Life in KK
Although KK (Kota Kinabalu) in Borneo was not our final destination for the season as far as we had planned, it was a major stopover for us. It’s not that we did not like the Philippines, because we really did and had a great time there. The people were friendly and the stops, for the most part, were gorgeous. On top of that, traveling with “The Pearl” leaves the door open for excitement, regardless of where we are! The real issue is that, periodically, we need to return to our brand of civilization, which means modern marinas, great restaurants and other cruisers.
KK met our standards and surpassed them. We all fell in love with the place rather quickly and chewed into the tourist brochures with a voracious appetite! And, after a few days of gorging ourselves in the restaurants and repairing our sore bodies with the available massage therapists, we started planning the side trips. The Grey Pearl’s and Seabird’s crew rented a car and headed for Kinabalu Park in the mountains, near Mt Kinabalu, which is a 13,455 foot peak.
The drive through the mountains up to the lodge was filled with small remote villages, winding roads and frequent deluges of rain, flooding the roads and making it difficult for our DD, one Capt. Braun Jones, to drive. Oh yeah, you would think that among five college educated people, one of us would have thought to get gas before we left. Nope. We had not calculated that driving uphill continuously burned three times as much gas as on a flat surface so we arrived at the peak with about 6 miles left in our tank. The locals, believe it or not, had no idea where the gas station was, and PLEASE do not ask a woman. They really knew nothing because you were told that by their husbands! After asking about six different people, all locals, we found the gas station about 100 yards from where we were.
With a belly full of fuel, we drove into the campground, registered, and were directed to our cabin. It was actually kind of cute, albeit a little dusty. I think it was considered luxury by the locals but by US standards, it was less than 5 stars. We had a living room and two bedrooms, complete with mattresses with a 14 inch drop in the center. Other than waking up U shaped, we got decent nights sleep.
In the morning, Carol, Tina and I headed up the mountain trail for a walk, leaving the other two to check out the flower beds and avoid any form of exercise. I don’t want to mention their names as they probably now feel embarrassed that they could not make it up the hill……
It was not a terribly exciting trip (other than the drive), but it was our first trip inside Borneo and the company was great! Somehow we always manage to have a good time and things sometimes get out of hand, but this time it was FAIRLY civil. One time while in Petropavlovsk (Siberia)…….well, that story is not for public consumption….
Once back to the marina we did more of the same stuff as before. We had begun to meet a lot of cruisers and when we had arrived, we found our friends from the Philippines, John and Joanne, with their boat docked at the end of our float. We also met two other Nordhavns, both 46 footers Gordon and Collette on Tigerbalm, Chris, Fred and Buster the dog on Arcturus and a couple from a sailboat, Peter and Roslyn. All of this was the makings for some good cocktail parties!! The photo below is of one of the boats at the marina, “Mayan Queen” owned by a Mexican businessman and was the Chief Blocker of Beautiful Sunsets at the marina. It is 305 feet in length. You cannot fathom just how large of a boat that is until you see the blue trawler to the left of it. That boat is 105 feet, dwarfed by the Mayan Queen! The Mayan Queen has 31 crew and based on my estimates, uses about $150,000 of diesel fuel per month, just to power the generators for electricity!!! I tried to figure out how many days I could run that boat for before becoming financially ruined, but it was too depressing.
Sipadan Island and the Mabul Water Bungalows
Our next trip was to be our most exciting side trip to date. The island of Sipadan is rated among the top three scuba diving sites in the world and if you are visiting the area, it is a must see. Getting the flights and room reservations was the easy part (well, for myself and Braun as Carol and Tina did all the work). The biggest problem for Carol and I was that Sipadan is a Scuba Diving paradise and we were not certified. In order to take full advantage of the trip, Carol and I both needed PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) certification. We had only a few days to do this and fortunately, at our resort in KK, they offered the training. Carol and I signed up for, and completed a three day crash course and were ready to go. After one taxi ride, a plane trip with two stops, a 2 hour van ride and a one hour boat ride, we arrived at Mabul Island, the home of The Mabul Water Bungalows. MWB is an island paradise, the likes of which most have never seen. The water is pure and clean, the island surrounded by a large reef and white sandy beaches. And that is BEFORE you get to the resort!
