fate is a funny old thing

I can’t say I have ever given fate a real thought before. It’s something you hear people talk about a lot, whether in a positive or negative sense. Continuing on from my rather deep previous blog on relationships, you quite often hear of couples telling stories of how they got together, meeting in a bar that neither of them wanted to visit but being bought together through outside forces such as peer pressure. All a bit mystic for my liking really, but sub consciously I suppose I agree with the thought that things happen for a reason. In a bit of research for this update I thought I’d attach the meaning of ‘fate’ from the Oxford online encyclopaedia –

‘the development of events beyond a person’s control, regarded as determined by a supernatural power: his injury is a cruel twist of fate. ∎ the course of someone’s life, or the outcome of a particular situation for someone or something, seen as beyond their control: he suffered the same fate as his companion. ∎ the inescapable death of a person: the guards led her to her fate. 2. (the Fates) Greek & Roman Mythol. the three goddesses who preside over the birth and life of humans. • v. (be fated) be destined to happen, turn out, or act in a particular way’

So why am I getting all poetic about fate I hear you cry? Well the answer is down to the fact that I am already in Kota Kinabalu. In fact I spent last night here, arriving twenty four hours earlier than planned due to several so called ‘twists of fate’. Luckily for me none of them were of the cruel variety, though the day was certainly full of adventure and spontaneity that makes us independent travellers dribble with excitement.
As you know from my last update I was slightly restless from my days in and around Penang. There was little to do, the ability to find adventure and interest were somewhat low on the scale. Leaving Penang I was desperately hoping for a boost in flagging spirits over the coming days. To be fair that was never going to happen instantly as I spent the night on the terminal floor back in KL waiting for my 6am flight to Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB), the capital of the happening country known as Brunei. When you are away for six months its quite a good idea to save on a nights accommodation from time to time, but resting on a hard airport departure lounge floor is neigh on impossible. Still, after a few hours sleep I arrived in Brunei feeling positive about being on a brand new island, and in a new country.

Brunei was an obvious stop over on the way to Kota Kinabalu (KK) and a chance to tick a country off. To say the country is not geared for tourism is an understatement. The tourist information desk couldn’t help me and a fellow Brit, David, out when we asked where the bus would arrive to take us into town. She was a smiley, polite lady, but we’d have been better off asking information from anyone but the tourist information. ‘The bus will be here sometime this morning and might arrive here or somewhere else in the airport’ Thanks, a great help. The bus did turn up and on arrival in central BSB, I set off in search of a bed for a night. I’m starting to build up a great love for rocking up in a new city, trying to get my bearings while setting off, armed with a map before endeavouring to locate my chosen destination. This was the first time I’d ever turned up without sending at least an email to the place I’d decided on staying, mainly because the hostel didn’t have an email address! Pusat Belia was tracked down with ease, and true to the LP handbook write up on this particular hostel, I had a good half an hour wait for someone to turn up at reception and book me into a room. No problem though, what with all these long bus trips, overnight flights, trains and ferries, a mere half an hour wait is nothing to get worked up about.

Having no expectations of finding entertainment in BSB I wasn’t disappointed in what I found – which was, you guessed it – nothing. Well that’s not entirely true. There was a nice big, shiny mosque to take photos of and a rather expensive speedboat ride round the water village, but other than that, BSB was finished in terms of things to do and see. I decided that if I lived and worked in BSB, I’d move out. At least to the countryside which, as you will read about in a moment I briefly discovered by ‘fate’ the next morning. I’d also defiantly take up religion, big time. After all, there is no alcohol, no obvious signs of entertainment or decent shopping malls to keep you interested. I’m sure the guys and girls that go to mosque in BSB must pray for a chance to escape, or at least get a better draw in the next life. I’d take up religion and go for being top dog, the one that gets to call for prayer and all that. Oh yes, that would be amazing…..not.
I retired to bed early after a rock and roll night eating samosas at Pizza Hut. I awoke early thanks to my friendly Spanish roommate rustling bags prior to his 6am bus out of town. It was a real backpacker dorm cliché – he seemed to unpack his whole bag in the morning, before re-wrapping every item individually in a separate plastic bag. I’m sure he had a reason, but at that time of the morning I couldn’t quite work out what that reason maybe. Perhaps he was killing time. Something to do in BSB I suppose! I followed him out of the room around half six ready for my bus to Muara ferry terminal, a short ride out of town where I planned to travel to Labaun Island.

Now, again not being set up for tourists, I was slightly confused by BSB’s main bus terminal. There were three stands at the end of the terminal signposted ‘Muara’ Sounds simple enough? Well, no, apparently not. These buses were not for people going to Muara ferry terminal, just average commuters who were going to the town. How chuffing big can Muara be for Allah sake? (see what I’ve done there, Brunei being a Muslim country et all) Despite several attempts to get on these three buses I was told to wait for the ‘Express Bus’. After a good ninety minute wait it was safe to say that I was starting to get frustrated. Then, pulling out of the terminal I caught the word ‘Express’ on the side of a bus that was a standard fifty-two seater, different from the minibus style buses that I was not ‘allowed’ on. I jumped up, shouting at the driver, ‘Muara Ferry Terminal, yes?’ He replied in the positive, so I jumped aboard. Once on the bus, I checked with him again. Again, the response was a smile and a nod so I settled down for the ride that would take me to my ferry to Labuan.

