My trip to Borneo must have seemed to have come to an abrupt halt. However it’s my life at the moment which has come to an unexpected pause.
A nasty fall means that I was incarcerated in hospital for the whole of the week before Easter. I am ever grateful to National Health Service as I have had a complex operation on a broken elbow and arm followed by care in the hospital for a week. I am now being looked after temporarily in a care home while a “package of care” is put in place in order that I can return home.
I am going home tomorrow and will be visited 4 times a day by carers who will help me dress and shower, prepare meals and help me to get ready for bed in the evening for a period of about 6 weeks.
This is free, despite the fact that I have not paid anything more into my National Insurance since I was 60. God bless our NHS and Kirklees Council!!
9th June 2005 – Into the mangroves
The morning trip was to a mangrove river where we saw a village built on stilts, in the water. Some homes were so old that more and more extra stilts had been added. Even with these repairs, some of them were sloping into the water at one side. People were travelling about in boats. It was customary, in the past, to live entirely on boats rather than in houses. People who live on one particular side of the river have to travel to the other side to buy clean water. We saw men fishing from the small boats and Gilbert told us that they also farm fish.
We went away from the village, into the narrower stretches of the river, where the mangrove trees were growing further and further out into the water. We saw herons and kingfishers flash by – much too fast for my camera!
It was an interesting trip and it was pleasant to speed along and feel the breeze as it was a hot and sticky day. The rest of the day was spent relaxing and chatting (84-year old Margaret is looking forward to going to Chile next year!).
It was going to be an early start the next morning and the day around which this entire holiday centred!
8th June 2005 – Visiting temples and preparing for the afterlife
It was one of those days when it was tough getting out of bed but you know you ought to because you’ll enjoy it if you do! I managed to make it to the bus for our 8:30am start; even remembered my bottle of water. We stopped first at a rice paddy farm, where a new crop was just beginning to grow, but we retreated to the bus very quickly when our feet and legs were attacked by red ants!
We then visited a Buddhist temple, where Gilbert explained a little about the religion. We stayed to say our own prayers, lit candles and joss sticks and we burnt small items which would travel on ahead to heaven to await us. At the same place was a Chinese pagoda, where you could climb up 9 storeys to look at the view. I made it up to the 4th storey.
Mount Kinabalu was hidden in clouds – we had been so lucky the previous day.
Still, having missed the water buffalo the previous day through sleeping on the bus, I did see quite a lot of them on our way back.
We arrived back just in time for lunch and I had a trip to the Noble House Chinese Restaurant on the resort for a lunch of scallop dumplings, prawns in spinach parcels, deep fried turnip and mango pudding. Not surprisingly, I fell asleep back at my room before ending the afternoon beach and the pool.
Holidays do seem to involve an inordinate amount of eating, so it was no time at all before I was heading back to the Penyu Restaurant. It was Italian night. They liked to ring the changes! And the food was delicious.
In the bar afterwards I had a Singapore Sling and a non-alcoholic Honey Swing
7th June 2005 – Climb every mountain! I said in Monday’s diary entry that the good thing about not touring is having a quiet day. But the good thing about most Saga holidays is that there aren’t too many quiet days and sure enough, today was a hectic combination of tramping, tripping and climbing up the lower slopes of Mount Kinabalu.
Mount Kinabalu is the highest mountain in Malaysia. It is protected as part of the Kinabalu National Park, a World Heritage Centre. At its peak, (known as Low’s Peak after Hugh Low who made the first recorded ascent), the mountain is 13,435 feet above sea level. As we set off, our guide, Gilbert, pointed out that the peak was visible from the resort, which he said was very unusual, as it is usually shrouded in cloud.
Again, we were a small group; just Gilbert the guide, a driver, two other guests and me. On the way, we stopped at a small village with craft, fruit and vegetable stalls. I bought two handbags (cannot resist a nice bag, only one for me). I didn’t barter – I’m not very good at that. But the stall holder dropped the prices, without asking, from 48RM + 18Rm to 45RM (around £8.50) for both.
We arrived in the national park after about a two-hour journey. Last night’s downpour had brought down trees (one was in the process of being moved out of the road) and there were torrents and mudslides running off the mountain. Despite this and remaining clouds, it was very mild and much better for walking than the heat we had been experiencing.
We walked through the jungle at the foot of the mountain. There were paths but they were rocky, uneven and muddy. Gilbert pointed out some of the many species of orchids which grow there, some so tiny that you could hardly see them. If only I’d had my notebook to write down some of the names; if only I’d taken more stills with my camera and not tried to film it all on video! We did, however, see the world’s most expensive orchid which, we were told, was worth $10,000! It was behind bars as, apparently (an unsurprisingly), many attempts had been made to steal it!
