A bug the size of my arm has just landed on my arm: Gargantuan and imposing, completely unconcerned by my shrieking, it basks in my noise. “It won’t harm you,” sighs our guide, Fabian, weary of insectophobics and their endless rain-forest miseries. How can the cardiac arrest I’m suffering not be classed as harm?!
Then it’s gone, into the verdant abyss of Ranau. The air, however, is still alive with the calls of these elephantine beasts: cicadas, katydids, beetles which hiss with the ferocity of wronged Spartans. None of them perturbed by the chatting, laughing children who snake up the slope in our wake: International School kids, a cacophony of different accents and a chaos of eager limbs, all enthusiastic to reach the summit and feast on the fabled view of Mount Kinabalu.
“Are we there yet?” They chant, “I think I just saw a tarantula! How much further…? Can we stop for lunch now?”
No. I hope not. Not far. Shh – it’s only 9am!
It’s early morning, but already 30 degrees, and we’ve been
walking for almost an hour, up Bongkud Hill – through the turbulent greens and miasmas of yellows; colours that could make your eyes melt. Up, up, up. Each resting place offers a new and pristine vista – clouds which crawl across the landscape below, new shadows of the ascending sun, hushed purples of far-off Tibouchinas. Scarce, burnished rooftops far below are the only suggestion that civilisation has ever happened. Is there anywhere more enchanting than Borneo in Spring?
We’re about 500 metres above sea-level and there’s still almost 200 to go, when Fabian starts telling his stories: of how the Kadazun-Dusun people view the mountain as the final resting place of their warriors, their mothers, their tribes, and how they placesharpened sticks pointing towards Kinabalu, so that the spirits will know which way to journey.
He recounts how in other local folklores Kinabalu can be loosely translated into “Cina Balu” or “Chinese Widow” – in respect of a mythical Kadazan-Dusun woman who married a Chinese Prince, only to be deserted by her husband after he made a visit home to his parents. His heartbroken wife laboured to the top of the mountain every day, in order to gain a viewpoint of the distant ocean, in hope that she’d sight her lost love returning to her…
And suddenly we realise just how arduous her daily journey must have been, as we round a corner and spot sight of the mountain through the ferns. No more “Are we there yet?” – Just inaudible understanding and admiration.
The paragon of the Malay Archipelago, Mount Kinabalu, penetrates the sky and makes the azure expanse seem small. So huge in its majesty and gravity, it straddles the horizon like a petrous deity, the tallest peak for 4,000 miles (until you reach The Himalayas) – dominating the horizon and silencing a group of teenagers and their sweaty teacher… At least for a few moments, until finally, one asks again if we’re there yet.