Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jog

Whew, made it back in one piece... First thing I did was stop by Ed's (the local coffee shop) and get a nice steaming hot Mocha. I haven't had a good one of those in a while! All coffee in SE Asia is Nescafe...which you do get used to after a while, but bleck, I would much rather have a nice espresso. So I stopped at Ed's, said a quick hello, slurped down my mocha in about 4 seconds (S, you would be proud) and got down to business - Laundry.

When you are travelling, and especially when you are travelling light, you go by the "underwear theory". This is that...until you don't have any clean underwear left, there is no need to do laundry. So, if you take 14 pairs of undies, you only need to do laundry...every two weeks. That having been said, I REALLY needed to do laundry by the time I got home. I had worn my bathing suit as much as possilbe just to save those few extra pairs of undies... I know, some people my think that gross. S is one of them; he was begging me to find a laundry place about every two days... What he doesn't understand is that usually the people at the laundry place do not have dryers. So you have to wait at least 24 hours for the laundry to be cleaned and dried. If it is even dry when you get it back, you are lucky. If it smells good, you are even luckier. After getting mine back a couple of times still smelling like not so dry, semi moist, little bit dirty laundry, I say 'forget it, I would rather go without'. So I'm sticking with the "underwear theory".

I finished my laundry, went and got a huge burrito (another thing I always miss when I am away from home) and promptly fell asleep on the couch. When I woke up, I figured that was the last of my jet lag, but alas, that was not the case. I slept 13 hours last night....from 11:30 pm to 1 pm. I am wondering what time I will finally be able to fall asleep tonight...(or tomorrow perhaps?)

Next Stop: Tomorrow I am off to Lake Oroville for some fun in the sun and waterskiing with the Keesling family... I have not been waterskiing since I was about 10 so am looking forward to showing off my (lack of) skills. After that, I have decided to go up to my parents house, hang out with them and finally...fix my car (her name is Sadie - she has been dented for a few years, but since I have been living in the city and travelling, I have not really needed a car so I have let her sit). I will be doing it myself, so it will be a good learning experience (maybe teach me some patience...haha, yeah right) for me and then she will also be ready to roll for the next time I need her....


What Day Is It Anyway?

Today is the longest day ever... I am leaving Manila at 11:45 p.m. on the 20th. Next I have about a million (well, two) layovers and about a million (well maybe more like 27) hours before finally arriving in San Francisco on the 21st at 9 a.m. Using the points program for United Air has been nice on the pocketbook, but man, do they make you work the clock! There were no direct flights from Manila to anywhere I wanted to go and of course no layover is shorter than, um, 5 hours.

Ah well, I am headed home!


600 Meters Under The Sea: Palau Sipidan

After leaving the Kinabatangan, we boarded the bus, went back down the bumpy road, and headed to Semporna, which is the gateway to Palau Sipidan (Sipidan Island) where we would be doing most of our diving. I thought Semporna would be a biggish city, with all the amenities of home, but S and I walked from one end to the other in about 20 minutes, then looked at eachother and said "what now?"

We found hawker stalls - our favorite. This is my idea of Malaysian fast food. You go into an area that resembles the food area at your local county fair. There are tons of different things to choose from, all being made on the spot, right in front of your eyes. You point at what appears to not have chicken in it (and cross your fingers) and 2 minutes later you are sitting down having a wonderful meal. I have gotten lucky; nothing has had hidden meat (similar to hidden charges?) in it; somehow with all of my grunting and pointing I got my point across.

