Uncle Tan

Trip Start May 30, 2005
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Trip End Sep 30, 2006


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Sunday, September 18, 2005

Myself and Roy De Dutch guy that I'd met at KK and again in Sepilok headed off to visit Uncle Tan (www.uncletan.com). Uncle Tan was a local guy that set up the first low cost eco tour in Sabah, and although he's no longer with us his legacy continues. I went on the 2 night tour, which is fairly standard. We were lucky in that we had a small friendly group, consisting of Dutch, German, Swiss and Japanese tourists (and don't forget me!).

We drove 1.5 hours into the countryside before being dropped off at the side of the river. At this point our bus driver disappeared off leaving us alone wondering where our boat driver was. It was scorching hot sitting at the side of the river waiting so I put up my umbrella sitting under it for some shade.

"Ahhh, you look like a Malaysian girl with your umbablella" Yuki the Japanese girl came out with.
"That's ok because at least I'm a little cooler under here" I fought back.
"Ya, but you also look rather gay" said one of the Germans, moments before he put on his leather sun hat. I rest my case.

The ride down the river included an initial sight seeing tour where we were able to watch some Makaks and Probiscus monkeys in the trees along with several species of birds. Since I'm not very good with snake, spiders and other creepy crawlies the first walk from the river to the camp wasn't too easy. It was perfectly safe but my imagination said otherwise as I checked every overhanging branch for snakes and every trees for man eating tarantulas.

The next few days were spent on walking and boat trips lasting between one and two hours each. These would be interspersed with periods of sitting around the camp chewing the cud and generally not doing much. In the main camp area there was a large white board with numerous national flags where Uncle Tan can keep track of where their visitors come from. Beside the British flag people had drawn the four flags of the UK countries and started keeping individual tallies. This obviously wasn't enough for some others though as there was also a black flag with a white cross, and beside it was written 'Kernow'. It appears that some members of the Cornish independance party have recently visited Uncle Tan's as well, they're a long way from their pasties and tin mines.

Our first trip was a night time boat ride. Although we saw lots of crocodile eyes we didn't see any actual crocs as they were too busy staying in the water looking for food. We were assured by stumpy the boat driver that it was perfectly safe in the boat, just don't put your hands in the water. For some reason though birds aren't able to see you properly at night and you can get really close up to them. We saw a Buffy "The Vampire Slayer" Fish Owl and a brightly coloured Kingfisher this way. Beyond that we didn't see much else.

Things were better in the morning, despite the 6am start we saw a bit more life from the boat. More birds and monkeys of course, but by this time of the day many of the crocodiles are sitting on the river bank digesting pigs, monkeys, stray arms and anything else they find. We found one 4 meter specimen that lay still, looking like a plastic model, s/he (I wasn't checking) stayed there like that for ages, and then in the blink of an eye s/he made a run for the river, scaring most of the occupants of the boats nearby, it was amazing to see.

Around 10:30am we had a walk around the nearby jungle. Although it's too hot for most of the wildlife by time time there was still plenty to see. Mainly plants and insects but they looked great. The highlight of this section was a plant with tightly curled leaves, after looking in a few of them we found what we were looking for, a sleeping bat. It was pretty sound as it didn't wake up as 10 people filed past taking pictures, I have to say that it looked really snug in there as well.

The afternoon was really too hot so we all hung around camp not doing much. Fortunetly some of the wildlife came to us. We had a troop of Makaks come through looking like they were looking for a fight. A few Monitor lizards hung around behind the huts staying long enough to get their photo taken and then off again. We also had a few wild Bearded Pigs come through with the longest snouts that i'd seen and whiskers like a victorian gentleman.

The early evening boat ride was nice, but basically the same as the previous evening's. I did like to watch the Probiscus Monkeys with their flat noses that looked like they'd been in the ring with Mike Tyson.

My favourite trip was the evening walk into the jungle. If you can walk through the jungle at night then you'll never be scared in the day again. We had to don wellington boots and follow 'Ghanster' our local guide. There were insects everywhere, mostly batting off my head torch. We headed straight down to the swampy area in search of Tree Frogs. They were everywhere and fantastically beautiful, they'd hide in the nooks and crannies of the trees and were obligingly still when I was taking photos of them. Despite it being around 10pm it was still stinkingly hot and I had several litres of sweat pouring off me. So much so that a massive butterfly came along, buzzed everyone's torches before settling on my arm in order to get stuck into the salt incrusted in my T-shirt. It stuck with my for over 5 minutes as we continued on our journey. It left a couple of times for a short while but it would always come back, my special little friend.

There was tree which contained holes all over the trunk, these were all occupied by tarantulas, once the torch was on them they'd disappear quickly, but long enough for us to get the willies. We saw several species of millipeed and centipeed, some of them poisoness. I had a deal with the jungle, I wouldn't touch it if it didn't touch me, and for the most part we stuck to the deal. Marco the German meanwhile was a real hands on guy, touching and picking up everything that he saw. Almost including the poisonous centipeed before our guide managed to stop him. There wasn't much in the jungle that would actually kill you but several of the flora and fauna could leave you with a nasty rash, a rash that thankfully nobody received. Even after the tour had finished we were able to see Marco clamber around the trees near the camp with his big torch trying to find more insects, it was excellent to see such enthusiasm.

On our final morning we attended the river safari again at 6am, but due to heavy rains the previous night there was precious little wildlife about, and no big crocs waiting on the riverbank. Sad to say but I'd have been better staying in bed.

As we were having breakfast just before we left we were subjected to a Makak Attak. It had perhaps been watching us for a while before making his move. He ran into the dining area, grabbed 6 pieces of French Bread, stuffing them into his mouth, and then jumped onto the roof out of the way. He sat there and taunted us as he ate it, cheeky monkey.

I'd recommend Uncle Tan's to anyone (that doesn't mind the basic facilities) as it's a great way to see loads of cool animals in the area.

We returned to civilisation rather more smelly than when we left. Four of us caught a bus back to KK, I can imagine that not many of the locals were too happy to be sharing the 6 hour journey with the smelly backpackers encrusted in sweat, insect repellant, tiger balm and mud. Not our problem as they say. From KK I'll be flying off again, this time to Bali where I'm going to spend most of the next three weeks on or near a beach. I may even learn to do a little surfing if the beach life gets too much for me, we'll see.
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