Worn out from the foray into the forest, I fell asleep on the bus back to the resort and missed seeing buffalo in the fields. I spent the rest of the day relaxing and then, when I went back to my room to change, I found the mother and father of all cockroaches on my bathroom floor. I sprayed it with everything I could find. I think the hairspray finally finished it and I squished it with my waste bin. Ugh! I couldn’t bear to pick it up and left it there and went off to the cyber cafe and then for dinner. I spent a jolly evening in the upstairs bar, chatting Jenny whom I had met the previous day by the pool. Fortifide by three “Golden Kisses”, I returned to my room and found the monster gone!! “My god”, I thought, “something even bigger has come along and eaten it”!!!! Then I noticed that my bed had been turned down and realised that the person who did that must have been brave enough to remove it. In the days before Wi-Fi and WhatsApp, I made one of my rationed calls back home to my daughter. (She was the one who always kept me talking and contributed to a big phone bill on my return home). She was going off to hear her brother’s band play at the Virgin record store in Leeds.
Later on in the holiday I met some other Saga guests who actually climbed to the summit of Mount Kinabalu. They climbed almost to the summit on the first day (far higher than I had), camped overnight and summited at dawn in time to see the sunrise. An great thing to do and another example of choices to be made on (almost) the same holiday. Good old Saga!
6th June 2005 – A day of doing very little!
The good thing about choosing a non-touring holiday, is that you occasional get a quiet day. I was grateful for that as I struggled to get out of bed in time for breakfast and I spent the morning in the resort shop and by the pool.
I had chosen to go on the afternoon’s trip. To be exact, I usually choose to go on just about every trip, both included and extra because I don’t want to spend too many days “just by the pool”. I always used to take several books and magazines (these days I top up my Kindle as it’s less heavy on the luggage) and, while I certainly welcome the opportunity to read in peace, I also enjoy the opportunity to meet new people.
My only companion on this afternoon’s trip was Marjorie, a very independent lady aged 83. Marjorie told me that she had travelled all over the world with her husband and continued to do so now that she was a widow. As she had no family, she was happy to spend as much as she could afford taking several holidays a year. She had not long returned from a holiday in South America. Anyway, this afternoon we visited a batik factory. We didn’t get a tour as most people were away on holiday but I did buy a sarong. (Did I mention that I had bought a pair of trousers and a top this morning?). We then went on to a pottery where I “threw” a saucer-shaped item, which I left behind to be fired. As trips go, this was a very short one and we were back before the end of the afternoon. I had plenty of time to get ready for two amazing hours at the Resort Spa.
I have always said (and I continue to do so) that this was the best two hours of my life! Forget walking down the aisle, forget holding my first child for the first time, these were the two hours to end all two hours! I arrived a little early and used the jacuzzi, then I had a body scrub, after which I was sent to shower for fifteen minutes and was given some ginger and honey tea. Then there followed an hour’s massage with lavendar, bergamot, juniper and grape seed. My skin was so smooth, my hair so soft and I was so relaxed, I could have fallen over.
Sadly, it was by now bucketing down and I had to hurry back to my room to try and make my oh so soft hair look halfway presentable, before running to the Penyu for dinner and paddling back to my room afterwards.
3rd June 2005 – London Heathrow – Brunei
Somehow, I always manage to have a packing panic just before I go away but at last I was tucked up in a Heathrow hotel, after a nice dinner and ready for an early start the next morning. My alarm woke me at 5:30am, after a strange night when (and this was the only time it has ever happened) I dreamed that Richard was there in the corner of the room saying “What the ****** **** are you doing, setting off half way around the world”? I obviously ignored him and caught the Hoppa into the airport.
I met and chattted to someone who was also going to Borneo with Saga but doing more travelling around than I was. The flight was smooth, we seemed to do little but eat one meal after another. The announcement that we would be landing in Dubai took me by surprise but it gave me a great opportunity to look down on a huge city, which appeared suddenly from desert with, at first, just endless roads in a grid system and then the bright lights of the famous buildings which attract so many people. On landing, the only thing we got to see was immigration, the arrivals hall, where we had to collect our luggage and then the desks where we got to check it back in. What was all that about? We even got back on exactly the same aircraft so I guess it was simply re-fuelling. We took of at 8:00pm (5:00pm at home). The pilot announced that it was now 2:00am in Brunei (our next stop), so I moved my watch and found myself on Saturday…..
