Monday, 15 August 2011

No other way to say it - Balls out in Borneo (Part 1)...

And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City. It's AFD #2 on the Team Taylor purification schedule, and the Bull and Striker both made it to Fitness First for a bit of exercise this evening. It was the 3rd day in a row for the Bull, logging 45 on the bike at resistance level #5, which is the highest I've ever gone. T-Rowe - next stop: Cat 5 crits with leg hair still present. Yeah, maybe not...but enough of that foolishness - let's talk Borneo.
Borneo - the "land beneath the wind" - is one of those places that conjures up all sorts of images in the mind of the adventurer. For some it's the orangutans, for others the promise of mist clinging to stilt houses along sleepy rivers, still others think of the boundless hiking, whilst even a few probably think more about the head hunters and cannibals (mom - they're all gone and civilized now, so now worries). Whatever your passion or interest, I think it's safe to say that the world's 3rd largest island can give you an experience you'll never forget. For Team Taylor, that experience was Mount Kinabalu.
Borneo is split into 2 sections - part sitting in Malaysia and the other in Indonesia. I will be honest, coming into this trip I was pretty down on Malaysia as a tourist destination (sorry Evelyn). Whilst I've enjoyed all my trips to Malaysia (save Penag - I still cringe), I must confuse that it was pretty far down there among the countries visited so far. That being said, their ace in the hole is Borneo, and it DID NOT disappoint.
We arrived on Friday night a wee bit later than planned, checking into the Gaya Center Hotel. This place, complete with a view of the National Park islands just off the harbour, was GREAT, and it was pretty much the cheapest place in town (about $55 USD per night, which included brekkie). We were starving when we landed, at which point we were confronted with a new experience for Team Taylor - TRYING TO GET FOOD DURING RAMADAN IN A MUSLIM COUNTRY. Now granted, it was after dark, so people could eat. However, Borneo is big on their "Ramadan sunset buffets," where people gorge themselves between 6-8 and then head home. Consequently, at 10 PM, there just ain't much goin' on.
As fate would have it, however, there was a GREAT Italian joint (yeah, that's right - ITALIAN) beside the hotel called Little Italy (Shogun - I know this feels like the whole "I had Subway twice in Amsterdam" but it's not - trust me) beside us, and they offered a signature dish of "chilli fettucine" which was a) EXCELLENT and b) HOT AS BALLS. It was so good, however, that I then ordered ANOTHER one, at which point the staff was totally confused. They'd never seen anyone dog a dish like that and then ask for more, so at first they asked if I just wanted more of the sauce. When I shook my head, they had to get someone else over to confirm they were hearing the English correctly - SOOOOOO GUUUUUUUUUUD (peppy cheekies).
The Bull and Striker had an early call on Saturday morning, as we were rafting the Padas River. The Padas is apparently 1 of only 2 raftable rivers in Borneo, and given that the other one only offers Class 1 and 2 (and we are SO much more hardcore than that) rapids, we chose the Padas. We get picked up on time, meeting Lily, Shiva, and then 4 randoms (2 from HK, 2 from Oz) making up the expedition for the day. At that point, however, home boy drops the BOMB on us - the drive is THREE HOURS to the rafting site, at which point we have to then take a THIRTY-FIVE minute train ride into the bush to kick this puppy off. And he follows with "I hope no one is wearing white, as the river is very muddy - you can see nothing but brown. And your clothes will be this color when it's over." I looked down at my white shirt and white shorts and thought "At least they'll have character..."
The drive over was actually really nice. We drove through the Crocker Range, which is one of the 2 spines of the island. And the descent into the Padas Gorge was cool as well, as you just can't believe the sheer size and density of the palm trees on the sides of the cliffs. Eventually we did make the train station, at which point we had a quick meal of rice and (I think) chicken before the adventure really began in earnest. And let me tell you - it was AWESOME.
So we rock up to this single platform, expecting some 10 carriage train to roll up. So imagine our surprise when this TINY little red caboose that looks like something out of the Antarctic rolls out of this old wooden shed. Unfortunately we had to leave our camera behind so it wouldn't get soaked on the river, because this photo would have been PRICELESS. Seriously - it was something from pre-war Borneo. I'm pretty sure McArthur rode in this thing at some point.
The ride was HILARIOUS. It was a narrow gauge track, and we got bounced around like pin balls. And best of all, as there are no roads out there, PEOPLE ARE WALKING ON THE TRACK ALL THE TIME, AND SO THE DRIVER HAS TO LAY ON THE HORN CONSTANTLY. Seriously, we round a corner and people just scatter - AMAZING!
After 35 minutes, we get off at what can only be described as a shack in the middle of the wilderness. We then walk TO THE GUIDE'S HOUSE, where he climbs UNDER his porch, pulls out a deflated raft, and starts pumping it up. ARE YOU SERIOUS? And then, once it's full of air, he whips out this homemade contraption that rolls on the rails, drops the raft on it, and tells me to walk it to the water. His parting wisdom: "If you hear the loud noise, get off the tracks with the boat. That is the train." Thanks. Thanks for that.
So finally we get into the water, at which point we realize we've got 11 people in a boat built for 6, 3 of which are guides, but only 1 is paddling. The others are there to a) splash people, b) take photos, c) push people randomly into the river, and d) dunk people once they are in the river. SERIOUSLY - we've been on the river 10 minutes when the "guide" says, "Yeah, there actually aren't any licensed guides in Malaysia. We don't have a school for it, and no one can go to New Zealand for training. Instead we learn on the internet." WHAT!?!?!?!?!?!?!? 2 minutes later...our first Class 3 rapid.
So let's be clear - I've rafted the New, the Payette, The Snake, the Clackamus, the Ocoee, and plenty of other rivers. I tend to be in the front, and I think I'm a pretty decent pace-setter. However, when you have a "guide" who can't steer and 5 people in a boat NOT PADDLING, the rapids get a little tricky. When you have other "guides" who randomly push people out of the boat or are too busy smoking, it becomes even tougher. And when the "guides" are all heavy as HELL, it becomes impossible. Our boat spun around like something from the Tennessee Valley Fair on acid - it was CRAZY. And the "guide's" shining moment? Asking me and the other guy if we wanted to play "rodeo." Basically he took our paddles, sat us on the front of the boat, and then had the rest of the boat paddle STRAIGHT for this huge rock in the middle of the rapid. Unlike most of his steering, we actually HIT this target, at which point the boat almost capsized and nearly EVERYONE went flying out. Quality.
However, we did survive it, and truth be told we had a blast. Yes, it was a bit dangerous. Yes, I did twist my knee pretty good at one point. And yes - there is NO WAY this tour would have been condoned in the US. But we did hit a Class 4 Rapid, and that was VERY cool, and we're alive to tell the tale. And so we come on shore, take another CRAZY train ride back, and then stop for some snacks, at which point the guide says, "hey, do you guys mind signing these waivers? We always forget but the office needs them." IS HE KIDDING ME WITH THIS?
But hey, we got back, got cleaned up, and then rolled over to the Waterfront, where we had a GREAT meal of local fare VERY cheap. It was an AFD for Team Taylor, as we had an even earlier call the next day. That story, however, which is quite the tale, will just have to keep for another time, as it's time for a shower and food.
Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!
Sam and Jenny

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