Monkeys and Mountains in Northern Borneo

In this article our intrepid guest author Rhys, climbs the unexpectedly steep Mount Kinabalu for a New Year’s view from the top, meets the king of the swingers, gets eaten alive in the jungle and catches some squeaking catfish in Borneo.

When people think of Borneo they usually think sprawling rainforest and amazing wildlife, not the highest mountain in South East Asia. For some reason though Danielle, my partner, thought the latter and we booked to climb Mount Kinabalu for what should have been the romantic New Year’s Eve to end them all. We also booked a little bit of the former as well with a three day camp at Uncle Tans wildlife camp.

Borneo, the largest island in Asia (and the third largest in the world), is divided up amongst three counties; Brunei and Malaysia to the North, Indonesia to the South. The country was actually once part of the British empire and you can see the British influence in the three pin plug sockets which were a welcome sight for us and our tangle of iPad, Camera and other assorted chargers and plugs.

Ladies at the Sunday market in Kota Kinabalu

Ladies at the Sunday market in Kota Kinabalu

We flew in it Kota Kinabalu to start our trip, Kota being the capital of the Northern region of Sabah where we spent all of our time. Although it’s nothing to write home about, it’s still worth a visit for a night on your way through to somewhere else. Check out the cool Sunday Market which closes down one of the main streets for the morning and also go to the Signal Hill Observatory from which you can look out over the whole city and various islands. The night market is a great choice for food, buying a whole fresh fish from a local fisherman and taking it to a food stall to have it cooked with various other delicacies is an experience in itself as well as a delicious meal.

Although information is scarce on this (even on the interwebs), minibuses depart regularly from the central bus station to Kota Kinabalu National Park, the home of Mount Kinabalu, for around $5 each way. Get there early though as once they’re full they’re gone; we were there for 8am and departed with the last minibus by 9am. The luxury buses are slightly more expensive and go from the main terminal a few km out of the town, most hotels will arrange tickets and the tuktuk there.

Mount Kinabalu, not just a walk in the park

Mount Kinabalu stands at just over 4000 meters but for some reason (mainly a lack of any real research) we thought it would be a nice gently sloping climb. As soon as we arrived at the national park to check in to our accommodation we saw what we were up against; gently sloping it was not.

Our scary first view of the mountain....this isn't even the summit

Our scary first view of the mountain….this isn’t even the summit

There is a range of accommodation and tour operators with which to book, the secret however is that all accommodation in the national park is provided through Sutera Sanctuary lodges and you can contact them directly for the best rates. Prices range from RM100 to RM1000 per night at the bottom of the mountain, and RM350 to RM3600 per night at the top. We went for the basic packages as we were on a budget but we saw some of the nicer accommodation at the bottom and it certainly had the feel of a luxury resort about it.

Whilst the budget accommodation at the top of the mountain was extremely basic with bunk beds and no hot water (you only really stay for a few hours sleep though before the 2am start) the bottom was actually quite nice for the amount we paid. As part of the package, food is provided via a buffet dinner the evening before the climb, breakfast the morning before, a packed lunch for during the climb, a buffet dinner after day one climb, buffet snacks before day two climb, buffet breakfast after the climb and then another buffet lunch when you get down. Phew! Basically you get fed a lot and although the mountain top food is pretty average (you can see why when the only way to get food up there is on the back of mountain sherpas) the food at the bottom was fantastic with a range of curries and a decent breakfast including fresh cooked omelettes.

