Climbing Mt Kinabalu in the capital of Borneo.

This was the trip when I found my sense of adventure. A close friend who worked for a travel agency asked me to join her on a recce to explore Malaysia and the island of Borneo, so after a quick twist of my rubber arm followed by a resounding ‘yes’, we were on our way.

We city and island hopped around the countryside and depending on where we were heading, the bus was the only method of getting there. On one particular bus trip I recall swerving down the mountains, dodging small landslides around every corner we turned, the driver swigging from an alcoholic bottle, half the passengers slept whilst I’m thinking,’are we going to make it out of this trip alive ?’ (and I really wished I’d saved some of my duty free vodka for this trip so at least I would be drunk as I screamed all the way into the abyss or at least passed out like half the other passengers).

Needless to say we all made it down in one piece and I remember thinking how nice it was to have two feet planted firmly on the ground and that these would now be my preferred method of transport if we ever had to get on a bus again.

Kota Kinabalu is the tourist landing spot for the entry into Sabah and Borneo, this is where you want to go, it is protected by the world heritage organisation. Rainforest so thick in places the sunlight does not even hit the ground, it is a mountain for a fit beginner to climb and amongst other things you will get to see orangutans in the wild.

Our challenge was the climb of Mt Kinabalu, which is 4095 m high and it goes like this. You put your hand up to do the challenge, they stick you into a group with your friends and a few strangers and assign a guide to lead the way. Then you are off, the first day is climbing stairs that have naturally been built into the landscape which are not hard going up, it’s only coming down when your knees are weak and your legs are drained that is challenging.

The aim is to reach the sleeping huts around 5pm, to watch the sunset, eat some local food and importantly get your body to start adjusting to the altitude. If the sickness is going to happen this is when it kicks in, medicine is on hand for those that suffer. Lights out around 8pm because the alarm is going off at 2.30am, I’m not sure if I slept or not, regardless the beds are bad and it is the second time I start thinking about that duty free vodka.

At 2.30am the alarm goes off, layers of clothes are added, breakfast snacks are served, groups are formed and we are off hiking to the top of the mountain to watch the sunrise as a group, or at least that was the intention.

Somehow, I lost my group. As we went higher the fitness (or lack thereof) and onset of altitude sickness for some of the group meant the ‘guide’ needed to stick with those that suffered the worst, however I just kept on walking following the tiny little lights from the torches ahead of me. Although my torch battery had died I did find my way to the top in time for the most glorious sunrise I’ve ever seen.

From the minute the sun started poking through the clouds, the colours changed so rapidly, every split second a new colour, I was there with the locals until I heard a familiar voice, ‘Emma, is that you?’ my friends and new friends had caught up. We hugged and laughed, even though we had only been apart for a couple of hours, it was a special reunion.

We sat there on top of the mountain breathing in the thin air. Then the climb down started, and I didn’t believe the guide when he told us this would be the hardest part, he was right, your knees are shot by the end. It doesn’t feel like it at the time, but when you need to sprint across the road to dodge the traffic in Malaysia’s streets your legs don’t move as fast as your brain would like them to.

Other great parts of this trip were hiking through forest fighting off the cheeky monkeys, watching the orangutans in the wild, walking the streets and discovering handicraft markets, eating with locals, visiting and staying with my friend’s family in Kuala Lumpur.

This trip was so much fun and adventurous, I am happy I could still find the photos to bring them back to life.

Love Always, Emma.