Minivan babies and blues, leech alert in the national park, and eating parrot fish in the rain.

Day 96: Kota Kinabalu, Malaysian Borneo. We were up bright and early for our day trip to Mount Kinabalu National Park. The weather forecast for the day was good – dry, with only 1mm of rain early afternoon, and some cloud. The reality turned out to be a little different.

Half an hour after we crawled out of bed, the rain started – and we’re not talking drizzle here – this was the emptying-bathtub-from-the-sky type of rain, with a dose of thunder and lightning thrown in for good measure. But as is often the case with Asian downpours, it started to ease a little after about 15 minutes.

We threw our rain jackets on and legged it to the meeting point where minivans depart to the National Park. The drivers wait until their vans are full before they leave, and it turned out our timing was perfect. The other 10 passengers had arrived between 6.35am and 7.45am, and were sitting waiting in the van. We rocked up at 8am, hopped in and the driver started the engine, and shot out of the car park straight away.

It was our first minivan experience for a while, and we were thankful the trip was only two hours long. The lack of space, loud screaming babies and Malay versions of blues songs including ‘I’ve got the blues for you’ all became a bit too much after a while.

On a positive note, we got to stop at a viewpoint for a glorious sunny and clear view of Mount Kinabalu, 4,095 metres high, and one of the highest peaks in South East Asia.

We reached the National Park, registered at the desk, got a trail map and set off to explore the park. There’s a good mix of short and longer trails through the park. We chose a fairly long one for our warm up, followed by a walk up a very steep road, then a very long trail back to the park HQ.

The National Park is fabulous. It was established as one of the first national parks in Malaysia in 1964, and designated a world heritage site by UNESCO in 2000 and is one of the most important biological sites in the world. It covers an area of 754 square kilometres, and is home to a huge range of flora and fauna. We didn’t see a great deal of wildlife, though we did see lots of squirrels and some amazing red and orange parrot-like birds in the trees above us.

After the heavy rains, the trails were pretty soggy, so Lil’s ‘thing to worry about’ today was leeches. She smeared a thick layer of 80% DEET gel on her boots, sprayed her socks and leggings with DEET spray and checked every couple of minutes to make sure nothing was working its way into her boots to guzzle her blood. At one point she remarked to Jim that she recalled reading something about Borneo leeches, but she couldn’t remember exactly what. And it’s a very good thing that she couldn’t remember, or her ‘worry levels’ would have gone through the roof.

Borneo has some more ‘regular’ leeches – similar to the ones that we find in Australia. However it also has a giant red leech that can grow to 50cm, and is endemic to Kinabalu Park, which is exactly where we were walking. Had we encountered one of those, our trail completion time may have set a new record. The better news is they apparently sidestep sucking blood, and hunt down giant blue worms instead, which they eat like spaghetti. Below is a pic of what we thankfully didn’t see, and if you fancy reading an article from the UK Telegraph on this red monster, you can do so here.

Image copyright British Broadcasting Corporation

When we’d finished our walk, we hung about the visitor centre for a bit and had some lunch. We chatted to an interesting Hungarian guy called Laszlo, who has been a university lecturer for 20 years, and is tired of the routine and the low pay. He’s travelling for a bit around Asia to ‘distance himself’ before embarking on a life change and setting up a business back in Hungary (he’s no idea what exactly, but he’s determined to make something work). Part of our love of travelling is hearing other people’s stories and where they’re at in their life – we wish him well.

The mini van driver was doing a return trip to Kota Kinabalu and picked us up at 3.30pm, so we didn’t need to stand in the road waving at random buses after all. Someone in the mini van had Durian fruit hiding in their bags, so we hurriedly opened windows for some fresh air to thin out the overwhelming smell.

This evening we walked over to the fish market and picked out a large blue fish, which the stall owner threw on the BBQ, and delivered to our table with big plates of rice and vegetables. The fish was delicious (we found out later it was a Parrot Fish).

While we were eating, the heavens opened again and we found ourselves surrounded by waterfalls pouring off the fabric canopies above and around us. This time the rain didn’t ease after 15 minutes, in fact it showed no sign of stopping at all, so we had no choice but to wade our way through the rivers that were forming throughout the market, and across to our favourite beer den.

We had a couple of beers, exchanged ‘cheers’ with lots of locals who were getting blotto around us, then headed back to the guesthouse.

Tomorrow we pack up again and fly to India via Kuala Lumpur. Our plans are still up in the air, given we need to navigate around the monsoon floods, but we’ll work it out as we go.

More then.

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