Monday, 21 November 2011

From Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan

In which I nearly wash my hands in the soup
Starring Adnessa who saved us from the rain

Sandakan isn’t really the kind of place you go because you want to see Sandakan. It’s more a passing through, sort out the things you want to nearby sort of place.  We checked into the very swish Nak Hotel to ease the burden of a few days of tour booking admin while we waited for Jo to arrive.  The key feature that had drawn us to the Nak Hotel was its swish Balinese style cocktail bar and roof terrace with very nice sunset views (when its not raining).  We spent a happy evening drinking Carlsberg (it wasn’t our fault –that was pretty much all they sold) eventually rewarded for our efforts with a giant beer glass beer mug that we donated to the cleaning staff on departure due to the fact it weighed almost a kilo.

In between sorting out what we were doing next we spent a happy afternoon trawling the Sandakan Heritage trail.  This was slightly more energetic than Cath had been hoping for as it included an attraction called “The One Hundred Steps” but she was eventually lured up by the main attraction of an English Tea House at the top of the hill serving scones with clotted cream and tea with real milk.  We also popped into the restored home of Agnes Keith an American author who lived here in the 30s before her internment in a Japanese Prisoner of War Camp. 

Mudskippers beneath the houses
The other big highlight of Sandakan was Sim Sim Water Village just north of the town. There are quite a few of these types of settlements in Borneo. They’re often referred to as ‘squatter camps’ but aside from the rubbish tip at the entrance and the rats in the mud, the houses are all beautifully painted, bedecked in plants and pretty much, without exception, sporting a satellite dish.  Everyone yells out ‘Hello’ as you go past and the kids all come dashing over to ask ‘How are you?’  We were just at the end of long boardwalk when it started to rain (proper-styley) so I popped open my ‘I love Langkawi’ umbrella and we took shelter under a roof that was jutting out over the pavement.  We had hardly been there for 5 minutes before a woman came out of the neighbouring house, introduced herself as Adnessa and invited us to sit on her porch.  The cat took offence at our presence and left but was immediately replaced by a never ending stream of relatives (from both inside the house and down the street) who came to gawk at us and say ‘Hi’. 

The remains of our grilled fish

As soon as it had cleared up a bit Adnessa’s nephew Azmed walked us down to the local market for lunch.  The speciality here is grilled fish that you hope they haven’t just caught it from beneath the houses (there were several people fishing as we walked long the main drag).  You go over to the fish pile and take your pick and then while that’s being cooked, you select what you’d like from the vegetable cabinet.  We got the cutlery fear as we sat down – noticing that no one else appeared to have any and were all eating with their fingers – but one of the women brought over a mug of plastic forks and spoons along with two bowls of fragrant clear liquid.  “Oh,” I said to Cath, “do you think that’s for washing your hands?”  The girl sitting next me dissolved into giggles and when she’d finally got her breath back said in perfect, unaccented English, “No! That’s the soup!”  I like to think that story will be keeping the residents of Sim Sim Village entertained for a while yet.  It was delicious soup.

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