I remember our travel to Malaysia (connecting to Brunei) with Inah back in 2008 after my high school graduation. Just a backstory, Amah died two months before my high school graduation in January 2008 and I made the crowd cry with me during my graduation speech. Our guest speaker then was former TCTO Chancellor Lorenzo Regellana Reyes. My graduation was a sort-of reunion of the pioneering valedictorians of MSU TCTO Preparatory High School. Sir Lorenz of the first batch, Uncle Eddie Alih who was then the TCTO Chancellor, and my Inah of the fourth batch. Then there I was of the 41st batch. Lol! Maisingit ko lang sarili ko kasi kwento ko to! Charing!
Anyway, moving on to the trip. The ship took two days to reach Sandakan, Malaysia from Zamboanga. We stopped somewhere (I think near Bongao) for the checking of travel documents plus show money. Upon arrival in Sandakan, our bags were put on the port for the checking made by Malaysian IOs and dogs. We had to queue under the heat of the sun.
After the visa was given, Inah and I rode a van to go to Kota Kinabalu. We had to traverse through Mt KK at night. I can vividly remember to this day how the driver (who had a Tausug wife which gave us comfort and assurance) had to drive along the road lines because there was fog everywhere. We reached KK by 3-4 am where our relatives fetched us.
I also initially thought that people living in Malaysia were well-off until I saw the state of my relatives and their neighbors. The toilet was shaking. It was hard to move around without the house shaking. But it was such a wonderful experience because of the warmth and welcome they provided us. The food was sumptuous. Ma sha Allah.
We took a day touring around KK then booked the next day’s flight to Brunei. I was astonished then at the price of plane tickets there. What usually costs around 5k-7k (i know because from 5th grade I had to travel to Manila with family to see Amah who was then hospitalized due to cancer) to travel from Zamboanga to Manila only costs 98 (around 1000 pesos) ringgit from KK to Brunei.
Then our adventure didn’t stop in Brunei. When we arrived at the airport, one of our luggage with my clothes in it was missing. It was only returned two days after with the locks broken. Nothing was missing tho. Maybe the ones who took it thought there were more valuable things in that bag. Sorry. We lost all of our money to cancer.
Our stay in Brunei was sweet 14 days. We were able to visit Bruneian relatives (sadly some of them had passed away already) and stayed with them for a couple of days. I was astonished by how ‘rich’ my Bruneian relatives are. Big houses. One with oversized glass windows you see typically on a soap opera. BMWs and other branded cars. More cars for one house. And so on. But they were down to earth. Loving. And very much hospitable. They toured us around Brunei. And even gave us money. Ma sha Allah. Also thanks to our hosts Kakah Buya and Kakah Dida. It was such a memorable first out-of-the-country trip for me. Probably, it was the reason why I wanted to travel more.
Coming home, we booked another flight to KK. We took a bus to Tawau to meet some relatives. Toh Arshad, May Allah SWT be pleased with him, fetched us at the station. We stayed at the house of Kah Ellen and Kah Zaldy in Batu Upat. The number of relatives we had there was unimaginable. Ma sha Allah. We even visited Toh Arsaggaf’s grave, may Allah SWT be pleased with him. We toured around Tawau. Such a lovely place. And Toh Arshad with another relative drove us around Tawau and we booked tickets to Sandakan. It cost us around 78 ringgit each for the fare. We stayed a night or two there at this creepy hotel near Centrepoint. We also were able to tour around by ourselves. Booked tickets back to the Philippines on the same boat we boarded to Malaysia.
During that time I was so naive but looking back, I can only imagine the danger of our trip. And all of these happened with just my mother extraordinaire with me. Such a wonderfully courageous wanderlust.