'When you're young you just believe there'll be many people with whom you'll connect with. Later in life you realise it only happens a few times. You can screw it up. Miss-connect.'
Richard Linklater, Before Sunset
This is hopefully where this stops being a 'what I did' blog (well, a bit) and I start the musing. Three very important people were about to arrive who would make me realise what I was capable of.
When this trip was being planned by Sally she had booked a climb up South East Asia's highest mountain - Mount Kinabalu. She was unable to do this after getting a new job and leaving early. Lucy was kind enough to sell the ticket for us, and did so very quickly. As Lucy spoke to an interested person I sat on the balcony wondering who it was. Would we get on? Would I spend the best part of 3 days in excruciating boredom? Or not being able to communicate due to the English arrogance of feeling English is the only language we need? Then a very pretty head pops around the door - "Hi! I'm Laura!". She told me later that she had the same concerns as me, but from the off we knew this was going to be fantastic. Unfortunately we could never manage to meet up until the last night before the climb to be able to get to know each other a bit better.
In the meantime Steve arrived. I was on my way in after an aborted dinner date with a Dutch couple, he was on his way out for food. So with 2 weeks of local knowledge under my belt we headed off for food, and the same the next day, to the Filipino fish market. Beers were an important part of these diners and Steve got us chatting to two Italian girls who we met up with again over the next few days. Solo travelling was proving to be fun!
On my last day before heading to Mount Kinabalu my third friend arrived. Technically this was a return. Marie had been here before Sally and I went to the river tour. We had spent a long time chatting into the early hours on the balcony, and I had been eagerly awaiting her return fro a 12 day tour. We spent our day mostly shopping, on the most entertaining shopping trip ever (pink and yellow bunny gloves for a mountain climb anybody!?) followed by a food tour - starter, fish course and mains at different hawker stalls. It was a novel idea of a couple of Marie's friends from her tour and finished with more karaoke! A curfew lock out was narrowly avoided, but on our return Steve was on his way out exclaiming that beers, the Italians and Laura were awaiting just around the corner. Knowing I would staying out on my last night, but really needing to see Laura & get to know her before climbing a mountain with her I went back down the stairs and into what I hope is first of many mad nights. The bar shut, drinks had to be brought in from another restaurant and we finally crashed at 3am. Laura and I had realised the next few days were going to be immense fun and Steve and I realised we had to find somewhere to sleep in the early hours. We were warned away from sleeping on the waterfront by some locals, so heeding their advice we finally decided to sleep on the stairs at Lucy's, waiting for her to open the gates and receive us with admonishing glares.
A few hours sleep were managed, another tearful farewell with Marie, a text to Steve as he had already gone out, and I was off on another adventure. The agreement with Laura was to make our own way to Kinabalu Park an meet there. This only proved to be a bad idea when Laura managed to get an upgrade on the room and it took nearly an hour to find her. But oh, what a room! And what a view onto Mount Kinabalu, our nemesis for the next two days.
Laura and I were effectively forced together by circumstances and need - but we agreed that we could not have wanted more from a stranger to travel with. Laura is a fantastic person with one of the most happy, outgoing personalities I have ever encountered. Anyone who truly knows me will know I'm not exactly outgoing, but the previous couple of weeks had really seen a change in me. And that I will give anything outdoorsy a go. So when Laura suggested in the morning that we walk to the gate which marks the start of the climb adding another 4.5km to the 5.7km (at least - meandering up the mountain to the Laban Rata lodge could actually mean over 7km of walking) I thought, why the hell not? Surely a climb should be done from the park entrance and anything less is not paying respect to the mountain! Should we do the via ferrata descent? A cable and bridge decent across the sheer cliff face? Bring it on! The climb itself is not exactly difficult. It just doesn't quit. Ever upwards on endless stairs and stepped rocks, it's trudge. 5 hours later you arrive at Laban Rata lodge and the views are incredible, and the sunset at nearly 4000m is beautiful but short.
Then comes the worst bit - in bed by 8pm in order to get up by 2am for breakfast and the trek to the summit in time for sunrise at 6am. Not much was spoken in these last hours. Words of encouragement only. Just one step at a time, make it to the top at your own pace, and then there it was - the goal - the final scramble up Low's Peak, and time for celebratory photographs and a rest before the descent - and the via ferrata.
Again, this is not difficult. It is 99% safe. You are roped to your fellow climbers and caribinered to the route cable. You can still slip and fall, but you're only going to hit the rock face - not fall off it. As soon as you make the first step over onto the face and lean back on the cable, any fear of heights (not an issue as I do climb, and have done the paragliding) are gone. This is a fun sport, and very tiring. By the time we had wended our way, getting ever more confident at this new experience, our bodies were exhausted and in agony. Unfortunately we still had a 5.7km trudge back down the mountain, mercifully taking much less time than going up, but barely capable of movement by the end (and still Laura had nothing but words of encouragement for those we passed going up - a quality I greatly admire). Alas, all good things must come to an end, and great things end the hardest. We collected our certificates, shared a couple of beers, and made our very tearful farewells at the bus stop. Laura continued her journey to Sepilok, I returned to Kota Kinabalu.
But my farewells were not over. Before the altitude sickness kicked in, wiping me out for 16 hours, and almost before my legs finally gave way under me, I had one last night out with the Italian girls. And a final word of wisdom from a 21 year old: 'The best thing about travelling is meeting new friends'. 'Yes,' I agreed, 'but the hardest part is saying goodbye'. Unfortunately, I don't know if that is ever going to get easier. But I know I haven't miss-connected these last couple of weeks...