About Me

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Yilan, Taiwan
I'm a Social Studies teacher and single mom from Colorado and have lived here for 9 years. Taiwan is an excellent base for us explore Asia, while living in relative (gun free) safety, while benefiting from a cheap and efficient national health care system. The people are amazing too. I have friendships that are 14 years old and I'm always making new ones.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Hello 40! Return to the Land Below the Wind

Sunset at the Waterfront, KK Tourist trap indeed

The birthday adventures continue. For my 40th I wanted to do something special for myself, because if I don't, who will right? Its like Christmases, all the presents under the tree are not for me, but for my daughter and every year those are becoming less because we are blessed all throughout the year. Anyways, 40. yipee! I'm excited, my 30's were great, definitely not easy years, raising a daughter alone, but help is most often at hand.

It's grand to be 40!
My daughter and I went to Malaysia 5 times, as of now 3 times to Borneo, two of those to the state of Sabah. Taipei has direct flights to KK (Kota Kinabalu) via Air Asia and often there are specials. For 3 people we paid 15,000NT return, including taxes and fees.

We left the morning of my birthday for a much overdue, much awaited 4 day weekend. As for plans as always I was informed and open. On our previous 2011 trip we pretty much did everything on my list but diving. (See, "Land Below the Wind"). We did the Proboscis Monkey River and Firefly Cruise, island hopping at the nearby Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, went to the local zoo/botanic Gardens, Lok Kawai Wildlife Park, we hit the markets and malls and absolutely explored the rest of Sabah including having a up close and personal orangutan experience and seeing the rare Raflessia flowers in bloom in the wild.

It would be hard to top that, especially in 4 days.

I did have some ideas for what I wanted to do this time around. I had been in contact with Borneo Divers, the oldest diving company in town, and knew I was going to have my daughter do her PADI Bubble Dive with them. I also made a dinner reservation for my special night at the Le Meridian AJ's treat. They were the best place in town, indeed one of the most expensive. The buffet was fresh, amazing, using organic produce, having western, Malay, Middle Eastern and Sabahan specialties.

Noni trees on the beach

Day 1: We arrived took a taxi to our place in the Api Api Center's Promenade Service Apartments. It was across from the Waterfront, a block from the Meridian and had lots of those 24 hour curry cafes. Unfortunately it was run-down, there were prostitutes at night, security guards and police posts, which later proved quite a dramatic ending on our last night.

Our first afternoon we walked down the Waterfront though the Philippine market admiring the fruit and spices and walked to Gaya Street where all the tattoo artists, travel shops and tourist info was. We quickly made plans in stone for island hopping day 2, diving day 3 and tattoos in between. All that was left was hunching down into a lascivious birthday dinner where we took modest amounts of almost everything. I had seconds on the arugula salad, it was addicting and ended it with the best coffee I ever had, which I later regretted when I couldn't sleep.

Day 2: Beaches, Island Hopping and ziplining

Roti Cobra

After a breakfast of  tey tarik (pulled tea) with Roti Canai and different Indian condiments, our ride picked us up and took us to the Jesselton Jetty where we went to our first island, Sapi.  We did a little snorkling, but I found it too cold, it was overcast and really the visibility under the water was poor. My daughter was having some problems, getting comfortable with her snorkle, and my suitor AJ patiently stayed with her until she felt comfortable and confident. I fretted that maybe I would have to cancel her diving trip (non refundable) if she didn't have a little breakthrough, and under his care, she did.

For kicks Z and I decided to zipline on the Coral Flyer, the world's longest island to island zipline between Sapi and a nearby island. Although people think I am some adventure seeker, in reality I am deathly afraid of heights. I can climb anything, but if I have to climb down or look down forget about it! It was unmistakably a frightening experience to lift my feet off and zip down with my kid strapped between my legs, stories above the shallow water. I thought I would scream for sure, but while up there the view was lovely and it was calm. Slowing down was scarier and louder.

Here we go!

Made it safely!

Day 3: Diving

Foremost, for my birthday I wanted to go scuba diving with my daughter. Since being a mom I only went diving one weekend in Kenting when she was 3 and it wasn't a very pleasant experience (post typhoon, poor visibility, rough shore dive with ankle breaking coral, I lost a fin). When I was single and carefree I learned to dive at Utila Island, Honduras. I got my PADI Adv open water and we dove 3 times everyday for a month. My buddy stayed and got her DM (Dive Master). I then dove in Thailand, the Read Sea, living temporarily in Dahab, Egypt for 5 months diving for basically free (diving friends are friends indeed). I also dove off of Palawan, the Philippines in 2001. I always felt super blessed when I was diving. I wanted to share this with my kid on my special day.

