I is moving on (at last)

Map of Semporna

This time tomorrow I’ll be in Semporna and on an EFR (Emergency First Response) course. I finally caught Vincent early enough in the day to get it all booked up. I just need to ensure I have a seat on the overnight bus and somewhere to stagger into at 4:30am when I arrive.

Not a lot else to report. I had fruit for the first time in ages yesterday after a walk to the central market for some lunch. I gave up asking prices when everything turned out to be “one ringgit“. Rose apples, star fruit, watermelon, oranges, bubble tea… Good stuff. I also intended to use the restaurant downstairs for dinner, but they were closed (it being a Sunday) so I won’t challenge you too much to guess where I ended up instead.

I gather Semporna doesn’t have a KFC. This is a good thing.

So to all those I’ve been nattering to on MSN until the early hours, I’ll catch you again when I do – use my email instead! The current plan is to return to Kota Kinabalu once I’ve done my Rescue Diver and (hopefully) been amazed by Semporna. But you know how my plans change… The only other thing that’s looking likely is a return to Vietnam around the middle of September to visit Hanno who’s working at a Primate Research place near Ninh Binh. Dependant on availability (of good weather and tourists), I may also work as a tour guide in Hanoi for the remainder of my visa.

We shall see!

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Around Kota Kinabalu

After spending a day doing pretty much naff all yesterday, I decided to do a little walking. My targets were the Sabah Museum and the nearby mosque. They’re near enough each other, but a bit of a hike from the hostel. On the way I passed the clock tower, which also used to act as a lighthouse until the town grew massively early in the last century.

The museum’s not bad, covering all aspects of Sabah lifestyle, history and natural life. It’s the first museum I’ve been to in Malaysia that charges an entry fee, though. MR15 (around £2.50 – locals pay MR2) isn’t a lot for the size of the place, but if you’re feeling really tight you could see a lot of it for nothing. Just don’t go into the entrance of the main building. There are several sections and the only place my ticket was checked was right opposite where I paid for it.

I’m getting Oz Syndrome with the museums – each one seems to have a lot of similar material to the last one. The main museum building is impressive and houses stuffed animals, pottery, a fake cave (the area around here has some large natural ones) and a history area. There are also tribal costumes and the like. All well and good, but I’ve seen far too much of it elsewhere.

The science and art gallery wing is OK, the bulk being taken up by a history of the railway and yet another Shell-sponsored “this is how we drill for oil” exhibit. In fairness, this is probably the most impressive one I’ve seen, but all the information (and in fact, some of the material) is a direct copy of that in other museums.

By far the coolest area is outside, where you can find plants labelled with what they are and what medicines they’re used in; a “history” of plant life; and a selection of traditionally-built structures detailing how many of the indigenous population still live out in the jungle areas. It reminded me of a similar area outside of the Ethnology Museum in Hanoi though none of the buildings here are as large as the ones there.

If you’ve not done another museum in the area, this is definitely a good one. However, it’s a little repetitive if it’s your umpteenth in Borneo.

A few minutes’ walk away is the Sabah State Mosque, so I took a squint. The tower is pretty enough, but the inside is typically functional and plain. I did find one prayer room and I’m not sure if I was meant to go in (though nobody and no signs said I couldn’t) so I had a squint inside. Nice enough with the inside of the dome to see, and a huge glittery chandelier. All very nice.

By this time – mid-afternoon – I was a bit peckish so started the walk back to the hostel. On the way I passed one of the three cinemas in the area and saw they had a performance of Death Race on shortly. I picked up a ticket for MR8 (Saturdays are the expensive day…) and had time to wolf a very small KFC beforehand.

Not a bad film, entertaining enough, but Malaysia cuts its films for violence and dubs out bad language. This is very frustrating when watching a film, the primary reason for which is to enjoy some carnage. The cuts are very clumsily done as well. And don’t even get me started on the people who had their mobiles on for the whole film. They never answered them – just stared at the screens and let them ring out for a minute at a time whenever someone called. Back home they’d have been ringing their supplier for a new one and trying to explain how the last one had become lodged up their back passage in the first place.

I think it’s about time to consider heading for Semporna. I might catch the early bus tomorrow, and start my Rescue Diver course the day after. I’m still looking into Dive Master courses but there are so many inclusions, exclusions, accommodation deals, park fees and so in depending on where you look it’s hard to figure out where is cheapest!

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You can’t trust anyone

A lovely young couple here woke up this morning to find that someone had rifled their bag and taken a mobile phone… and approximately 500 Euro in mixed currency. The bag had been left in a communal area at the hostel here by accident. A small mercy is that flight tickets and passports weren’t stolen.

However… we have suspicions as to who did it. Another couple, who checked out very early this morning and cancelled their return booking. The bag was found outside their room, which also raises eyebrows.

I’m in Kota Kinabalu and they were due to return in 10 days after doing a trip of some kind. We reckon they’re still in Sabah, and Vincent is doing the rounds on the phones checking every tour operator and hostel he knows.

