Friday 7 November

Rob and I had hoped for a swim before breakfast, and are disappointed to discover that the pool doesn’t open until 8 am. We finally meet the joining group at breakfast. There are eight of them – Steve, Martin and Monika, Sarah, Sue, Nancy, Laura, and David – but they have arrived ahead of us and already filled one table, so we sit nearby.

We leave at 9 am on a spacious mini coach with spontaneously reclining seats. Out of KK, we begin to climb slowly. Palms line the road. After a couple of hours, we stop at a layby next to some souvenir stalls. Peter tells us that this is the best place to buy mementos of the trip. After much umming and urring I finally settle on a wooden carving of five geckos to hang on my living room wall. There’s no need to haggle hard – the price comes down very easily and it is hardly expensive anyway (RM34 or £6). I begin to wonder how I will get it home in one piece though, as it is plainly too large to go in my rucksack.

As the coach continues to climb the winding road, it becomes cooler and begins to rain lightly. A group of workmen are busy clearing a small landslip from yesterday.

Valley Valley next to the Fairy Garden Hotel

Our hotel, the Fairy Garden Hotel, is just outside the Kinabalu National Park on the hillside overlooking a cultivated valley. After lunch, we drive for an hour to Poring Hot Springs. It is raining heavily when we arrive. The orchid and butterfly houses close in one hour, so a few of us hurry off up the path to see the orchids right away. There is a RM10 entrance fee to see – well, nothing really. The fibreglass imitation log bridge entrance should really have warned us away. In a place where natural materials are so readily available, why would have they have chosen a tacky plastic construction?

A path leads us between clumps of unidentified foliage. The place is in some state of disrepair and a fallen pergola blocks the path in two places. I manage to find one bloom that I feel must definitely be an orchid, and two more that might be.

Back at the entrance, we ask for our money back. The man in the booth is very resistant, but after some persistent arguing we manage to get the boss over, who eventually accedes to our request, though with bad grace.

The butterfly house is much more satisfactory, even though it is still raining heavily and the butterflies are mostly sheltering underneath leaves. But there is an excellent exhibition centre that explains the different genera into which butterflies are classified, and the chief characteristics of the different groups. There are also some splendid specimens on display (although I would much rather see the live article).

Canopy Walk Steve on the Canopy Walk

The other main attraction at Poring is the canopy walk. A steep path leads up the hillside, from where a system of walkways leads out into the treetops. It is a bit swingy, but gives an interesting perspective on the rain-forest. Rain is definitely the flavour of the day and it returns with vigour as we reach the final platform.

Most of the group have had enough, but Steve, Fi, Rob, Helen and I decide to make the walk up to the bat cave. It’s a bit more of a climb than we really expected, but we finally feel we’ve done something worthwhile with the day when we arrive. It’s not that much of a cave – just a few tumbled boulders, but many bats are hanging from the lower surfaces. The place turns out to be swarming with leeches too.

In the evening, we pack our small bags for Mount Kinabalu – just a change of clothes, sheet sleeping bag, and some thermals. I arrange to have my gecko carving sent back to KK in the bus, which is returning tomorrow for another group. At dinner the “B Team” have beaten us down to the restaurant and filled a table again, so no mixing of the groups as yet.