Granite Mountains to Steamy Jungles

Destination: Sabah, Borneo

My personal account – by Marika Martinez

It is getting harder to take a breath in rhythm with my footsteps, at the point of not wanting to move another step in an upward direction, with shear exhaustion gripping my body; I stopped and turned around in the semi-darkness. The morning light was starting to filter through the rolling clouds in shades of orange against the dark silhouette of the rocky outcrops.


My head torch was still lighting the steep granite of the final stage to the summit that I had begun to ascend almost 4 hours before at 2:00am. It is very cold with the wind whipping against my face, sending shivers through my body. At this point there is not another soul in sight apart from my mountain guide who has patiently guided me up the steep, rough rock face to the summit plateau. The sheer beauty of daybreak against the backdrop of the view far below was enough to spur me on to the top, about another 400 metres. The top was the summit of Low’s Peak, the highest point of Mt Kinabalu at 4,095 metres. On the other side of the summit is Low’s Gully with a spectacular depth of 1.6 km straight down. At the peak I was elated and at peace with the world, having achieved my first mountain climb.

Mt Kinabalu is one of South-East Asia’s tallest mountains. It rises four kilometres straight up from the rainforest of Kinabalu Park, which was declared a World Heritage Site in 2000 by UNESCO.  The granite massif is still growing at an estimated rate of half a centimetre a year. The mountain and its surroundings feature a huge variety of flora, and is one of the world’s most important biological sites. Mt Kinabalu boasts a high level of species which are only found within Kinabalu Park and are not found anywhere else in the world. It has over 800 species of orchids, over 600 species of ferns (of which 50 are found nowhere else) and is the richest place in the world for the Nepenthes Insectivorous Pitcher plants (five of the thirteen are found nowhere else on earth). The parasitic Rafflesia plant, whose flower grows to almost 1 metre in diameter and is the largest single flower in the world, is also found in Kinabalu.


It is believed that the name of Mt Kinabalu is derived from Aki Nabalu – meaning ‘the revered place of the dead’, in the local Dusunic language. The local people farmed the slopes of the mountain, but the last 2,000 metres or so of the granite outcrop was the domain of the spirits, dreaded in all Bornean societies. Local porters and guides performed religious ceremonies on reaching the summit, where chickens were sacrificed to appease the spirits. This ceremony continues today by the local guides on an annual basis.

The long journey to the top had actually begun the morning before when our group of 11 adventurous women from as far a field as Esperance, Perth, Brisbane and Sydney, started the steep climb from the base at Kinabalu Park from where the lofty peak could be seen. The track winds over steep and rough terrain for 6km, which took up to 8 hours of uphill slog to Laban Rata at 3,250 metres, our overnight resting spot.  It was from here that the final 2.7km ascent to the summit began at 2am. By the time I reached the summit, we had all spread out over a considerable distance and not everyone made it to the top.

However we were not done yet, as we still had another 7 hours of downhill to get back to the base of the mountain. The downhill was very hard on the legs, by the end of which we were limping along on sore knees and weary muscles. Relief was in sight in the hot springs of Poring, where we spent the next day recovering.

The mountain was absolutely inspiring, however there is far more to Sabah than just the mountain. The people of the region are friendly and beautiful; they welcomed us with genuine hospitality. We travelled by four-wheel drive vehicle to the village of Kiau Nuluh, which is set among the lush green forest on the mountainside. The Dusun people number around 1,000 altogether with another three nearby villages. Our reception was delightful with a special performance by the mothers group and a dance by the local children. With a spectacular backdrop of the surrounding mountains it was a wonderful afternoon with many smiling faces.  In the evening we were treated to the most delicious dinner as special guests of the village. The array of food cooked by the women was amazing, and all from local produce of the village. Then came the very potent rice wine, which soon melted away the shyness of our attempts at both the Malaysian and English languages. The locals all loved the opportunity of talking to us and practicing their English. There were laughs and singing all around and into the night. Some of the men of the village were our guides on the climb up the mountain.


Our group then travelled to the community of Batu Puteh along the Kinabatangan River in eastern Sabah.  This indigenous rural community has had a millennia of traditional reliance on the rainforest for food, medicines, everyday commodities, as well trade with the outside world.

We spent the night in a rough jungle camp located a 20 minute boat ride up the river. Strange sounds through the darkness startled us on the night jungle walk, which revealed the native Civet Cat near our camp. Having spotted an abundance of bird life, monkeys, orangutans and crocodiles along the river, we enjoyed a hot meal and a good nights sleep to the sounds of the jungle under the stars in our hammocks.

