28 September 2013

CYCLING THE PHILIPPINES - BOHOL



22 September
Port of Benoni, Camiguin   - Jagna, Bohol
25km & ferry



I had plenty of time to cycle to the port; the ticket was 600 Pesos & 128 Pesos for the bike.  We left at around 11h00, no sooner were we underway and we hit rough seas.  The ferry rolled and pitched wildly, people yelled and hung on to one another.  Seasick bags were in high demand as our ferry rocked and rolled in the high seas. I started looking around for some kind of floating device but did not see any.  There was not much I could do but sit tight and hope for the best.  Water poured in through all conceivable nooks and crannies not fully sealed.  To everyone’s relief we arrived at Jagna, Bohol two hours later.  The wind was still pumping and I was in no mood to battle into a head wind.  I found a room for 250 pesos and hoped that the weather would subside by the following morning.

Later in the day I took a walk to the old church (1808) which still seems to be the center of activity in town, there seemed to be some kind of celebration going on, complete with food stalls and balloons.  I understand that it is one of the oldest and the largest in Bohol. 

I passed many stalls selling Bohol's best-known delicacies, Kalamay (Kalamayhati), a sticky and very sweet paste of sticky-rice flour and coconut milk, packed in a coconut shell, sealed with a characteristic red tape.  I did not buy any, as it looked rather sweet.


Bohol forms part of, what is known as, “The Visayas”, a large cluster of islands in the middle of the Philippines.  The Visayas consists of 1000s of islands but there are 9 main islands, being Cebu, Bohol, Guimaras, Samar, Leyte, Panay, Negros, Romblon and Siquijor.  I seriously feel I´m going to need more than one visa extension!!!

23 September- Jagna – Talibon -90km
First thing in the morning I headed to the Municipality to get a map of the island. While waiting for their doors to open, I had breakfast at a roadside stall across the way. Map in hand, I set off in an anti-clockwise direction around the island. It was a fascinating ride and very different to Mindanao. I passed mangrove swamps, strange looking hills, a multitude of small villages, and sari-sari stores. I even spotted a giant lizard or two.

Once in Talibon I was surprised to find yet more history. The town is home to a beautiful old church built with blocks of coral rocks (not very eco-friendly); ironically it was also built by slaves!  Construction started in 1852 and was completed in 1899 (it sounds like they were not in a great hurry). Even more bizarre is the history of Talibon: Ferdinand Magellan escaped from the hands of Lapu-Lapu's men who were seeking revenge for the raping of fifty virgins of Cebu. The ship, Trinidad, sailed towards the direction of Getafe-Talibon, where some of the crew disembarked and mingled with the natives, educating them in Christianity!!!

24 September - Talibon–Tubigon- 60km
I packed my mobile home and continued on around the island. It was boiling hot and the locals kept calling me in to sit down and have something to drink, as they were convinced that I was going to get heatstroke. Although it was very hot I did not think I was going to suffer from heatstroke!!  I soon reached Tubigon and decided to go and have a look at the famous Chocolate Hills.

Chocolate Hills - all 1268 of them, and there is a legend!  Apparently, these hills are the calcified tears of a giant, whose heart was broken by the death of a mortal lover. No sooner were I there and it started raining, so I did not come away with any good pictures.

In Tubigon I looked around for a room and cycled down a dirt road, past locals’ prized possessions, their fighting cocks, until I reached Tubigon Beach Resort. Resorts come in all shapes and sizes, from five-star to rickety huts on stilts…. I guess this was the rickety hut on stilts. The walkway did not look all that secure and the floor of the room was rather springy, to say the least, but at 350 Pesos I could not complain.It even had a shower and toilet. The water, however, drained straight through a hole in the floor and ran out underneath the hut. The toilet was halfway between a squat toilet and a throne. I did not check the toilet to see where it drained.I hope it was not the same as the shower!!!

25/27September - Tubigon – Alona Beach, Panglao Island- 75km

I knew it was not going to be a long day on the road, so I took my time and stopped at each and every conceivable place that looked interesting. I followed the coast past small villages, each with its own fascinating history. The road ran past large areas of mangrove swamps, which also turned out to be the habitat of a species of crab-eating macaques.

I soon reached the busy city of Tagbilaran from where there is a bridge to Panglao Island. About 25 kilometres down the road I found the famous Alona Beach, and saw some European tourists for the first time since arriving in the Philippines. Things were a bit more pricy than elsewhere in the Philippines, but I found a room and settled in.

The following day I went to the Tarsier Sanctuary - how very fascinating!!  The Philippine tarsier is tiny, measuring only about 85 to 160 millimetres (3.35 to 6.30 inches) in height, making it one of the smallest primates. It was therefore rather difficult to spot and even harder to photograph, as it is only about the size of a human fist and it can easily fit into a person’s hand. The interesting thing is that its eyes are fixed in its skull andcannot turn in their sockets. Instead, the head can rotate 180 degrees. I also understand that they have the largest eye-to-body-size ratio of all mammals. The tarsier is a nocturnal animal and the big eyes provide for excellent night vision.The tarsier maybe small but has a home range of 1 to 2 hectares, a lot of ground for such a small animal. The females give birth to one thumb sized baby per annum, and carry their infants in their mouths.These little creatures are now sadly endangered. I stayed on the island one more day, not doing much at all, just hanging around.

