A not-so-Secret Place in Kudat

A not-so-Secret Place in Kudat

Word of mouth has made Kudat’s Secret Place Cafe and Campsite a popular getaway

KUDAT – When Roby Jonathan, 41, started talking about his childhood aspiration of opening a cafe and campsite in the remote village of Kampung Bavang Jamal here, all his fellow villagers called him crazy.

But eight years later, his neighbour joined the race, opening cafes, restaurants, campsites, and homestays as the district gained more attention from tourists local and abroad.

Jonathan is also a staunch conservationist. He would organise voluntary beach cleanup for visitors, a habit he picked up from his former co-workers in Marine Conservation several years ago.

“When I was small, our house was the last house on the street, and often some foreigners stop by as they are lost getting around. They would ask for water but before heading back to their journey, they often described our place as very, very ‘secret’.”

“It’s likely that our village is very unknown. But that is where I got the name for this place – Secret Place Cafe and Campsite,” said Jonathan.

For anyone who seeks an uninterrupted getaway, Secret Place Cafe and Campsite is one of the most recommended places in Kudat. Jonathan has run the small campsite and cafe for eight years.

Tucked along the coastline joining the popular Pantai Kelambu beach, visitors will be surprised to find such an establishment deep within a forest of oil palm trees.

The campsite, just about 30 minutes from Kudat town, is without any telco network. For residents like Jonathan, power disruptions happened daily.

“This is a remote area. Everyone who comes here really put away their smart devices and starts to enjoy the surrounding,” he told The Vibes.
Jonathan is a Rungus, the local indigenous people of Kudat. He lives with his wife and seven children in his establishment.

It was not all smooth sailing to realise Secret Place Cafe and Campsite, he said. He used to constantly change jobs and travel the whole state before settling at Bavang Jamal, the birthplace of his mother.

But according to him, all the experience, mostly in the hospitality industry, had helped him develop his skillsets in running his establishment.

“Life was difficult in Kudat that when I was 14, I lived with my brother and sister in Sandakan and worked part-time at the Renaissance Hotel. I had to keep my age a secret as I was not of legal working age.

“Then I proceeded on to work at many hotels around Kota Kinabalu, such as the Shangri-La Tanjung Aru, Borneo Paradise in Kinarut. I worked as a cook for a catering firm for functions at Batu Sapi at Tunku Abdul Rahman Park here,” said Jonathan.

After finishing school he had gotten married and decided to relocate to Kota Kinabalu to raise his family.

While in Kota Kinabalu for some years, he said he was squatting at a house behind the small pocket of forest behind the Sacred Heart Cathedral near Sembulan.

“It was very basic. We paid for the house with no electricity and water for only RM500. We had to steal power and water. But I know I will return to Bavang Jamal one day to build my ‘Secret Place’,” he said.

Before returning to Bavang Jamal, Jonathan said he worked for a bit with the government under the programme “Azam Kerja” in Kota Kinabalu. He was tasked with looking for single mothers and providing them training so they could fend for themselves.

He said that carried on about for two years before he decided to return to his kampung in 2013.

“It did not take long when a group of conservationists from the Marine Conservationist arrived at Bavang Jamal and asked whether they could set up base at his mother’s land.

“They were initially based in Pom Pom Island in Semporna but after the Tanduo incursion the same year, they were ordered by the authorities to carry out their work elsewhere.

“This was when they came to my place. I worked with the group for a while and got my diving license under the group which was carrying out coral reef planting and beach cleaning work.

“This is where I learnt a lot about marine conservation, which would later be part of my effort through Secret Place,” he said.

When the group left, Jonathan who is a father of seven children said this was when he started planning the campsite. He named the place according to what he had dreamt of as a child.

“After spending a couple of thousand Ringgit, I headed out to Kudat town looking for unused broken furniture inside the rubbish collection centres. I refurbished them and started building my small resort.

“It was on June 28, 2014, when I opened my campsite. I remember all my neighbours calling me crazy when I was going about with all this.

“But in only two weeks of opening my first guest arrived. A couple from Brazil who got themselves lost while wandering around Kudat was looking for a place to camp.

“Then my first customer came a few weeks after. They were from Italy. Then the visitors started trickling in.

“At one point, over 300 people filled our place. I recall one of my boys had to wait on the tables to serve the customers because I was busy cooking in the kitchen,” he said.

Jonathan noticed that as time progressed, he began to notice that some of his neighbours also built establishments, such as restaurants, and sold their lands to other people who opened homestays in Bavang Jamal.

Looking back, Jonathan said although he is still not wealthy, he was proud of his success.

He said with the campsite he was able to send all his children to school and has never lacked for anything.

Jonathan said he was also proud that he was able to carry out the beach cleaning activities. He wants to shake off the foreigner’s perception about Sabahans who throw rubbish into the sea via his campsite.

source – The Vibes


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