One of the highlights of our trip was to see the ancient green turtle lay her eggs on Selingan Turtle Island in the cool of the evening. Some 44 turtles came to lay their eggs on the island that night, with each turtle laying up to 100 eggs each. It takes one to two hours for the female to complete her egg laying process, from sourcing a nesting site to returning to the sea when all is done. It was a touching experience to witness this miracle.

Selingan Island is one of a group of uninhabited islands straddling the Malaysian and Philippine boundaries lying within the Sulu Seas. This cluster of islands namely three main nesting islands – Pulau Selingan, Pulau Bakkungan Kechil and Pulau Gulisan, covers an area of 1,740 hectares and are protected for the sole purpose of conservation and preservation of turtles and other marine animals inhabiting the area.


Mountain Gorilla Tracking and more…


My Uganda Adventure


Situated in the geographical heart of the African continent, Uganda has so much to offer. It is known as the pearl of Africa, with stunning landscapes from mountains to grasslands, majestic waterfalls to the trickle that is know as the source of the Nile.

Its people are colourful, friendly and very social. Over 80% of the population of Uganda are subsistence farmers, living basic lives in small village communities which are dotted throughout the country on hillsides. Predominantly a Christian country, English is the official language taught in schools, though a myriad of local dialects are heard in the villages and towns. There are also so many children with something like 50% or more of the population aged under 19 years of age.

Mountain Gorilla tracking is of course the highlight, the real reason we visit Uganda. The gorilla tracking experience in Nkuringo is sensational. The gorilla families that have been habituated over the past several years are accustomed to people visiting them in the forest and they enjoy the interaction. Typically a family claim an area of around 30 square kms as they roam and forage for food on a. Daily basis. Therefore trackers keep an eye on their location on a daily basis, which can vary greatly, so each day is different. The hike to track the gorillas can vary from around 2 to 7 hours, depending on where they are on any given day.


The Nkuringo family group that we tracked, consists of 12 members which includes 2 Silverbacks, one being the leader of the family group andthe second one is in training to either take over the group eventually or else he will leave the group to set up his own family. There is a baby that is less than 1 year old and also 2 other young ones. The family all enjoy interacting with the infants in a very social environment. Sometimes you can be very lucky and find the gorilla family out in the open tea plantation when they have finished feeding. We came across them after a two and a half hour trek down into the valley of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. The trek starts from the park headquarters at the top of a ridge at around 2,800 metres above sea level which looks directly down into the mountainous forest below. We descended around 800 metres, passing a few small farms along the way down to the valley floor and into the Bwindi forest, then along the valley floor on tracks that had been freshly cut by the gorilla trackers that went out early in the morning. They knew where the family of gorillas were feeding the previous day, so the chances were good that they were not too far away. The gorillas do wander up to kms per day, but tend to stay within their own territorial area, not impeding on another gorilla family’s territory. Our small group of trekkers was accompanies by an experienced mountain gorilla guide and 2 armed guards. We also had the option of hiring a personal porter to carry our backpacks and assist with the climbing, this proved to be very helpful on some of the difficult terrain.

Once we were approaching the family of gorillas we could hear the grrrr of the scout gorilla letting the group know that we were nearby. One final push through a dense slope up I spotted the back of a female feeding, then another up in the tree with her baby, then the loud crack of a branch as another gorilla fell to the ground nearby. The more I peered into the dense forest, the more movement I could spot. The main Silverback was very close in the bush just ahead, he appeared to be resting while the others were feeding nearby. We were fortunate to have found them in the first valley and did not have to climb up and over into the next one. A short distance away the forest opens up to a clearing and have found the second Silverback feeding on the edge of the clearing. He was not too concerned by our presence, however once he decided to move to a more favourable spot to feed, he made it perfectly clear to us with his body language and a grrr that we must move out of his way, so he can pass.


We do not argue with a 250 kilo gorilla. He was then ready to let his family know that feeding time was over and that they should all now rest, with a few taking positions in a small bush clearing within our clear view. Here they lazed about to digest the food, playing with the baby and interacting with each other. They were not concerned about having a small audience. Only 8 people are allowed to track the gorillas at any one time and are permitted 1 hour to spend with them. Even though we should not get within 7 metres of the gorillas, they can approach us, so we had the delightful experience of being only about a metre away from them for quite a while. We are intrigued by these incredible creatures as we share almost the same DNA. The similarities of behaviour are intriguing to witness.

