Culture shock with jungle fever

kk bus stationIt is hot. Bloody hot. One of those days where it is thirty-something degrees but it feels like fifty. I feel like a donkey; carrying my big, heavy backpack, my daypack and my camera bag. Too cheap to pay for the ridiculously cheap taxis I walk and sweat my way to the mini bus station. The mini bus station turns out to be a minibus station and not so much a tiny bus station. I see hundreds of commuting Malay people who know exactly where to go. In the middle of all this I stand out as the tourist who doesn’t have a clue.

I’m considering paying for a taxi to bring me to the big bus station, but I’ve just worked up a sweat and I am not going to back down now. So when a man starts talking to me I grab the opportunity to ask which bus goes to Inanam. The old man starts yelling things I do not understand. He walks towards a few guys, gestures for me to come, and a few minutes later I am pushing my big bag in the tiny bus while the drivers comments: “that’s a lot of baggage eh.”

Fifteen minutes later the door is slammed shut and suddenly I realize I’m in a vehicle which would not be allowed on the road in any western country. The driver has a heavy lever with which he can open the door. Bam! Ready to go. The van is squeaking and every time we hit a bump in the road I am sure my feet will fall through the bottom and will be dragged along the road. My mind starts sending me images that the driver will take me to some deserted alley to rob me and leave me crying near a pile of trash. For the rest of the trip I am holding on the iron bar in front of me.

I hear a loud bang behind me. This is the stop sign. Someone wants to get off. After a few bangs I see a bus station. I have never been so thankful to arrive at a location safely. I had to wait for three hours before I could get a seat on a bus. When it’s finally check in time for my long distance bus I take the wrong seat. While laughing at me a guy sends me to the right seat. Apparently tempat duduk means seat number. Just before we leave a lady comes in to spray air freshener all over the bus. When the bus starts moving I am glad she did. It is like the air-conditioning is taking the air straight from the toilet.

The bus moves slowly through the mountains along the windy road towards Sandakan. I stare at the grey, lonely peaks of Mount Kinabalu and at the mighty dense jungle and the few houses along the road. It is starting to get late and the jungle slowly disappears in the darkness. The bus driver is trying to avoid the holes in the road so sleeping is not an option. We have a quick stop for dinner where I am trying to figure out how the toilets work. There is nothing but a bucket with water. So where am I supposed to go? I decide to hold it until I am in the city.

Just before we reach the city the bus stops in the middle of the jungle. Everyone is talking, but I don’t understand a thing. Then a military man with a big machine gun enters the bus. Everyone is talking out ID cards so I quickly reach for my passport. They are not even looking at mine though. I was getting a bit nervous now. The whole trip was taking way more time then they’d told me and I wasn’t even sure if the hostel I was going to would still be open. My phone was dead and now there was a guy with a machine gun.

Luckily the holdup was only brief and there were no suspicious persons inside our coach. The rest of the trip I was fighting to keep my tears in. This had been an emotional ride. I was longing for a bed so I could process everything that had happened today. When the bus entered the station in Sandakan I couldn’t wait to get into a taxi. I fended off a guy trying to get my number and told the driver to take me to the hostel. I checked in ten minutes before the reception was to close.

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