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Tourists strip, a sacred mountain shakes and Malaysia gets very angry

A Malaysian court detained four foreigners for allegedly stripping naked for photos atop Mount Kinabalu, an act some say angered the spirits of the mountain and caused an earthquake. (Video: Reuters)

Mount Kinabalu. Time of my life.

Posted by Emil Kaminski on Sunday, June 7, 2015

“Travel video is what we do,” reads Emil Kaminski’s Twitter bio. “It’s no-bulls—, often offensive, earthy essence of backpacking experience.”

Offensive is the operative word. Footage frequently features extreme heights, equally extreme language and more than a few bare buttocks — usually male and almost always framed against a spectacular mountain view.

Kaminski has been traveling the world, writing, recording and revealing his derriere for the past 12 years, according to his Web site. But in the past week, the Canadian’s antics have ascended to another level: They now appear to have enraged the entire country of Malaysia.

After posting a photo allegedly showing him posing nude atop a Malaysian mountain, Kaminski and nine other foreigners have been accused of desecrating a holy site, insulting a culture and — last but not least — causing a deadly earthquake. Officials have called for Kaminski’s arrest. Online commenters have called for far worse.

“I [will] kill you, stupid,” wrote one of several thousand commenters on Kaminski’s Facebook pages.

“You will pay for what you have done,” wrote another. “Just you wait!”

The controversy has inflamed passions in Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim country of 30 million. International tourism to the Southeast Asian nation has increased in recent years. Photos of Kaminski and his friends stripping naked on Mount Kinabalu drew claims of disrespect even before a magnitude-5.9 earthquake struck the area on Friday, killing at least 16 and trapping scores of climbers on the mountain.

But accusations that the nudity somehow caused the natural disaster have escalated the conflict, pitting science against religion and local customs, and transforming another one of Kaminski’s travel stories into an international standoff.

[Death toll rises to 16 from earthquake on Malaysia mountain]

The bizarre story began on May 10, when 10 foreign tourists split off from a larger group of hikers climbing Mount Kinabalu, the highest peak in Malaysia’s Sabah state on the island of Borneo. They then began stripping naked and posing for photos on the South Peak, according to Malay Mail Online. When a guide asked them to stop, the foreigners — six men and four women — called the guide “stupid” and told him to “go to hell,” according to the newspaper.

The guide did not report the incident right away, however, and it wasn’t until June 2 that the nudity made the local news. At the time, the offense didn’t seem so severe. Mount Kinabalu is considered sacred by some Malaysians, who believe their ancestors reside on the mountain. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Sabah Parks director Jamili Nais seemed upset but not outraged by the incident. “We have since lodged a police report for further investigations to be taken against the climbers,” he told Malay Mail Online, pointing out that the nude photos seemed part of an international trend of tourists stripping at scenic sites such as Machu Picchu and Angkor Wat. Nais said the park would put up signs to prevent future problems.

[Tourists keep stripping at Cambodian temples and officials are not amused]

“The photos drew divided opinions from the public, with some outraged at the display of indecency while others defended their actions claiming they were ‘just having fun,'” Malay Mail Online noted. “Local guides who accompany climbers often brief them on the traditional ‘do’s and don’ts’ which include no plucking of plants, no removal of stones from the mountain, no speaking loudly and inappropriately and do ‘ask for permission’ before relieving one’s self.”

Three days later, however, a powerful earthquake struck the area, sending rocks and boulders cascading down Kinabalu’s trekking routes. At least 16 people had died on the mountain as of Tuesday morning, and helicopters continue to search for the dead and wounded. “The quake also damaged roads and buildings, including schools and a hospital on Sabah’s west coast,” the Associated Press reported. “It also broke one of the twin rock formations on the mountain known as the ‘Donkey’s Ears.'”

A day after the natural disaster, Joseph Pairin Kitingan, Sabah’s deputy chief minister, accused the 10 foreign tourists of causing the quake.

“There is almost certainly a connection,” he said, according to the Malay Mail Online. “We have to take this as a reminder that local beliefs and customs are not to be disrespected.”

“Whether other people believe this or not, it’s what we Sabahans believe. When the earthquake happened, it’s like a confirmation of our beliefs,” he said at a news conference to discuss the rising death toll. “It is a sacred mountain, and you cannot take it lightly.”