Regrettably our time with the gorillas had come to an end, so we began our steep ascent back out of the forest and the valley. The afternoon was bringing with it dark storm clouds, so the race to beat the rain was on and we lost, however the adventure continued. Having left the forest, around half way up, the sky opened in a deluge lasting almost an hour, however we had just come across a small, basic mud and home on the hill. The woman who lived there welcomed our group into her one roomed home, chatting and laughing with our guide, guards and porters until the rain subsided with tiny rivulets of water seeping into the mud floor of the house, however the tin roof and mud walls remained resilient to the downpour. We were welcomed back to our lodge in Nkuringo with a warm fire, great food and nice wine. The night sky also allowed us to view the fire coming straight out of the 2 active volcanoes that we could see across the valley in the Congo. What an exceptional day!

The mornings from our lodge rewarded us with a picture perfect view of pink skies and soft clouds embracing the Virunga volcanic mountain range on one side with the flat plains of the Rift Valley beyond and the mist covered Bwindi forest below on the other side.

In 1993, when the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest became a National Park, the government relocated the Pygmy forest dwellers, the Batwa people out of the forest in order to protect the dwindling mountain gorilla population, which numbers around a mere 700 in total today. The Batwa people did not hunt the gorillas for food as they regarded them as another group of Batwa also living in the forest, however they were hunted for sacrifice. The Batwa were nomadic people foraging for food in the jungle, erecting small temporary shelters having mastered the art of starting a fire with friction in the damp forest. They also built shelters high up in the trees, these were for the children to be kept safe while they adult searched for food during the day. Most plants had either a medicinal or nutritional purpose that the Batwa people had become knowledgeable with. Today they are trying to educate the next generation with the way they lived in the forest so their unique heritage and culture is not lost.


There are other tribes of people in the northern part of Uganda that have very recently been discovered, still living very primitive lives, never having seen other people.

Following our experience with the mountain gorillas of Uganda, the next day a small group of us trekked with our guide to his village home, where his mother had a pot bubbling away on an open fire with delicious smells wafting from it. While lunch was cooking we were guided through the families subsistence farm, munching on sugar cane the whole time. Beans and potatoes are staple foods with each family growing enough for themselves. Tomatoes, cabbage, yams, onions, bananas, pineapple, coffee and sugar cane are also grown in plentiful quantities. Our delicious lunch, served outside in a communal bowl consisted of a bean, onion, cabbage and potatoe stew which we helped to cook by chopping the onions and cabbage and storing the pot.

The following day we departed our lodge in Nkuringo, walking around 10 kms along tracks that led through open farms, villages and rolling hills. At one point the track took us past a local primary school and all the children started running to follow us, some of who have not seen a white face before. The track ultimately led us down to a beautiful lake where waiting for us were dug out canoes made from eucalyptus logs. The 3 hour paddle across the lake was restful and peaceful with the chance to snooze, daydream and gaze while the local fisherman did the hard work of paddling. Arriving to Kisoro we were whisked away to the Virunga Volcano National Park for a hearty meal of the best steak I have ever had. With 2 nights in our Eco Lodge, the next day will be tracking the Golden Monkeys up into the primary bamboo forest, a very different landscape, though mountain gorillas do also roam the bamboo forest, they enjoy bamboo as well. The golden monkeys are unique to this area and as all monkeys, keep you entertained easily for the hour we had with them.

After returning to Entebbe with a short flight, our tour had now ended and I am armed with lots of photos and stories to share with my family and friends of my up close and personal experience with the Mountain Gorillas of Uganda. An exceptional adventure!

If you are looking for such an adventure take a look at this sensation adventure you can join:

I think it’s time you went to Antarctica

Antarctica conjures up images of ice and pristine landscapes melding into contorted frozen shapes, crystal clear waters, floating ice burgs against a backdrop of snow capped mountains and deep blue skies, breaching whales and colonies of penguins in a vastness never before experienced. It certainly did not disappoint!

The Antarctic Peninsula and South Shetland Islands are home to some of the planet’s most impressive wildlife and dramatic landscapes.

The starting point of our adventure is the southernmost town in the world – Ushuaia, in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, which nestles between the spectacular snow-capped mountains of the Andes and the Beagle Channel.


Antarctic Peninsula

There on the dock was a smallish red expedition ship I knew instantly to be our home for the next 12 days as we embark upon the 2 day voyage across the Drake Passage in order to reach the Antarctic Peninsula and South Shetland Islands. Having just met some ladies who had disembarked that very morning after a gruelling passage, I checked to ensure there were adequate seasickness tablets in my kit. As luck would have it, our crossing was more attuned to floating on a pond than the stories of treacherous seas I had heard that very morning.