10 September 2013

CYCLING THE PHILIPPINES - MINDANAO



3 September - Sandakn, Sabah, Malaysia - Zamboanga City, Mindanao, Philippines - By ferry

At last the 3rd arrived, and although the ticket stated the departure time at 16h00, I was told to be at the port at 18h00. I packed up and left Sandakan Backpackers, which felt like home by that time. Just before leaving it started bucketing down, and the last thing in the world I felt like doing was cycling the short eight kilometres to the ferry in the rain. Fortunately, as rain goes in the tropics, the rain came down hard and quick, and by the time I was ready to leave, it was all over.

Once at the port it was a madhouse of people, trucks, busses and minivans, picking passengers up or dropping them off for the next trip. Once my bike and I was on the ferry I had time to explore, and found double bunk beds on the deck (better than sleeping on the floor). I found my spot, being no. 317, and that was only on Deck 1!!  People kept pouring onto the ferry and it was no wonder that two or more people had the same number for one bunk!! 

It was after 22h00 when we finally departed. The tiny canteen was jam-packed, trying to serve all the passengers; it was hardly worth the wait to buy something. The bunks were rather close to one another and it was a noisy night under blazing, florescent lights. I eventually fell asleep to the snoring, phlegm-coughing, burping and farting of the other passengers.

4 September
I woke rather early to more chattering, coughing, farting, burping and radio’s playing - each to their own tune. Our vessel was moving at a snail’s pace, and I understood from the other passengers that there was some or other problem with the engine. As I was the only foreigner aboard, I had my fair share of attention!!  They had no shame in coming to have a look and some gathered at my bunk, staring openly (no picking your nose discretely!!). At the same time it made it rather social, and the ladies on both sides of me took it upon themselves to take care of me and tell the onlookers when it was time to go… ha-ha. This was a really good thing, as there was always someone to watch your stuff while you were not there.

The hours came and went, and in the end the sun started sinking below the horizon, and still there was no land in sight. I sat on the deck, watching the Moslems perform their evening prayers to the soothing sounds of the (impromptu?) mullah. It was calming and peaceful against the rich colours of the setting sun.




We reached the port of Zamboanga City at around 9.00 p.m. but it was 11.00 p.m. by the time I got off the ferry. The going was particularly slow, as not only did everyone want to get off first, but one had to take a bus to the immigration office. While waiting to get off, one had to be particularly alert as small kids hopped on-board, scavenging for whatever was going - might it be unattended luggage or some leftover food. They were like monkeys, climbing up and down the side of the ferry; it was quite amazing to watch them operate - they were as quick as lightning, and even the on-board security had no chance of catching them!!!  They were under and over the sleeping bunks without the guards even seeing them.

Eventually, I was off the boat and at the immigration building. The queue was snaking from the one end of the building to the other. People were pushing and chafing (not sure where they wanted to go, as no pushing or chafing was going to get them to the front any sooner!). It was stuffy and hot inside the building, and the perspiration was running down our faces; people were fanning themselves vigorously with their passports (not that it helped, at all).

By the time I got out of there it was fairly late to go in search of a hotel. There was nothing I could do about
it and, in the dark, I cycled off. In the light of my headlamp I followed the deserted streets, with just a few homeless people for company. The first two hotels were full, and the third too expensive. The fourth was more my style, and so it was 1.30 a.m. by the time I was in the room….what a day!!

5 September - Zamboanga City, Mindanao, Philippines

First thing in the morning I took to the streets, looking for a bank. On the boat I changed my Malaysian Ringgit for Philippine Pesos, but I still had to get some more local currency. I also desperately needed a roadmap. The Philippines is the world´s second largest archipelago (after Indonesia) with 7107 islands, and although most are uninhabited, I planned to visit a good few.

This is a small country with a fascinating history!  In 1521 the islands were claimed by Spain, the British occupied it for a while, but soon gave it back to Spain. Then the U.S. came. The U.S. war officially lasted for three years but skirmishes still went on for another seven, killing 600 000 Philippines in the process. After the U.S. eventually left, the Japanese troops came and only in 1946 were the Philippines granted full independence!!  Sjoe, and then they still have to deal with volcanos and typhoons!  Today, political violence is still widespread, and I’m constantly being told to be careful along the road, and NOT to camp along the way.

While walking about the heavens opened up, and everyone ran for cover. The temperatures hover around the mid 30° C, and I understand that I am now in the wet season (May to October). Fortunately, the rain comes quick and hard and does not last very long.  I hailed a tricycle (more a bike with a sidecar) and found the going not much faster than walking. I found the bank but no roadmap.

6 September - Zamboanga City – Vitali - 72km

I joined the other tricycles, bicycles, Jeepneys, busses and trucks and cycled out of town. As I was now cycling on the right-hand side of the road, I first stopped at a bike shop to change my mirror back to the left-hand side. (Once again, the owner warned me not to camp next to the road and advised me to rather to go to the small village of Vitali and check with the Police for a room in the village.)