Pairin said a special ritual would be conducted to “appease the mountain spirit.” He also said he had a premonition of the disaster when he saw a flight of swallows circling his house.

“At first I didn’t think anything of it, but after it went on for more than half an hour I knew something was not well. I brought it up with my wife, and we both agreed that something bad was going to happen,” he said. “The next day, I was on the way to the airport when the earthquake occurred. To me, when something like this happens, it is a clear connection of the incident to the earthquake that has brought about so much damage and loss of lives.”

Pairin and other officials called for the 10 foreign tourists to be identified and prevented from leaving the country without facing consequences.

Half of the tourists had already left Malaysia, it seems. A Canadian brother and sister were identified and stopped from leaving. But Kaminski appears to have made no effort to slip under the radar. Quite the opposite.

On Monday, he posted a photo of the tourists disrobing atop the mountain, alongside the caption: “Mount Kinabalu. Time of my life.” He also tagged himself and two friends in the photo.

Within hours, his two Facebook pages had been bombarded with thousands of comments, most of them negative and almost all of them from Malaysians. Many focused on Kaminski’s lack of respect for the mountain and local beliefs.

“You don’t own mount Kinabalu nor all the other mountains that you’ve trekked before,” one person wrote. “Therefore you should RESPECT people’s rules as its not yours and furthermore you’re a freaking TOURIST. Its not your homeland!”

Other messages, however, were more menacing.

“If I were there I proudly push you from the top of the mountain,” one person wrote.

“Mark my words. I’ll hunt you down like a cat that hunts mice,” wrote another, to whom Kaminski mockingly replied with a picture of cat with a computer mouse in its jaws.

Things got less funny when commenters began posting Kaminski’s personal contact information. Then they get really serious when someone posted the name of his hotel in Malaysia and his flight information.

Kaminski responded by posting a video titled “Trolling Malaysia” to YouTube showing the threats. In an expletive-laden speech, he doubled-down on tweets describing Masidi Manjun, the Malaysian tourism minister, as an “idiot” and a “monkey.” (Kaminski calls himself and pretty much everyone else on Earth a monkey on his Web site, it should be pointed out.)

“I put [the photo] up and I included three photos of myself on mountaintops and, of course, all f—— hell broke loose,” he said. “I was not insulting Malaysia. I was not making any references to the people that died up there. I was simply insulting that Masidi Manjun guy… because to say something that f—— stupid, you really need to have lobotomized yourself on a piece of heavy machinery. I mean, how the f— do you get to be in a government if you don’t know anything about plate tectonics, about geology, and about seismology.”

“I received thousands of pieces of hate mail, death threats, poorly spelled death threats,” Kaminski said on camera. “Everybody made it about this massive disrespect of Malaysia. Jesus Christ, people. It’s just a f—— mountain.”

Kaminski did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Neither did the two friends he identified in his Facebook photo.

This is not the first time that Malaysian mysticism has been met with skepticism by foreigners. When Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 went missing last year, Chinese media ridiculed the Malaysian “witch doctors” hired to assist in the search. The flight has still not been found.

[With satellites unsuccessful in plane search, Malaysian shaman tries coconuts]

As for Kaminski, his defiant video was in keeping with the former military man’s combative attitude. But the social media assault may have backfired. According to Malaysian media, several of the nude hikers have been detained while trying to leave the country.

Manjun, the Malaysian tourism minister, reveled in one man’s detention.

But Kaminski, whose flight doesn’t leave until Wednesday, at least according to the threatening Facebook posts, took to Twitter to mock Manjun once more on Tuesday, claiming that the tourism minister was “too ignorant of science” to file an official police report against the traveler.

Kaminski hasn’t slowed down on Facebook, either. On Monday, he wrote that he was hiding out in the town of Tawau. “I am stuck here for a few more days until the whole ‘naked-on-a-mountain’ thing dies down,” he wrote. “Luckily the dumb—– here have no internet and no idea!”

On Tuesday, he commented on a Facebook photo of a fellow nude hiker. The picture shows a stark naked, sunburned man staring at a tropical island.

“HAHA!!! HAVE MALAYSIANS SEEN THIS YET?!?!?” Kaminski wrote. “btw, you’ll cause a tsunami.”