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July 11, 2006 – Kota Kinabalu (KK)

Had an early morning fight from Sandakan to Kota Kinabula (KK) – sat on the wrong side of the plane and missed the view of Mt. Kinabula again – Darned the luck!

Our local guide, Roselin met us at the airport. Thomas is not feeling well. He stayed up watching the World Cup soccer match. Italy beat France for the championship. Now Thomas has a cold.

Roselin, another sweet gentle soul from another tribe, explained to us the animalism / religion of the forest. People pay attention to birds and animals because their behaviors are allegedly signs from God. If a certain bird flies across your path from left to right, you must go home. (Imagine calling in to work saying a humming bird just flew by me, so I won’t be in today!) Roselin also said the people of the forest worship rice. They clear a section of the forest (secondary forest); burn the brush and plant rice (dry rice). During the harvest they have a BIG celebration. They just finished clearing the land for planting now.

Our first stop was the Monsopiad Cultural Village on the scenic Moyog River bank. The Monsopiad cultural village is a reconstruction of the traditional buildings that the Kadazan tribe used to live in many years ago. (Today, the largest ethnic group in Sabah is the Kadazan people, who make up of 30% of the population in that state.)

The village is named in honor of a once great warrior and headhunter, Monsopiad, who lived here some 300 years ago. Opened in 1996, the village is privately owned and managed by Monsopiad’s direct descendants.

Monsopiad Cultural Village

Monsopiad Cultural Village

Monsopiad Cultural Village

Monsopiad Cultural Village

The Legend of Monsopiad

Centuries ago a woman named Kizabon was pregnant. She lived in a house with her husband, Dunggou. A sacred Bugang bird made its nest on the roof of their house and stayed there throughout Kizabon's pregnancy.

When the child was due to be born, the Bugang birds hatched as well. The father of the child took the sign as a good omen -- a sign that his newborn son would have special powers. He named his son, Monsopiad. The father gave the birds special care as well, and whenever his son took a bath, Dunggou would take the young birds down from their nest to have a bath with his son. When done, he later returned them to the safety of their nest. This was done diligently until the birds were strong enough to leave the nest.

The young boy grew up in the village Kuai (which is the grounds of the Cultural Village). His maternal grandfather was the headman of the village. However, their village was often plundered and attacked by robbers and due to the lack of warriors in the village, the villagers had to retreat and hide while the robbers ransacked their homes.

However, Monsopiad was given special training and he turned out to be an excellent fighter and grew up to become a warrior. He vowed to hunt down and fight off the warriors that had terrorized his village for so long. He will bring back their heads as trophies and hang them from the roof of his house.

Monsopiad was so successful at destroying all his village enemies that soon no robbers or evil warriors dared to challenge him. However, the urge to kill had gotten into Monsopiad's blood and he simply could not stop himself from beheading more people. He started provoking other men into fighting him so that he would have an excuse to kill and behead them.

With his changed attitude, all the villagers and his friends became afraid of him. Left with no choice, the village got a group of brave warriors together and they planned to eliminate Monsopiad. Much as they respected Monsopiad for his heroic deeds, they had no choice for he had slowly turned into a threat.

One night the warriors went to kill Monsopiad as he was resting in his house. As they attacked him, he fought back fiercely but realized that he had lost his special powers that were bestowed upon him by the Bugang bird. By abusing his gift, he was left powerless and on that night, Monsopiad died.

Despite his downfall, the villagers still loved Monsopiad for all that he had done for them. All in all, he collected 42 heads. We viewed his headhunting trophies (42 skulls) hanging from the rafters and his sword.

We were greeted by traditional music and then offered a rice wine welcoming drink. (I bought two bottles of rice wine to go.)

Monsopiad musical greeting

Monsopiad musician

A cool Kadazan tribal gal showed us around. We climbed the steps to the House of Skulls where 42 skulls hang from the rafters. These skulls were the head hunting trophies collected from the great headhunter and warrior Monsopiad. We learned from our guide the basic rules of headhunting -- only face-to-face combat (like a dual) and never with women, children or older people. The skull was the trophy for winning the combat. The loser’s body was buried or cremated, never eaten. The heads were placed in a straw sling to protect the tribe from the evil spirit of the dead guy.