With the morning pollution hanging thick and yellow in the air, I followed the road north, out of the large and busy Zamboanga City. It was a stunning ride, past numerous small villages flanking both sides of the highway; every now and again the villages made way for emerald-green rice paddies. Water buffalo waddled in the muddy puddles and tricycles carted small kids to and from school. Amazingly, even the smallest village had a large school.


As is always the case on my first day in a new country, I stopped countless times to take photos. This is an especially photogenic country and I could easily fill a 36GB card in no time at all. Nothing much came of the mountains they warned me about, and although hilly, it was not too steep.

At around 15h00 dark clouds gathered and I was sure I was going to be caught in a thunderstorm. I made it to Vitali without being rained upon, and found a fair-sized village with plenty of roadside stalls. I stopped at the Police Station to ask about a room in the village, and was directed to a Karaoke Bar with rooms above. As was to be expected of a room above a Karaoke Bar, it was noisy, dark and dingy, with three-quarter cardboard walls. The owners were, however, super-friendly. It had a bathroom at the end of the hallway with a large drum filled with water, which one could scoop out and pour over oneself. It was very refreshing!!! 

That evening I got myself a takeaway rice-meal. At first I sat on the balcony overlooking the road, but soon three others joined me and watched every morsel I consumed, so I removed myself to my half-private room, ate my meal, and sat under the fan, writing my diary and editing photos.


7 September - Vitali – Ipil - 65km

There was no need to hang around, and I soon left my humble abode. Before I left I had a quick bite to eat down the road. No sooner had I finished my meal when I was lead off by the restaurant owner to view the corpse of her sister!!  I was informed that she died of a heart attack (fortunately not from food poisoning) and I was encouraged to take pictures!!  I politely declined, and before they could escort me to the funeral, I swiftly made my way out of there.

It was another stunning day. Although this was the coastal road, the road did not run flush next to the coast. But, every time I reached the top of a hill, I could see the bright blue ocean below, sprinkled with tiny islands.

It felt that I was cycling through a long, drawn-out village. There was hardly a time that I was out of the public eye. It was a short ride, and I soon reached the larger town of Ipil, where I found a nice hotel at a very reasonable price. It also had a great restaurant and even a swimming pool. Not bad for 600 Pesos.

8 September - Ipil – Buug - 75km

It rained for most of the day, and once or twice I had to pull over and wait for the worst to pass. Once again it was slightly hilly, but not as bad as expected. I passed plenty of tiny villages where their main occupation appeared to be doing the laundry. Palm-woven huts and Sari-Sari stores, selling everything from crackers to shampoo sachets, lined the road.

Once I reached Buug, it was easy to spot a hotel, as it was not a very large town. It, however, had a very large and interesting fish market, selling all kinds of fish - fresh and dried, as well as big and small.
The fact that I’m frequently asked if I´m an American journalist or a missionary, most likely indicates that only foreigners ever visit Mindanao. Seeing that my answer to both is negative leaves most people puzzled, and it is normally followed by a polite: “What is your purpose in the Philippines?”  “Just travelling,” I answer, by which they appear a bit disappointed and normally repeat:  “Oh, just travelling,” rubbing their chins, as if such a thing is not possible.

I am not taking as many pictures as usual, for as soon as I take the camera out I can hear them whisper: “journalist, journalist”. This is one part of the world where I do not want to be mistaken for a journalist. The reason being that through the years, the island Muslims (Moros) have launched repeated attempts to establish autonomy on the island. Since the Maguindinao massacre in 2009, when fifty seven civilians were killed, amongst them four journalists, Mindanao ranks only second to Iraq for being the most deadly country for journalists. I now keep my camera well hidden!!

9/10 September - Buug – Pagadian - 63km


It was a rainy day as I headed for the mountains. It was another scenic day, past more rice paddies and farmers ploughing their land with Water buffalo. I cycled across rivers and past waterfalls, while small kids along the way run away as fast as their little legs could carry them. People in palm-woven huts looked at me in utter amazement. In fact, I had a little giggle all by myself today as I saw a man fall right out of his hammock!!  He was relaxing under a tree while guarding his stall, selling petrol in Coca-Cola bottles, until he spotted me - he spun around at such speed that he fell right out!! Ha-ha-ha!!

I felt a bit sluggish and struggled up the hills - they were long and steep, (or at least that’s what it felt like). Some days my legs don’t want to cooperate. I was happy to reach the downhill into busy Pagadian. The roads were jam-packed with tricycles and Jeepneys, and I weaved through them like a pro!!  I soon found a hotel room, had a quick shower, and set off looking for a supermarket. Upon my return, I also found that I seemingly made it out of Zamboanga City by the skin of my teeth.


At least I found myself a map of Mindanao Island. Taking into account all the trouble here I will be happy to get off the island all together, but there is still a long way to go. I also understand that the North-East coast is safe, and once I get to Cagayan De Oro I should be fine.

I stayed in Pagadian the following day, did laundry and ate just about anything I saw being sold on the street.