We spent the next three days diving in Palau Sipidan...this is a wall dive, which means that the coral reef at the shallowest is about 5 Meters down, but then falls off into a wall formation down into the deep sea. At the deepest, this wall goes down to 600 Meters!! That is about 1800 feet! You wouldn't want to accidently get stuck going down there! We saw so many cool things: sharks, tons of turtles, lots of HUGE fish (that's a huge fish!), schools of hundreds of fish, many different types of corals, anenomes, sea cucumbers, starfish, shrimps, eels, rays, triggerfish galore (watch out, they bite!) and even some weird animals I could not identify (I saw one fish(?) that looked like a lump of mud. It hopped along the ground and the mouth was on the top! what kind of animal was it...I don't know!) We stayed on an old oil rig which had been coverted to a dive rig. You could go diving any time you wanted...you just took a lift down, then jumped off the rig and took off. We also just jumped off the rig anyway for fun (it is about 25-30 feet off the water).

We left Sipidan and headed to Tawau, where we would catch a plane to go back to Kota Kinabalu...


Taming the Kinabatangan

Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my! Welcome to the Jungle! Actually, there are no lions, tigers or bears, but...there are: wild boars, elephants, snakes, monkeys, orangutangs, crocodiles and birds (oh my!).

After leaving Mt. Kinabalu, S and I took a detour on our way to Sipidan Island, where we are planning to go diving. We stopped at the Kinabatangan River, which is nicknamed "the Amazon of Malaysia". Well, I have never been to the Amazon, but this was pretty cool.

The first day we arrived, we got settled and then jumped right into a boat to explore the river. We saw tons of Probiscus Monkeys, which have huge fat bellies and big bulbous noses (hence the name). They can leap...(small buildings with a single bound) from tree to tree, clearing about 20 feet or so easily. We also saw a couple other types of monkeys, but the money shot was the elephants. There must have been easily 20-30 elephants all together eating, playing and swimming. We sat and watched them for a long time before it finally got dark and we went home for dinner. The place where we stayed was very secluded; to get to it you had to take a boat from the "town"; there were only 4 other people staying there when we were there.

The next day we were up early for another river boat ride... we saw 2 orangutangs! That night we saw about 4 crocodiles, which apparently you are not supposed to be afraid of, because they only eat small fish and...it takes them a month to digest that! Hmph.

We left the Kinabatangan with a newfound respect for the animals. Now I think that I not only want to take home a monkey, but also a Pygmie Elephant. Do you think it will fit in my suitcase? I may be a little over the weight limit!

Next stop: Sipidan Island for some very fine diving....


Hell on Knees: The Story of Mt. Kinabalu

I vaguely remember climbing Mt. Whitney. At 17, my attitude was - whatever my Dad wanted me to do, I did not want to do it. I thought that it was too hot, too cold, I was too tired, the pack was too heavy, the hill was too high, the tent was a pain to set up and I had to sleep with my brother who kicked, snored and talked in his sleep. And above all, it was HARD. Then I got to the top, took a long look around and realized that it was all worth it. The pain of the journey was worth the sense of achievement at the end. This is what spurned me to climb another mountain (ford every stream...).

Mt. Kinabalu, located in Malaysian Borneo (Sabah) is the tallest mountain in SE Asia, standing at 4095 meters tall, which is about 13,500 feet. Mt Whitney is about 14,500 feet tall. So it should be about the same right? No. Somebody forgot to tell these people about the beauty of switchbacks. So instead of a winding trail up to the top, there is a path STRAIGHT UP. I looked at the map, saw we were going to be hiking about 6 km the first day and thought, 'eh, no problem'. Riiiiight.. I was so tired by the end of those "easy" 6 km. The second day we got up at 2 am (I know, earlier than some of you guys go to bed!) and hiked up another 3 km to get to the peak in time for the sunrise. It was well worth it, but the temperature at the top was about 4 degrees C, which is about 38 degrees F. It was bloody cold! And we got up there faster than we thought we would (I didn't know I was in such great shape! ha!) so ended up having to wait for about an hour for the sunrise.

After the sun rose and we took the obligatory photos, we hiked back down to the midpoint, had breakfast and then hiked back down to the bottom again. I always thought hiking downhill was so much easier than hiking up... It is easier on my heart and lungs, but surely not on my knees! Today (the day after), I can barely walk on a level surface and forget about stairs (and of course our hotel is up a long flight of them!)

