Kota Kinabalu – How I completely forgot about going white water rafting in Borneo



There’s a card that gets handed to you at the airport when you re-enter Australia. On it is a series of questions to answer about your activities and baggage aimed at determining if you are likely to bring some terrible disease back into the country that will wipe out our agricultural industry and cause us all to starve to death.

Of course at this point of a trip, the low light, it’s impossible to find a pen in my over stuffed carry on, I’m sleep deprived and a little depressed at the prospect of returning to everyday life.


So I tick no. No to everything. No I don’t have tuberculosis (true), no I haven’t packed animals or animal parts, biologicals or specimens (true), no I’m not carrying any items with soil attached (true) or used in freshwater areas e.g. shoes (Umm), no I haven’t been in contact with farms (true), farm animals (true), wilderness areas (hmmm) or freshwater streams in the past 30 days (well…).


But… and I swear I didn’t remember this until after I had left the airport, I had been swimming, in my shoes, in a river in Borneo.




That statement makes it sound more exotic than it really was. Kota Kinabalu doesn’t live up to the wilds of Borneo stereotype. In fact it’s an incredibly organised city for South East Asia. There are more SUVs than motorbikes, the footpaths are easily navigated and the taxi drivers are polite and organised. I know that the tourism slogan that they are going with at the moment is “Malaysia, Truly Asia” but I’m thinking that they could go with “Malaysia, Asia without the annoying bits.”


Our white water rafting trip took us out of the city and into the jungle. We were warned that it was a long day. Starting with a bus trip to a country train station, a train ride up a mountain and then a stop at a station to take a carriage off the train because the engine couldn’t pull all 3 up the next section of mountain. The train track hugged the river and we got a look at what we would be taking on later in the day.




We were run through a safety demonstration and assigned groups. Then we walked down to the river. I’m not sure why I decided to leave my shoes on. I think I thought it was a better option than walking barefoot along a train track and down the slope to the river. But I did make sure that I tied my laces extra tight so that they didn’t come off.


Our group of 6 passengers could all swim. This was unusual and as we made our way down the rapids it turned out to be both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because we were all able to follow instructions and paddle as needed through the churning water. A curse because this meant that none of us fell out of the boat. Every other boat lost at least one passenger.




Now I know that falling out of the boat seems like an unappealing event but as it turned out floating down the river, even with shoes on, was a pleasant experience. The life jacket helped. It kept me upright in the warm water as I gazed at the forested hillside the towered over the river.


It was a good thing that I enjoyed it because after a break on the bank half way through the guides decided that it would be fun to take the raft into the middle of the river and make us swim… through a rapid. Granted it was one of the softer rapids of the day.


You’d think that would make it quite memorable, swimming through a rapid in Borneo with my shoes on. But on arrival in Melbourne, after an 8 hour flight from Singapore and a few Bloody Marys to calm the nerves it completely slipped my mind.



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