Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Leaving Abai

 Erdy has offered us an early walk this morning so we are up at 6, showered and ready to go by 6.30. All except Alex, that is – he has opted for a lie in and his alarm is set for 7.30. Simon and are just leaving the room when we hear the unmistakeable sound of heavy rain approaching through the trees, so we put on our waterproofs and paddle down to the restaurant. The rain is intensifying if anything, so we grab coffee and tea and settle down to wait for it to pass. In half an hour the clouds part, the river begins to steam and we set off along the boardwalk.

The birds we see at first – Brown- and Purple-Throated Sunbirds – look pretty bedraggled but still colourful against the lilies, ginger plants and bougainvillea around the restaurant. We spot some langur monkeys in the trees above us but they quickly move away.
As we move into the thicker forest the birds become less – there are fewer flowers here and the foliage is so dense it must make flying tricky. Apart from a black and white cricket and some butterflies, we spot little more until we head back to where the flowers are.
Simon goes back to make sure Alex is awake, and I stay with the walk which continues to the river tower the other side of the restaurant. A drongo flies past and we spend a while trying to catch a clearer sight of the bird that has been responding to Erdy’s calls. Carolyn calls Erdy Dr Dolittle because of his ability to communicate with the animals.

Returning to the room, I see Alex emerging so I send him and Simon to breakfast while I pack the last bits in the cases and leave them outside the rooms for collection. Because of the rain, breakfast is served in the dining room this morning. Simon settles our bar bill, tips Captain Jack who has been our boatman on our river trips and we board the boat back to Sim Sim village. It’s much calmer this time and we sit at the front, away from the noisy outboards.

Back at Sim Sim, Erdy introduces us to Brian who will take care of our transfer to Sandakan airport. It’s a short drive away past a shantytown which prompts some discussion about the pros and cons of immigration. Sabah – especially Sandakan – attracts lots of illegal immigrants from the Philippines which are just the other side of Turtle Island. When the number became too many to manage, the Malaysian government paid their passage home, but they basically treated that as a free holiday and simply found their way back after a couple of weeks. So the next step was to introduce corporal punishment for those that returned, and to destroy their houses when they left. The fact that the shanty town remains indicates that the policy has not been entirely successful. And as Brian pointed out, once the immigrants returned home there were skill shortages in some areas of the economy and immigrants from other areas, such as India, were invited to fill the gap.

Once we arrive at the airport, Brian assists with check-in then shows us up to the first floor where our lunch is included in our tour price. My ginger beef with rice is good, the boys are less impressed with their club sandwiches which are enormous but contain some dubious-looking bright pink meat. From our mezzanine table we have a good view of the blood donor session going on below us. We pass through security and wait in the departure area which has only 3 gates. It’s a modern-looking airport but seems over-specified for the volume of passengers; the flight before ours was two hours ago.

We arrive back at Kota Kinabalu Airport, where we had changed flights on our way to Sandakan and walk past a shop where I had admired a top in the window. This time, I go in and buy it. While Simon goes for our bags, Alex uses Marry Brown’s wifi to download another podcast. As always, our driver is waiting for us in arrivals. It’s about an hour to the Shangri-la Rasa Ria resort, through Kota Kinabalu which looks prosperous and busy.

The Rasa Ria Resort is approached through its golf course and we’re greeted by cold towels and cool drinks, completing registration from the comfort of a sofa in the lofty reception. A gong is sounded to celebrate our arrival (yes, seriously) and our bags are whisked away. We have adjoining rooms on the fourth floor of the garden wing. Alex is impressed with his queen size bed.

We spend the rest of the day by, and in, the pool and enjoy a sundowner at the beach-side bar. This will be the pattern for the next few days, as we’re now in the R&R phase of our journey. Reflecting on all we’ve seen, Kuala Lumpur seems much more than 10 days ago. Dinner tonight is in the resort’s Indian restaurant – it’s pretty good and we have a lovely chat with our waitress. We’re looking forward to air-conditioned luxury tonight, and Alex has asked not to be woken for breakfast.

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