For my final episode in this blog blast of Mt. Kinabalu, I give you the descent...
As soon as the sun could be seen above the horizon, wisps of cloud swept in (see photo in previous post) and gradually began to hide the incredible view. In a way, it was a gentle reminder that we needed to shake a leg and get back down the mountain.
The hike back to Gunting Langadan was surprisingly fun, especially with the support of the ropes.
We were served breakfast #2 and psyched ourselves up for the remaining descent.
Are you ready for this?
I think the alarm went off at 2AM. We packed up our belongings, ate a light, hot breakfast and hit the trail with our guide. We all had a little less pep at such an early hour, but I was soon thankful for my fully functional body, as we passed several people vomiting (most likely altitude sickness), and one poor girl having an embarrassing bathroom emergency just 2 feet from the trail. It was dark, so she still had some privacy, but Ricky was spooked by the noise and flashed his headlamp over to see...oops!
The view at the beginning of the hike was just a trail of tiny headlamps. I was getting trigger happy already...
The hike to the summit started off mainly with wooden stairs, and then led to thick ropes, bolted to the rock at various intervals. This is my way of telling you it was a steep climb. Impressed yet?
Up above the tree line, clinging to the wet white rope, the daylight started to emerge, and we got our first glimpse at the view. From then on, everything became more spectacular by the moment. The color in the sky shifted continuously, and the light began to fall on the various rock peaks, highlighting their interesting patterns of sedimentation lines. I was truly speechless. I wanted to capture every moment and had a hard time deciding between the camera and my own eyes.
Every direction offered something different and beautiful.
So here is the deal. You may only attempt the climb by signing up for a full package, including all meals on the trail plus the night before and after, an overnight stay on the mountain, which includes bunkbeds with clean sheets and a blanket, and last but not least, each party has its own guide. The park (thankfully) limits the number of hikers per day, and this place is popular enough that you need to plan in advance to secure your trip. The summit is 8.72km (5.4 mi), with a whopping elevation gain of 2229 meters (7313 ft). Let me say that again so you know how impressive we are...7313 ft elevation gain! With limited weight on your back, though, it’s a simply challenging hike but very manageable for anyone in reasonable shape.
The hike could technically be done in one day. Actually, people race it in the Mt. Kinabalu Climbathon, in less than 3 hrs! One main reason is that the summit is overcast starting as soon as sun rises. So the aim is to reach the peak before sunrise on the second day.
Day 1 included meeting our guide, picking up a bagged lunch, a short bus ride to Timpohon Gate (1866m), and beginning the trek.
We fared pretty well on day 1, stopping regularly for water, rest, and occasionally to enjoy the special foliage. Here is a pitcher plant.
I don’t remember exactly when we got there, but we had a little time to shower and set up the room before dinner. This was a big deal, since it enabled us to get to bed early in preparation for day 2! We were pooped.
Nursery decor theme: Lambs
Interior decorators: Ray and Blake (enthusiastic, loving neighbors)
We flew Air Asia, an inexpensive, Malaysian-run airline, from the mainland to Malaysian Borneo.
This 10 oz bottle of orange liquid has been sitting on my desk for a week. They gave it to me at the last visit so that I can begin my glucose tolerance test before I get to the office and save some time. I appreciate this, but every time I glance at it, the idea of chugging it down seems even less appealing.
It was a definite disappointment for me in medical school to see how little the practice of medicine focuses on prevention, i.e. good nutrition and exercise. This bottle just seems to send the wrong message. The test itself is worthwhile, and I'm glad they do it, but why do they have to pick a drink loaded with artificial flavors and yellow #6? I'll just take the sugar with a hint of lime thanks.
Thank you to the generosity of our family for putting this together. I never thought I'd have a room this cute in my house.
Look who's sitting at the table and ready to dive in. MEEEE!
Yum yum yum. To my utter delight, Palm likes food exactly the way I do, with lots of veggies. She has an impressive collection of healthy cookbooks, many with an Asian theme. We collected our ultra fresh goods from the morning market and created this dinner with me acting as sous-chef. Impressed are ya?
Dishes: Steamed prawns, Stir-fried bean sprouts and julienne carrots with ginger and fish balls (fish beaten to a paste and made into balls), Chinese broccoli, bok choy wiht julienne carrots, steamed fish, and a side of Thai sauce (I can't remember the exact ingredients now, but it was GOOD.). For dessert there was dragon fruit (pink), mango, and pineapple.
