The sickening, metallic crunch of an unanticipated collision punched my eardrums like a thunder clap. Instinctively, I whipped my head around and scanned the scene. There had been no telltale screeching of tires. Apparently, no one saw it coming. A white helmet came bouncing past me followed by the hilux pick-up that had just broadsided a motorcycle. The truck rolled past and slowed to a stop. Through the windshield I could see the driver’s face was blank, pale, shocked. I spun around and strode towards the body slumped on the ground. The man lay 20 feet from a mangled bike that had sent sparks flying across the asphalt before skidding to a stop. The lights were on and the engine was still running.
Village market at the base of Mt. Kinabalu
In situations like this, bystanders are often collectively shocked and fail to recognize themselves as first responders. “Surely someone more qualified, some authority figure, will appear and handle this,” the rational goes. “This isn’t my role.” As precious time slips away, the faces in the crowd look around helplessly at one another, desperately hoping someone will take control. On this cool evening, at this roundabout, next to this village market in Borneo, it was me. I was the closest person. I was even closer than the people in the car that just hit him. “Take action,” I told myself as my heart pounded and I struggled to think clearly.
"The man lay 20 feet from a mangled bike that had sent sparks flying across the asphalt before skidding to a stop."
As Mike Tyson put it, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” Adrenaline clouds your thoughts. This is why simple acronyms are so useful in stressful situations. “MARCH,” I said to myself outloud. “Massive bleeding, ummmm... airway, respiration, circulation, hypothermia. Ok. Ok.” Kneeling down beside the man, I could see that he was in his 70s, unconscious, and had a small pool of blood around his face. His breathing was heavy and labored. A quick scan revealed he likely had a few broken ribs, possibly a punctured or collapsed lung, a broken ankle, and blunt force trauma to his head. “Ok, massive bleeding,” I said, still talking to myself outloud as people began forming a circle around me. No. The bleeding from his head had slowed to a trickle. “Airway.” He was already slumped on his side in the recovery position so I didn’t need to move him. I gingerly pulled apart his lips to find dentures lodged sideways in his mouth. I pulled them out and set them on the ground next to him. Respiration. Yes. Circulation. Yes. Hypothermia. Yeah, yeah, he’s good but we need to get him to a hospital quickly.
My eyes shot up to the driver of the pick-up. “Call an ambulance,” I barked at him. “I didn’t see him,” the man whimpered. “I don’t care! Call an ambulance!” Standing up, I could tell he was too shocked to be of any use. “Fuck.” I hissed at no one in particular. I would have called one but I didn’t know the emergency number. Was it 911? 111? 000? 999? Shit. I made a mental note that this would be a good thing to put into my phone every time I went to a new country.
My eyes scanned the people around us and locked on a young man who had his phone out. “Ambulance?” I asked urgently. He nodded. I crouched back down as two others joined me. Now there were cars parking along the side of the road and the crowd had grown. People were directing traffic around us. One of the men beside me had waved down a pick-up truck and motioned to move the man to it. In the USA or Western Europe, waiting the short response time for an ambulance to arrive would likely be worth it to avoid exacerbating injuries to the neck or spine, but here I had no idea when the ambulance might arrive, if at all. It made sense to risk it to get him moving. Time was the enemy.
"Under the glow of the street light I could see that my right hand was bloody but so was his. I gave him a firm, grateful handshake."
The man’s eyes fluttered opened and he tried to lift his head as the three of us lifted him. Almost in unison, three voices, in two different languages urged him to relax in reassuring tones. Rushing around to the other side of the vehicle, I climbed across the seat and helped pull the man into the vehicle. Once he was positioned, we closed the doors and the car sped off. One of the men that had been helping me smiled and stuck out his hand. “Thank you,” he said. Under the glow of the street light I could see that my right hand was bloody but so was his. I gave him a firm, grateful handshake. “Of course,” I said, smiling wearily.
Another pick-up with several young men in the truck bed waved at me as they drove past. I waved back. They had hoisted the man’s motorcycle into the truck and appeared to be bringing it to the hospital for him. No ambulance or police car in sight but plenty of helpful bystanders willing to come together and help a stranger. Well done humanity. Well done.
It had been a week since I headed back down through Northern Luzon from Sagada to catch my flight to the Philippine Island of Palawan. On the way, I stopped in San Juan for some longboarding on small but clean waves. Once I made it to Palawan, instead of heading to El Nido, where the tourists flock, I opted for the backpacker haven of Port Barton.
White Beach, Port Barton
Coco Rico is Port Barton’s undisputed party hostel. I was content to stay at a quieter hostel around the corner but booked an island hopping booze cruise with them which turned out to be an excellent decision. My liver probably disagrees. The day before the cruise, I joined a group from the hostel for a day trip to White Beach where we played volleyball, threw the frisbee and lounged in bamboo hammocks. When we got back, I decided to come by Coco Rico for a low key nightcap with my new friends. Afterall, I wanted to take it easy to be fresh for the booze cruise the next day.
Fit for human consumption?
They had other plans. Plans that involved a shot of vodka with an entire energy drink powder packet dumped into it. I reluctantly bowed to peer pressure and knocked back the Southeast Asian Four Loco equivalent. A few San Miguel's helped get the taste out of my mouth. Before I knew it I had traded my tank top for a girl’s dress to get cheaper drink specials since the evening’s theme was “Gender Bender.” I regret nothing. It fit like a glove and I looked fabulous.
