4 days rolling in a Proton Saga
23.05.2013 - 27.05.2013
After the short but strenuous trek up Mount Kinabalu me and Helen figured it'd be a good idea to kick back for a few days and roll around in Malaysia's most famous car; the Proton Saga. So we picked up the 1.3l muscle car, filled her up from an empty tank for a tenner (petrol is dirt cheap out here), and headed north with the aim of reaching the most northern point of Borneo before nightfall. Unfortunately, around lunch time some serious rains had decided to turn up, bringing traffic to an almost standstill for miles around as roads flooded. The majority of the drive was through bouts of torrential rain, but this didn't phase the Proton Saga.
Eventually we arrived at the restaurant we were aiming at shortly after dusk and ate while watching streaks of lightning striking out to sea. The restaurant, as well as the jungle lodge we'd stay at that night, is run by a middle-aged British ex-pat named Howard - who is also very good at selling you another beer. After a few hours spent chatting round a fire on the beach we headed to the longhouse where we'd be staying for the next couple of days (a longhouse is a large bamboo-based construct that is traditionally used in Borneo to house multiple families; with minimal privacy). We spent a couple of days here chilling out and swimming in the crystal-clear sea (seriously, this spot was incredible), before heading back south to a town called Kota Belud.
We rolled into town in time to watch some local football while gorging ourselves at the night market next to the pitch. Chicken satay, fried rice, chicken stuffed flat-bread and tuna steak vanquished our hunger, while banana cake, peanut butter pancakes and fried banana balls were added for pure gluttony. And all for about a fiver.
The next morning we fired up the Proton and headed off to find a local beach. Eventually we stumbled upon a lively looking stretch of sand in Usukan Cove where an entrepreneurial local lad had set up the kind of seaside resort Butlins could only dream of. Banana boat rides for £2, lilos to rent, there was even a beach karaoke at a mere 20p per song. We chose to sit out the karaoke and allow the lad himself to murder Hey Jude. A beach goat and table tennis table topped off a truly stunning package.
After a couple of hours, however, we had to pull ourselves away to make the 3 hour drive to Poring, a small spot on the other side of Kinabalu mountain where we'd spend the late afternoon bathing in hot springs. The next morning we headed to a canopy walkway (Poring is in the middle of the rainforest that covers much of Mount Kinabalu) to see what critters would be lounging in the trees. Being the first people to arrive we had pretty much the run of things and while just walking between the trees, 40m up and on rope bridges was fun enough, a couple of Giant Squirrels turned up for added entertainment.
Before heading off back to Kota Kinabalu to return the trusty Proton we stopped at someone's garden to have a look at a Rafflesia flower. These things are the biggest flowers in the world, normally existing as a bulb before exploding into large red blooms every once in a while. The look like the evil plant from Little Shop of Horrors and apparently smell like rotting flesh - though the one we saw wasn't noticably pungent from where we were stood.
About four hours later we rolled into Kota Kinabalu and, thanks to a rather apathetic lady at the car rental place, got our full deposit back.