This is about Daryl & Laurel Fisher and their cruising adventures on the catamaran "Cool Bananas"...

Friday, 24 September 2010

Kota Kinabalu to Brunei September 2010

We certainly could get used to the lifestyle at Sutera Harbour Marina. It was a great choice from a pick up/drop off point for our various visitors.

The next to arrive are my cousin Judy and her partner Paul. A few days of unwinding by the pool, a few card challenges issued and they are well settled in.

When it comes to leaving the marina Paul and Judy are thrown in the deep end as our new crew. The wind is blowing from the side, we are Mediterranean moored (stern to the dock) with the anchor down and a boat on either side of us. Luckily the wind gives us a break in the crucial moments and we glide smoothly out and away. We choose to sail a short distance to Gaya Island where we know we can swim and snorkel, even if somewhat murky.

Next stop is Tiga Island, about 23 miles south. We anchor off an idyllic looking sandy atoll in beautiful clear water. Actually, so clear we can easily see the multitudes of jelly fish swimming on by. We all brave a swim but Judy and I don’t last that long but enough time to get cooled off. So then we are in to explore the island, only to be greeted ashore by swarms of sand flies, who have us tagged as ‘dinner’. Needless to say that activity was short lived as well.

Nemo's are so photogenic.........................................Daryl on the hookah

More nemos...............................................................A compliant photogenic nudibranch

Paul finds an unusual nudibranch

Judy tries out her newfound skills underwater....................Jellyfish floats by

We share the bay with local fisherman........................We never tire of the watching the sunsets

Not to be defeated we are up early the next morning, coated ourselves head to toe in deet insect repellent and dinghy in to the mainland for a rainforest walk. We hear and see a few macaque monkeys in the distance and Paul and I have lots of fun trying to photograph the butterflies and dragonflies.

The rainforest trekers in action.................................The beach was covered in hundreds of hermit crabs

Patience paid off in catching this shot.......................Crabs were in the forest also

Judy and Paul relaxing at Tiga Island..............Judy wandering the beach in search of shells

The weather forecast encourages us to move on to Labuan the next afternoon. Labuan is an easy place to check out of Malaysia at before entering Brunei. Not to mention it is a duty free port for a stock up on liquor and chocolate supplies!!! The marina at Labuan was surprisingly full, so we counted ourselves lucky to have a space, as we hadn’t booked. If anyone is partial to butter chicken, I had the best ever at the Blue Wave Bar and Restaurant on the main street. We also had a great Chinese meal at the Labuan Yacht Club but some amongst us took objection to the large cockroaches scuttling between the floorboards, luckily only noticed at the completion of our meal. With our one full day on the island we opt for hiring a car and spend a leisurely day exploring the sights.

A beautiful Buddist Temple we stumbled across

The decoration was amazing

A tower built by the British for unknown reasons??

Sailing into Brunei reminded me of sailing into Sydney. At the harbour entrance you are surrounded by native bush and little else. No evidence of the big city that lies beyond. And that is how it was for Brunei. We chose to anchor at the Royal Brunei Yacht Club which, although a distance out of town, had the recommendation of a great venue. And that it was for us. It had a great restaurant (although alcohol free like most in Brunei) and a nice pool. It was well supported with friendly expats and their families, mainly teachers. It was holiday time (end of Ramadan) so they were there in full force, together with bucket and spades.

Outlook from the Royal Brunei Yacht Club

Two main goals in Brunei were to attend the annual opening of the Sultan’s palace and to procure fuel at ‘local price’. The palace is calculated by some to be the largest palace in the world -1788 rooms, 257 bathrooms and 200,00 sq feet in floor area. I wonder how much of it we'll get to see.On asking around we establish that the palace may open for one two or three days and when that happened depended on the moon. OK, a little hard to plan for. And transport into town – there is the bus stop but the bus may or may not be coming because of Ramadan. We decide to head into town anyway to see what we can glean. So we wait at the bus stop and a nice man in a large empty vehicle offers us a lift to a busier bus stop and from there we get to the city. Riding on local buses is always a cultural experience for me. The homes we pass are certainly not opulent and gold clad, in fact they seem extremely modest. The Brunei people seem friendly and the lifestyle seems not unlike neighbouring Malaysia. As we get closer in to the city the buildings show signs of being more modern but not as grand as I thought for one of the richest countries in the world.

