Borneo: Impressions

I had high hopes for Borneo. Not expectations but hopes.

I was hoping that our first border crossing in a long while would be a reboot for us, an opportunity to reset and start again fresh in a new country. I was hoping to leave behind all of the emotional baggage that I had collected in the Philippines that seemed to dull my enthusiasm for just about everything. I was hoping the change of landscape and language, of faces and flavours would help me remember why Kate is the place we’ve chosen as our home for the past 16 years. I was hoping to shed, what for months, has felt like an ill-fitting skin and to be excited about our life onboard again.

There was, of course, a certain excitement upon arrival. When everything is shiny and new it is easy to feel like positive change is afoot. But I like to wait until what I first find exotic begins to feel familiar and the everyday-ness of the place is  revealed. I like to let a place sink in.

We’ve been in Borneo for 2 months now. The glossy first impressions have worn off and we are still excited to be here. Better yet, I am excited to be calling our sailing life and Kate ‘home’ again. A deep sense of contentment has settled over me recently, a feeling that we are in the right place and moving in the right direction. It’s been a while since I’ve felt the comfort of that knowledge wrap around me and I am relieve that it has returned.

That’s not to say that everything has been smooth sailing.

In fact, they call the state of Sabah, Borneo where we we’ve these past few weeks “The Land Below the Wind,” so we’ve put on a few more engine hours than we’d like. It also happens to be the land open to the swell no matter what direction the wind is blowing. Ok, that’s not officially in the guide books, but we’ve had our fair share of rolly anchorages recently so maybe it should be.

Then there was the stress inducing incident of getting a huge piece of submerged mooring line wrapped around the prop last week. Bad news at the best of times, scary as shit when you are navigating a very long and confined channel through the reef just in front of the busy city Kota Kinabula with lots of local traffic kicking up wake and a light wind directly on the bow. I quickly rolled out the headsail and we eeked by the last channel marker close enough to touch it.

We anchored off a nearby village and Steve went overboard, managing to free the prop by cutting and unwinding the line. I waited until he was safely back onboard to remind him it was at the same village two weeks before that they caught a 4 meter crocodile that was sizing up the local kids for hors douvres.

Thanks to Steve’s lightning reflexes turning off the engine as soon as we heard the ‘kaTHUNK,’ we didn’t do any damage. We couldn’t have been happier when we finally tied up in the marina an hour later, and so very disappointed when I announced that we had no cold beer onboard.   

I have learned enough Bahasa to be able to say hello and thank you, to decipher most of a menu, ask how much something is at the market, and confuse the grocery teller with my mixed up numbers. The people are friendly and things feel generally safe, both in the big cities and the smaller villages that we’ve visited.

The food here has been fantastic and the markets lush with things I haven’t seen in years – herbs and greens of all descriptions. We have gone out for dinner, eaten at local night markets, and explored all the aisles at every grocery store that we’ve walked by. It’s been delightful to have meat free options on every menu (rather than thinking you ordered something veggie and discover it actually has squid mixed through it but they failed to mention that in the description) and things like quality tofu and tempeh (a revelation!) easy to find.

We’ve been a bit held up as I had to renew my passport with the Consulate in Kuala Lumpur and we’ve been waiting on new membranes for the watermaker, but I don’t have all the usual angst about having to wait around. Maybe that’s because we are out of the typhoon zone, so although there has been some nasty squalls pass through the ever-present impending doom is absent. Last week I didn’t even check the weather forecast for almost 36 hours!

Or maybe it’s just because Borneo has not only lived up to all my hopes but exceeded my expectations as well. Not bad considering we haven’t left Sabah yet and still have all of Sarawak to explore. And we have plans to head up a few of the larger rivers and visit an orang-utan sanctuary before we head to the mainland!  Stay tuned.



2 Comments Add yours

  1. silvio pupo says:

    Hola!!! Nice to read’s your adventures!! When are you guys com to Halifax?…
    I haven’t seen you in almost billions years.. the last time was when i buy a swatch from you .. ;-). You take care and sending lots of positive energys and a big hug

    1. Heather Francis says:

      Hey Silvio, hope you are well, and thanks for the note. I was able to get home a year ago for a visit with the fam buy didn’t spend much time in the shop, haha.

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