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kota kinabalu

Evenings in Sabah’s Capital

by becca on April 10, 2010

The night market in Kota Kinabalu was the highlight for me. A leisurely walk along the bay past the central market and through the handicraft market leads to tantalizing smells and variety of eating options. I felt like I was swimming through a sea of bright colors and rich aromas as we made our way past the Filipino seafood barbeque stalls, then through rows of fresh pans full of various curries and veggies, to the hot woks stirring up rice and noodle dishes, just before reaching the area full of sweets, fruits and veggies. Needless to say, where we ate dinner each night was not in question — the only question was what?

Kota Kinabalu, or KK, is the capital and largest city in Sabah’s Malaysian Borneo. It’s a hub of tourist information, a base for climbing the nearby mountain (which we were not prepared to do), and to our pleasant surprise, quite a charming city. One evening we tried to reach Signal Hill — a tourist attraction sitting on a cliff overlooking the city and a great place to watch the sunset — but we made a wrong turn some where and never found it. Instead we found a local neighborhood where children sat on the curb listening to Greenday on a small stereo and played badminton in the street. Workers from a nearby housing development climbed through a tall fence surrounding the new neighborhood, crossed the street, and carefully navigated a steep descent down to what appeared to be a makeshift community for the workers — two long rows of houses with aluminum roofs far enough from the street to remain completely out of view. Some how I failed to get a single decent picture from this experience, a bit timid to pull out my fancy camera around a group of people living so humbly.

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Mamutik Island

by nate on April 7, 2010

We arrived in Kota Kinabalu from the jungle, and had just two things on our mind; laundry, and beach. Before our arrival a nice gentlemen from Holland had mentioned a few islands were very near KK, the largest city in Borneo. In fact, he said a little Island named Mamutik was just a twenty minute boat ride away, and you could camp on the island. The travel gods were smiling upon us.

The tiny island was basically the complete opposite of any island I had recently been on. There were rules. A string of floats marked the “swimming area” with another set of floats marking the “snorkeling area” by the beach. Then there was the entire other side of the island, which on a tiny map at the entrance was labeled “scuba diving.” Of course, my instant assumption was that that was where the good snorkeling would be, and that maybe I could swim to the other side of the island, leaving the orange-lifevested package tour clan behind. Watching some of those people try to swim was seriously perplexing. I swam over, and was just about to round the side when I notice a DM standing on shore waving his hands frantically. Evidently I’m not suppose to be doing this, and somebody is actually stopping me. I’m no longer in the Philippines, but rather a “desert island” theme park in Malaysia. I couldn’t believe what was happening.

Becca and I would need a game plan. We talked to the diveshop and asked about the other side. We asked about trails to the other side. We even asked about accompanying a dive boat to the other side. “No. No. 50 ringit each (US14).” Definitely not the answers we were looking for. So we set out to find our trail.

There’s not much story between marching out from our tent, and the water’s edge on the other side. It turns out there’s a combination of trails that lead down a few stacked granite boulders ending with crystal clear water, not the murky jellyfish water on the “swimming/snorkeling” side. The water had all the good stuff, and the best part was we didn’t have to share it with anyone.

Becca and I have become fascinated with the world of nudibranchs, the colorful seaslug. It’s like an Easter egg hunt in the ocean, as the size, color, and location of these beautiful creatures varies greatly. The one consistency is they’re slow moving, thus perfect photo specimens. I’ve created a nudibranch flickr set highlighting the best I’ve found.

Other highlights of the trip were building fires every night when the daytrippers had left, and sharing the tiny island with the tiny crabs scurrying in the moonlight. We found massive monitor lizards, but one in particular was basically a small crocodile. I was snorkeling when he came walking along the beach, then jumped in for a swim right towards me, before circling around and lazily walking back to the woods. Amazing creatures.