In fact 22,000 of the population live in the water village on the banks of the river. We did the typical tourist thing by taking a ride in a long boat for a tour of the water village and then went on further up the river to see the proboscis monkeys in their natural habitat. I won’t go into the detail of how the driver tried to rip us off, as a compromise was arrived at…but be warned.

Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque..........Shopping Mall flanking the mosque

Elaborate signage for the Sultan.........................Only in Brunei -gold shopping trolleys

Water Village with mosque in the background...............Long boats are the village's main transport

A couple going out to celebrate

Egrit........................................................................Male proboscis in action

Female proboscis monkey at play.............................Local bird with a name I couldn't pronounce!!

We get varied reports (all from reliable sources) on the palace opening times so we decide to go in the following day, which seemed to be the most consistent date given. This time we rouse up a staff member from the yacht club to take us in to the busy bus stop as we don’t want to waste too much time because it could be a challenge getting to the palace along with the 30,000 others. In actual fact it was a breeze, with the bus that dropped us at the palace gates being almost empty. After a welcome by officials and had passed the screening test for swine flu we were invited to partake in a meal which was served on monogrammed noritake gold edged plates. The mind boggles as to the logistics of feeding a meal to everyone who chose to visit the palace that day. Imagine how many plates there would need to be. We were surprised by the lack of respect shown by many people to this generous gesture by the stuffing of food into their bags and leaving their dirty plates piled on the tiled floor or any nearest available surface.

From there the men and women were separated into their respective queues and …….the waiting started. As there were way fewer women than men our queue was significantly shorter so we got seated sooner. The men experienced some major pushing in and elbowing which culturally we aren’t very used to. Once Daryl cottoned on to this he tried honing the skill but with little success. I had missed the ‘no photos’ signs so I innocently filled my waiting time with photo opportunities. In summary, after hours of waiting, Judy and I got to shake hands and even have a little conversation with the Sultan Queen. While by the time Paul and Daryl got to the King he had gone for lunch!!! Daryl, generously, still felt it was a worthwhile experience but not one he wished to repeat next year. For us it was as much about seeing the palace as it was about seeing the people around us experiencing the visit. Some of the clothing was gorgeous, with families dressed in colour themes. As we left each visitor was given a beautifully presented gift which was a leather typed box with a chocolate and almond cake inside and a numbered card - great souvenir. What we were also surprised at was the amount of gift packaging and cards that were left scattered in the palace grounds. What this is an indicator of I’m not sure.

Judy and I with our monogrammed plates.................Having our meal at the palace

The walls in the hall were covered in mosaic gold pieces

Children in awe........................................................The ladies waiting

Children were patiently waiting

The police were the people movers.......................The military all had their turn going through

Daryl and I on the red carpet (not for us really).........Judy and Paul with their gifts

These women seem pleased with their gift

A group exiting the palace with their gifts

Many are obviously pleased with the opportunity to visit the palace

Inside the palace after some have recieved their gifts

A family leaving the Palace grounds

Istana Nurul Iman- the Sultan's Palace

Between activities we had plenty of time for relaxing and swimming at the pool, not to mention the card challenges which were bordering on becoming addictive.

Daryl procured his local fuel at NZ 31c a litre. Opportune with the amount of motoring needing to be done here in Malaysia and let’s face it - it’s always satisfying when you think you’ve got a bargain.

From Brunei it was back to Labuan to check back in to Malaysia and then back to Tiga to fit in more snorkeling, trekking and swimming. We were disappointed that Judy didn’t achieve her goal of getting to see a turtle so they will just have to return to wherever we are next holidays to have another look. By the time we arrived back in to Sutera Harbour the itinerary was full of things that needed to be done ’just one last time’. The last swim in the pool, the last game of ten pin bowling, the last dinner at the seafood restaurant, the last minute shopping and ……..the last game of cards (which incidentally was within minutes of the taxi arriving). Sadly we waved goodbye to Judy and Paul, which then leaves us with a week by ourselves in the marina (doing maintenance and catch up sort of jobs) before Kelly and her two friends arrive.

Cool Bananas in Sutera Harbour...........................Laurel honing her bowling skills

Pacific Hotel reception

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