No, not this weekend in Bera. 3 years ago in Sabah.
As usual, the FON is behind this. Probably another one of his 'jokes'. He made the plans and backed out last minute. Fuker...
The photographer I was traveling with to Tasik Bera is one of East Malaysia's most experienced photographers and outdoor enthusiast, Encik Rabani who hails from Sabah. He does work for National Geographic, Asian Geographic, Action Asia and of course Going Places among many international magazines.
It was a 3 hour drive to Bera and we were exchanging stories when I started talking about my trip to the Kinabalu Mountain about 3 years ago.
There was a small incident at Laban Rata, the final push off point to the peak, which I did not put down in a blog post on that little climb as I did not think much about it but it has always been one of those niggling questions that sat around smoking a joint impatiently in my mind waiting to be answered.
Here goes the conversation:
CHINDIANA starts " yeah i was lucky man Bani, I got the only room with the twin beds and the bathroom with hot water. But we had to book 6 months in advance. I tell you I was feeling awesome la when I noticed that the guest house had overbooked and people had to sleep in the cafeteria. I think my guide thought I was gay man. I invited him to stay at the extra bed but he was so serious about not staying with me. This is especially after I found out that the guides quarters are quite cramped and not really clean. I was literally begging him to come but he looked so worried and kept saying no. I think he thought I was gay man, and was going to jump him before the ascent!"
I give a sarcastic laugh.
Bani is quiet. There was a short uncomfortable silence in the car.
"Do you know where they put the dead bodies of climbers who have died on the mountain?" Bani asked me quietly.
"Wha............... . ...................... You got to be kidding me right?"
"No. Where else do they put bodies? There is no where else that is out of view of general public. Every where else are dormitories."
I am surprisingly relieved - relieved that I FINALLY know why my guide did not want to stay with me but quite blase about the realisation that I slept in the de facto morgue of Laban Rata.
"But that's weird la Bani, I slept really well in the room. It was quite comfortable." This was a fact, the simple room with two tiny beds was comfort to my tired body, especially after I had spent 8 hours climbing up to Laban Rata (no training and a just recovered torn ligament in my right knee).
I continued "But I tell you, their bath room was weird, it was larger than the bedroom. And it was sooooo cold in the bathroom man, I could not wait to get out of it as it was that freezing."
Bani looked at me "what do you mean weird?"
Well there is an unnecessary space between the sink and the shower. It's about about 15 feet. Like wasted space."
Bani is quiet.
I realize he's waiting for the right moment.
"The dead don't need beds Chindi."
Then the chill hits me. The memory of my first look into the bathroom - it is long. (here I am just going to state facts). It is made of harsh concentrate. The small sink and mirror are close to the door. Then you walk over the 15 feet to the one lone shower that stands at the corner of the bathroom on the other end. The concrete looks like it was paved over or extended. It just looks rough. The long middle part stands out. An unwanted space.
Now it all makes sense to me - why I just could not even shower in the hot water completely (i did not even soap up) . I was so uncomfortable when showering and I will say this now without shame as I kept looking over my shoulder as I showered, that feeling that that someone is standing behind you. Even taking a dump was no fun. I actually expressed crapped in the morning before getting out of the toilet. At that time I just put it down to one of those things. You know, when you travel and you get vibes from different environments. I put this down to the extra discomfort just because I was at 13,000 ft and I was hungry and tired.
I had shared the resting place of the dead before their earthly remains descended the mountain.
1. So far 14 people have died on the mountain since it was opened to the public in the mid 1960's.
2. Many of the deaths of been heart related. Climbers who climb against doctor's orders or who are unaware of their poor conditioning.
3. Wandering off the marked path (along the rope) is potentially fatal. If you get lost and the tempretature drops that is where your body gets lethargic, and fall into a potentially fatal sleep among the granite rocks.
4. The body is normally carried down by guides normally after the last traveller has checked into Laban Rata.
5. If you are ever at Laban Rata and it is fully booked you now know you can still get a room. Just ask for the 'bilik mayat'.