A quick flash followed by a loud boom. I squealed with fear and anxiety – nothing unusual there – as my apprehension about being in our small boat on the Klias River in Sabah, Malaysia Borneo grew wider. “Uh oh” said our driver Musa, apathetic about the approaching storm. I replied curtly, “What do you mean, uh oh?”
He revved the engine over and over again but to no avail. It had officially died right there as we sat in the pitch black dark observing fireflies light up the bush like a schizophrenic Christmas tree.
The family of four from Cairns at the front seemed less concerned, despite the fact they weren’t sharing our covered roof. We later learned this wasn’t their first rodeo with failed engines while vacationing in Borneo. A metal pole then appeared, and Musa repeatedly whipped it against the botched engine. Confused about how that would contribute to it actually starting, I still don’t know, but another rumble of thunder bellowed and I had enough.
There were other boats in the area but he never asked for help. We simply sat wading in the murky brown waters as their torch lights caught sight of us then steered away. Small, single engine river cruisers line the mangrove banks of the Klias River offering tourists the opportunity to see the endangered, genital-nosed Proboscis Monkey as well as Long Tail Macaques and Silver Languor Monkeys by day and the natural firefly show at night, which is exactly how we had spent the earlier part of our day.
“So, what’s the plan?” I finally said after about 20 minutes of silence. No response. Musa simply walked from his place by the engine and crossed over us and the small benches we were sitting on to the reach the front. Without hesitation he pulled his sweat drenched t-shirt over his head, and then removed his rubber flip flops one by one. Head first, he dove into the dark river below.
My jaw dropped and we all quickly faced each other wide eyed and stunned. “Did he really just jump in?” With one end of the thin rope tied to the boat, he slowly swam and pulled us about a kilometre to shore. Once we reached the dock we were quickly ushered off of the boat so that we could make it into the van to travel the approximate two hours back to Kota Kinabulu before the storm hit. But we all hesitated as Musa still waded in the unfriendly muddy water. “He’s a very good swimmer,” was the reply I received when I asked with uneasiness if he was okay. Finally a few hands lifted him out, and our small group gave a big applause. Musa – our hero – who unnecessarily swam us back to shore.
Despite the drastic change in events, I would still highly recommend touring the Klias River while in Borneo, especially if you can’t get to the Kinabatangan River located deeper in Sabah. While there are many river cruises along the Klias River, this Borneo Star Cruise tour was organized through Amazing Borneo and I must applaud their attentiveness and service. Joann spoke great English; we were picked up and dropped off in a timely fashion, welcomed with simple, immaculate bathrooms (very important) and were served a delicious home cooked Malaysian dinner. While the other companies were swarming with tourists in the dozens, our small group of ten was intimate and personalized. I would even recommend those with more time stay the night in one of their tranquil tee pee’s on the property’s Eco Fire Fly Camp. Plus, you can’t deny that Musa was awesome.