The seabirds that thrive in these conditions, mainly Cape Petrels and Fulmars put on a display as they soared around the ship with a few Gray Headed Albatross joining them, while they escorted the ship to Antarctica.

The crossing gave us time to acquaint ourselves with the ship. The cabins are very comfortable with twin beds and private en-suite bathroom. There is even a small writing table and chair, wardrobe and shelving. Each cabin also boasts a window or porthole.

At 105 metres in length, with a capacity to hold 120 guests, the MS Expedition is an ideal vessel for expedition travel in the Polar region.

The ship has an ‘Open Bridge’ policy, which means that anyone can freely visit the bridge at virtually any time. This is such an interesting place to sit with charts and instruments that the Captain is more than happy to explain. With a birds eye view and a pair of binoculars at hand, the first whale sightings often occur from the Bridge.

The ship has generous decks on each level, as well as large windows throughout the ship in order to maximize viewing possibilities. There is a comfortable library where more knowledge can be gained on the rich wildlife we will most likely encounter over the coming days.

Lectures are presented each day in the Discovery Lounge by our on-board Glaciologist, Geologist, Marine Biologist, Historian and Naturalist. We also enjoy daily photo workshops with instruction and advice from our expert photographer.

Delicious, gourmet meals are served in the dining room where guests mingle and swap stories of the days adventures.

Following the Drake Passage crossing, our first morning in Antarctica started with a stunning sunrise in Gerlache Strait, lighting up the surrounding mountains. After breakfast we watched three Humpback Whales lounging among icebergs and they became curious and swam under the bow to give glimpses of long white pectoral fins under the water. We dropped anchor in the Errera Channel off Cuverville Island, where we went ashore among the nesting and moulting Gentoo Penguins. The chicks were nearly fullgrown and moulting into their adult feathers ready to face the world. They are one of several species to be found in the region. These little penguins are so inquisitive, they come to take a closer look and nibble on my boots. Their hilarious antics keep us entertained for ages with plenty of incredible photo opportunities.

There were several large icebergs grounded between the anchorage and the island and we could cruise with the Zodiacs between them to see the blue colours and amazing sculptures.

The next morning was capped by our crossing of the Antarctic Circle, this imaginary line of latitude running at 66°33’44”S south. Champagne was in order and we gathered to celebrate the MS Expedition’s, and our own passage.

We settled into a daily routine aboard the MS Expedition – starting with an early morning wake up call, meals in the dining room, twice daily excursions (weather permitting) in the zodiacs or kayaks, landings where possible and abundant wildlife viewing and interaction. The itinerary packs in a diverse range of amazing experiences.

Preparing for our zodiac cruise in the bays and among the ice was an adventure in itself. Donning layer upon layer of clothing topped with our Expedition jackets we uncontaminated our boots before immersing ourselves in this pristine natural environment.

Charlotte Bay turned out to be my favourite spot for an upclose and personal look at the Humpback Whales. In this deep bay we found calm seas and beautiful vistas. It did not take long to spot a half dozen Humpbacks and soon the full armada of zodiacs and kayaks were cruising in all directions in search of amazing encounters and sensational photos. Some groups stayed with a particular whale or two while others drifted around the bay to take it all in. I could have reached out and touched the whale that gently rose to the surface right next to our zodiac. He took a long look at us just as we were looking at him. These massive creatures are often inquisitive and when they are not feeling threatened, they sometimes approach zodiacs and kayaks to take a closer look. This was the most amazing experience I have had in my life.

After a calm night of penguin lullabies, the brave campers who chose to spend the night on the ice in a tent, awoke to a brisk morning, with a fiery, brilliant sunrise over Booth Island. Shortly after, everyone was cozy and warm back on the ship, and we were on our way to our next adventure. On the way, we watched in awe as the bridge team delicately navigated the Lemaire Channel through masses of ice and a number of breathtaking narrow passages. We continued through the Neumeyer Channel, a winding corridor between glacier-rimmed peaks, made spectacular in the sunshine of another phenomenal day with breaching Humpbacks whales to entertain us.

We once again woke to a beautiful autumn day here in the Antarctic, en route to the Ukrainian scientific research station, Vernadsky. It was purchased from the British in 1996 for all of one pound. The British occupied it for 49 years studying geophysics, meteorology and ionospherics. Today the Ukrainian scientists concentrate on ozone research, geomagnetism, meteorology and glaciology. At the station we got a quick tour, and then were scuffled off to the bar where we could partake in their home-brewed “hootch” that packed a serious punch especially as it was only10 o’clock in the morning!