Just on the off-chance anyone else in Malaysia is reading this – perhaps in Semporna or wherever – please can you check to see if the following people are staying at your hostel or hotel:

Carmen Scherbaum (passport number 9118106765) and Thomas Scherbaum (passport number 9118108002) from Germany.

The details could be false, we don’t know. If you do have an idea of where they are, please send me a message via the link to the right.

And, folks, don’t leave your bags lying around. Stories and experience tell me that other backpackers are amongst the most likely to rip you off when you’re travelling. You know I won’t. I know you won’t. But what about that guy in the other dorm? If your hostel has lockers – use them. And don’t carry/withdraw huge amounts at one time if you can avoid it. If you do, spread it through several bags and pockets.

It’s easy to say after the incident. I’m only glad that more inconvenient articles weren’t stolen.

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Back in the water

Small post and a few photos and videos, so they’re all at the bottom. I didn’t get to dive with the girls this morning as their dive boat was full. I took a walk across the road and found most of the other dive shops shut. One, Sabah Divers, had an open door but the staff were busy preparing for the day. I sauntered in anyway.

They quoted me MR281 for 3 dives including kit hire, which isn’t too bad. The girls got theirs for 250, but a fiver extra for a walk-in is fine. My dive master was Russel, and there were a few others in the group including a young guy from Singapore doing the last day of his Open Water course.

We boated out to one of the nearby islands in the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park where there are many reefs around. All three dives were in excess of 40 minutes, visibility was superb in the morning (first two) and a little more limited in the afternoon as a storm closed in overhead and took away some sunlight.

Still, we saw some pretty good stuff and I managed to get my camera down there on the third dive. Dive 1: tested the casing. Dive 2: took camera, spotted case leaking at 6m and the other dive master took it back to the boat for the. Dive 3: all OK and I’ve got what I hope is some good video of a cuttlefish.

Russel certainly knows his stuff and where to find it. Sadly we didn’t spot the hairy frog fish which has been lurking around recently, but plenty of other things from starfish to octopi and the now-mandatory “Nemo”.

Between dives we retired to a resort on the island for drinks and food and chat. The staff and other divers were a good bunch and the lengthy surface time breaks seemed to fly by.

Oh, and I got my foot licked by a 2m long monitor lizard, which was cool.

Not a bad day considering it was all decided on at the last minute. The guy who runs the hostel took five of the guests to another tiny island, so had I not managed to get a dive I’d still have had a good time by the sound of it.

I caught up with the girls again later and it turned out they were the only two on their boat apart from the dive master and the boat operator. They had a great time, and they had lunch included. I should have found out what company they went with. However, they didn’t land on the island – they stayed on the boat all day. We’d intended to go out for dinner, but by the time we met we’d all eaten. Diving does make you hungry! Plus, we were all exhausted after too little sleep and too much exercise!

Kota Kinabalu is shaping up as a town which in itself isn’t really spectacular, but which has a lot going on around it. And at £3.20 per night for accommodation, I can handle staying here for a night or two more.

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Short day

After staying up till 5am chatting to some guilty parties online, I crashed out and got up around one in the afternoon. As I surfaced, the girl on reception handed me a note – it was from Nydia and Christine, the German girls I’d met in Kuching. They were in town and would meet me in the evening for some food. Excellent.

I spent the day running a couple of errands. A package was sent home with backups of my photos in – after I went to the post office, bought a box then realised I couldn’t remember the address so had to walk back to he hostel. Then back to the post office. Argh.

For those posting things from Kota Kinabalu, the staff there are really helpful. If it’s a small-ish package (less than 5kg or so), they sell boxes for a couple of Ringitt at a smal counter immediately to the left of the entrance. Take the boxed package to window number 7 where they’ll weigh it, take your cash and give you the stamps and customs slip. Fill in the usual garbage (“heroin, cocaine and three dumper trucks – Value £1.27”) on it, stick it on and hand it back in at number seven. Job done.

Postcards were also found (not an easy task, surprisingly) and will be winging their way tomorrow. Lunch was in Burger King (I really have no appetite for rice or noodles at the moment) and I sat and read a bit in the hostel. Vincent, the chap who runs the place, had sorted me out some dive class prices in Semporna. I just need to work out when I’m going.

I caught the girls at a café next door to BK, which I can’t recall the name of. A shame as I’d recommend against going there as the service was dreadful. Apparently the night before, their waiter had stood there and basically asked for a tip once they’d paid – even though the bill includes a 10% service charge. Tonight, he was just rubbish. The girls ordered a pizza and 45 minutes later there was no sign of it so we just asked for the cheque. No pizza on the bill, so we can only assume he’d completely forgotten (or not bothered) to sort it out at all.

Instead, we walked to Pizza Hut which was remarkably cheap. I’d had pizza the night before so went for a pasta dish instead.

The girls had booked diving for the next day and I decided I’d get my bum out of bed early and see if I could jump onto the same trip as them. It may be full, in which case I go back to bed. Or I might get a couple of practise dives in before I make my trip to Semporna for the Rescue Diver course. Not a bad idea as it’s almost 13 months since I was last underwater!

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