Borneo Travelers Scale Mt. Kinabalu

Ms. Ditkovski writes:

Today was our last full day in KK. We left the hotel early—a little after 8am—and got on the road to Kinabalu National Park, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park was named a UNESCO World Heritage site because of the immense flora and fauna that call the area home (around 4,500 different species!). At 4,095 meters, Mt. Kinabalu is the tallest peak in Borneo and one regularly frequented by both adventurers and average climbers. We would not be summiting the peak today (next time!), just hanging out at around 1800 m, taking a hike and tour around the visitor’s center.

The two-hour drive up the mountain gave us time to catch up on sleep! About 30 minutes before arriving at the park entrance we stopped at a small market in Pekan Nabalu for souvenirs. We also took the opportunity to enjoy the breathtaking views and, of course, snap a few photos in front of the majestic mountain. We got to see the scraggly peak before it was enveloped by clouds.

Once on the mountain we got oriented and learned about how climbers make the trek to the summit. It typically takes two days and the park rangers are very strict about letting climbers complete the second leg to the top if the weather is not just right. (At lunch we met a group from the UK and Australia who woke at 2am from the base camp hoping to summit the mountain but due to wet weather they were not allowed up.) Our jaws dropped a little when we learned that record holders have made it to the summit in 2-3 hours.

Our guide for the day, Laurien, was amazing. He led us on a short walk through the forest and shared loads of information about the flora and fauna. We learned that many of the plants are used for medicine, food, and are weaving (some for all three!). Laurien also shared some great information on the 33 tribes that inhabit the area around the mountain. While the tribes have converted to Christianity, most still practice a form of their indigenous religions which involve a strong connection to the mountain. In order to keep the mountain calm, you must honor the gods and live a god life. In a very seismically active area, it seems like good practice to stay in the good graces of the mountain! Laurien also talked about how thousands of years ago the Shaman in the area discovered the medicinal properties of the plants. While the villagers now have modern medicine, some still rely on these ancient plant cures. After our walk through the forest we made our way to the Botanic Garden in the park and saw even more amazing flora and fauna. My personal favorite was seeing the pitcher plants, a carnivorous plant that provided some of the inspiration for the musical Little Shop of Horrors. We had an amazing lunch in the park and then had a short tour of the Mt. Kinabalu Natural History Gallery.

Laurien was incredibly knowledgeable about everything Mt. Kinabalu related. His insight on the flora and fauna, the wildlife, and the tribes who call the foothills home gave us an in-depth picture of life on the mountain. Even though he was only with us for a short time, in gratitude for his awesome guiding we gave him a trip shirt at the end of the day.

We made it back to KK at around 4:45 and were back out in an hour to climb the famous lookout in the city. It proved to be the perfect spot for a sunset photoshoot. We had another amazing dinner in the hotel. We have an early flight tomorrow so only six of us elected to explore the night market again. This time we went a little further and discovered endless stalls that went on for blocks. The market was bustling with sounds, sights, and smells new to us. We even happened to catch the evening call to prayer at a mosque next to the market.

We ended the day early as we will be up at 4 a.m. to make our 6:30 flight to Sandakan where the jungles of Southeast Sabah await!

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