4th June 2005 Brunei – Kota Kinabalu and the Nexus Resort
Having filled the hours with films good and bad and yet more to eat, we arrived in Brunei at 9:30am, where we had over three hours to wait for our connecting flight to Sabah and Kota Kinabalu, which is on the northern coast. I should explain that Borneo is an enormous island (the third largest in the world) and comprises Sabah (which is still generally known as Borneo) and Sarawak, which are both part of Malaysia, North, East, Central, South and West Kalimantan, which are part of Indonesia and Brunei, which is a separate state.
We were met at the airport by a representative of Saga. It was the start of their sympathetic wrap-around service, which I learned about on this holiday and experienced on just about every Saga holiday I have experienced (and I’ve had a few!). I have always felt safe travelling with them and that’s important when you are travelling alone (even if you are going to be part of a group).
I was surprised that only four of us were collected by minibus and driven off to the Nexus Resort, half an hour away. This, I was to discover, is quite a feature of Saga holidays – and a good one, I would say. They tend not to have huge groups of people arriving at once and staying for two weeks but small groups of people who seemed to appear and leave again throughout my stay.
This was my first resort holiday and I was quite taken aback by the Nexus Resort. It had a large reception area, which was open to the elements at the sides, with a high floating roof. My room was in small block of eight, each looking out onto part of the garden. It was so very luxurious! What a relief it was to take a shower and lie down. I had been travelling for over 24 hours. All of a sudden, I began to feel very hungry and realised that I had not eaten since breakfast, so I made my way to the Penyu restaurant and then afterward to the bar for gin and tonic somehow I managed to stay awake until 10:00pm and then I slept like a log until next morning.
5th June 2005 – Afternoon drive around Kota Kinabalu After breakfast, we met Hazel, our guide, who showed us round and gave us a timetable of all our visits and activities for the next ten days. Then there was time to swim in the pool, dip my toes in the South China Sea (both warm) and have a lunch of satay and fruit punch.
The afternoon’s activity was a coach tour of Kota Kinabalu, visiting the main mosque (although we weren’t invited inside), a Chinese temple, where we lit incense sticks, and the city museum.
After dinner – at the Penyu again as that was our included restaurant – I managed to stay up long enough for a Happy Hour pina colada!
Full of confidence after my first solo trip, the following year I decided to do something which been a lifetime’s ambition. One of my all-time heroes, since I was a child, is David Attenborough. I can remember watching his very early TV programmes such as “Zoo Quest” in the 1950s and I wanted so much to go with him to the amazing countries he visited and see the animals which live in them. I never really thought that I could do this so I just soaked up all of David’s series and, in fact, any nature programme I could find.
Many, many years later, Richard and I were watching a travel programme (yet again!) when we saw a group of people going off to Borneo to see orangutans. And not just any people but older people, for this was a holiday organised by Saga! (For those readers who are not familiar with the company, it operates solely for travellers over the age of 50). Travellers over the age of 50 were going to Borneo?!! Not only that, they were out in the jungle watching orang-utans. I couldn’t believe it!! We talked about the possibility of doing this holiday and I was very keen but it didn’t appeal to Richard at all. He had a fear of flying and, although he had managed to overcome it to attend conferences in Europe and one in the US (representing the British Epilepsy Assoiciation), it gradually became worse and he preferred to travel by land and sea. Our holidays were limited by this but we did have wonderful holidays all over Europe together.
I parked the idea but never forgot it. After Richard died in 2003, I decided that I should try to see all the things which I had been longing to see all my life. There would never be any thoughts that we might have been visiting these far flung places together, so no regrets. Anyway, I did have one small memory of Richard with me on those early travels, in the form of a fairly basic video recorder. I had bought this for Richard’s birthday just a couple of weeks before he died. That morning, he had told me that he was going to try it out for the first time, so I decided that it just had to be used. Looking back on those little films, I was a terrible camerawoman, the zoom worked overtime and I lingered lovingly over bland scenery. Still, they have woken some great memories for me.
So, in June 2005, I chose adventure and I chose Saga! Besides, back then, they didn’t charge a single supplement on most of their holidays. (Unlike Cosmos the previous year)
I had to call on my daughter for a bit of moral support and packing advice a few days before I was due to set off but, come 2nd June, I was on my way from Leeds to London and an overnight stay at a Heathrow airport hotel.
(This holiday involved a stopover in Brunei, which is just next door to Sabah on the island of Borneo and a 3-day extension there on my way back. I had intended to write about what was a memorable stay but, having read today’s news about the vile laws which have come into force there, I will not give this country even the slightest breath of publicity)