Saturday, August 12, 2006

Onward to Tawau

Atfer our Orangutan and flying squirrel action at Sepilok we made a promise to ourselves to get up early and out for the bus to Semporna a town several hours to the South. Unfortunately as happens with promises this one got broken. The alarm on our phone went off at 06:15 and was promptly stopped allowing us to sleep on until 08:00. We left the rest house in a bit of a rush for the 2.5km walk to the junction with the main road. As it was early it wasn't too hot, and not for the first time we congratulated ourselves on the foresight of bringing only hand luggage. Another couple, Germans I think, were at the bus stop too, waiting to go to Kota Kinabalu. Somehow we managed to miss the first bus that came past heading our way. I hadn't managed to make out the scrawny marker pen sign on the window until it was too late and the bus was sailing past us. We waited for 2 hours in total, me with my binoculars trained on the road so I wouldn't miss another bus. It was a case of the watched pot (almost) never boiling and at 10:55, exactly 5 minutes before the deadline I had set to chuck it in and get a local us back to Sandakan, I spied the word Tawau in the window of a bus. Not exactly where we wanted to go, but the largest town near Semporna. We flagged down the bus and away we went.

The journey was pretty much more Oil Palm plantations on either side of us. The Oil Palm industry in combination with the logging industry are the blight of the region, and also unfortunately it's main economy. It's one the reasons the Orangutans need Sepilok. Habitat destruction forces the Orangutans into ever decreasing areas of forest (and food resources) and inevitably they raid the plantations. The plantation workers at least now call Sepilok to come relocate the animal rather than shooting it which is what happened in the past. We had a couple of films on but I struggled to hear the very muted sound which led to limited enjoyment of them. This time we had crossed two police checkpoints and were boarded at both. Only one of the policemen asked to see our passports though. At one of the crossings we also had the bus raided by women carrying bags of fruit and popcorn and god knows what else for sale. At a lunch stop we traded our coupons for drinks and crisps, quickly becoming our standard bus meal.

After 4.5 hours we pulled up in Tawau, probably not the worlds nicest city. The architecture is classic South East Asian, square boxes with a finish of 'moldy concrete', (Watch out for that in Dulux's next range.) I can't really think of many good reasons for going to Tawau other than it is on the way to Semporna or Indonesia (via ferry). We trudged through town looking quite out of place looking for a hotel recommended in the Rough Guide. A bloke signalled out of the window that they were full, a situation I wasn't too disappointed about as the place looked decidedly shabbby. A few minutes walk and we found a larger place, Monaco (2000), which clearly had international pretensions but like many South East Asian hotels did not quite live up to them. It was having a promotion so rooms were only RM50 a night, so that made us quite happy. It made up for the gouging we took from the piece-rate laundry round the corner. We had planned to stay 2 nights in order to get our laundry done, but they said it would be ready the next day, something we were quite thankful for. In Sandakan people had randomly been shouting, 'Hello!' at us. This continued apace in Tawau. Gemma did start to get some horrid appraising looks from some of the men on the streets which wasn't so nice.

That evening the heavens opened with a vengeance. We just managed to make it round the corner to a restaurant dodging the worst and deepest of the streams of water. I quite like the rain in South East Asia for it's general intensity and the mood it gives to a town during and afterwards. I don't like the fact that it intensifies the already horrible smell of the drains though.

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