Going out of BSB I noticed we passed the sign that suggested Muara was a right turn. I didn’t think much of it as perhaps this was the reason I wasn’t supposed to get on the other buses, perhaps the terminal was out of town after all. I checked again with the driver, who again confirmed all was OK. It turned out that it wasn’t after I checked with a local guy sat behind me. This was the Express bus to a place called Siera, some forty odd miles in the opposite direction to Muara. Great. I jumped off the bus, showing surprisingly high levels of restraint towards the rather happy bus driver. That might have been different if he demanded payment for the hour ride he’d taken me in completely the wrong direction. I found a random bus stop, not overly concerned that I was in the middle of nowhere in Brunei. After being lost in a jungle in Thailand, worried about spending the night in the pitch black with leeches sucking me dry of blood with less than half a litre of water, this was hardly an issue.

If getting on this bus was the first twist of fate then the second occurred straight after. Quite why the bus driver pulled over where he did was a mystery as nobody else got off the bus. It just so happened that there was one of those American style SUV cars parked up at the end of an adjoining road, that caught my eye. The road I was on was reasonably busy, so I thought there was a good chance that a bus may come along soon to take me back to BSB to try again. However, I was a little fed up of waiting for buses after the fruitless wait earlier on that morning so decided to take a jog across the road to speak to the SUV driver. It turned out that she was heading in the right direction and accepted my request to hitch a lift! I clambered in, thanking her for her kind offer. After a quick chat where I explained I needed to catch a ferry she then said that she was going to Muara anyway, so would take me all the way to the terminal! Naturally I accepted, delighted at the hand so called fate had dealt me. Her name was Nancy, a Malaysian woman who had done quite a bit of travelling herself, including climbing Mount Kinabalu four times. She had what I assumed was her cleaner or maid with her, who was a much younger Indonesian woman. I assumed this as Nancy spoke about her family to me, but didn’t really introduce her passenger to me.

After thanking her again for her kindness, I dived into the ferry terminal only to see that the next ferry to Labuan was in four hours time. Stumbling upon a couple of blokes selling packages to KK in a day, via Lawas, a place that I’d never heard of, I took the plunge and paid up the $32 (£16) that was required. After all, the ferry left in less than half an hour so at least I’d be on the way to somewhere! A quick check of my trusty LP showed me that Lawas was in Sarawak, a part of Malaysian Borneo that I would not otherwise have visited had I gone to KK via Labuan. It was another excellent twist of fate, as the ferry ride from BSB took me through the most amazing lush rainforest that images of Borneo is famed for. The ferry itself was tiny – a little thirty seater affair with only eight fellow passengers. It was more like a speedboat than a ferry. We raced round the natural twists and turns of the river that led to Lawas, surrounded by thick vegetation and towering hills covered in lush rainforest. To say it was my best entry into a new country would be an understatement.

Arriving in Lawas, I got my passport stamped up at a border control that was nothing more than a large hut. No bag searches here, no checking that I was who my passport said I was, all very laid back. From here it was a taxi and another wait for the bus to KK. On that bus ride I had another good think, amazed at the way the day had panned out. I’d never heard of Lawas before today, yet here I was travelling through Sarawak, delighted at stumbling upon this entrance to KK which gave me a chance to view rural Borneo that in hindsight would have been a disaster to miss. It was a beautiful bus ride, taking in the scenery in between napping and listening to some more music. More passport control followed at Sabah, the part of Malaysian Borneo that KK is located.

So that was my tale of fate. I set off early in the morning for a short bus and ferry ride to Labuan Island, hoping to settle down and find a hotel by midday. Instead, thanks to a smiley, if not useless bus driver, a friendly Malaysian called Nancy and an ever changing ferry schedule, I settled into my hostel in KK some twelve hours and three countries later. Again, I wasn’t booked into ‘Step In Lodge’ till the following day, but setting off map in hand, turning down countless taxi rides, I found my way here from the bus stop and checked in before enjoying an excellent evening out in KK. I treated myself to a huge steak meal and several beers before ended the evening sharing tales with my two English dorm buddies, Rachel and Emma.

Maybe fate does exist for the better after all?

In hindsight, I think this is a far better way to prepare for the impending Mount Kinabalu climb. Having two nights as opposed to one in KK, including this much needed rest this morning, should ensure that I’ll be at least mentally prepared to tackle the ascent to the top. There’s not a lot I can do about the physical shape now, I’m still breathless from climbing the four flights of stairs to my dorm room!

Finally, congratulations to my step brother Pete, and his wife Lucy on the arrival of their second born – good work!


3 Responses to “fate is a funny old thing”

  1. 1 Donna
    November 4, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    Truuuuuuullllllly amazing! GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOD Luck with the mountain..this blog made me laugh and I continue to be amazed!!!

  2. 2 Martin Chapple
    November 4, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    Brilliant! You are making the most of it for sure!!!!!

  3. 3 Sara
    November 5, 2010 at 2:59 am

    You don’t like keeping things simple!! Sounds great …..

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