Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Kinabalu National Park

Looking down from Kinabalu Park

When the driver gets frightened and says "oops", that is usually a bad sign. Unfortunately, when you're doing 90 km/h down the side of Mount Kinabalu, there's not much opportunity to modify your travel plans in favour of a more cautious chauffeur.

We got up early this morning, had a strange breakfast at Old Town White Coffee of inch-thick toast and milky coffee brewed with a dab of caramel, before walking to the taxi rank and hiring a car to drive us to Kinabalu National Park. The price had dropped from 350 ringgit last night to 300 today, or perhaps we just had a driver who cared less for finance.

What he did like was his CD of R&B Classics, like "I'm in Miami Bitch" and a bunch of other tunes with huge basslines and a melody that usually went weeky-weeky-wing-ding-ding as your eardrums bled. He was also quite good at changing CDs without slowing down, which was impressive as he had to rummage in the sun visor for other discs while avoiding crashing into other cars.

Everyone in Malaysia seems to drive with similar disdain for other road users, so it's something of a miracle that during this odyssey of blind-corner overtaking and zooming two abreast down a two lane road into oncoming traffic that we didn't die, but the fact that you're reading this does spoil the suspense a little. After two hours we fell out of the taxi at the entrance to the Kinabalu National Park, and then embarked on a walk along one of the trails.

Looking up into the bamboo

The trails are probably better with a guide: plodding along through the mud on our own wasn't quite so great, because all we could see was a bunch of trees and the clouds. If we'd had somebody with us to point out different shrubs, we would have appreciated it more. We did see some interesting, poisonous looking caterpillars and a few berries, but it wasn't until we got to the botanical garden a little later than we had any idea what we were looking at.


The botanical garden in the park is much better than the one we visited at the zoo: for a start, the plants have their names clearly displayed along with some explanation of why they're significant. Apparently 5,000 different species of plant can be found on Mount Kinabalu: one of the densest concentrations of different species in the world. There's even a strange protein, miraculum, that makes sour things taste sweet, that was only discovered in a Malaysian plant in 1990. I wonder if somebody will ever discover a substance that makes peanut butter taste like Marmite.

After a few hours of wandering, it began to rain, so we got back in the taxi and headed homewards. Now, with visibility reduced to almost nothing you might have thought our driver would be detered, but we headed down the mountain just as fast as we went up it, tailgating other cars and gunning it through the corners like we were in an indestructible super car, not a clapped out old Proton.

Still, we had the cd of R&B Classics to soundtrack our doom, and nothing detracts from the seriousness of imminent death like an inept mashup of Poker Face and Thriller. And then we overtook a Toyota pick-up on a blind crest, the taxi took flight and landed sideways, fishtailing before resuming the correct trajectory, while our driver looked a little ashamed and said "oops". Which was where we started.

Kinabalu from afar, in a speeding car

The remainder of the descent was a little slower and calmer. It did conclude with us driving past a house with a fibreglass horse, a tyrannosaurus rex and an effigy of a man playing golf all in the front garden, which is strangely appropriate. If it's appropriate to construct saurian-equine-golfing dioramas in the front gardens of Malaysian houses, that is.


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