Some nice waterfalls early on in the trek

Some nice waterfalls early on in the trek

The start of the pain, the steps stay like this for the next 6 or so hours

The start of the pain, the steps stay like this for the next 6 or so hours

A very friendly Borneo mountain squirrel who made a “meep meep” sound like roadrunner

A very friendly Borneo mountain squirrel who made a “meep meep” sound like roadrunner

Day one starts by paying 80RM for a guide, 30RM climbing permit fee, 14RM insurance fee, 10RM certificate fee, 10RM trail fee to the gate and 10RM storage fee if you need to leave any bags at the bottom (it’s 80RM if you need a porter to bring anything up to 10kg up with you so I’d suggest storing it and bringing a light backpack with a change if warm clothes and any other essentials). It can feel like you’re paying for something every time you turn around, especially as you are shepherded to various windows throughout the process; to be fair most of these fees are pointed out at the time of booking but it’s easy to forget such things when you have to book months in advance to secure a permit.

Laban Rata guest house, the half way point for a well earned feed and rest

Laban Rata guest house, the half way point for a well earned feed and rest

It’s then time to spend the next five to eight hours walking up very steep steps, relentlessly, until you get to Laban Rata guest house for your lunch. It’s pretty knackering, there’s no two ways about it and it can be pretty miserable at times if it starts to rain as it did for the last two hours with us. I have to confess here that neither of us are mountain climbers in any way shape or form, we both keep fairly fit but we certainty weren’t accustomed to the type of exercise and I think it would have been a lot easier had we done any form of specialist training beforehand. There are some quite spectacular views early on but after that it’s a bit of a drudge to get to the mid way point for your food, sitting and eating said food looking out above the clouds is pretty special though. All though the advice for the mountain is that it’s easily accessible and for all ages we actually found it quite hard going and there were tears from Danielle on a few occasions.

View above the clouds from Laban Rata

View above the clouds from Laban Rata

Second day brings the summit

Day two starts at 2am and although that sounds horrific it’s actually pretty exciting being out there in the pitch black, with a head torch, heading for the summit and the first sunrise of the New Year. This second half of the climb is a lot steeper than the first in certain parts, lots of sections don’t have steps and you have to scramble up some quite scary bits of slippy rock in pitch black with just a frayed piece of rope to help you out. It certainly tested our nerve and resolve, this was the highlight of Danielle’s crying throughout the trip with there being more cries per hour than at any other time.

Danielle and our guide, Nash, on the pitch black mountain at 3am

Danielle and our guide, Nash, on the pitch black mountain at 3am

We eventually made it to the summit and a short period of elation gave way to the urgent need to get down as we felt unsafe in between a sheer twenty meter drop and a wall of people bustling to get past each other to have a photo next to the summit sign; it gets very busy in a very small space up there. It was even more treacherous on the way down as it had started to rain and there were certain sections where it seemed if you slipped you could be falling for a very long time. In the end we didn’t see an amazingly romantic sunrise as it was too cloudy but being above the clouds is still pretty unbelievable viewing and we were both overjoyed with our effort and achievement when we arrived back at the park headquarters.

The first sunrise of New Years, not as spectacular as hoped but still pretty cool

The first sunrise of New Years, not as spectacular as hoped but still pretty cool

The long, slippery descent back down the mountain

The long, slippery descent back down the mountain

Descending the mountain with the help of an old piece of rope that has been string up along most of the route to the summit

Descending the mountain with the help of an old piece of rope that has been string up along most of the route to the summit

At the bottom of the mountain you can catch one of the regular luxury buses back to Kota Kinablu or on to Sandakan. You can also stay an extra night at Sutera Sanctuary or do like most people do and stay at the hot springs resort near by. We chose to get straight on the bus though and on to Sandakan for a wild life camp at Uncle Tans. Uncle Tans wildlife camp started out in 1986 when the man himself began taking tourists on wildlife tours around Sepilok and Sandakan. Move on twenty years and Uncle Tan is no longer around but the legend lives on with a large Bed and Breakfast/Operations centre, a wildlife camp and boats along the Lokan river in Kinabatangan.

