Natalie Saar continues with blogging on her gap year in Borneo experience. As the weeks go by, there’s more and more things to do, like going diving, sampling food at the night market, a bit of cultural dancing and more… (photos courtesy of our dive partner, Borneo Dream) I can barely believe it myself but I’m writing to you now as a qualified scuba diver! For the past couple of days we have been staying in Kota Kinabalu, the closest city to Mount Kinabalu, the highest peak in South East Asia, (which some members of our group will climb later on in the trip!) . This is actually our second time in the busy coastal city which the locals nickname KK since we spent a night here upon our initial arrival in Borneo. It is strangely åÊnice to be somewhere remotely familiar! We’ve enjoyed some beautiful balmy nights together by the waterfront, watching the boats bobbing on the water as the sun sets with a cocktail or two (or three!). Most nights we go for dinner at the night markets by the waterfront. Stall holders have a reserved area where they set themselves up each evening. There are colourful displays of fresh fish, gleaming raw, until you ask the stallholder to cook it, which he does right in front of you, bones, scales and all! åÊEven cheaper is the fried rice or noodles, cooked in huge hissing woks in a secret combination of soya sauce, oyster sauce, garlic and the oh-so-necessary pinch of MSG, åÊusually with bits of scrambled egg or spring onions tossed in. For about 8 ringgit, the equivalent of two dollars fifty Australian, you can get a pretty good feed! For dessert everyone likes to indulge in some of the many sweets and mini pastries for sale. Frilly pancakes, dumplings filled with Kaya (coconut jam) and sugar coated donuts sit alongside parcels of sweet sticky rice wrapped in a banana leaf, or banana fritters, a local favourite of sliced banana deep-fried in yummy batter (we had a go at making them ourselves one night at the longhouse camp too! ). However, in the realm of baked goods, we’ve learnt it’s always safer to buy them fresh from the market. Anything in a shop is usually unrecognisable because it’s decorated with furry green mould or being mauled by ants! Mmm delicious – I simply say it’s extra protein! Aside from experimenting with all the Malaysian flavours, our main purpose for being in KK was to complete our Open Water PADI Scuba Diving Course. People who chose not to do the diving enjoyed a couple of well-earned R&R days in KK instead, in which some individuals decided to dye their hair unusual colours… Honestly most of us simply jumped at the opportunity to visit a real supermarket and have a midnight feast at the local McDonalds joint (fun times!). The scuba diving itself was absolutely incredible. We learnt how to set up all the necessary equipment including our BCD and SPG (which I kept mixing up). But truly nothing compares to that feeling of being absolutely weightless, hearing nothing but your own inhalation and exhalation through your mask (cue the Darth Vader music) and knowing you are literally breathing underwater. I felt like I was defying gravity or something! After some shallow dives, in which we practised skills and drills like taking your goggles off underwater or breathing from your buddy’s tank if you run out of air, we embarked into deeper waters. There we saw kingdoms of coral, sea cucumbers feeding on the ocean floor with their tiny suction cups, Nemos floundering around in anemones, starfish lounging next to sea urchins and more. It’s like a whole new world under there! Our last dive was my favourite, when one of the instructors brought down his underwater camera and got some happy snaps of us posing underwater. When we returned to the camp at Tinangol, we only had one final day left on the project. I’m proud to say our group mixed A LOT of concrete that day! We are all satisfied with our contributions here – we’ve managed to complete about a third of the walls for the kindergarten and almost all of the scaffolding, as well as created concrete blocks to cover up the drainage system so villagers won’t fall in. Go Team! It was sad to leave the construction site that we have all put so much hard work into over the past couple of weeks, but I’m genuinely so excited to begin work on our next project, environmental conservation in the jungle at Batu Puteh! We were also sorry to leave Henri, the English woman who works for an ‘Architects without Borders’ type organisation which is trying to integrate sustainable local materials into their building projects all over the world. She has been living with us at the longhouse camp (and letting us use her laptop to watch communal movies) and will be leading the volunteering groups that follow after us over the next three months. We will miss her brilliant sense of humour, hammering arm and kick ass karaoke skills! We also wish her luck with raising the little puppy we have stolen/’adopted’ from the village (more apt description would be that we saved it from the village children who liked to sit on it or pull its legs in different directions – she’s much better off with Henri). We have named her Surupu, meaning good fortune in Malay. I hope she will bring luck to the people who come to our camp after us. Our last night at Tinangol was extra special. The cooks had spent all afternoon preparing a feast for us. We each took our fill of sweet corn on the cob, lamb chops, fried chicken wings, accompanied by a fish stew and a plate of the local purple sweet potatoes. Our tummies satisfied, we joined some of the locals in a traditional dance. We laughed at our own clumsy attempts at imitating their subtle, elegant foot shuffle, but the rhythm of the gongs did get us in a musical mood for belting out “My Heart Will Go On” and “Every Move You Make” on karaoke later on in the night. Long live those soppy 90’s songs!! They never get old! Well this long bus trip to our next camp, Batu Puteh, is almost over so it’s time to sign off. Don’t worry, I’ll be sending another update soon! Thanks for reading. Selamat Tinggal! Nat See what you could be doing on our adventure add ons when on a Gap Year program out here!