i was already overcome with the ease of the place.  i had become good friends with the dive staff and their few customers.  i had become quite accustom to relaxing on the jetty during a sunset and gorging on the three well balanced buffets served each day.  i also went on three dives as i discovered the wonderful world of macro diving.  it is what Mabul is known for after all.  not too far below the surface are thousands of species of very tiny, very unique and wonderful creatures (such as nudibranches).  i also encountered some special creatures of a bit larger size: frog fish, Mandarin fish, and the notoriously fast sharp shooting maverick of the sea, the mantis shrimp.  this little bastard has the ability to strike with the force of a 22 caliber bullet, so fast that the water around its appendages boil in the process.  in the last minutes of my final dive i got up close and personal with a hawksbill sea turtle.  the biggest i had ever seen.  his shell alone must have been five feet in length.  even when i positioned my eyes two inches away from his i could tell that he wasn’t in the slightest bit concerned.  i am sure he realized that if it came down to an underwater battle of Roark vs the giant sea turtle, he would most certainly win.

i never ended up getting my Sipadan dive permit, though honestly i didn’t try all that hard.  i think subconsciously i was just creating a reason for myself to come back… heehee… and i totally could too.


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