Viewing the elusive orangutan

We stayed at the operations base the night before our trek, this isn’t necessary but you do have to be there at 9:30am the next day so it’s worth at least staying on the same road as Sandakan is up to an hour away. The accommodation at the operations base is basic and our room had no hot water, Danielle would certainly recommend trying one of the number of other more upmarket choices close by. The morning starts off with a visit to the Sepilok orang-utan rehabilitation centre, this isn’t part of the camp and you have to pay the entrance fee of RM30 but the transfer from Uncle Tans is complimentary. The centre is a fantastic place, we were unfortunate to have two orangutans turn up for feeding who were camera shy and turned their backs on us for the entire hour but we heard from others at the camp they had seen up to twenty of them turn up and cause chaos jumping all over each other. It’s not a zoo and the orangutans come from the near by jungle for a free nosh up so it can be hit and miss but I guess that’s all part of the appeal.

King of the swingers

King of the swingers

Scary looking bug

Scary looking bug

Later in the morning we were off to camp, an hour by mini bus and then an hour on a boat headed down the river. For some reason the boats the camp use do not have roofs and after remarking to each other how amazing it was to be out on the river we quickly found ourselves in the middle of a biblical downpour. Although we both had decent waterproof jackets on I stupidly had my phone, passport and wallet in my non waterproof shorts pockets. Complete amateur. I’m happy to report both the wallet and passport are now doing fine but the phone didn’t make it. RIP phone. Be warned.

Heavens about to open stage right

Heavens about to open stage right

The camp is very basic but we forgave that as we spent the next two days seeing orangutans, proboscis monkeys, long tailed macaques and a host of other animals in their natural habitat. We went on morning, afternoon and evening safaris across the two days by boat along the river and some trekking through the jungle, all were fantastic. The guides are extremely knowledgeable and can spot the smallest of monkeys from miles away whilst driving a long tail boat down the river at full speed with huge smiles on their faces, they are all really lovely guys as well.

The catfish weren’t the only thing biting

There is a real family friendly atmosphere at the camp and there were lots of families with children when we were there. There is even a camp band to entertain throughout and after dinner consisting of a few of the guides and the cook. What lack in talent they make up for in volume though which did get slightly annoying later in to the night when we were trying to sleep for our 6am morning safari. Word to the wise, I am normally a magnet for mozzies, in fact I am utterly irresistible to them, like mosquito crunchy nut cornflakes; Uncle Tans mosquitos took it to the next level though. Yeah I don’t know what the next level is either but it involved bites too numerous to mention. Luckily we had some good soothing cream but stupidly we had the worst mozzie repellant ever as it was the only thing available near the camp and the camp incredibly doesn’t sell any….be prepared would be the motto of the day.

Our guide, driving the boat and spotting tiny monkeys from miles away

Our guide, driving the boat and spotting tiny monkeys from miles away

He did a good job of spotting an Orangutan in a tree back from the river so we ditched the boat and went for a bare foot trek through the jungle to find him

He did a good job of spotting an Orangutan in a tree back from the river so we ditched the boat and went for a bare foot trek through the jungle to find him

Orangutan looking a lot like big foot from big foot and the Henderson’s

Orangutan looking a lot like big foot from big foot and the Henderson’s

We also managed to squeeze in a bit of fishing which was a paid for extra but well worth it. Danielle cried when she caught cat fish after cat fish and they squeaked a terrible, sad sound when they were plucked from the water. Her sensitive side was no match for her competitive spirit though and she plucked a further eight out to my measly one, I didn’t hear the end of that for days. We BBQ’d our fish for dinner and luckily Danielle let me have a few of hers so I didn’t starve. The food in general was fantastic considering it was brought in by boat and prepared in the middle of the jungle. We had a number of different curries and vegetable dishes throughout our stay, all were delicious and we even received a free cooking lesson one evening from the camp cook.

Danielle proud of her first catch of eight…

Danielle proud of her first catch of eight…

…until it made a squeeking sound and she burst out crying and wanted to put it back

…until it made a squeeking sound and she burst out crying and wanted to put it back

Although there were times when we were extremely tired, uncomfortable, crying and wishing we weren’t there throughout the trip, we both look back now with extremely fond memories. Whilst it isn’t for the faint of heart, it’s certainly not a hard core adventure holiday either and you can certainly up the luxury levels of certain parts of the trip if you so desire. I don’t think we will be pursuing a career in mountain climbing after this but another New Years on a wildlife tour may just be a certainty.

