Monday, April 10, 2017

Borneo Day 1 and 2 - Kota Kinabalu

Borneo!?  How did we end up in Borneo?

It started with an innocent email from some friends of ours who invited us to join them.  I knew that wild Orangutans lived in Borneo, but I really didn't know anything else about the country.   When I mentioned to Karen that Bill and Peggy were thinking of going to Borneo and wanted to see if we were interested she didn't even hesitate with her response..."Yes!".

That's how we ended up in Borneo.  Sometimes trips just fall in your lap...

After months of planning and close to 30 hours of traveling door to door, we found ourselves in Kota Kinabalu (everyone calls it KK) which is the capital of the Malaysian state of Sabah.  Borneo is the 3rd largest island in the world and is divided into 3 countries.  Indonesia claims about 2/3 of the island, Brunei claims a tiny little bit on the west coast, and Malaysia claims the northern part which is where we would be for the next 2 plus weeks.

We used Adventure Alternative Borneo to plan and book our trip and the itinerary looked like this:

1 night KK
3 nights Mt Kinabalu
4 nights Deramakot
2 nights Sepilok
2 nights Kinabatangan River
3 nights Danum
1 night KK

AA Borneo assigned John Bakar as our dedicated birding guide and he was tremendous.  We would have John all the way until Danum where we would instead be assigned one of the resident guides at the Borneo Rainforest Lodge.

While John was a bird guide, he knew a lot about all the animals and, as a Sabah native, knew tons about the area as well.  He was a wealth of knowledge, good spotter, and all around a fun traveling companion.

Surprisingly, all our flights to Borneo were on time and went pretty well (Tucson to LAX to Hong Kong to KK).  Of course, we did upgrade to business class which has a few perks to make the flights more tolerable (I certainly won't use the word "enjoyable").  I mean the champagne was a tad flat, the linens where not Egyptian cotton and the warmed nuts were barely heated at all.  How do they expect us to fly under these conditions...? 😏

When you first arrive in a foreign country you always worry about being picked up.  Well, we needn't worry because John was there right on time to pick us up and take us to the Hotel Grandis.  We took a little time to settle in before the activities began.  We wanted something to do to be sure we stayed awake and got on Borneo time as soon as possible.  So, we had John take us birding around KK in the afternoon.

The first stop was at a local park where we found our first native Borneo wildlife.

Green Imperial Pigeons:
Green Imperial Pigeon

Pink-necked Green Pigeon:
Pink-necked Green Pigeon

Borneo sure has some cool looking pigeons.

Changeable Lizard:
Changeable Lizard

We saw a few more birds and lizards at the park including a distant view of the gorgeous Blue-naped Parrot.  Unfortunately, we also saw lots of trash.  It appears that littering is common place around KK since we saw it everywhere.

Next stop was a small lake about an hour out of town.  There was less action than expected here but we saw herons, doves, kingfishers, and more.  The only decent picture I got was of this Scaly-breasted Munia since everything else was so far away:
Scaly-breasted Munia

We had great views of Mt. Kinabalu from this area as the late afternoon rays lit it up.  But, as the sun sank towards the horizon, our heads began to sink too.  Fatigue was definitely setting in.  We were all zombies for the entire drive back to the hotel. There was a lot of traffic on the road so it took us quite a while to get back to the hotel.

Day 1 ended with us having peanut butter sandwiches for dinner which we had brought with us.  We were too tired to even order room service.

We actually slept pretty well considering our bodies were still 15 hours behind Borneo time.   The Hotel Grandis had a huge buffet breakfast.  It was mostly an "eastern" buffet with curry and various hot dishes available.  But, they had pastries, waffles, and would make eggs to order.  So, while I was tempted to have curry at 7AM, I opted for eggs instead.

After meeting our driver Munair (we all had a hard time pronouncing his name so most of us just called him Monet.  He was an artist behind the wheel after all) we took off bound for Mt Kinabalu.  We would get there via the Crocker Range for some higher elevation birding and a chance to see the rare Rafflesia, which is the world's largest flower blossom (Whoa!).

At the Crocker Range we visited a small valley and hiked to a waterfall and visited the Rafflesia Center but no flowers were in bloom.  Looking back at my pictures, I don't really have anything great to share except for this one I took on that walk to the waterfall.

Here are a bunch of ants, that literally joined together to pull the weight of this large millipede.  They were moving it at a pretty good pace too:
Ant Chain

We arrived at Mt Kinabalu and had a late lunch at the Liwagu Restaurant.  There were quite a few local dishes on the menu which we decided to stay away from for now since we didn't know what was in them.  Neither item we ordered was very memorable however.   After lunch we were driven to the rooms we were assigned and I immediately had a bad feeling.  The key said "Twin Share" on it.  We had reserved the Hill Lodge which are separate chalets with private baths.  Well, after carting our suitcases down a long incline and then up a flight of stairs I opened our room to see...

Two twin beds and nothing else. No closet, no bathroom, nothing.

After explaining the situation to John he understood that something had gone wrong.  But, it took a couple hours for the lodge to sort things out.  It doesn't appear they had our reservation for the Hill Lodge.  So, at first they found us a chalet with two bedrooms and one bath for the 4 of us to share for one night.  Then they would move us to the Hill Lodge on night two.  With no other choice, we took that offer.

Just as we were getting settled in our new "room" John came up and said the Mt K Lodge owner was upgrading us to the Kinabalu Lodge.  It came with 3 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, a full kitchen, a living room with huge fireplace and more.  Needless to say, we jumped at that and really enjoyed staying there "roughing it" for our first 3 nights.

Here is a shot of it from the outside:
Kinabalu Lodge

Due to the time wasted around the room mix-up, we didn't have a chance to go walking before dinner.   We did see lots of birds and a few squirrels, but nothing was photo worthy.   On the way to dinner, we did have a cool looking frog.

Kinabalu Sticky Frog:
Kinabalu Sticky Frog


So, day 2 came to an end with a decent buffet dinner at the other Mt K restaurant and some green cake. I was on vacation after all and who could turn down green cake.