Now, I am not particularly green-fingered. Nor am I particularly botanically minded. To tell you the truth, I have never felt the particular urge to drive into the wilderness for several hours in search of a flower before. But this flower was different, some how. Maybe it had something to do with it being the ‘world’s biggest.’ Whenever I am the approximate vicinity of the, ‘worlds biggest,’ something, or the, ‘worlds tallest/highest,’ something else, I always feel that to has to be worth a look. And I admit part of the intrigue lay in the fact that it is rumoured to only bloom for a few days at a time and the best time of year to spot it is usually from August to December. Seeing as my holiday was planned for March, I figured I had my work cut for me.
So my husband and I set off from our hostel base in Kota Kinabalu, packed our car full of drinks, sandwiches and snacks, and headed away from the seaside resort to Tambunan Rafflesia Reserve, just over the other side of the Crocker mountain range. I had read the warnings about the elusiveness of these particular flowers, and how sightings are by no means guaranteed, but I figured that even if there weren’t any to be seen at the reserve, the drive was rumoured to provide spectacular views, and as I had spotted home-made signs directing us to individual sightings of this famous plant the day before en route to Poring Hot Springs, (about 50 km from our destination today,) I figured we were bound to find one somewhere. And I wasn’t going home until we did.
We pulled into the Reserve, and sure enough, there were no Rafflesias blooming for us that day, so after a cursory glance around the rather lonely looking information boards and displays, we hopped back in the car and continued down the mountains, in the vague direction I had spotted the signs the day before. It only looked about 50 kilometres away on the map, how long could it possible take, I said to myself? Unfortunately, it was at this point I realized how important it is not to underestimate local knowledge, and when I was told it would take maybe two hours to travel 50 kilometres, I should have really listened to the advice and wondered why, rather than thinking that I knew better. Approximately three minutes after remarking, rather smugly to my husband, how good the roads were out here in the wilds of Borneo, the road ran out. Literally. No more tarmac, only dust, pot holes, and a maximum speed of ten kilometres per hour for the next two hours. Exciting at first, but it did get a bit boring, and sore, after an hour.
We finally arrived back in Poring, in almost the exact spot we had been the day before, and pulled over gratefully at the side of the road, ready to see the flower. And I am pleased to report that even after seven hours in the car and two chronic cases of back ache, it was worth it. For 20 Ringgit, (about 5 USD,) we were taken about twenty steps from our car, led by our ten year old guide called Eldidien, and got the chance to see not one Rafflesia in full bloom, but also one nearing the end of its short life, as well as a bud tucked away in the undergrowth. My husband, for one, was very glad he didn’t have to consider what we have done if there had been no flower at the end of our rainbow.
Charlotte Baird is a primary teacher and part time travel writer. She is originally from London, England, but is currently living in Brunei with her husband and 2 cats. She has previously lived and taught in China and travelled extensively around South East Asia. She has written for several American and UK webzines and magazines.