So once again, the climb was hard, but "the end justifies the means". The view from the top was spectacular and I have now hiked my second tallest mountain ever! And my dad didn't even make me do it!

Miles Hiked: well, 18 km, so about 11 miles
KM gained in Height: from 1500 to 4100, so about 2600...so, about 9500 feet...
Body parts totally wasted: Legs, gone. Knees, can tell when it is going to rain. Abs for some reason, sore. Feet, surprisingly good.
Snacks eaten in two days: about one Ton

Next up: Pulau Sipidan, one of the number one dive sites in the world!


Palawan: Taking the Long Way Back

Next stop: the island of Palawan, home of the underground river and many cool dive sites... We are having a bit of trouble with the flight situations.. Many flights are only once a day and from some islands, you can only fly to Manila. So to get to Palawan, we had to take a ferry from Bohol to Cebu, take a flight from Cebu to Manila, stay the night in Manila, then take a flight to Puerto Princessa, Palawan (only once a day). The other thing is that our flight which was supposed to leave at 7 pm, did not leave until 11:30 pm. WHEW! So we finally arrived in Puerto Princessa and took a jeepney (oh this is another story all together) to a tiny town called Sabang (population about 200? basically: forget internet, good luck finding a cash exchange and most of the town is related).

Upon jumping off the top (yes mom, the roof) of the Jeepney at Sabang, we were met by a one man welcoming committee named Frances. He was very helpful. We had planned on meeting Doyle and Rachel at a particular hostel, as they had to run some errands in Puerto Princessa before coming to meet with us in Sabang. Frances showed us where to go, invited us to dinner, introduced us to his friends and invited us to join him the next day for karaokee. When Doyle and Rachel arrived, he also showed them where to find us. We had lunch at his friend Helen's restarurant and then dinner at the place he worked, who opened back up the restaurant, fired up the grill and cooked us a marvelous piece of fresh fish along with the best garlic rice I have had so far.

The next day, Doyle woke us up bright and early for a...cock fight. Our cock lost (Doyle bet 100 pesos - big spender) but it was an interesting sight to see. Next, Frances took us to the underground river, on a hike through the jungle where we saw monkeys and monitor lizards and then taught us how to climb a coconut tree (after which we all climbed easily to the top - haha). That night, we had a very nice dinner at Helen's again (oh by the way, she has a tiny pet monkey - soooo cute!) and then went out to the (one) bar and sang to our little heart's content. I think Rachel won the karaoke contest. The machine actually rates you (not sure what it rates you on!) and you get a score after you are done singing... It was a riot! Frances and I sang Hotel California and got a 95! Doyle had one beer, was drunk (haha) and sang Sweet Caroline. Actually I think Doyle has the best voice, even though he is too shy (what! Doyle? Shy?) to use it. We went home shortly before the power went off (they are on generators and only have power from 6pm -1 am (or 10 in some places, but not the karaoke bar!)

The following day we took a boat from Sabang to El Nido, where we went diving, went island hopping, ate lots of cheese omelets and rice, drank lots of San Miguel and did not do karaoke even though I thought that it was time S took the mike and showed us what he was really made of. Here we learned of the death of S Irwin, ironically just the day before we were about to go diving, and here I was hoping we would see some sting rays...

From El Nido, we flew back to Manila on a... 12 person plane, with a dirt/rock runway and rainy weather. I swear the pilot was sticking his head out the window of the plane to try and see where the airport was... But we (somehow) made it safely to Manila, alive and in one piece. We had dinner all together and then Rachel and Doyle went one way and S and I went the other. The plan is that Rachel and Doyle are still going to spend up until the 16th in the Philippines, while S and I are on our way to the island of Borneo, to Sabah, Malaysia...

So... Next Stop: Borneo! Here we go...