A Day of Firsts – Arriving in Kota Kinabalu
Drugs are bad, mmkay? In Malaysia, drugs are really bad. Possession of illegal drugs can get you executed. I wondered why the Malaysians are so against drugs, but having been here for a bit, I quickly figured it out. It seems that whoever created the traffic patterns and road layout here in Kota Kinabalu was high as a kite and they wanted to put an end to that nonsense.
Just as an example, let’s say you are traveling down a road that comes to a T-intersection and you need to turn right because the place that you are going is RIGHT THERE on the right. Nope, you cannot turn right, even though there is a perfectly good two way street there. You have to turn left, go about a half mile down the road, do a loop around a roundabout and come back the other direction to get where you just were. It helps to visualize this when you realize that they drive on the left side of the road here, so a left turn does not cross any traffic.
All of this would not have been a problem, except we made a big mistake. We arrived in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, which is on the island of Borneo, and found that all of the action here is downtown, right on the water. There are lots of hotels, restaurants, a waterfront walkway and a big pier where you can catch a small boat to the outer islands. There you will find white sandy beaches with beautiful clear, warm water and exotic tropical fish. It is a great location to walk around and experience new sounds and tastes. So what was the problem? Well, we booked our hotel about twenty minutes away (or an hour away when there is traffic). There is a free shuttle, but it is not very convenient and a taxi is not cheap.
Ever the problem solver, Sara quickly came up with a solution: rent a scooter. Thus began my day of firsts. I have not ridden a motorcycle since 2000 and a scooter since 1985. I have never driven anything in a foreign country, which, of course, means that I have never driven on the left-hand side of the road. I have never white-lined a motorcycle (in California, it is legal, when traffic is less than 35 mph, to drive down the middle of traffic, i.e. down the white line between cars). I have never ridden a motorcycle with more than one other person on it. I have now done all of these things.
Since I had not been on a bike in over 10 years, Sara gave me three laps around the very small parking lot to get back in the swing of things. After that, we loaded up 3/4 of our family on the scooter and took off. It was then that I really took notice of the (excuse my French) f-ed up traffic patterns in Kota Kinabalu. Not only did I have to quickly get used to driving on the opposite side of the road, but they have dozens of roundabouts here, which have to be the stupidest invention in road design school. Now, I have read that they are supposed to be efficient, yadda yadda yadda. Not here. Traffic backs up for miles during the busy times with, quite frankly, not that many cars. A simple traffic light would work wonders, and the few that they have seem to efficiently move the traffic without any difficulties. Sorry, I digress.
So Sara is on the back of the bike and Ender, our four-year old is in front of me. We are armed with shorts and flip flops and set out to find our way around a new city, going in circles, the wrong way, through crazy traffic. Did I mention that Ender likes to play and did not seem to grasp the concept that it is not ok to tickle Daddy while driving 80 kph down the road. She also amused herself by singing and waving to people…and to our hotel (because we had to exit to the left out of it, drive 2 miles and do a U-turn, and go back by it to get to downtown, so she would wave to it as we passed it again).
I normally think white-lining on a motorcycle is crazy, but after being stuck in traffic for quite some time, with all the other scooters scooting by us, Sara and I had a mini-conference on the back of the bike and decided to go for it. We shot down between all of the cars and made it to downtown in record time. Ender was loving it, “Go faster, Daddy!”
The first day on the scooter was a white-knuckle ride for me. After three days, we are all loving it. I have noticed that the drivers here are very courteous and do tend to let us in when we need to be in a different lane, or need to turn at the last minute. They are kind to us obvious tourists with “For Rent” stickers on the back of our very cool scooter.
We have found that when we travel, sometimes the mistakes we make result in better experiences. This is one mistake that I am glad we made. I had as much fun riding that scooter as I did on the islands and the white sandy beaches. Don’t be too shocked to see me on one in San Diego one day soon.