Ricky and I were really just tagging along on this lunch date where Palm and Scott were saying goodbye to their friend, Jay. I admit that my expectations were low for this meal, with a stranger, in a mall restaurant. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was one of the most memorable moments of the trip.
Jay was a refugee from Pakistan. He and his brother fled Pakistan after his father’s murder and mother’s subsequent death (stress-related heart attack). Jay was about 18, and I could hardly imagine being that age with both parents gone. The reason for our lunch celebration was that my/our home country, the USA, had accepted Jay as a refugee, and he was on his way to a new home.
So the story of the murder is simply that Jay’s dad was a Christian. In case you’re worried, the purpose of this post is not to bash Islam, but this meeting did flood me with appreciation for both Jesus and my country. While many people have and still do perform horrible acts said to be in the name of Christ, I always fail to find any biblical foundation for their conclusions. While US citizens have and still do impede the true practice of freedom of religion, there is no constitutional backing for such behavior.
So from Pakistan, in the wake of the deaths, Jay had escaped to Malaysia, but he had not fared much better there. While Malaysia technically offers religious freedom, it is heavily Muslim-dominant, and several months prior to our meeting, Jay had been thrown over a second floor balcony by some Pakistani Muslims, again for his Christianity.
At this point I was floored. Here was this soft-spoken man, 10 years younger than me, with experiences such as these. Yet here he was, filled with joy, appreciation, and headed to America.
Jay had just finished his week-long introductory course on America. I wanted to know what he had been taught, what he expected to like or dislike in America. After all, America has both pros AND cons. He responded immediately with, "Everyone is free!" He then said he felt like he was heading for his own promised land.
(The following is a prelude to my next story about lunch with “Jay.”)
Malaysia is about 55% native Malays, 25% Chinese, 7% Indian, 11% other local indigenous people, and 1% other. Malaysia is considered “multicultural,” which it definitely is, but it was a very different feeling being in the <1% category, as compared to multicultural America, where I am among the majority.
Islam is the official religion of Malaysia, a religion thought to have been brought over by Indian traders. Muslims make up 60% of the population. There are 20% Buddhist, 9% Christian, and 3% traditional Chinese religions (Confucianism, Taoism). Religion is heavily tied to one’s country of origin. The Malaysian constitution guarantees religious freedom, however all ethnic Malays are constitutionally defined as Muslim. This was an interesting concept for me. The Malay are technically allowed to leave the religion, but in doing so, they lose certain privileges and must go through a formal process. Muslim women often work, but are required to wear headscarfs at all times. As much as I would hate wearing so much clothing while living essentially on the equator, I loved this niche of fashion. If it were me, I’d have to go for black, since I’d be sweating through my headscarf on a daily basis.
Privileges of being Malay: The native people are more broadly considered “Bumiputera.” When Malaysia became independent from Britain in 1957, most Bumiputera were indentured laborers, whereas Chinese were significantly involved in the commercial sector, and the new government felt it was appropriate to give the natives a leg up in their homeland. The new economic policies include preferential entry to public tertiary education, projects earmarked for Malay contractors, minimum percentages of bumiputra in business ownership, employment, and housing development ownership. It is an interesting concept, given that the Malay are of the overwhelming majority. The efficacy and fairness of policy is a subject of debate and flux.
In between meals 1 and 2, we spent quite a while in the Pasar Seni = Central Market, aka Chinatown market. It is packed with stalls, akin to “El Mercado” in San Antonio but imagine changing out the Tex-Mex merchandise for Chinese-Malay-Indian fare. For those of you unfamiliar with El Mercado, it's an indoor mall made up of tiny stores, often selling similar items, and admixed with portable booths as seen in American malls or on Boston Common.
With Palm’s help, I practiced bargaining. We rounded up a few gifts for the family (shhh!). Ricky & Palm were incredibly patient. We ultimately didn’t experience the “Doctor fish,” but you should know about these in case you visit. You pay a small fee to put your feet in a tub with these fish, and they nibble off your dead skin.
Palm and I ate rojak (top pic) – salad doused in a peanut-sauce dressing that may contain shrimp paste. It was a mixture of familiar vegetables, like cucumbers with a few fruits, one of them similar to a hard pear. The sauce tasted mostly like molasses to me.
Ricky and Jay ate a dish I can’t remember the name of, but it’s supposedly a Malaysian classic combination of rice, chicken, hard boiled egg, peanuts, and dried prawns.