Monsopiad Hose of Skulls

Skulls on rafters

Also in the House of Skulls we saw feather-like darts for sending the spirit to heaven. I loved the photos of their last celebration (in 2000) with the elderly female priestesses (Bobohizans). These Kadazan gals seemed powerful and in charge. Now I understand why – they have a long tradition of putting women in the role of high priestess – ruling the villages and taking care of health and spiritual well being of the people.

Next we went to their “rice wine factory”. The entire operation was on the ground level, tucked under a house on stilts. In charge of the wine making process that day was one tough old bird assisted by one beautiful smiling young girl. The young girl seemed so happy to be with the older lady. I wondered if the older lady was a high priestess or that lovely young lady's grandmother.

Making rice wine

Wine maker and her apprentice

Our guide showed us the yeast tablets (used to start the fermentation process for the wine) strung together like pearls. They passed out samples of distilled rice wine in palm leaves shaped like Dixie cups. The cups worked great – and no landfill problems!

Describing the wine making process

Serving rice wine

Next we learned about harvesting and processing rice. First was a rice-pounding demo where the hull is broken away from the kernel by two women pounding the raw rice. Of course, I volunteered my services and got into the rhythm of pounding the rice with my partner. After the hull is broken away from the kernel, the mixture is left out in the sun to dry. The drying processing makes it easier to separate out the hulls just by shaking it in a flat basket. Our guide said this process takes so long and is too much trouble – so now they just go to the store and buy some rice. (I liked her sense of humor.)

Processing rice

Pounding rice

We went to their village's concert hall for a little music and dancing. We watched six beautiful young dancers gracefully move around the stage. The musicians with their strange instruments were seated above the stage. One dance was like birds flying, innocent and pure. I volunteered to join in and be a part of the dance troop. From our close circle of dancers on stage, I could observe the details of my fellow dancers’ costumes and their broad, graceful feet with toes widely separated. (These feet were use to touching Mother Earth – not bound up in some shoe all day long.)

The last dance involved hopping between bamboo poles that some of the dancers were constantly opening and slamming together. Thomas came over to give me a shot of rice wine (like the Iban custom) before I joined in that dance. WOW – After I learned the basic step, the music speeded up along with my excitement and adrenalin! Jack and LaVerne joined in. They were great, but half way through the dance, I lost my rhythm and my nerve and stood there with one foot hanging limply, just ready to take the plunge, but not quite sure. Such fun.

Monsopiad folk dance

Nancy taking her bows

After the dancing festivities, we crossed the swinging bridge to get a view of the village from across the Moyog River.

Across the River from Monsopiad village

Suspension bridge

Bill and La Verne on bridge


There were Tourist police to help us cross the road (a road with very little traffic) and get back on the bus. Man-oh-man, they really protect their tourists – don’t know why -- maybe a few headhunters are still hiding out in these here parts.

We stopped at the State Mosque for a photo opp and watched a few Muslim students walk by.

State mosque

Muslim students

Our last stop of the day was the Philippine market. It was jam-packed with goods sectioned into little stalls. I bought Zi some little wooden characters mounted on popcycle sticks and I bought Amy a beautiful piece of woven fabric.

Philippine market

Fabric vendors

When I was waiting for the others to finish shopping, I handed out some jumping beans to the locals. The guys at the fish market went crazy over them.

Philippine market

Guys with jumping beans

The kids on the wharf had a heck of a time playing with them. My most delighted customers were the gals on the street corner. They had the best time dancing and moving their bodies as they moved the jumping beans back and forth in the palm of their hands.

Kid at the Philippine market

Kids playing with jumping beans

We checked into the Magellan Sutera Hotel and SPA and downed our welcoming drink. Man, what a place! Gorgeous building and wonderful surrounding resort grounds. The golf course has lights so that golf addicts can play all night long!

Magellan Sutera Hotel and SPA

Magellan Sutera pool

Hotel lobby

Welcome drink

We settled into our lovely rooms and then met Terry and Bev to get a little something to eat. Bill and I split a turkey baguette – pretty good.

View from our balcony

Our room

Jaime didn’t go on the morning KK city bus tour with us. He and some others opted for a snorkel. Poor guy, someone didn’t apply the spray sunscreen properly and now his back is a total sunburned blotched mess. But Jaime is a good sport and just goes with the flow, no matter what happens. He’s a delight to have around.

After our late, light lunch, we went back to the room to shower and do the laundry. We watched, “A Mighty Wind” on HBO – a story about a folk singers’ reunion / revival – very funny.

