University At Sea travel blog

Welcome to Kota Kinabalu

Mount Kinabalu



Pitcher Plant

Pitcher Plant

February 6, 2010

We had another early start today in order to travel for about two hours to Mt. Kinabalu National Park, Malaysia’s first World Heritage site, within sight of the mountain, Malaysia’s highest peak at 4094 meters. We saw the top of the mountain at intervals along the way, but its peak was obscured by clouds, even though the sky was a beautiful blue.

Kota Kinabalu is in the state of Sabah, part of Malaysia, the third country of Borneo; the other two are Brunei and Indonesia. Many of the people are of Chinese decent, but there are thirty-two indigenous groups. The major religion is Muslim, followed be Christian/Catholics, Buddhist and Hindu. Muslims have special rites such as job opportunities; however the people live in in harmony.

Our guide asked if anyone felt itchy. We were passing trees known as fishtail palm, recognized by the fishtail shape of their fronds. The fruit, if touched, causes severe skin irritation that can last 8 to 12 hours. One way to relieve the itching is to apply adhesive tape and that will pull off the spores. Eating the fruit can cause swelling of the larynx and suffocation. Most of the trees have been removed.

English is taught in school from age 5 to 17; Malay is also taught as the native language. Most people are bilingual and quite a few speak at least five to ten different languages because of all the different ethnic groups.

We learned how valuable coconut trees were not only as food, but as lumber; it is very strong and its length is useful in building bridges. The fronds are used as food wraps and roofs, the spine can be made into brooms, and the juice can also be used to cool the body if there is a fever, it s also believed to treat measles. When I thought I was drinking coconut milk in Vietnam was really coconut juice. Coconut juice is the liquid from unripe coconuts; there was a surprisingly large amount of this juice from the coconut I was served. Coconut milk is the liquid extracted from pressing the flesh of ripe coconuts.

Our guide wanted to explain about the palm oil industry. The palm produces about ten times the volume of what a crop like soybeans would produce. Each year the soybeans are burned, whereas the palm produces fruit for about 20 years before it is cut down when its commercial value has diminished and new trees are planted. Other plants are inter-planted among the palm trees, plus animals, birds and other wildlife thrive.

Education is free with the exception of school supplies. Physical punishment is applied by caning for being truant and not completing homework. For continued offenses public caning is done before the student body.

Because of the length of the ride, we had our lunch before entering the park. The timing wasn’t advantageous. When we got to the park a number of buses were already there, all from the ship. With limited sightseeing venues, the ship and Exploritas seemed to converge. As a result there were many people crossing paths on limited trails. Even though our guide was an expert botanist and we had earpieces to hear him, if one was in the rear you didn’t know what plant he was identifying by the time you got there. Two guides would have been necessary for our group. The most interesting plants were a couple varieties of pitcher plants, some orchids and the world’s smallest orchid, barely visible.

The botanical area is home to about 1200 species of orchids (very few were in bloom), plus many other species of plants, mammals and birds. I would have loved to spend a lot more time with better plant identification.

We did some hiking up a steep incline, but time was limited and we turned back. We were prepared for rain, but that didn’t happen. It was fortunate because the trail was like clay and would have been very slippery if it was wet. We had a long ride back to the ship. This excursion did not fulfill my expectations for all the time spent getting there.

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