Wednesday, September 7, 2011

[KOTA KINABALU] No Chickens or Demonic Possessions Here

Both Manukan and Sapi would sound weird if you read them and apply their corresponding meanings in Tagalog. “Manukan” means a place for chicken, either a restaurant, a poultry house, or anything that has something to do with them. “Sapi” would mean possession in a supernatural sense. I didn’t see any chickens at Manukan. Neither did I witness any possession or exorcism at Sapi, so I wonder what these words could mean in Malay. I find it strange how the vocabulary of these two languages greatly vary despite belonging to the same language family. Oops, geeky verbal diarrhea. I apologize.

Kota Kinabalu has a group of five islands that are collectively known as the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park. I do not know who he is but he must have done something significant for Malaysia for his name to be given to this group of five islands. Detour, let’s have a brief geography lesson first.

Gaya is the largest island of the five and the closest to Jesselton Point. On the western side of the island you'll see houses on stilts over the water. Those are said to be the homes of illegal Filipino immigrants. This is one reason why Wikitravel will tell you that it can be a dangerous island and the crime rate is higher relative to the rest. I don’t know what to say about this, so no comment. Gaya is also home to a couple of resorts where you can spend the night. Compared to the other islands, this one is said to be well-equipped in terms of facilities.

Sapi is a smaller island close to Gaya, so close that they share a part of the sea where you could probably swim from one shore to the other if you disobey the rules and swim in prohibited areas. By ferry it won’t take you two minutes to get from one beach to the other. This is the reason why Sapi is almost always the first stop for boat operators who, for some reason, have excluded Gaya from their island-hopping list.

If you have bought tickets for more than one island and Sapi is one of them, you should go to Sapi first since it is, as mentioned, almost always the first stop. The boatman will announce the name of each island where you'll stop and will expect you to disembark there if it is part of your itinerary. For some reason, I stayed on the boat and headed to Manukan first, a bad decision that I almost regretted when it was time to go back to Jesselton Point.

Manukan is considered to be the most equipped in terms of sports facilities. There is a resort here and many benches by the beach along with rental equipment for a variety of activities such as sea walking, snorkeling, diving, and a lot more. I thought at first that this was the largest island. It is not, but the land area is considerably large. There is a hiking trail that you can try if you like. There are hills that you can climb, coral reefs that you can visit, etc. There are several restaurants offering different types of dishes.

I was only able to see one side of the island (the one shown in the video) because I only had limited time for island hopping. In spite of that I still spent some time just sitting on one of the benches watching the people around me. It’s like Tanjung Aru Beach but cleaner and more attractive, although it seemed too “touristy” for my taste. What I was amused with were the fish lingering so close to the shore, and I mean those fish that you would normally see in aquariums. There are some visible coral reefs here and there and you can wade through the water and expect to find smaller fish swimming by your ankles.

Many would wonder then, aren’t there many beaches like this in the Philippines? Why so amused? Well, let’s just say that I haven’t really gone beach bumming in full blast yet. I’ve only visited a few and those visits were either short or sabotaged by bad weather, which did not give the beaches I visited due justice. In fact, Anguib won by default in my list of perfect beaches for the mere reason that it was really sunny that day, and no beach is not photogenic on a bright sunny day. It was raining when I visited Caramoan. I haven’t been to Boracay. I haven’t been to Coron. Still, I honestly believe that our beaches are on par with these ones. It’s just an issue of management.

I think the government and the different stakeholders involved have done a good job in maintaining this national park. I just hope that they would continue doing so because the sight of trash floating on the water is never lovely, and I’ve spotted a handful during the ferry ride. Back to Manukan, you can spend a full day there and never get bored. Actually, I would recommend this island over the rest if comfort would be the primary criteria.

I then boarded the boat going back to Sapi and discovered that the boatman was Filipino. He was also surprised to find out that we are from the same country. He saw my passport and asked if I was Pinoy, to which I responded in the affirmative. This is one thing that I always find amusing whenever I am in Malaysia. You just don’t know which is which. Malaysians speak to me in Malay because I look like them. It's my accent that gives me away. This is an advantage if you are planning to cheat, get admitted in certain places, and pay local instead of foreigner fees. I think I’ve already talked about this in the article about Sabah Museum. Moving on, the guy told me that I should have gone to Sapi first. I told him that the people manning the counters should inform visitors about that. They don’t even instruct you about your itinerary. As a tourist, you are clueless by default, and they should know that.

I was asked to ride another boat for Sapi and to look for the guy in yellow if I want to get back at four. Otherwise, he would pick me up at five. This system is flawed in so many ways, one of which is that most of them wear yellow. Favorite color? The boats look the same and the numbers to distinguish them from one another are not even indicated on the ticket. Or maybe that particular tour operator just sucks. Anyway, I got off at Sapi Island.

As already noted, Sapi is small. It has a store or two selling food and other stuff. They have a toilet and a public outdoor shower on the side of the port. Activities are limited to the usual snorkeling, sea walking, and diving, unlike in Manukan where you can go parasailing and banana boating. This is the beach for those who love the tranquility of being with less people, watching corals and schools of fish from behind your snorkel, and sunbathing without worrying that an eight year old kid in a bright orange swimsuit would accidentally trample your face.

Yaddah yaddah yaddah. Tell us how to get there first! Okay, easy. Go to Jesselton Point, which is at the extreme right corner of the city center. A return trip to and from any one island will  cost you 17 ringgit. As you add more islands you get discounts (like 27 ringgit for two) which is why I am wondering why I got charged 34. Damn them. There are many tour operators to choose from so take your time. I didn’t have the luxury to do so because I was flying back to Manila on the same day that night. Crammer.

Pay the terminal fee, around 7 ringgit for foreigners. When you arrive on your first island you'll be passing through a desk of some Sabah Tourism group administrating the islands. Pay your 10 ringgit conservation fee if you're an adult foreigner 18 or above. Check the video for the fees for locals and non-locals, 18 year olds and below, etc. The terminal fee and conservation fee are paid once on a daily basis. It is not a per island thing. What’s charged per island is the boat fee which you negotiate at the tour operator’s desk before you leave the port.

Travel time is 20 minutes from Jesselton Point to Sapi. Sapi to Manukan it is around 10 minutes. Mamutik and Sulug are the two smallest islands situated near Manukan. Yes, they're smaller than Sapi and less equipped, so go there if you want an experience close to Survivor but can’t go to Pulau Tiga down south or Sipadan on the other side of Borneo. Jetties also leave from Sutera Harbor, which I believe is closer to Manukan like Gaya is to Jesselton Point. The fee might be higher since it is a popular country club. When in doubt, just consult them.

My ticket said that pick up time to go back to Jesselton Point would be 4 PM. Boats came and left but they wouldn’t take me because they were not my tour operator. At five in the afternoon the boat that was docked there since three revved its engine and took all of us remaining passengers back to the coast of KK. I was very paranoid because I thought I would be left behind by my flight. Traffic is not that bad but nevertheless, still bad from 5 PM to 6, despite KK being really small. Or maybe that is the reason after all, its size. Luckily, the bus to Tanjung Aru passes by the airport before heading towards the beach itself. I got off there and checked myself in at the Cebu Pacific desk, good thing they only needed my passport.

A fifteen minute return trip on foot to the guesthouse followed for the retrieval of my things. I still had plenty of time to have some snacks at KFC before boarding the plane, which arrived late as usual. Wanna guess why? I know it’s the traffic at the NAIA runway again. I’m starting to really hate that airport. One night in Manila. Tomorrow, Osaka. All good!

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