The setting was near-perfect. The players were a group of easy-going, down-to-earth young adults from various states in Malaysia. The playground was a paradise comprising of majestic mountains, spectacular beaches, rejuvenating hot spring, verdant rain-forests, cheap shopping, scrumptious food. The culture was breath-taking and unique.
From a backpacker's lodge smack in the centre of Kota Kinabalu, to the busy seafront with drop-dead gorgeous souvenirs, to the bold Crocker mountain range, to the summit of breath-taking Mount Kinabalu, to the cultural display of beauties at the Harvest Festival, to the serene Garama River and the awesome fireflies display, to the wonderful watersport experiences at Manukan Island and beyond to the tip of Borneo..we have tasted the first few sips of the amazing nectars that Sabah has to offer.
The whole experience was very well-organized thanks to Tim, Aunt Betty and the KK tours. We stayed at a friendly lodge with youths from various countries streaming in and out. This paradise attracts people of all ages, creed and colours. We gulped down cooling drinks as we busy ourselves with exchanging stories from various travels.
The summit climb and the descent, as I have described before, was the experience of a lifetime. This mountain is a revered spot and holds ecological treasures unlike others. As we walked down trails of the Botanical Garden, I marvelled at the thousands of plants, both flowering and non-flowering. Sauntering down the paths in the cool, comfortable weather was a good way to unwind just before the climb to the top.
Not only that, I would like to pay tribute to the group of travel partners that made life so much easier for all of us. We found goodness in each challenges and choose to look at the bright side of things. To Chua, Jan, Choon Foong, Khee Fatt, Michelle, Dorcas, Hwa Shun, Jason, Fenky, Vic and Debbie, many many thanks for the wonderful memories that you gave me.
After the climb whereby we supported and encouraged each other all the while, we took a flexible hiatus to nurse our aching joints. The humourous memory of each of us walking side-ways down the staircase will always bring me chuckles. Yet, the next day, we were spotted at Beaufort for the first day of the Kaamatan festival.
Kaamatan, or simply known as Harvest Festival, is an event unlike no other. It's a paramount aspect of the Kadazanduzun culture whereby prayers of thanksgiving were offered for the harvest of the year. Many events were held and we were fortunate enough to attend a beauty pageant even! Unexpected and excited, we were introduced to numerous VIPs and bumped up to the VIP seats right in the front just because we were guests! That's Sabahan hospitality to the core.. Many wonderful people in exquisite native costumes posed for us as our cameras went into overdrive. It was a good timing for us to arrive at Beaufort for an interesting festival not found elsewhere in Malaysia.
By dusk in the tropical rainforests, birds, animals and tourists alike would gather by the riverside for food and to get ready for rest...haha. Feasted my eyes upon the wildlife on display...prosboscis monkeys, long-tailed macaque, kingfisher, egrets, water buffaloes, fireflies and new plants greeted us on each turn of the boat. It was National Geographic channel comes alive before our eyes. Gatecrashing silently on this party in the animal kingdom, we waited for the sun to set before seeing trees lighted entirely by Mother Nature due to the colonies of fireflies found along this Garama river.
Sabahan islands are world-famous and we were fortunate enough to visit one of the most accessible isle in the TAR park, just 15 mins away from KK. The whole group departed via the clean, well-maintained, luxurious Seaquest marina at the Sutera Harbour resort for a day of soaking up the sun, sea-life and most importantly, the beach and BBQ seafood..
After repeatedly being thrown off banana boats, we were lifted up to the skies via para-sails for stupendous view of KK seaside. As the multi-coloured sails fluttered in the wind, I could taste the sprays of sea-water as I floated above the water and soaked up all the wonderful sights. This wonderful island was so fun that I only have a mild twinge of regret as I exchanged my lily-white complexion for a more tanned look now :-)
Before I took my flight home, we also drove up north to the very tip of Borneo, near Kudat. The meandering roads past sleepy villages by paddy fields were so charming in their own rights. Yet I noticed the big family of children crowded into half-finished homes clinging precariously to the hill-side where land is cheapest. Immediately reminded myself that I am truly blessed, and that life can be difficult for a lot of people even in this wonderful land. As we strolled along Tanjung Simpang Mengayau, the amazing stone formations by the very end of Borneo, along with wind-swept, bent trees served to bear testimony of the brunt force of nature.
Even the brief stay at the traditional Rungus longhouse was memorable as we played with children and danced the graceful Rungus dance together with the ladies. Loading up on the beaded souvenirs before we embark on the journey home was not hurtful to my wallet at all as it was all so affordable.
People asked me whether I lost a lot of weight on this trip due to the sudden, excessive burst of exertion (unlike my usual, indoor activities). Actually, I think the wonderful food kept me eating almost at all times. The seafood is so fresh and delicious that I think I am forever spoilt by the juicy, tasty Sabahan fish, crabs and prawns.
As I gaze back at my brief sojourn in Sabah, I began to see that I am guilty of loving another state more than my own. Falling in love with Sabah is so effortless. As I adore the great outdoors, what better place to experience it all than to flock to this state, especially if you are Malaysian. I know being so relaxed on vacations gave me an idealistic, unspoilt view but I know that I am so drawn to this place like bees to honey. The simple, kind people I met there with the relaxed lifestyle fills me with warmth and inner cheer. As I pray for God to open another chapter of my life, I learn now that I have another option waiting for me, another great adventure if I choose to fly east-ward toward the land under the wind.
Until then, back to reality, back to work, back to Diamond Cove...