January 30 – February 7, 2019:
Was it already eight months since we’d arrived at Sutera Harbour Marina from the Philippines? Where did the time go? We never expect to stay in one place quite as long as we do, and yet here we were. Still.
Finally the day arrived when we couldn’t find any more excuses to stay. We had our new batteries. We’d received our engine parts and fixed that problem. Our bow thruster parts were on hand for our next haulout. The weather was starting to look rather trawlerly for our run down the coast. And we’d finished our clearance out from Sabah yesterday. It was time.
Our departure morning looked a little dull and overcast, but at least it was calm. First, we sent our friends Jason and Lee (SY Santorini) on their way north to the Philippines. We were up next, heading in the opposite direction. It’s always a bit sad to say farewell to our new dock friends, but at least we had lots of help with the line handling.
Soon we were leading a flotilla of speed boats out from the marina and on our way for the short 32 NM jaunt to Pulau Tiga. Winds were fairly light but we had quite a bit of swell from the northwest, so it was quite rolly and a good reminder of the need to stow everything better below decks. As happened to us on our first day of cruising last year when we left Subic Bay, our main chart plotter screen faded to black again today. Luckily we’d brought another spare with us from Canada at the end of the summer. I hope this doesn’t become an annual occurrence.
Five hours later, we rounded the southeast tip of Pulau Tiga and anchored off the smaller of two piers on the southern shore, well protected from the swell but with a good breeze to keep us cool and keep our wind generator happy.
The next week was a blur of days alternating between relaxing on MOKEN, exploring the island, twice daily beach cleanups, afternoon conventions of lesser frigate birds overhead and sundowners on deck. Other highlights included swapping out the failed chart plotter, a hike to the five-star resort at the end of the island on a very un-maintained trail, and last (but by no means least) a visit to the mud volcanoes for a mud bath. If you were ever a fan of the TV series Survivor, you might recognize Pulau Tiga as the home of the very first season of the show, and the mud baths were one of the highlights.
These days, most of the island is a park, and they get lots of visitors who come for a beach picnic and an afternoon at the mud baths before heading back to the mainland. We tried to time our visit to the mud spa in the late afternoon, after all the day trippers had left for the day, but ultimately we ended up choosing the one day when a large group staying at one of the two resorts on the island also decided to go.
The trail up to the mud baths is currently under construction. The park is installing a raised boardwalk that will eventually span a kilometre from the beach and a new toilet and shower block. Most of the trail is already completed, with a short section under construction and the final few hundred metres or so a scramble over tree roots. The workers have to haul in all the supplies from the beach, so it wasn’t too surprising to see them resting on the railings more often than actually working.
We beat the other group to the baths and were the first in. What a strange sensation. The mud is a little sulphur-y and therefore stinky, very silky and super floaty. It’s really hard to fully immerse yourself, but Chris managed to dunk himself all the way under and emerge as Mud Man. When the other group finally arrived, it was hilarious watching the old Chinese grandma go in with her family. She was having a hoot. I bet she had more fun than her three grandchildren combined, one of whom won’t go in at all.
We had lots of time to read between our other activities and I finally managed to plow through The Land Below the Wind by Agnes Keith. Sabah (formerly North Borneo) is nicknamed the land below the wind (negeri di bawah bayu) as the state lies below the typhoon belt that so often ravages the Philippines. Sabah rarely sees any typhoons, but does get the occasional tropical storm. Although show to start, Keith’s book is an interesting look at life in 1930s colonial North Borneo and quite entertaining at times, although probably rather politically, culturally and ecologically incorrect by today’s standards.
Where to next? We head to Brunei. Stay tuned.