11 September - Pagadian – Tubod - 80km


At first it was a nice, easy cycle and then the road turned inland along a rather steep road over the mountain. I must have been climbing for the first forty kilometres, as suddenly the road started winding down to the ocean, which also came with fantastic views. Once on the coastal plains, it was an easy ride into Tubod.

I was directed to a rather fancy and expensive hotel. I thought: what the heck; I will stay for the night!  As the hotel was on the outskirts of the town, I also ate at their restaurant that night which was also a bit pricy. The food was excellent; well worth the price I paid!!

12 September - Tubod – Iligan - 66km


I had a thoroughly enjoyable day. It started off with me meeting the nicest bunch of people one can imagine. They stayed at the same hotel for a three-day conference, and invited me to have breakfast with them. The Filipinos are so hospitable and friendly and always ready to share a meal!   They are also terribly polite; always greeting me with a polite “good morning, ma’am”!

It was a short and enjoyable day on the road, as the road ran close to the ocean with excellent views. Just before Iligan I turned off the road to view the Maria Cristina falls - a magnificent sight. I was rather disappointed in the outcome of my photos…. oh well, there is always another day.

13 September - Iligan – CDO - 88km


It was a particularly difficult day on the road. The traffic was hectic, the road narrow, and the drivers were on a suicide mission. I had to watch both oncoming traffic and traffic coming from behind. Vehicles overtook without regard for anyone, with the result that I had to dive off the road quite a few times to avoid being road kill. In the process I picked up a puncture from a metal pin - the pin was so tightly lodged in the tyre that I had difficulty getting it out. I don’t fix punctures with any elegance and came away with grease all over myself.
I was hot and sweaty, full of grease and in a bad mood as I cycled into the large and busy city of CDO. To make matters worse, I soon found myself amongst fume-belching tricycles and Jeepneys, so tightly gridlocked that I could not even get through on a bicycle.

At least that gave me plenty of opportunity to ask a local where to find a hotel, as no one was going anywhere. I was pointed down a hotel-kind-of-road and was lucky to find a hotel at a very cheap rate.
The air-con did not work and I had to transfer to the next room (sigh) where the air-con half worked, but the toilet kept running!!  Instead of lying in bed listening to a running toilet all night, I got up and fixed the darn thing. As I crawled into bed a final time I had to laugh at just how bizarre things can be some days.  Just before I finally fell asleep, I saw a mouse running across the floor…. I just giggled, ignored the mouse, and I slept soundly!!

The following day I did the laundry, bought two new inner tubes, and on the way back spotted a river rafting company. That was just what I needed; I decided to go rafting the following day and what a good decision that was. It was a great trip!  The river was scenic and the guides very good - it was such a good day that I changed my mind about CDO altogether. (The mouse was still running around the room, poor thing!!)

16 September - CDO – Balingoan – ferry to Benoni, Camiguin Island - 90km

It turned out quite an eventful day. Leaving CDO was quite stressful as I weaved through the Jeepneys, tricycles, busses and trucks to get out of the city. Along the way I stopped, as usual, at one of the Sari-Sari stores to fill up with water. This time, however, I decided to have one of the boiled eggs on the counter (not so usual!). To my surprise and utter horror (and to the amusement of my onlookers) it turned out to be a Balut - a half-boiled duck embryo in the shell!!  No encouragement from the locals could get me to devour that soupy fetus. I understand that a person is supposed to crack open the top and drink the “soup” (embryonic fluid) before devouring the fetus and its eggy surrounds.

Along the way I passed many places with huge piles of coconut shells, and smoke billowing from boilers or shacks. My curiosity got the better of me and I finally stopped to have a look at just what the heck they were doing. It turned out that they make charcoal from the coconut shells, which explained all the smoke coming from these sites.

Satisfied I set off again, past more stores, all selling deliciously looking food as well as the famed Balut. The Filipinos do like their food and I don’t think they can go anywhere without it (albeit their portions are quite small). Roadside stores, therefore, sell all the local favourites. On the counters dishes are displayed neatly, from big to small. These normally contain fried fish, fried chicken, pork (in various forms), veggies and noodles.

I soon arrived in the small town of Balingoan, from where the ferry departs to Camiguin Island. A ferry was waiting, so I quickly bought a ticket and got on-board. It was a short ferry ride to the island, but it was already 4h30 and too late (I thought) to cycle to the main town. I found myself a palm-woven hut on stilts over the water and settled in!!  What a life!! 

First things first, and I got myself a San Miguel Beer, put my legs up, sighed, and looked out over the zip-line passing right in front of me, wondering whether I should do that in the morning. Soon I was starving and went in search of food. I had one of the local favourites - Pork adobo with garlic rice - at a roadside restaurant. As usual, the food is very tender, as in this part of the world they only eat with a fork and spoon. With the fat still on the meat I, however, found it way too fatty to my liking.


17 September - Benoni – Caves Dive Resort - 25km

I loaded the bike and continued along the coastal road. The road runs around the island, all along the coast, for about seventy kilometres. Nothing is therefore very far.
I cycled into the tiny city of Mambajao, the capital of the island. I found a bank (which was off-line), a market, various stores, bakeries, and eateries. I continued down the road and enquired at the popular Action Geckos about a room, but they were rather expensive (900 Pesos) so I tried the next-door Caves Dive resort, which was slightly cheaper at 700 Pesos. I was desperate to go for a dive and thought it a good place to stay and to organize a dive.

