Green-eyed in Sabah

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    KOTA KINABALU, Sabah – Following that overly scratched cliché of travel as one great learning experience, this spot most proximate to our Sulu archipelago is one open university with a most efficient pedagogy.

    That, especially so in matters ecological.

    Kota Kinabalu is clean. Not antiseptic clean as Singapore but pleasantly and healthily clean.

    For three days, I did not see any garbage, whether uncollected or just strewn about the streets of Kota. None even along the circuits of roads and by-ways we took on a three-hour ride on a Bas Persiaran, that’s tourist van, to Kinabalu Park and onto Poring Hot Springs.

    Yes, canals, creeks and rivers we crossed were uniformly devoid of any waste, residual or otherwise. Yes, absolutely no discarded plastic bags or sachets in the river or on tree branches and bamboo stalks on the riverbanks. The water, a flowing, brown constant. No, reddish or blackish residues of industrial wastes, not even the slightest trace of oil. Just pure brown earth tone constituency to nourish the crop fields the rivers traverse.

    Where’s Kota’s garbage? I asked our driver-guide Lazarus Gubi of Exotic Adventure Sdn. Bhd.

    “We have a sanitary landfill and a composting center far from the city,” was his reply. “Our garbage is segregated into biodegradable and non-biodegradable wastes right at the households.”

    Rigid ethnic discipline, great love for Mother Earth, if not strong resolve to save the environment most manifest among Sabahans there.    

    Kota Kinabalu is green. Living, freshly, lively green.

    The first things one noticed soon as Clark-originated Air Asia Flight AK6265 prepared for landing were the emerald islands and islets in a sky-blue sea that comprised northern Borneo.

    On land, concrete islands separating highway lanes as well as road shoulders are planted with trees and shrubbery. A constant in all the other Asean cities we have traveled so far, be it Singapore, Georgetown and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, Phuket and Pattaya in Thailand , and Jakarta in Indonesia.

    (Which gives the lie to the claims of Pampanga’s triumvirate of MacArthur Highway tree-killers – the Department of Public Works and Highways, the City of San Fernando and the Pampanga Chamber of Commerce and Industry that trees have no place along roads and highways.)

    (Which equally gives affirmation to the attestation of environmental groups that owing to their carbon dioxide-absorbing and oxygen-generating capacity, trees are most imperative along roads and highways.)

    “The planting of trees is integral part of road construction here.” So Lazarus informed me, pointing to saplings supported by bamboo sticks at the newly built center islands of a highway in near-completion, taking us nearer to our destination: Taman Negara Kinabalu – Bahasa Malaysia for Kinabalu National Park where stands majestic Mount Kinabalu, Borneo’s highest peak at 4,095 meters above sea level.

    No, we did not climb the mountain. We had neither the time nor the stamina for the sport. Climbing would take two days even for experienced climbers, so Lazarus told our hardly stair-climbing group of prolific columnist Ashley Manabat, Punto’s top reporter Joey Pavia, freelance photo-journalist Ric Gonzales, ace photo-videographer Robert Kantor Canlas, and Rey Yumang, co-host of GNN-44’s high-rating Personalan.  

    But reveled in Kinabalu’s botanical garden we did with the enthusiasm perhaps approaching that of Darwin on his first Galapagos trip. 

    The rich lowland dipterocarp forest hosts a variety of flora – so we were told – from towering figs, oaks and chestnuts, to over 1,000 species of orchids, rhododendrons and nine species of the Nepenthes rajah, the insectivorous pitcher plant species the gay Rey instantly christened the national flower of the “Republic of Czechoslo-vakla” for its phallic shape.

    It was just too bad that we missed the rafflesia, the world’s biggest flower which scent one botanist described as “a penetrating smell more repulsive than any buffalo carcass in an advanced stage of decomposition.” I wonder what description the olfactory-sensitive Ashley could have attached to the flower… 

    The rich bio-diversity of Kinabalu Park, the stringent conservation measures implemented there – “Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints” signs everywhere, and park rangers too – is truly deserving of its designation by UNESCO as Malaysia’s first World Heritage Site.

    Which gave us Filipinos a pause, green-eyed, to consider how we are dealing and what we are doing with our own natural, and national, heritage sites like Makiling, Pinatubo, Arayat, the Cordilleras and the Sierra Madre, Pulog and Apo.

    We, who pride ourselves as an intelligent nation, have really much to learn from our Sabahan brethren.

    Shame. 


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