RhysDanielleRhys is a 31 year old I.T. consultant from England who, after working in Sydney for four years, decided to pack it all in and set off with his girlfriend Danielle on the travelling adventure of their dreams. Destinations include Thai kickboxing camp, volunteering in Cambodia, Myanmar, Everest base camp, Burning Man festival and plenty of motorcycling adventures; they are currently blogging daily about their experiences on 365 Days Off Work.

For more outdoor adventures:

Bali, Indonesia: An Outdoor Adventure Tropical Paradise
Adventurous Canada with a Twist
Coastal beauty and adventure in New Zealand

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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Wismar, Germany – A Unesco World Heritage Site you’ve never heard of?

Wismar is one of those places that you’ve probably never heard of but that shouldn’t stop you planning a visit. It’s a small, idyllic Hanseatic port-town on the shores of the Baltic Sea in the north east of Germany, with a busy working harbour.

Harbour of Wismar Photo: nydiscovery7 on Flickr

The Harbour of Wismar, Germany

Being only 30 miles off the old inner-German board, Wismar has seen bombing and ensuing occupation by the British for 2 months and the Russians for 30+ years after the Second World War. Originally under Swedish rule for 250 years from the end of the 30-Years-War, Wismar became part of the German Democratic Republic once part of the Russian territory, and enjoyed a higher status for cultural, touristic and artistic activities.

Wismar street Photo by Paula Soler-Moya on Flickr

Old houses in Wismar, Germany

A UNESCO World Heritage Site

A few years after the Wall came down, Wismar was accepted into UNESCO’s prestigious league of World Heritage Sites, joining ranks with the Great Barrier Reef and others, for its many Gothic and renaissance-style buildings in the town centre. The scenic fisher town and its stunning beaches and forests has grown a favourite amongst students (Wismar has an excellent practice-focused technology, business & design university) and tourists from all over the world.

Gothic brick Houses in Wismar Photo by Paula Soler-Moya on Flickr

Gothic brick Houses in Wismar, Germany

While you’re in Wismar you might like to;

  • Wander around the old town to see the typical red brick gothic style houses that are typical of this Hanseatic town and visit the churches of Marienkirche with its tall church tower, St Nicholai and St Georgen.
  • Visit the huge market square and neo-classical Rathaus or town hall which houses an exhibition in the basement about the history of Wismar.
  • Take a boat trip around the working harbour where you may spot everything from massive cruise ships to small sailing boats and in summer you can take a trip to the island of Poel.
  • Take a tour of the Winsmar brewery, Brauhaus am Lohberg where you can take a tour as well as tasting some of the excellent local beers.
  • Take a day trip to the romantic Schwerin Castle set by the lake and surrounded by beautiful gardens, once the home of the dukes of the Mecklenburg.
  • Hire a bike and cycle some of the Baltic sea cycle route from Wismar, or try the 35km cycle path from Wismar to Schwerin.
Schwerin castle Photo by volker moebius on Flickr

Schwerin Castle in Germany

Although you might not have heard of Wismar with its beaches, ports, forests and islands, this German town is definitely worth a trip, don’t you think?

More things to see in Germany

A pilgrimage to see the Black Madonna at Altötting in Germany
Painted houses and wood carving at Oberammergau – in Bavaria, Germany
Our 36 hours in Berlin

Photo Credits: Harbour at Winsmar by nydiscovery7 , Street in Wismar by Paula Soler-Moya, Gothic brick houses by Paula Soler-Moya, Schwerin castle by Volker Moebius

Many thanks for this article to Cruise1st, specialising in Mediterranean Cruises, Caribbean Cruises and Worldwide Cruises, who aim to offer the best cruise deals around to suit any budget.