As you can see, the rooms are all separate little huts on long pilings, sitting on the reef. Each room is air conditioned and with a balcony that REALLY overlooks the water. The arrival was well organized and we received an orientation informing us of our schedule for the next several days. We wasted no time and our first dive was that afternoon, at the resort. It was more of an orientation dive so that they could determine your skill level. It was an interesting dive and we saw lots of gorgeous fish and coral, just a tease for what was to come….
We had been told before arrival that it was not guaranteed that we would be able to dive on Sipadan Island, the premier spot, which is a national park and they only allowed 140 people per day to get passes, 14 of which were obtained by our resort, which had over 100 people to satisfy. We were very fortunate that they were able to obtain additional tickets for us and the next morning we took a short boat ride to Sipadan. Sipadan Island itself is a smallish island surrounded by a coral reef with about 10-15 feet of water, which is great for snorkelers. At the outside of the reef, there is a coral “wall” that drops 2000 feet almost straight down. Along this wall, about 40 to 60 feet deep, is where the best diving is. The water itself is crystal clear, so clear that Tina Jones, who was snorkeling, could see us clearly! Once down we were just surrounded by schools of fish, most of which I could not name, but included hundreds of Barracudas, 3-4 foot diameter turtles and, yes, sharks. For some reason, you are not afraid of them but they are of you, quite the opposite of what I would have thought. They stay a distance away, kind of ghostly in the distance, which was fine with me.
We had three separate dives there and on the last dive Carol and Braun elected not to go. It was another wall dive and, as before, there were lots of fish, turtles and coral to see. We were floating about 40 feet down when I saw my divemaster start to flail his arms wildly and I could hear him screaming through his regulator, like something had startled him. I looked over and saw this Triggerfish, which is a smallish fish (about two feet long) with a big, toothy mouth. It kind of reminded me of Don Knots in the movie “The Incredible Mr. Limpett”, except his teeth were bigger. He was attacking our divemaster (his name is King) as he was kicking and trying to get away. During his retreat, one of his diving fins came off and was resting on a ledge with about a 1500 foot drop underneath. He refused to go back and get it as the fish was hovering there about 2 feet in back of it with his mouth opening and shutting. I imagine if fish growled, he was doing it!
For my part, I was concerned that the current would move the fin enough so that it would sink into the depths, and in that situation, it could never be recovered, so I swam slowly over to it with the fish staring at me hungrily. I snatched the fin off of the ledge and started swimming away quickly only to find Don the fish was chasing after me, chomping down on my fins as I moved away. Fortunately, after I got about 15 feet away, he gave up and returned to his spot. My understanding now is that he (or she) was probably spawning and protecting the nest. I have learned since then to stay away from the pesky buggers!
“You don’t leave fish to find fish”
After returning from our trip, we kind of settled in to “life in Borneo”. We had lots of get togethers with our new friends, lots of dinners at local restaurants and started to plan our next voyage, to Singapore, which is where we planned to keep the boats for the summer. However, the day before our departure, Carol and I were sitting at the pool, enjoying the surroundings and she said “You know, its really too bad that we have to leave here”. I responded by saying, “So, why are we leaving?” Since we had no good answer, I telephoned Grey Pearl, who was also getting ready to leave with us. A surprised Braun called back and said he needed to think about that, being that we had planned our departure and all the paperwork was being processed by our local agent as we spoke. We met later that afternoon and chuckling, he commented “ There is an old saying – you don’t leave fish to find fish”. Well, the decision was made! We spoke to Simon, the marina manager who confirmed we could stay and we then notified the Singapore marina that we were delaying our trip and so there you are…………home sweet home again (just a different location than we had planned). Braun and I were also fortunate enough to find Cris, a local in KK, who will be looking after the boats while we are gone for the summer.
So ends our cruising season on Seabird……Next season (October) we will be continuing our journey to Singapore and Thailand. Our “current” plan is to spend the winter months in the Phuket area, filled with gorgeous islands, clear blue warm water and good friends. Thanks again for taking the time to read our blog and for all of the supportive emails. We love hearing from you all!
A few more photos…..