In order to dive, I had to retrieve my dive certificate and needed an internet connection. I soon found that although they say they have internet, the internet is often not working!!  I was pissed-off, to say the least, as I felt that I have now wasted a day and the money for the room. It really takes some getting used to the laid-back manner of the Filipinos! To me, having internet which is not connected is the same as not having internet at all!! Give me strength!!!

18 September - 20km

The next morning there was still no internet, so I packed up and went to Jasmin by the Sea, which was a much better deal at 500 Pesos for a large room with a bathroom, right on the water. They, at least, had an internet that was actually connected, albeit a bit on the slow side. At last I managed to retrieve my dive certificate with the help of my sister back home. Besides editing and uploading pictures, I did absolutely nothing for the rest of the day.

19 September

The south-western monsoon came in during the night, and I woke to a howling wind and bucketing rain. There is nothing quite like crawling back into bed in bad weather!! Eventually, it cleared and I took a walk to the dive shop and arranged a dive for the following day. Then I caught a tricycle into town to do a bit of shopping, but I found the supermarket closed, as it was lunchtime. At least the ATM woke from its slumber!! 

I thought of going to the internet café to pass the time, but they were off-line, so the only thing left to do was to have a pizza. It was not a bad pizza - I could only eat half and saved the rest for supper. With my shopping done I hopped on a tricycle back to Jasmin, which was about five kilometres out of town. Once there, I discovered that the power was out, so not much to do but sit down and have a beer. I must admit it is not a bad place to wait out the weather.

20 September
The following day the weather looked much better, so off I went for my first dive in ages!  It was a fantastic dive with an abundance of fish in all shapes, sizes and colours. The coral was plentiful and of a wider variety that I’ve ever seen before. The water temperature was at a very comfortable 29°C, and I was in my element!! 

After the dive I went off to explore the rest of the island. It is truly a remarkable island, with active volcanos, waterfalls, hot springs, a ruined church, an underwater cemetery, and even a spring that squirts soda water. I ended the day with a ride on the zip-line, which was so much fun I nearly went twice!!! 
21 September
I felt that is was time to get going again, but could not resist one more dive. So, off I went to the dive shop again. Along the way, the dive master came past and gave me a lift on the back of his motorbike, to plenty of comments from the locals. It was an interesting dive, as we went off in one of the local boats, which was a novelty in itself. It was a short ride out to White Island where, once again, there was an abundance of sea life.

After the dive I went into town. The internet was so slow and sporadic that it was better to go to the internet café, which was slightly better. Once done with the internet, I was starving. Again, I decided to have a pizza - I was sure living the high life!!  With all my money spent on diving, zip-lines and pizzas, I desperately needed a bank, but the ATM was off-line again. I could only hope that it would be back on line in the morning, as I did not want to spend another day on the island (I was spending way too much money).


I understood from the locals that is was possible to get a ferry from the island to Bohol. Instead of going back to the main land, I thought it a good idea to go to Bohol instead.  Apparently, there was a daily ferry at around 10h30 from the Port of Benoni to Jagna, Bohol. 

02 September 2013

CYCLING SABAH, BORNEO, MALAYSIA





13 August - Kuala Penyu – Beaufort – 40 kilometres

Shortly after leaving I reached the small town of Beaufort. I needed to go to a Bank and with such an English sounding name I was curious to see what it was all about. There was not much to see in Beaufort; it was just a typical jungle town, except for the fact that it has a railway station. The town also still has several rows of blue, two-storey, wooden shop houses, which gives it a rustic feel. Notorious for its annual flooding, the town is also known for its stilted shops and houses.
I found a room and lazed around for the rest of the day. I wanted to go to the wetland reserve, but it proved a bit problematic getting there and back. The railway line intrigued me and I wanted to take the train to the end of the line and back, just to see what it is like.


14 August - Beaufort – Kota Kinabalu – 98 kilometres

None of my plans came to anything, as every time I asked someone I got a different answer, so I packed up and cycled to Kota Kinabalu. It was a fairly easy day on the road - the biggest problem being the busy and narrow road.
Halfway there a large mountain range loomed ahead and, once again, I realized that I should never become too blasé!! Fortunately, nothing come of the mountains as the road seemed to follow a kind of a valley, a beautiful ride past a lush green countryside, interesting people, and small villages and riverside settlements.  I got into a kind of rhythm; the wheels spun easily, making a soft, whirring sound on the tarmac and the kilometres flew by. I pedalled past women carrying baskets strapped to their backs, past roadside Durian stalls and scrawny looking dogs, too timid to give chase.
Most interestingly, I cycled past custom built concrete birds' nest factories. I read somewhere that “edible bird's nests are among the most expensive animal products consumed by humans.” The nests are used in Chinese cooking, mostly for bird's nest soup. Made of interwoven strands of saliva they are high in calcium, iron, potassium, and magnesium.
Finally, I reached the big and modern city of Kota Kinabalu, or just KK as it is known to the locals.