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read to original article here

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Be adventurous in Argentina – six of the best regions to explore

When it comes to appreciating the great outdoors, there are a multitude of destinations around the world which fit the bill, however, nowhere does it in quite as much style as Argentina. There’s a huge amount to see in this vast country, from waterfalls to wildlife, city streets to gaucho ranches, wine estates to stunning beaches. Here’s a low-down on the very best places for adventure in Argentina.

Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina Photo: Matito of Flickr

Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina

Patagonia

For some adventurous souls, Argentina’s southern state of Patagonia is the jumping off point for cruises to Antarctica. But there’s a lot more to this beautiful wilderness. Try heading down to the Los Glaciares National Park – filled with lakes, mountains and quaint local townships – for great treks and ice-walking. Crampon your way up the awe-inspiring Perito Moreno glacier and watch as huge blocks of ice falls away into the ocean as the glacier slowly advances into the water.

The Valdes Peninsula in Argentina Photo: Berlotti of Flickr

The Valdes Peninsula in Argentina

The Valdes Peninsula

It’s all about the wildlife in the Valdes Peninsula. Go offshore for some staggering whale-watching and feel the thrill as a humpback whale swims beneath your boat. A tour will also introduce you to some of the other residents of the area: orcas, dolphins, penguins, elephant seals and sea lions.

Street Cafes in Mendoza, Argentina Photo: betta design of Flickr

Street Cafes in Mendoza, Argentina

Mendoza

The kind of adventure on offer in Argentina is more of a gastronomic kind. Indulge in tours of the various wineries and dine at the indulgent in-house cafes and restaurants. Back in town, you can wander through the colonial plazas and leafy streets for a relaxing few days of fun.

Iguazu Falls, Argentina Photo: Malingering of Flickr

Iguazu Falls, Argentina

The Iguazu Falls

Iguazu Falls is a sight to behold. From the Argentinian side of the falls you can thread your way above, below and through the waters and surrounding jungle on brilliantly designed wooden walkways. Because of this, it is sometimes said that ‘from the Brazilian side you see the falls, and from the Argentinian side you live them’. For a real taste of adventure, take a motorboat up to the very edge of the falling water – be deafened and drenched by the longest stretch of cascading water in the world!

Riding in the hills near Cordoba, Argentina Photo: longhorndave of Flickr

Riding in the hills near Cordoba, Argentina

Cordoba

If you’re a huntin’, shootin’, fishin’ kinda gal or guy, you might want to try your hand at dove shooting. Cordoba – Argentina’s second largest city – is one of the best places in the world for this sport. Stay on a ranch for the ultimate experiences and trek, cycle or horse-ride up into the surrounding hills for magnificent views and a lungful of fresh air.

San Carlos de Bariloche Photo: Miradas.com.br of Flickr

San Carlos de Bariloche

The Lake District

From the city of Bariloche travelers can explore the snow-capped Andes and lakes of this stunning part of the country. There’s plenty of hiking, fishing, golf and horse riding on offer in the area, as well as some glorious spas and luxury hotels. Particularly adventurous types might want to attempt the lake crossing from Bariloche across into Chile – but only if you don’t mind leaving Argentina behind!

This article was brought to you by the luxury travel experts at Exsus, specialists in arranging luxury, bespoke holidays in South and Central America as well as other adventurous destinations around the world.

Photo credits: Perito Moreno by Matito, Peninsula Valdes by Berlotti, Peatonal by betta design, Iguazu Falls by Malingering, Dos Lunas Estancia by longhorndave, and San Carlos de Bariloche by Miradas.com.br.

More tales from South America

South America Backpacking with Indie Travel Podcast
Relax and enjoy the cool lifestyle of Bahia in Brazil
Historic cities, natural beauty and a warm welcome in Colombia

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read more travel articles at Travel Blog Home

You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey

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