Some trips start out ordinarily. You get to the airport. Check-in. Wait for your flight to be called. Board. Depart. Arrive. I’ve traveled so many times that this has become routine. But not this one. If the pre-departure events were foretelling of the kind of adventure and excitement we were in for, we were in for a roller-coaster ride.
The Case of the Lost Passport. On my way to the Philtranco shuttle depot behind Megamall, my phone rang around 11. I had a feeling it was Dan calling and that it wasn’t gonna be good. In a voice that seemed to rise from deep within the bowels of his stomach, he said he had a big problem and I was not to get angry. “He’s going to cancel… something must have happened, ” were the thoughts that came to me. Nervously I listened. He had forgotten to bring his passport. He had just arrived back at Las Pinas to retrieve his passport and was waiting for a cab. No way would he be able to get his bum to Megamall in time for the bus. Acfivate Rescue Plan: I would wait for him with the van and the driver at Megamall. If he makes it in time for the bus, well and good. If not, we drive all the way to Clark.
At 12 noon, the Philtranco bus arrived and left 10 minutes later. Dan had not made it on time. We instead picked him up at Robinson’s Pioneer where I got a pair of trekking pants for him at Conquer as he only had brought a pair with him. Oh, and he also left his camera batteries at home. But all’s well that ends well. We arrived in Clark with more than enough time to check-in. There was a long line in the cramped and warm airport. The only hassle was I forgot to “buy” check-in lugggage so I had to line-up and pay the Php 450 fee and the Php 300 fee for my KK-MNL check-in luggage (much cheaper if you pay for it in advanced).
The flight took less than 2 hours and I was pleasantly surprised with the really clean and seemingly new aircraft we were on. The only other Air Asia flight I had taken was about 2 years ago from Penang to Bangkok and the plane was really old which worried me sick. But this one looked spankingly new. The plane wasn’t full so Dan and I managed to snag a whole row for each of us. Except for a few bumps, the ride was smooth and I even managed
to sneak-in a few winks. Gotta give my congratulations to the captain for such an effortless take-off and la
Kota Kinabalu. We arrived 20 minutes ahead of schedule. Terminal 2 which serves Air Asia at Tanjung Aru which is at the beach area just outside the city center.
None we asked knew where Borneo Beach House was so we simply asked to be pointed to the direction of the beach and walked towards it. Just past the arch on the main road and about 10 minutes walk from the terminal we finally saw it. The only available double room had no a/c so we chose to stay at a 6-bed dorm instead which we shared with just one other guy from Europe. The bamboo double-deckers were large and comfortable but it was kinda difficult going up on the top side. The room was cramped, had no private lockers, and there was only one bathroom, albeit a big one, on our floor. It could use a little cleaning, though. The entire place is charming though with a spacious common area (not that there were a lot of people) and Mark, who claims to be half-Filipino (his surname is Legaspi) is chatty and helpful. The Beach House was just a few steps from the beach, though it did look like something you’d rather just walk on and not swim in.
We headed to the food stalls along the esplanade. We picked a spot which was attended to by a girl from Zamboanga. Dan had mee goreng, I had nasi goreng and we both shared some beefy satay which was really really good. We took a walk along esplanade to burn off some of the calories. The sweet smell of durian led us to a stall that was selling the fruit. We were tempted to buy some but were too full. Before heading back to the guesthouse we walked to the small commercial area where I bought my sim card but the shop was closed already. The Tanjung Aru area was very quiet and didn’t seem to have any night life unless you hang around at the esplanade or at the beach front. In short, there really wasn’t much to do.
The Case of the Outdated Flight Booking. We woke-up at around 5am for our 7 am flight to Sandakan. I was still very very sleepy as I made it to bed at almost 2 am. I checked-in first, got my boarding pass, and waited for Dan. “Excuse me, sir. But did you check your flight itinerary?” the girl at the counter asked Dan. “Your booking is June 25.” He had booked a flight for June and not July! It totally broke me up and I roared with laughter. Even the girl and the one beside her couldn’t help suppress their smiles. Fortunately the flight wasn’t full so he paid RM189 to get a seat. Otherwise, I would have flown and he would have taken the 6-hour bus ride to Sandakan or rushed-off to the main terminal for a Malaysian Airlines flight.
Sandakan and Orangutans on Rehab. It was a pleasant flight to Sandakan as the sky was clear and you could see the islands and the shimmering sea below. We got a coupon taxi to bring us to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center which was less than 2 hours away. There was no time to drop by the town to see some of the sights such as the Agnes Keith House as we had to be at the center before 10am for the feeding time.
It was only 8:30 when we arrived at the center. The tour groups hadn’t arrived yet so it was relatively quiet. We deposited our packs at one of the large lockers available for use then headed to the small cafe for some breakfast.
As people started arriving, we headed to the front counter and paid the RM30 fee and entered the forest. We were advised to put all our stuff, including the water bottles we carried in our hands, inside a bag as the orangutans as well as the macaques are known to just take things off from visitors. No sense arguing with them. They always win. It was quite humid inside the forest reserve. We followed the wooden pathway until we came to the viewing platform. A small crowd had already staked their spot in front. More and more people came. Then the show began. Two staff brought out a bunch of bananas and a tub of milk, the apes’ daily diet. Soon they came walking on the ropes strung between the trees. There were only about four of them including one that wasn’t an adult yet. One of them managed to get hold of a sack and started playing with it. Maybe if there were more apes, it would have been more fun to watch. Honestly, I didn’t really think much about it. Maybe because I felt I was watching a show. People have commented on blogs that the whole thing was very touristy. Indeed it it but I think that’s how the center makes its bread and butter which it needs in order to continue doing its work. One of only two such centers in the world, I think regardless of how you feel about the whole thing, the work of caring for orphaned and injured orangutans until they can be released back into the wild can’t be overlooked. They even have an adopt-an-orangutan project.
After the feeding, we took to the Bird Trail (the only one of the many trails that was opened that day). It was a pleasant walk and the trail was well-marked. It was very humid though and we did see a lot of interesting plants.
About an hour later, we turned back as we weren’t sure if the trail looped back to the center. We had lunch at the cafeteria and waited for the shuttle that was to pick us up for the ride to the Kinabatangan.