Day 238: It’s Rubbery

Mon. 8th April 2013

Mt Kinabalu in its gloryMount Kinabalu is the first thing we see this morning when we come out of our rooms. The cloud from yesterday has all gone and it can be seen in all its glory and makes us wonder if we really can make it to the top. It looks quite rugged and very high.

Robert and his rubber treeOur first activity of the day – even before breakfast – is rubber tapping and we have been told to be ready at 7:30am. After Robert tells us a bit about the rubber industry and how potentially lucrative it is for farmers, we all head up the hill across the road and gather around a relatively small rubber tree where a large chunk of the bark has been removed over a period of time. The tree is relatively young but needs to be seven years old before it is ready to be tapped. There is a qualification in rubber tapping that the locals need to pass before they can work in a runner plantation as there are right and wrong ways of doing it! Robert has a special cutting tool, which reminds me of the sharp channelling tool I used to use to cut leather and make a design for printing pretty pictures.

Working under close supervisionRobert shows us how it is done and we all have a go. I do feel sorry for the tree having all us novices cutting its bark to let the rubber drip out. The price is quite depressed at the minute at about £1 per kilo of processed rubber sheet. They take the sap (latex) and add Formic Acid to it to help it set, before passing it through an old fashioned mangle and then leaving to dry.

Group photo at HomestayAs we are in a homestay, it is local food for breakfast of rice and noodles. This is followed by a walk to the river, which is on the land owned by our homestay, for a swim. To get to the section of river deep enough to swim we need to first wade across the river and then walk along for a short while either on the rocky river bank or wade in the water. The brave in the group went for a swim in the cold deep water, whilst the rest paddled or sat on the bank in the sun. On returning to the homestay there was tapioca – no thanks, I have not tasted that since school.

Minibuses at lunch stopIt is back into two minibuses as this week. Ayeh is not with us so there are only fourteen of us. This is a shame as it was great being able to spread over three minibuses last week. The drive to Mount Kinabalu National Park HQ where we are staying tonight is only about an hour. The roads are windy and gradually we climb up with spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and valleys, but too elusive through the trees for us to photograph from the minibus. Every metre the minibus climbs today is one less for us to climb tomorrow to our overnight stop part way up the mountain and then the next day to the summit which is just over 4,000 metres.

We stop just outside the park for lunch and I opt for scrambled egg and beans having breakfast and lunch the wrong way around. The Tom Yam soup Dave orders is huge, full of vegetables and spicy too. Even up here food is still very cheap.

Our dorm for sixWe are staying in Grace Hostel, within the Park HQ complex, in rooms of four or six bunk beds and I quickly grab a top one. After fighting with our bags and pondering what to pack for the climb we eventually get bored and go for a walk. The main area around the HQ office is hostels surrounded by trees but there is also two restaurants, an Information centre with a small shop, which did not take long to look around. The Botanical Gardens shut at 4pm so we missed that too and we just returned to our room before the rain started yet again. Wet weather is common here so we have been told to always take our ponchos or umbrella just in case.

We will not be this quick!!Our briefing on the climb was at 6pm and we are all getting nervous over what it will be like and will we make the summit? We have split our essentials into a dry sack of clothes we will wear for the summit climb and a porter will carry these. The rest is packed in our daypacks lined with a bin liner to keep the rain out. We all stock up on food at the evening buffet which has a great selection of delicious dishes. There is even crunchy vegetables with our main course and fresh watermelon and papaya for dessert. We are also good and drink the orange juice provided rather than beer, as alcohol is not good for you before going to high altitudes. However, we do discuss the beers we will be having to celebrate afterwards!

Winner of our bug photo competitionAs the bugs are biting and the blog calls we are the first to head back to our hostel. Just as well as the rain starts again as soon as we get back and we hope it goes away before our climb starts tomorrow. The climb is going to be hard enough without having rain as well, so we all hope the rain stays away for our climb.

[PS – The timings on the board on the photo above, are the results of last year’s ‘Climbathon’ – a race to the summit and back. The winning time was 2hrs, 11mins. We will never, ever, know how he managed to do this!]

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