On Saturday, the diving driver picked me up from my hotel and instead of driving to the local jetty we headed a few km out of town (but longer in traffic) to the 5 star resort where we chartered our own boat for ourselves, coming back when we wished. It was such a better day to be in the water, yesterday it was borderline cold for me, an overcast sky. Today the sun was out, the visibility in the water was good.

Z checking her gear

I was a little nervous going through my refresher, through my skills check. My DM gave me a verbal lowdown and I didnt quite get what he was saying, but once in the water it all came back. The coral itself was nothing special, nothing I hadn't seen before in technicolor like in Utila or the Red Sea, no turtles or sharks like Tioman, but it was nice to be weightless, to try and see my daughter submerged, flailing her limbs around like a newby. There were lots of anemones and clown fish and I did see something I have never seen before, a honey comb eel that my DM  Jonathan didn't spot. He was bored, he had been spoiled taking tourists diving off their resort in Sipadan, this was nothing for him here.

Borneo Divers, Mamutik Island

On our down time, Z and I chilaxed and watched the local wildlife- Giant Water Monitor Lizards and French tourists lounging on the white sand. We saw those little dragons on all the islands.

Our diving people had three wooden decks covered by tent  tarps right on the beach, they kept to one near the equipment and Z and I had the whole place to ourselves. I did some sun salutations and standing vinyasas before our first dive. We had lunch there when my daughter was ready to eat. Everything was gloriously insouciant the way diving and divers usually are. There was no rush or hurry. I was bummed AJ wasn't with us, it was so much better a beach, vibe and snorkeling for him than yesterday.  Little did I know he was in KK having a very Tarantino-esque tattoo adventure.

All is not Paradise though. On our last night we had a bit of a scare.  First before dinner, my ATM card got eaten by a local machine, which was annoying and inconvenient, but harmless. I'd prefer that experience to the next ordeal. It was about 6:30 pm we were walking back, well fed from our Middle Eastern dinner and were going to a market to buy tea as gifts. It was dark, the sidewalk was not well lit and we were just across from the Api Api building when I heard the foreboding sound of many feet running towards us, threatening voices, the crackling sound of shattered glass, something malignant was upon us.  The oncoming shadows were many and we were three. I looked right at the oncoming traffic, the road was clear and I pushed my kid into the street and told her to run for it. More sinister sounds of crackling something broke behind my shoulder, we ducked instinctively and suddenly we were surrounded by a group of young thugs. Were they running to us or from someone?  Its a confused mix of both. All I know is my whole being went into flight mode. AJ sort of stayed back, I bolted with my kid like a reflex, all the hairs on the back of my head standing up, no time to confer. He sensed the danger only after he saw us running from the crazy one and his first thought was we were targeted for being westerners.

Evidence of our snacking between dives
There was one ampethamine crazed, drunk fiend who scared us the most. He came to us like a magnet. I pushed my kid into a reflexology shop and told them to bolt the door while I tried to lock the door in vain. When the owner was asking me questions, a young lady was calming down my daughter, when the the crazed one came in and ran toward the young woman who screamed and ran up the stairs and he grabbed her, both of them falling. I pushed Z out and ran back behind the building, and when I heard his raving voice there too, we cut through the middle through a kitchen of an all night curry place and I pushed Z into the bathroom stall and told her to wait. We could hear commotion outside. I told her to lock it, I'd be back, but she begged me not to go,  that's when AJ called for me outside and reassured me that the police had the guy.  We saw several police taking him away. It took a good 20 minutes to calm my kid down for bed, and it all seemed so unreal when it was over. We came to find out he knew that girl and it was just a matter of us being at the wrong place at the wrong time, hiding in the wrong shop. I was just relieved he didn't have a knife. 

Snakeskin fruit "Salacca"
Not to end on a sour note, we had a peachy flight back-- I actually slept and we had a whole Sunday afternoon to recover. I found some mangosteen in my backpack as souvenirs. I couldn't get enough of the fruit and that says a lot coming from Taiwan and the year round abundance of fruit  that Taiwan grows. Yet in Sabah there were heaps of rambutan and mangosteen. I bought a few kilos for our island and diving snacks and discovered a fruit I had never seen before, "Salacca" and they looked like scaly, dragon eggs and tasted like bitter sweet white lima beans.

mangosteens galore

Rambutan coming out of our eyes
Life thus far has been a congenial feat, a fated fete. However I may stall, I venture towards my destined dream speculation, a guest in a banquet of passing shadows, vanquishers and defenders, a heroine in my daughter's dream. Coming to what cusp, commencement, time will tell.


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