We met Terry and Jaime at 5 pm at the hotel lobby to shuttle into town. (Bev didn’t want to join us.) We found our first destination, the Upper Star bar. It was the watering hole for locals – I got the tip from the bell captain at our hotel. With a great view of downtown KK, we downed 4 large Tigers.

Upper Star Bar

Tiger Beer at the Upper Star Bar

Nothing like an ice-cold Tiger

Beer and friends

For dinner, we ate at Little Italy. It was terrific – best Italian food we’ve ever had in a while. Bill and I had a prosciutto and mushroom pizza followed by green fettuccine with fresh tomato sauce. After dinner, we went on a hunt for Magnums (ice cream bars), but no luck.

We stopped at an Internet café – not much news from home. I sent a note to Amy. We bought some postcards and then caught the bus back to the hotel. (Can’t find any news on the Tour de France. Who’s ahead?)

I slept through a big storm. Our laundry, hung out on the deck to dry, is soaked. That’s life in Borneo!

July 12, 2006 – Day of Relaxation / Resort Day - Kota Kinabalu (KK)

We had a big breakfast (what else is new?) and grabbed a little extra for lunch. We wrote on 8 postcards – that’s it. (Gone are the days of 40 or 50 postcard-vacations. What were we thinking?)

We rented fins and snorkel masks and then caught the Sutera boat at 9:30 for Sapi Island. part of the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. (Gaya, Manukan, Mamutik, and Sulug are the other nearby islands.) Terry, Bev, Jaime, the girls (Jamie and Marissa) came along. I’m not a big snorkel fan. I hate it when large fish and schools of fish surround me and brush my body. So I spend most of my snorkeling time trying to get away from the fish. (I did manage to see some ghost fish and some other colorful fish.) The guys said the coral was amazing – but every time I got close to the coral, some fish would try to touch me.)

Sapi Island Beach

Marissa and Jamie

What IS this?

On the beach

I had fun on the beach with the crowds.

Beach goers

Scuba divers on Sapi Island

I watched a dark baby lizard with a forked tongue -- Thomas said it was probably a baby monitor lizard. The little guy scurried around the beach and frightened this poor woman half to death.

I made friends with a gang of four young Taiwanese gals taking sexy pictures of each other. I joined in the fun and quickly became one of the sex kittens. I told them I was sorry about the Chinese taking away their democracy and they told me they liked my gray hair. (I e-mailed them the photos I took of them. Girls – I hope you’re trip was great!)

Girl from Taiwan

Taiwanese sex kittens

I loved watching all the families on holiday (mostly Asians). Everyone was enjoying the beach.

We got back to the hotel about 12:30 pm and ate our pilfered lunch. We relaxed in the room. I read my book and then at 2, we met Judy and Rick in the bar Al Fresco) for a beer. We agreed to meet back at 6 for Happy Hour – so back to the room for more R&R.

Beautiful sunset at 6. We sat outside by the pool (to our backs) facing the beautiful South China Sea. Judy told us about winning 100,000 pounds from British Air and going to Nixon’s Inauguration Ball in a black velvet dress. Judy’s a beauty – very classy. She was wearing an $8 beaded / shell necklace that looked like a million dollars on her. I swear it thought it was from Tiffany’s. She took me to the hotel gift shop where she bought it, but they were all out. (It’s probably better – It would have looked like a $2 shell necklace on me.)

Nancy and Bill

Judy and Rick

Bill and the South China Sea

Sun setting on the South China Sea

At 7:15 pm, we boarded the bus for another cultural dinner / dance. The place was in the shape of a giant boat. I sat next to Alex and Jimmie, the newly weds. We jabbered over the very loud drumbeats. Toby and Annie, the Florida gals, paid good money to have suction cups applied to their bodies. Their legs and thighs were all black and blue, but said they felt great, once the torture was over.

I didn’t have a Tiger with dinner so I really didn’t get into the spirit of dancing after dinner, but everyone has grown accustomed to me being the star dancer. What’s a Diva to do, but comply? The bamboo poles clipped my poor ankle once, and then I went to the back of the stage so I could hide out and deal with my performance anxiety in private. (I was so afraid that I would fall and twist my ankle for a third time this year – February’s twist was from falling out of a ski lift chair; April’s twist from going over the handle bars of my mountain bike. Just couldn’t tell my friends I twisted my ankle from pole dancing with the natives in Borneo.)


Nancy and her dance troop

Went back to the hotel and to our rooms exhausted from our laid-back day!


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