15 August - Kota Kinabalu

I had a slow start to the morning as I had a windowless room (one of my pet hates), but then I couldn’t argue with the price. I had nothing planned for the day, but to walk around and see what Kota Kinabalu was all about. There was not much of interest in the town except for the interesting waterfront with its fishing boats, markets and food stalls. It was blazing hot again, so there was not much in the way of walking around. Again, the Bank did not want to dispense any money due to my Bank being off-line…… arrrggghhh!!!
That night I did not go down to the local night market, as is my usual habit, but instead sought out the tourist lane where they played western music, had a large screen TV, sold beer and pizzas. Strangely enough, most of the patrons were locals!! How ironic: the tourists were down at the local night market and the locals were at the tourist spot! I got my share of ear-splitting music, pricy beers and bad food, and headed back to my room, having had my fill of Western culture, for the time being.

16/17 August - Kota Kinabalu

Early morning I took a boat the nearby islands. Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park consists of five islands just off the coast of downtown Kota Kinabalu. I only had time to go to three of the islands, and what a blast! I snorkelled until my fingers and toes were wrinkled - what a pleasure. The water was lukewarm and crystal clear, the fish colourful and plentiful….. What more could I ask for?? There are times that I truly think I´m happiest when in the water. Too soon it was time to go back and if I knew there was camping on the islands, I sure would have brought my tent.
I stayed in Kota Kinabalu one more day. There is not much to see in town as most of KK was destroyed by World War II bombs, and except for the waterfront markets there are only the parks that are of any interest.

18 August - Kota Kinabalu – Kota Belud – 75 kilometres

I picked up my laundry, had a Chinese bun and coffee, and headed out of town. Just outside Tuaran I came upon an upside down house!! I had to stop and look at this bizarre building!  Inside everything was also upside down; tables, chairs, beds…everything was hanging from the ceiling. The designer did not forget about the outside, and even the car was hanging from the carport roof.


From Tuaran the road became extremely mountainous. It was intensely hot and soon I was drenched in sweat, moving at a snail's pace up the mountain. I was rather happy to see a stall selling ice cold sugarcane juice, especially after traveling under the blazing sun for a good few hours. As if that was not good enough, I found that another traveller had already paid for my drink which was waiting for me on the counter!! How awesome it that?? I gulped it down and was set and ready to tackle a few more hills.

19 August - Kota Belud – Poropok View – 45 kilometres

Overnight I changed my mind and decided to cycle over the mountains past Mt. Kinabalu National Park. I encountered rather steep hills, such that I had to push the bicycle from time to time. It is not that it was that high, but rather due to the steep gradient. The uphill went on and on and on, kilometre after kilometre, with no end in sight.

Eventually, a friendly man stopped and offered me some water and informed me that it was another seven kilometres to the top!! Soon afterwards, another good Samaritan stopped and offered me a ride. I seriously considered the offer but in the end continued up the mountain, huffing and puffing.

To the top of the hill only meant to the junction of the main road from KK. From there it was much better and, although still uphill and slow going, it was easier than where I came from. Soon after joining the main road, and just as I thought I could go no further, I came upon a small settlement selling handicrafts and snacks. I asked if I could camp for the night and they were more than happy to oblige. They quickly pointed me to a covered area which even had electricity, a tap, and toilets close by. I was happy for the cover, as it rained all night. I also understood that I was not the first one to camp there and that three other cyclists had already camped there on previous occasions.

20 -21 August - Poropok View – Mt. Kinabalue Nas Park – 16 kilometres

I was told that it would be another seven kilometres uphill and then the road levels out all the way to the park. How wrong they were!! I nearly had a sense of humour failure, as the road just kept going up and up and up!!

I eventually reached the park and found that accommodation in the parks had been handed over to a resort company and prices had increased dramatically. It was much better to stay outside the park gate, at one of the homestays. I found a room for RM35 right outside the gate, and was happy that I was done with the uphill for the day. I rinsed my sweaty clothes and had a bite to eat at the next-door restaurant. The weather took a turn for the worse and I was happy to be in a room and not busy walking up the mountain.

The storm dissipated during the night and I woke to clear skies and with a view of Mt. Kinabalu, dominating the skyline, rising to 4101m AMSL. I had my usual noodle soup for breakfast and set off into the park on one of the many trails. I soon met up with Lucia (from Spain but living in Mozambique) and the two of us continued the walk together. It was a pleasant walk with some rather unusual plants.  We just had enough time for lunch before Lucia had to catch the bus back to KK.

22 August - Mt. Kinabalue Nas Park – Telupid – 115 kilometres

I flew the twenty kilometres downhill to Ranau. All I needed was a red suit and I could’ve been superwomen!! I swept past small settlements, clinging precariously to the mountainside; each house with its own piece of land, forming an interesting patchwork of lines and colours. The jagged peaks of Mt. Kinabalu slowly disappeared in the distance. And that was the end of the downhill.

