Into the Heart of Borneo…by Accident [BIMT29]

July 24, 2009 at 4:10 pm

It was about four in the afternoon by the time we left the longhouse, and we had a three hour trip ahead of us. We were hoping to explore Kota Kinabalu by night a tad before we turned in, so we hopped in the car, switched on the radio (or at least Ian’s iPod loaded with modern R&B – I’d have loved to have heard some Sam Cooke or Otis Redding, but Ian’s tastes don’t stretch back much further than Mariah Carey, unfortunately) and headed back south. The GPS had taken us all the way to the northern tip of Borneo without any problems, what could go wrong with just heading in the opposite direction?

The long road back.

The long road back.

A characteristically gorgeous Sabah sunset.

A characteristically gorgeous Sabah sunset.

At first, nothing. As twilight set in, the forest canopies of Borneo took on even deeper shades of green, accented by wisps of mist and cloud that come with the elevation we were at. We kept driving past amazing valleys and vistas, and finally had to stop the car for a minute to get some more photos.

Mist through the valley.

Mist through the valley.

No lightly rolling hills here.

No lightly rolling hills here.

Sabah is exploding with trees and ferns seemingly everywhere.

Sabah is exploding with trees and ferns seemingly everywhere.

It was just after these photos were taken that things started to go off-kilter. Sarah was following the GPS’ instructions to the letter, but at some point we realised that we definitely weren’t on the same road we’d taken on the way up north. Attempts to backtrack proved futile. Even more troubling, the GPS seemed hellbent on taking us east, not south, away from Kota Kinabalu and into the mountainous heart of Borneo.

As the sky grew darker, the roads became thinner and the mist thicker. We were slowly circling and ascending the base of Mount Kinabalu, the peak we were planning on visiting the next day. It was soon pitch black with very low visibility, and the occasional pieces of washed out road we’d swerve around didn’t help matters. The maps we had didn’t include the road(s) we were on. Cows wandered across the road with impunity, occasionally even falling asleep smack in the middle of it:

Our bovine buddies taking a nap in the backwaters of Borneo.

Our bovine buddies taking a nap in the backwaters of Borneo.

We were a tad rattled, to be honest. This video clip nicely sums up the mood:

As you might be able to guess, we weren’t 5.8 kilometers away from Kota Kinabalu. More than the road or the cows, we were angry at the GPS which had led us astray. After leading us halfway up the mountain and (as far as we could make out) smack in the center of Borneo, the GPS decided that it had had its fill of taking us on a magical mystery tour, and directed us to a road which began to mercifully slope downward out of the heavy fog, and westward to Kota Kinabalu.

When we finally pulled to a stop at a hotel in downtown Kota Kinabalu, we’d been on the road for seven hours, four longer than the first trip had taken. We were exhausted, stressed, and hungry. Thankfully, there was another feast in our not-too-distant future…

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