Article and pictures by Lenora Hayman
Our Malaysian Airlines flight took us from Los Angeles, via Taiwan, to Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah, Malaysia, that mysterious place once known as North Borneo. We were taken directly to the beautiful Sutera Harbour Resort. It is Asia's first complete lifestyle resort situated in a fabulous, park-like setting, with marina, hundred seat movie theatre, and ten pin bowling centre, a twenty-seven- hole day and night-time golf course and swimming pools all set out beside the South China Sea.
Next morning, a thirty-minute car ride took us to the thousand year old Mengkabong Water Village near Tuaran . In the 19th century the Bajau Tribe were boat dwelling sea gypsies but now their houses are built on stilts and are connected by narrow wooden planks. Many little children appeared as we visitors walked through their village. The children giggled as I gingerly walked the skinny boards. Some children were like water nymphs, jumping in and out of the deep water, freely, with no fear. Some were shy, but others were eager to have their pictures taken, holding forth a variety of finger salutes.
Every May in Sabah, rice, the staple diet of Malaysians, is celebrated by the Kadazandusuns, the main indigenous community, during the Tadau Kaamatan or Harvest Festival. The Grand Launch of Sabah Fest, at the Magellan Wing of the Sutera Harbour Resort, allowed us to get a closer look at their costumes, handicrafts and traditional dances. In the large lobby before and after the colourful ceremonies, local artisans demonstrated their skills with weaving, bead work and other crafts, done so well by some of these people.
On Sunday evening their Royal Highnesses, His Majesty the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, the King and the Queen of Malaysia attended the Tadau Kaamatan Open House at the main square, the Kota Kinabalu Padang Merdeka. Everyone was invited to the open public banquet preceding a pulsating concert of singing by Malaysia's top entertainers and a mix of pop and cultural dancing. This exhilarating evening concluded with the appearance of the reigning Harvest Beauty Queen and magnificent fireworks.
Error: Photo courtesy of Lenora Hayman
Following our visit to Kota Kinabalu, we took a forty-minute flight to Sandekan, on the East coast, for a much anticipated Wildlife Expeditions Tour into the jungle. Our first stop was the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre. The world's largest orangutan sanctuary was created in 1964. Their focus is to return orphaned, injured or displaced orangutans back to the wild. Young orangutans, without their mother's guidance lack the initiative for finding food, building tree nests or even climbing properly. While we watched fifteen orangutans gathered at platform A for their 10:00 a.m. banana and milk brunch.
In the late afternoon, we were taken by boat, up a narrow river, winding through the thick, green jungle, searching for glimpses of wild life in the tall trees. Proboscis monkeys with their huge noses and two- chambered stomachs only live in Borneo, near rivers, swamps and mangroves. As the boat glided along the Menanggor River we saw several bands of the monkeys including a lucky male with eight females in his harem
On another sojourn by boat into the jungle, I spied the Stork Billed Kingfisher, the world's largest kingfisher with its red beak, orange breast and blue body and also eight species of Hornbills. We were also fortunate to see The Great Hornbill, a large black and white bird with long, large, yellow bills, on top of which is a bulging casque.
Borneo's Pygmy Elephants, the world's smallest, are a subspecies of the Asian Elephants. They have larger ears, longer tails and straighter tusks. Alas I didn't see one. But one did, however, leave some fresh dung as a calling card near my cabin!
Borneo is divided by Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. It is washed by the South China Sea on the west and the Sulu Sea and the Celebes Sea on the east. Sabah or Malaysian Borneo has fascinating water villages, including the 1000 year old water village, wonderful festivals and is full of nature's treasures, unique to the island, - the Orangutan, Proboscis monkey, the world's largest Kingfisher and the world's smallest elephant. It is delightful!
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