Soon the road started snaking up yet another mountain, and it continued in that vein for the rest of the day. There is not much one can do but put your head down and get it over and done with. The heat was intense and water was my biggest problem - I stopped at each and every conceivable watering hole to fill my bottles and rehydrate myself.

In the meantime, and for no apparent reason, I had my eye set on Telupid, about one hundred and twenty kilometres from Mt. Kinabalue. Determined, I tackled hill after hill and the kilometres to Telupid became less and less. When the signboard announced the last four kilometres to Telupid, my mood lifted….. I was nearly there!  At the same time a huge hill came into view……bloody hell…. Fortunately, so did a sign for the Golden Star Hotel!! Just there and then I decided to tackle the hill in the morning.

It was an interesting find, as the hotel looked fairly new and nearly everything worked. The air-con was icy cold, the shower nice and warm, and the bed firm!! Heaven!! The downstairs restaurant appeared fairly popular for a place in the middle of nowhere.


That evening I sat on the veranda, had a beer and a huge plate of fried rice, while watching the large trucks battling up the hill in the rain. I had the distinct feeling that the staff had to draw straws to see who was going to serve the foreigner. There was a lot of giggling and then one shyly appeared, asking what I would like to eat by pointing her fingers to her mouth!! I crawled into bed and listened to the rain pouring down; it rained like it can only rain in the tropics.

23 August - Telupid - JC resort – 80 kilometres

I can’t say that I was refreshed and well rested as I climbed the first hill of the day. I felt lethargic and my legs tired. No sooner was I out of the mountains and I was into the hills. Up and down the hills I went, past oil palm plantation after oil palm plantation, all in the scorching heat of the day. It was an exhausting day - not only was it hilly but I had to keep my eyes glued to my rear-view mirror for trucks coming up behind me. Often I had to shoot off the road as there was not enough space for me and two trucks. The kilometres past especially slowly and somehow, every time I past a sign board, the phrase “another one down, another one down” popped into my head!! It drove me bonkers; no matter how hard I tried I could not get rid of it…………… “Another one down, another one down”!!!

Then came the biggest surprise of the day!  Into view came a line of traffic disappearing over the hill and into the distance, and they were not moving at all!! At first I thought it’s due to the road works (of which there were plenty). I tried my best to weave through the traffic but there was very little space; trenches were dug along the side of the road and the bit of road that was left was hardly wide enough for two cars, let alone two trucks and me.


I pulled off at a roadside stall and was quickly informed of an accident further ahead, and rooms and a restaurant five hundred metres down the road. How lucky can one be!!! ….”Another one down, another one down!”

24/25 August - JC Resort – Sepilok Orang-Utan Centre - 30km

The traffic was no better on this day and the road was physically and mentally tiring - I was off the road more than on it. Trucks kept flying by in both directions, making cycling rather difficult. Thirty kilometres down the road I got to the Sepilok Orang-Utan Centre turn-off, and was relieved to get off the main road.

Just down the road were various types of accommodation, one being the popular Uncle Tan´s. I needed no second invitation and off-loaded my bike, and soon I was swinging in a hammock under the trees - I was exhausted!! The room was quite expensive but the price included three meals; a good thing, as there was no shops close by.

The following day I went to visit the Orang-Utan Centre and really just lazed around, doing as little as possible. Uncle Tan´s is a wonderful place to do just that - it has a wonderful setting in the jungle, and there is plenty of open space to walk or just to swing in a hammock.

26/28 August - The Kinabatang River Trip


I gave the bike a rest and travelled up the Kinabatangan River by boat to see what is left of the famous rainforest. The Kinabatangan River is the longest river in Sabah, starting high in the Crocker Range and flowing five hundred and sixty kilometres down to the Sulu Sea, on the East coast of Sabah. First, it was a mini-bus ride to the river, and then an hour or so by boat to the jungle camp. 

By late afternoon we took a boat ride down river in search of some wildlife, and saw plenty of monkeys as they settled down on treetops for the night. There was also the odd crocodile and monitor lizard. The place was teaming with birdlife, including eagles, owls, hornbills, kingfishers, and many others I don’t know the names of.


The jungle camp was rather interesting, and consisted of half-open structures with mattresses on the floor and much needed mosquito nets.  At night it was fairly noisy - monkeys, frogs and loads of other sounds I could not identify. The toiles were miles away and not a place I wanted to go to in the dark.

Early morning we were at it again, in search of the elusive Orang-Utans. We did not find any but saw loads of birds again, some crocodiles and plenty of monkeys. We returned for a late breakfast and then went on a walk in the jungle. It was once again fascinating as we walked through the forest, finding tiny insects and interesting plants. That evening we again went in search of some wildlife, and although there was not much along the river banks, it was a pleasant trip. After supper we donned the Wellies and set off into the swampy wetlands, and found many interesting insects and birds (the birds were mostly fast asleep).

The following morning we took another boat ride; this time we did see the Orang-Utan, calmly going about its business while we stared in awe. After breakfast it was time to head back to civilization and I was very pleased that I went. I stayed one more night at Uncle Tan´s, as it was the most convenient place to hang around.

