I had just walked through the most rank smelling market. Most people were selling the same thing - dried fish, crab, prawns, and a myriad of tentecaled sea creatures - a lot of which were unidentifiable to me. Whole fish hung from each stall encased in plastic bags. Buckets of dried white tiger sea cucumbers were selling for 385 Malaysian Ringgit per kilo. What a bargain! You could even get a change purse made from the leathered head of a tortoise. Incubated by a low hanging blue and red striped plastic roof, the stench of such an amassment of dried sea bounty and rotting fruit hung thickly in the humid jungle air. I needed an escape. Any escape!
I darted between two stalls almost knocking over baskets of sea stars in my haste for any air fresher than this! Outside was not much better as buckets of fish guts were being hosed off the packed dirt street into a makeshift gutter of split bamboo. I headed for the water and a mild sea breeze to clear my head before I added to the mess with a half digested lunch. Passing through a more commercialized part of town, I enjoy the cultural juxtaposition of watching women in full muslim garb putting up christmas decorations in shop windows.
The scruffy harbour of downtown Kota Kinabalu sprawls along a curving shoreline with long abandoned rusting hulks of trawlers half beached on barnacle encrusted reefs. Anchored in long lines were small wooden dhows with light grey hulls, red rails, and faded minty green posts - most of which had seen better days. On the far shore, behind the wooden boats a village quietly sits, suspended on stilts and capped with the muted colours of rusting corrugated tin. The thick jungle covered hills above almost seemed to be pressing the houses against the sea. A splash caught my eye. Kids were actually swimming in this murky green oil slick they call a harbour. Laughing and playing, these kids didn’t have a care in the world! Climbing the thick ropes and jumping off vessels of all shapes and sizes again and again. I envied their immune systems.
- December 2008