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Briefly In Borneo: AFS Sight Inspection
I started traveling from jet-lag so hard, it could rival a passenger. Borneo beckons because I have never been there. Only 5 hours to LAX, 12 to Tokyo, 7 to Singapore and 3 to Kota. Please note this is only one method excluding layover time. Sitting in business class, I expect my body to be dehydrated, my muscles atrophy, pore a clog and I will bloat with “stomach belly” but it’s good. The bottom line is, I love airplanes. The near insanity here is that it’s only a 5 day visit and I spend nearly as much time on the ground as I would in the air.
The best perk of my job is the observation site, which is to witness first hand what my team will experience if a word that we are new to me. This is far from my world. Before leaving, I observed my friends asking them, “Where is Borneo?” Only 10% answered correctly. This time I took Terry and was amazed at his effort in towing. But he proved to be a good aviation warrior.
On our flight coming in, I saw white sandy beaches, turquoise reefs and coconut trees that stretched as far as the eye could see. At the airport, we were greeted by Martin who will take care of us and answer the 7,000 questions that I have prepared for this region. It’s a hot sauna. We head out past cocoa and tea plantations for our first stop at Shangri La Tanjung Aru, an oasis of luxury in the South China Sea. In the distance are 5 coral islands. A short flight will take you to one of the snorkeling sea caves and diving in the world. Further out is Pulau Tiga with its mud volcano where the first Survivor series was shot.
Here we are spoiled like a couple of pot bellied pigs with an updated version with fruits and orchids as well as a massage on the beach. I feel like I’ve reached Nirvana with the mantra of “I don’t deserve it” but I appreciate all the stuff. It’s pure playtime with the activities available here. And the amazing Malaysian buffet breakfast had to be filmed by the Food Channel.
Kota Kinabalu (aka “KK”) is a city in Sabah with 340,000 inhabitants. My expectations in Borneo were of 5′ looking lizards and hunting chiefs, but here I was greeted with Starbucks and mega-malls. The city is worn out and struggling hard to improve itself. Built by the British in 1881, it also has a lot of WWII history. The city backdrop is the breathtaking 13,600 ft. Mt. Kinabalu, UNESCO WH Site for being the most diverse mountain in the world. It holds a complete ecosystem and is a botanical paradise. There is a surprising number of rare animals and plants such as insects, funky fungi and raffelsia, the world’s largest flower of 3′ petals. It takes 2 years to flower and lasts only 7 days. The lush National Park is the size of Singapore. The hill tribes live at high altitudes. The mountain is very scary for them because they believe that it is the resting place of their ancestors left by demons.
For free time we toured museums, craft shops and water villages. I bought gifts of pearls, organic teas, coffee, batik and baskets. As Americans, we feel like VIP tourists are mostly from Australia, UK, Japan and Europe. The locals are respectful and polite. There are 30 ethnic groups speaking 80 different languages that live together in harmony. Many are animists who worship all living things. The main groups are the Dusuns with their priestesses, the Bajau known as “cowboys of the sea” and the Murats who live in long houses. They are the descendants of the famous head hunters who once protected their territory and decorated their homes with “gifts” that were the severed heads of their invaders. Many here look Polynesian. Bahasa Malay is the main language, a language that sounds to me like they speak. The second language is English.
In August, I brought 2 groups here. We will go inside to see the details of Borneo with its virgin forests, lush rivers and enough wildlife to feel like you have entered a zoo. (See our website to book my itinerary on this eco adventure.) We will learn about culture and history but what is exciting for me will be seeing rare pygmy animals elephants, Sumatran rhinos, giant crocs, bearded pigs, gibbons. , macaques and omni-present proboscis monkeys (one with Jimmy Duranti’s nose.) The highlight will be Sepilok, the largest orangutan sanctuary where we can get up close and personal with these “wild men of Borneo.”
Evening by the ocean here gives a surreal beauty that envelopes in serenity and it is completely romantic. I hate to leave but it’s time to visit another place I booked for my group. Shangri La Rasa Ria is a heaven where one can do nothing or everything. There is morning yoga, Tai Chi, golf, ATV’s, horses, para sailing, a large spa and more. Classes are offered in Malay, cooking, sarong wrapping, beading, music and weaving. But what makes this resort so special is its Nature Reserve. The hotel supports orphaned orangutans here. If the forest continues to grow, the gentile creatures will face extinction in the wild. Dr. Galdikas of OFI (Orangutan Foundation Int.) grimly predicts that, “Unless immediate action is taken, these forests will be one of 5 to 7 years and the wild orangutan with them.”
We attended a lecture by a runner to get to know the “man of the jungle”, the world’s second largest ape. Genetically they are 96.4% human and are considered the most valuable species in the world. We were taken on a trek up the mountain to see 7 protected baby orangutans, most of them orphaned by illegal logging that destroyed their homes. Unlike other primates, they like to play fighting. “Limon” had a difficult early life. His mother was killed and eaten by the cultivators. They kept him as an animal chained to the wall of a wooden crate for 4 years until the Forest Police rescued him. When he came here, he was a bag of bones and died. For 10 days he refused to eat until one day, a sweet pineapple changed his life. He devoured it all and since then, Limon has not stopped. Now he weighs 5 times more and makes a fool of himself. When the training is completed, it will be released back into the forest. It’s touching moments like this that make me passionate about travel.
The small country of Brunei is only a 30 minute flight away and has always been on my “dream destination list.” Now there is no time yet. I studied this sultanate where 460,000 people live in the world’s highest income per person because of oil off shore. Everything is free for them and the Sultan of Brunei has more money than Bill Gates. No nightlife and alcohol was banned, but I wanted this stamped in my passport because it was there.
I look forward to my return and experience the true mystical Borneo. The best way is always to go home. When I flew Singapore Airlines, I think I gained 6 kilos from all the seafood I ate. I slept like a child at the longhouse of Taipei. The biggest miracle of all was that my checked luggage followed my 19,000 mile trip and the fact that I still love flying.
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#Briefly #Borneo #AFS #Sight #Inspection