Despite the taxi drivers' persistent "Where you going? No airport bus, come with me sir" we take our place amongst the small crowd at the bus shelter. Our bus left in the short time we were passing through Malaysian immigration. Another bus must come eventually!
Eventually, one does. After confirming twice that it does indeed go to the airport, we take our seats. We wind our way slowly through the streets of Johor Bahru, the city separated from Singapore by a short bridge and a massive border post. An obviously popular destination for Singaporeans, signs line the highway reminding people that it is illegal to drive with less than 1/2 tank of gas (so no one will cross into Malaysia to buy cheap fuel). Strange ...
Our bus stops briefly near a yellow building that Laura notices has a sign saying "airport". Good ... maybe we're getting close! But still, we drive. About half an hour later, we pull into a bus terminal and stop. This is not the airport!
I approach the driver. "We are going to the airport" I half-ask, half-state. He shakes his head. "You didn't get off!" he explains. "I looked and you didn't get off at the airport stop!" He points us into the terminal. There is a bus, he explains, that can take us to the airport. I resist throttling him. Barely. I guess I just forgot to read his mind and get off at the correct, unmarked, bus stop. My mistake. I was so stupid.
I interrupt a group of ticket sellers busy laughing, pinching each other's bottoms, and giggling. I show them my ticket and ask several times where I can find the airport bus. Half an hour later, the bus comes.
We are waved aboard, take our seats, and begin a 40 minute bus ride through the suburbs of Johor Barhu. We pass rundown apartment buildings with "Epson," "Panasonic," and other names posted in front. Around the corner, beautiful large offices bear the same names. The ramshackle apartments must be housing for the workers, I guess. There must be a manufacturing facility behind the corporate offices.
Finally, we arrive at the small airport and, after over an hour waiting for our delayed flight, we are on our way to Kota Kinabalu on the island of Borneo. Thankfully, our guest house picks us up from the airport and before long we are getting settled into our room after a long day of travelling. Tomorrow, we explore the city.
We're up late, there being no windows in our room and our alarm clock having just absorbed the last impact with the floor to send it into oblivion. By the time we emerge from the guesthouse, it is midmorning. The sun beats down, and the humidity is stifling. I resume the now familiar task of holding my sweat covered clothes off my skin with the futile hope they will dry. They don't.
We reach our destination: a boardwalk along the ocean that sounds pleasant enough for a walk. We pass the night market food stalls, now closed and empty. The boardwalk ends abruptly at a parking lot, then resumes again. In about 10 minutes, we've reached the end, seen empty restaurants, hotels and condo complexes, and some boats. Now what? We look toward town: shopping malls, hotels, and condos. Perhaps we should catch a ferry to one of the nearby islands, I venture. They have beaches and swimming. Laura agrees, but we haven't brought anything with us for the beach so we return to our guesthouse and change. Walking once more toward town, we haven't covered 100 metres before the first raindrop falls. By the time we've reached downtown, it is falling heavily. The downpour shows no signs of stopping. We decide to head for lunch.
We can't find the restaurant we're looking for, a Malaysian café with famous pancake-type snacks. We walk past restaurants with a few customers, but haven't yet figured out what's what on the menus and it doesn't look like anyone there speaks English. After half an hour, we end up in Pizza Hut.
We eat, find an internet café, and spend much of the afternoon there waiting for the rain to stop. When it finally does and we emerge to try to hike up a nearby hill for a view, we find the walkway through the forest looking abandoned, dark, and a little ominous in the late afternoon light. We turn back resignedly.
We walk along sidewalks that end abruptly, then continue a short way before ending again, sending pedestrians into traffic, teetering along the curb, and dodging puddle splashes from passing cars. People are clearly not meant to walk here. The shopping malls loom large in the middle of the city. People are, it seems, meant to shop.
It is while walking along a muddy median as cars flash past, jagged construction of a new hotel overhead, that I make up my mind: this town sucks.
We return downtown in the evening and eat at one of the food stalls along the boardwalk. Noodles and rice. Tasty, but not exciting. We order two mango juices and receive glasses the size of fishbowls. Before long, we return to our guesthouse, pack, and get ready for our trip the following day.
It will be an early morning as we embark on our trip into the rainforest, living for two days in rustic accommodations in the middle of it all.