29 August - Uncle Tan´s – Sandakan - 35km

It was time I continued my journey and I followed the rather busy road into Sandakan. The road lead past the water village of Kampung Buli Sim-Sim, the water village around which Sandakan expanded in the nineteenth century. It was a fascinating world and they found me as interesting as I found them. “Farang, farang,” the little ones shouted and ran for their lives!!! (Farang being the Thai word for someone of European ancestry, no matter where they may come from.)

Once in Sandakan I asked around for information on the ferry to the Philippines, but no one could tell for certain when and where it leaves from. In the end I cycled all the way to the ferry port, and once there was told that the ferry only leaves on Tuesdays (which would only be on the 3rd!!)  I so wished that it would be the following day, but there was not much I could do but wait the five days. I cycled back into the city and found a room at the Sandakan Backpackers. I had no idea how I was going to pass the time!!

Little did I know there was a festival in town. “Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!” Hari Kemerdekaan is a national holiday, commemorating the independence of Malaysia from British colonial rule in 1957. It was a busy and colourful day; food stalls, balloons, jumping castles and parades were all over town. People were out enjoying the festivities and it was hardly possible to walk in the streets. The waterfront area was packed with people, sipping noodle soup and drinking tea. I did not feel so bad taking photos, as a thousand pictures must have been taken of me!! 


The following day the Independence Day celebrations were still in full swing. I had enough of the crowds and headed off to Kampung Buli Sim-Sim. The water village is well-organized and it was fun walking around on the wooden walkways between the houses. Kids came running up, wanting their picture taken, and every now and again I could hear: “Welcome to Sim-Sim,” coming from inside the wooden houses. I quite liked that and felt rather at home, despite being obviously foreign. The Sunday market was once again an interesting place, selling anything from clothing to food and pets.


The following day I bought my ferry ticket, and had to buy a return ticket as the Philippines want to see an onward ticket, may it be by boat or plane. It turned out to be a bit of a pricey affair, but there is not much one can do about it.

3 September - Sandakn, Sabah, Malaysia - Zamboanga City, Mindanao, Philippines - By ferry

At last the 3rd arrived, and although the ticket stated the departure time at 16h00, I was told to be at the port at 18h00. I packed up and left Sandakan Backpackers, which felt like home by that time. Just before leaving it started bucketing down, and the last thing in the world I felt like doing was cycling the short eight kilometres to the ferry in the rain. Fortunately, as rain goes in the tropics, the rain came down hard and quick, and by the time I was ready to leave, it was all over.

Once at the port it was a madhouse of people, trucks, busses and minivans, picking passengers up or dropping them off for the next trip. Once my bike and I was on the ferry I had time to explore, and found double bunk beds on the deck (better than sleeping on the floor). I found my spot, being no. 317, and that was only on Deck 1!!  People kept pouring onto the ferry and it was no wonder that two or more people had the same number for one bunk!! 

It was after 22h00 when we finally departed. The tiny canteen was jam-packed, trying to serve all the passengers; it was hardly worth the wait to buy something. The bunks were rather close to one another and it was a noisy night under blazing, florescent lights. I eventually fell asleep to the snoring, phlegm-coughing, burping and farting of the other passengers.

4 September

I woke rather early to more chattering, coughing, farting, burping and radio’s playing - each to their own tune. Our vessel was moving at a snail’s pace, and I understood from the other passengers that there was some or other problem with the engine. As I was the only foreigner aboard, I had my fair share of attention!!  They had no shame in coming to have a look and some gathered at my bunk, staring openly (no picking your nose discretely!!). At the same time it made it rather social, and the ladies on both sides of me took it upon themselves to take care of me and tell the onlookers when it was time to go… ha-ha. This was a really good thing, as there was always someone to watch your stuff while you were not there.

The hours came and went, and in the end the sun started sinking below the horizon, and still there was no land in sight. I sat on the deck, watching the Moslems perform their evening prayers to the soothing sounds of the (impromptu?) mullah. It was calming and peaceful against the rich colours of the setting sun.
We reached the port of Zamboanga City at around 9.00 p.m. but it was 11.00 p.m. by the time I got off the ferry. The going was particularly slow, as not only did everyone want to get off first, but one had to take a bus to the immigration office. While waiting to get off, one had to be particularly alert as small kids hopped on-board, scavenging for whatever was going - might it be unattended luggage or some leftover food. They were like monkeys, climbing up and down the side of the ferry; it was quite amazing to watch them operate - they were as quick as lightning, and even the on-board security had no chance of catching them!!!  They were under and over the sleeping bunks without the guards even seeing them.

Eventually, I was off the boat and at the immigration building. The queue was snaking from the one end of the building to the other. People were pushing and chafing (not sure where they wanted to go, as no pushing or chafing was going to get them to the front any sooner!). It was stuffy and hot inside the building, and the perspiration was running down our faces; people were fanning themselves with their passports (not that it helped, at all).

By the time I got out of there it was fairly late to go in search of a hotel. There was nothing I could do about it and, in the dark, I cycled off. In the light of my headlamp I followed the deserted streets, with just a few homeless people for company. The first two hotels were full, and the third too expensive. The fourth was more my style, and so it was 1.30 a.m. by the time I was in the room….what a day!!