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Report 22: Now this is Borneo

I’m at the tip of Borneo enjoying my first day as a 58 year old. I really haven’t given this birthday much thought. It’s squarely into the late 50s. Years that end in 7 are always especially nice sounding to me. But this will be my favorite year from now on. I’ve never consciously thought that going into a new year, but I always wind up feeling that at some point. So I may as well start right now.

I awake in the jungle to jungle noises. I arrived in Kudat yesterday after a 2+ hour, sometimes prayer-raising drive in a minibus. I have no feel for this town—not even the Ria Hotel where I was to get one last burst of wifi. Instead, Howard comes through the door paging me as my taxi pulls up.

Howard Stanton is building his dream eco lodge at Tampot do Aman at the Tip of Borneo. It will be a touring, trekking and diving facility supporing the Rungas tribe. I’m staying in a longhouse—Howard’s re-creation of a traditional tribal home that would house many families. We’re a group that includes 4 Danish women, a German couple and me, with an English couple staying in one of the little bungalows as volunteers here. We share a common area, 4 composting toilets, three washbasins and four showers all open to the sounds, humidity and breezes of the jungle. (Mosquitoes too, although I’m not currently being plagued. It will turn out that the sandflies are a much bigger pest and I will donate plenty of skin and what ever it is they are after) The other non wildlife are a variety of dogs and cats, chickens, vociferous roosters and tail-wagging duck. Howard is a wonderful host to all. (Originally June 2 2013)

This morning I’ve had a deliciously private time to do first yoga and then a little hand laundry. Now it’s writing time and I’m beginning to hear stirring. The English couplefinally give in to their standard phone alarm after the 3d or 4th snooze cycle. The Germans appear—he has been stalking the property with a massive camera for awhile now.

Borneo finally hit me when I entered the water late yesterday afternoon. Howard’s Tip Top restaurant is on a perfect and almost deserted beach. It was too late to snorkel when I got here to that’s saved for today. But it was just the right time for a pre-sunset bounce in the waves. Then it hit me “I’m in Borneo.” This is it—much more so than Kota Kinabalu, which only looks like Borneo on a map.

Howard’s wife is hard at work with the rest of the restaurant crew, making delicious stuff at good prices and offering a great place to hang and enjoy the beach, to kayak, and to explore. This looks like it will be lazy, social beach time.

To be fair to Kota Kinabalu I pulled one of my chicken-entries. I got in too late for even a cursory walk around, so I nervously booked a specious touristy activity for the next morning: the Mari Mari Cultural Center.

It was formulaic and expensive although my guide was very good and a charismatic person of tribal origin. I didn’t know about the various local tribes here, but I don’t know much more now, for having toured 5 recreated tribal homes and seen a dance program. I was craving maps and demographics, but that’s probably just me. It was a good reminder to trust my instincts on these things and always start the day with a good walk—especially when I’m in a new town. Later in the day I did find good wifi access, a walk up to the observation area, then down to the waterfront, where I was captured into the audience for a long dramatic sunset. Finally the amazing sunset show was done. I found some seafood and rice and walked back to the Traveler’s Light, to be grilled by the proprietor’s daughter—my buddy Angel–age 5. (She made me a picture and even wrote my name on it as part of the check in procedure the night before.)

When I followed my walk advice, I stumbled upon the official market for fruits and vegetables and stuff. Like most of Malaysia, it’s a highly “cleaned up” version of the SE Asian markets I’ve been patronizing and photographing. Something is lost in that cleaning up, although it is a huge benefit for the poultry area. But behind and beyond this structure is a fish market extraordinaire.The waterfront staging ground for that long slow sunset the night before now offered a huge and varied catch: big fish, little fish, flat, fat and shiny fish. Some are reef fish—parrots—sad to say. But most are great grand fish. And the eaters and eateries of KK are here in force. Young boys push metal carts for those who buy more than they can carry. Fishermen ask where I’m from and want their pictures taken. They are dressed in yellow rubber boots—a good choice. I was only looking for an ATM when I started our, so I’m in flip flops—a messy choice—but the common shoe. This is where to come if one wants to like Kota Kinabalu.

I will have two days of jungle-and-beach repose at The Tip of Borneo and then fly to Sandakan. Hopefully when I find wifi again I’ll also find that I have a room at the Sepilok B&B and some good ideas about how to structure diving time in Semporna.(and for those of you keeping track I owe you Sapa and Halong Bay in Vietnam as well as a few pictures here.)