After departing Brunei, the rally anchored for a couple of days at a small island called Pulau Tiga off the west coast of Sabah. We were all invited ashore one afternoon to the newly opened luxurious Eco-resort, The Borneo Eagle.
We were picked up in golf buggies from the long jetty and driven through the jungle and into landscaped gardens surrounding the resort. It felt like a scene from Jurassic park. There were no dinosaurs though- just opulent villas at $1,000 a night, lots of staff at our service and a stunning infinity pool with alfresco dining where we were entertained with food and drink.
We sailed onward to the bustling, crowded port of Labuan island, mainly known as an offshore financial center.
Oil rigs dotted the horizon with an assortment of rescue vessels anchored nearby on standby alert. As we neared the port, we meandered through a vast fleet of container ships, fishing vessels and oil rig supply boats.
We spent several nights anchored off Labuan marina which was in a sad state of repair, and awash with a conglomeration of smelly rubbish and floating debris.
Labuan is also a duty free island (with all the oil rigs nearby, they needed to provide some form of legal alcohol to all the workers- lol!). After almost 18 months in predominantly Moslem Indonesia and Malaysia where wine is outrageously expensive (when you can actually find it), and liquor is an extortionate price, we hit the duty free shops with a vengeance and everyone enjoyed making full use of the bar in the marina clubhouse!
We were given a tour of all the local points of interest around Labuan and attended an extravagant gala dinner at a seafood restaurant.
There were some great hardware shops and malls where we also found long sought after items. However, the port anchorage was smelly, and it was uncomfortable with so many water taxis, ferries and ships causing a wash as they motored back and forth day and night, so we were glad to move on to Kota Kinabalu, the capital of the state of Sabah on the north coast of Borneo.
Called KK by the locals, the fast growing city has many colorful, bustling water front markets, for the locals, the tourists and a large immigrant Filipino community.
It is also a gateway to Kinabalu National Park, the home of 4,095m-high Mount Kinabalu, a major tourist destination located about 90 kms from the city.
Over 20 rally yachts berthed in Sutera Harbour, a modern complex that incorporates two five star hotels, a golf course, marina & 5 swimming pools in its 384 acres. The marina was the most luxurious we had ever enjoyed staying in, with free access to the golf club, pools, gym, bowling alley, cinema, pool room & a number of restaurants and bars.
We all took full advantage of the pools in particular to escape the fearsome temperatures, and so appreciated the luxurious shower facilities afterwards.
The busy town center was only a short taxi ride away. Here in Malaysia, they have a system called Grab, similar to Uber in that you download an app on your mobile and then make a booking when you are ready to go, listing your point of pickup & destination. The price pops up on your screen and once you press ‘book’, you are told the name, make of car & number plate of the driver and how far away they are (generally less than 3 or 4 minutes). The costs are so cheap for such an efficient service that it makes transport very reasonable, as you pay for the distance and none of the delays sitting in a traffic jam. We have had some great chats with enterprising Grab drivers, who often utilize their cars to supplement their income or to support their university studies.
As with all the rally locations, there were impromptu restaurant outings plus organized events including a ‘traditional Sabah Ethnic Food Experience’.
It was a great evening, being entertained by traditional Sabah dancers and a banquet of interesting & unique dishes we hadn’t experienced before- including fat juicy sago grubs that looked abhorrent but were remarkably tasty according to Frank and those who were game to eat them, raw or cooked. (Frank tasted without warning me or I would have marked the event with a photo!)This was also the stop off point for ‘Stars End 2’ and our good friends from our home town in Scarborough, Brisbane, Anita & Pierre on their yacht ‘Xamala’. We were both parting company from the Sail Malaysia East Rally. Most of the remaining participants were sailing on to new adventures through Indonesia into the Pacific or on to Australia and New Zealand. Once they rounded the top of Borneo armed ESSCOM security vessels (The Eastern Sabah Security Command) would accompanying the fleet as they passed through potentially dangerous waters close to the Philippines as far as Tawau, where pirates and kidnapping were a genuine threat.
‘Xamala’, like ‘Stars End 2’, have plans to sail to Singapore and up the West Malaysian coast towards Thailand, so we we farewelled our rally friends by gathering for drinks and dancing at the Breeze Beach Club in the Suteri Harbour Marina. It was sad to say goodbye yet again to our fellow travelers but each vessel has their own schedule and destination and good friendships will always last no matter how far apart.
We were in no hurry to head back down the coast of Borneo as we were now in the south west monsoon season which changes the wind direction predominantly from the north east to the south west. We would be fighting winds and the prevailing currents flowing from the south west until the north east monsoon arrived in late September at the earliest.
After a week enjoying marina life, ’Stars End 2’ and ‘Xamala’ decided to visit the nearby Pulau Gaya (Gaya Island). The largest of five islands within sight of KK, it is certainly an island of contrasts. We anchored on the northern side of the island where there are two 5 star resorts, set in pretty sandy bays surrounded by white beaches.
On the southern side, just across the bay from the busy city center of KK, lies a vast settlement of 20,000 illegal Filipino immigrants, living in stilt houses perched over the water, linked by rough walkways. With their illegal status, the Malaysian Government does not officially recognize the settlement or provide any social services, schools, sanitation, medical care or rubbish removal.
In point of fact, I have to say that none of us had EVER seen such a total disregard for rubbish that was simply horrific.
On the positive side, we came across a brand new school room paid for and run by a Taiwanese non profit organization, Tzu Chi. They could only take 40 children for the moment, but it was a start for these inhabitants who are mostly illiterate. Even adults were coming to the school asking to be taught to read and write. Shocked as we were by the pitiful conditions, we were told by the volunteers of Tzu Chi, that the standard of living here is higher than where they came from in the Philippines.
With time on our hands, Frank & I decided to check out our options for hauling ‘Stars End 2’ out of the water to do some much needed work.
The ‘interesting adventure’ of slipping Stars End 2 will be the next blog.