"They had other plans. Plans that involved a shot of vodka with an entire energy drink powder packet dumped into it."
Gender Bender Party
The next morning I got a slow start but felt pretty good as the group of us headed to the party boat, complete with all you can drink booze, a volunteer dj from Barcelona, a masseuse, and a waterslide. It felt like a spring break commercial. After a day of drinking, snorkeling, and partying with an international cast of backpackers I crushed some street food and went to bed at 8pm. At 3am I woke up hungover, mumbled something to myself about being too old for this shit, took some advil, chugged water and went back to sleep. Day Drinking is not for the faint of heart.
Party Boat Crew
The minibus from Port Barton to Puerto Princesa dropped me off at Sheebang Hostel a day before my flight to Malaysian Borneo. A man on a mission, I rented a scooter and headed to a coffee shop in the mall where I used fast wifi, a VPN, and my generous brother’s Amazon Prime account to catch up on the first episode of the final season of Game of Thrones. It was bittersweet and I felt a twinge of homesickness. Why now, you may ask? Well, back home, Sunday evenings were a time for friends to gather, grill out, and throw hatchets at unassuming stumps before crowding around the TV for the newest GoT episode. For a season finale one year we even picked up kangaroo, alligator, and ostrich to grill out as we sloshed our beers together saying things like “MORE MEAT AND MEAD FOR MY MEN!” Sitting alone in a foreign country watching the show on my phone, I couldn’t help but feel a bit nostalgic. But on the other hand, I’m on this amazing adventure around the world so I’ll quit bitching.
The flight from the Philippines to Kota Kinabalu airport arrived at the awkward hour of 1:30am. The buses bound for the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kinabalu National Park didn’t start running until 7am. So, I cleared customs, grabbed my backpack from baggage claim, and found a nice quiet hole-up spot under an escalator to rack out for a few hours. Conveniently located, clean bathrooms, ice cold AC, excellent security and 100% free. Not a bad “hotel” if you have your own sleeping pad and pillow.
Airport hole-up spot
In the morning I caught a minibus to Kinabalu Park and checked into a little guesthouse just down the road from the park gate. The elevation in the mountains makes the temperatures seductively cool, especially after the muggy heat I had been enduring, so I climbed into bed to top up on sleep with a little afternoon nap.
Taking a dip in Kinabalu National Park
"The strange plants, towering trees, and massive insects gave the place a prehistoric feeling."
At 6am the next day I headed into the park and did a 12km hike. Although the park office had showed me the trail map and expressly told me not to hike the longest trail due to a landslide, I conveniently forgot and hiked it anyway. Didn’t see a soul. The strange plants, towering trees, and massive insects gave the place a prehistoric feeling. After working up a sweat, I decided to cool off in a rainforest stream before finding an overlook of the valley with a view of Mt. Kinabalu. I slung up my hammock, climbed in, and thanks to a cell tower on the mountain, used my bazaarly strong signal to Facetime with family back home. “Look where I am,” I said panning around for them to see that I was deep in the rainforest. “And you have cell service,” came the surprised response.
The night after the motorcycle crash I made tracks east to Kinabatangan Wildlife Reserve to take part in the park’s river safaris. The several hour drive from Kinabalu to Kinabatangan is deeply depressing. The rainforest has been almost entirely cleared to make way for sprawling palm oil plantations as far as the eye can see. The movies "Fern Gully", "Medicine Man", and even "Avatar" warn us of the human toll on the planet's forests. You often hear worrying statistics about rainforest depletion and what that means for global warming and research into new medicines but seeing it first hand was a real gut shot.
Making way for palm oil plantations
Episode three, "Jungles" of the NETFLIX show "Our Planet", narrated by David Attenborough, provides a fascinating look at the region's unique biodiversity as well as the perils of breakneck deforestation of the world's primary rain forests, including Borneo's. The long and short of it is that palm oil is in virtually everything, grows well in the countries that contain the world's last rain forests, and has led to massive deforestation. Tourism dollars can be reaped from a few National Parks, leaving very little economic incentive for these countries to protect large swaths of unpopulated rain forest. Attempts to get an international carbon trading regime off the ground, in which wealthy, polluting countries pay poorer countries to maintain their primary rain forest to offset carbon emissions, has yet to take meaningful shape. For what you can do check out the WWF site: http://wwf.panda.org/our_work/projects/our_planet_netflix_wwf_nature_documentary/what_can_i_do/
The Kinabatangan Wetlands and Wildlife Sanctuaries are linked by the murky, crocodile infested waters of the Kinabatangan river. Opting to take public transportation and cobble together my trip instead of purchasing a package deal, I arrived at Sukau Greenview, an affordable hostel and river tour outfitter in the early afternoon. A night boat trip and another during the day turned up crocodiles, a seemingly endless list of birds, and several different primate species, including Proboscis monkeys. The dominant male proboscis monkey can be identified by his massive, gonzo-like nose and overarching brow. They really look like one of Jim Henson's Muppets. Alas, I didn't see the orangutans or pygmy elephants that top every reveler's list. I could stick around and role the dice on a few more boat tours but instead I'm off to the Semporna Islands to get back in the water. It's just too hot and I'm ready for some more undersea exploration.
Current location and route
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