Our day on Deception Island was unlike the others, full of history, geology and the desolate Antarctic landscape of an active volcano in the South Shetlands. Following the morning wake-up call, many of us headed out on deck for our pass through Neptune’s Bellows, the sea entrance to the caldera of Deception Island. The morning was spent at Telefon Bay on the northwest side of Port Foster. From the wide, black sand beach, we walked up a gentle slope to the rim of a crater. Many continued on to more scenic overlooks, and others meandered their way back to the beach. Finally, the moment many had been waiting for…the polar plunge. The water just a degree below freezing, we plunged head first into the Antarctic water to the admiration of our audience of Fur Seals along the shore. The sauna was packed to the max upon arrival back at the ship.

Before commencing our homeward journey across the Drake Passage to Ushuaia, we paid a visit to the Antarctic Sound, a place where giant icebergs of incredible colours and shapes are trapped in the bay by the wind and currents, having broken off from ice shelves in the Weddell Sea.

Not only were we treated to this incredible landscape and wildlife by getting out there amongst it, we also enjoyed many informative lectures, entertaining films, great company topped off with the black & white dinner and award ceremony.

Antarctica should be at the top of your bucket list, it was on mine and it will stay with me forever.

Wildlife in Sabah, Borneo

A Natural Beauty for Adventurous Souls

It is no surprise that the producers of the reality series, “Survivor”, chose Sabah when selecting a wild natural scenery for the 2000 debut. Situated on the eastern edge of Borneo, Malaysia, Sabah is simply a land of awe-inspiring natural beauty. Sabah is rated among the top destinations for nature and wildlife adventure. Get closer to Sabah Borneo Wildlife in the company of like-minded people with Women’s Own Adventure. The wildlife sights in Sabah include orangutans, turtles, bearded pigs, macaques, monkeys, crocodiles, pythons, marbled cats, rhinos and elephants.

The region has more adventure to offer than you can imagine. Embark on the adventurous ascent to the mystical Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in South-East Asia. The scene of the sunrise at the summit of the mountain will simply take your breath away! And, when you mix with the local Dusun people while experiencing the Miki Jungle Survival Camp, you will definitely become knowledgeable about ancient cultures and traditions of Sabah.

Wildlife in Sabah – Welcome to the Jungle

Once you mention Borneo, what quickly comes to mind is an amazing wildlife jungle filled with orangutans and varieties of animal species. Charles Darwin once said this about Borneo; “A great, wild untidy lush conservatory prepared by nature itself”. To different people Sabah Borneo stands for different things – “home to frogs that fly”, “an abode of fishes that walk on mud”, “a habitat of monkeys that dive and swim”, “a locale for plants that eat insects”…

The natural beauty of Sabah combined with its distinctive range of wildlife and plants make the location an irresistible lure to adventurous souls who want to closely encounter Orangutans, Nesting Turtles, Proboscis Monkeys, and out-of-this-world nature trails. You will surely experience memorable encounters with the wildlife and flora of Sabah.


You can only find Orangutans on Borneo and Northern Sumatra. These primates are notable inhabitants of the Borneo rainforest and constitute the largest lure to wildlife adventure vacations and tours.


Reptiles and Amphibians

The several layers of the Borneo rainforest harbor hundreds of species of amphibians and reptiles. The rainforest is famous for its flying species, with flying frogs and flying lizards being the most abundant. Well, these reptiles and amphibians don’t literally fly, but leap and glide long distances. You can also witness sea turtles lay their eggs with a night on Turtle Island.


Large Mammals

The Borneo rainforest also harbors large mammals, particularly elephants and rhinos. The specie of elephants here are the pygmy elephants – smaller, fatter, and less aggressive compared to the African elephant. Large cats such as leopards are also to be found in the rainforest.


There are over 15,000 plant species in the rainforest and a good number of them are only found in Borneo, the world’s richest rain forests. The most notable being the carnivorous plants; the Tropical Pitcher Plant (Nepenthes) and the and the giant Rafflesia, where the flower may be over 100 cm in diamater and weigh up to 10 kilos.


Explore a mystical land on our journey into Sabah, a place teeming with wildlife and natural beauty. Join a group of women who share the same interest with Women’s Own Adventure. You’ll remember every minute of this unforgettable adventure!