Orang Utans and Probiscus Monkeys

Trip Start Jan 01, 2010
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Trip End Mar 04, 2011


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Where I stayed

Flag of Malaysia  , Sabah,
Sunday, May 30, 2010

So after sucessfully negotiating the ride across town from the Towers in time to get into the hotel 3 minutes before my key card stopped working (with all our belongings the other side of the door) we got into a taxi to the LCCA (cheap carriers airport which sounds grander than it is basically just a large shed outside the airport). Another exciting difference to a normal airport is the mistaken belief by the airline that if you fly budget that you don't need airconditioning. We were melting in the terminal which was soon rectified on the plane where they attempted to set a world record on how cold they could make the inside of a passenger aircraft without the paying customers suffering hyperthermia!
   At the airport we had to go through passport control again as Sabah is a semi-autonomous state withing Malaysia no idea what that means but I now have additional stamp to add to my currently 3 Malaysian passport stamps. Waiting for the baggage inevitably one did not arrive...just as the moans of not going via budget carriers irrupted it was found on the baggage belt having fallen off before the conveyor belt and become wedged. A short taxi ride to the hotel then bliss a lovely hotel with Room Service. Best not get used to this bliss...can't imagine many backpackers offering the same service.
   Our first day we spent by the pool...it had plenty to keep us amused with. A waterslide, fountain, kiddie pool and large swimming pool. And the hotel is surrounded by jungle. Literally covered on all sides by vegetation. A point which was aptly proved when I saw a long thin black thing which I thought to be a snake. My measured reaction came in handy when identified it was in fact a water monitor rather than the deadly snake I had imagined. In fact probably a tenth of the size of the ones I had seen on the Perhentian islands. But they had been below me on a bridge and not swimming next to me in a pool!
   In the evening we went out to explore Sandakan imagining having a meal by the ocean...mmm maybe we underestimated how far we were off the international tourist map.There were simple noddle bars by the harbour and local Malaysian shops filling the town. We explored the fish market and everyone loved Connor much to his embaressment trying to get him to hold various dead sea creatures including sharks, fish, squid, baracuda, tuna...and some very slimy white things that I could not begin to identify.
    Day two was our long road trip to the caves and the river. First stop was the Goramong caves which dad had been pretty clever about not telling us it was full of both swifts and bats. Roxy didn't really enjoy the two inch long centipedes hanging onto the walls which have a bite so poisenous that you can be unconscious in 120 seconds and take 10 days to recover. Then there was the excitement of inch long coachroachs all over the floor along with trying not to slip on the bat guano all over the walkway. It was very interesting to see how the bird nests were collected for birds nest soup. Tiny ratan rope ladders go 100m up to the cave ceiling where the most valuable white nests are collected which are made purely from the birds saliva. 
   On the way out of the cave we saw a wild Orang Utan on the edge of the cave unfortunately we didn't record the moment as the heavens opened and the kids got their first experience of monsoon rain. In the ten minutes it took us to get to the car we were soaked to the skin and trying not to think about the suspicious white stripes on the back of a couple of tshirts. Lunch was at a small b&b on the river. Roxy was adventurous enough to venture some chicken which might have a chili.
   The river cruise was amazing we got picked up by a local guide who owned a small speed boat and we spent 3 hours on the river. He identified animals as we went past and was surprisingly knowledgable about their habits. We saw macaques and then the highlight of Probiscus monkeys. These strange creatures have huge noses and big bellies. They are known locally as Dutchmen because of their resemblence to the early settlers! :) It was amazing to see them in their natural environment surrounded by the sounds of cicadas. Connor was over it after about 10 minutes and really didn't understand why we had to sit on a hot boat for 2 hours to look at monkeys. 
    The day started with a visit to the Sandakan War Memorial. The park on the site of the Japanese prison camp commemorates the 2448 Allied servicemen who died either in the camp or on the three death marches to a remote prison camp in the middle of the jungle 250km away. Only 6 of the original occupants of the camp survived and all of them were escapees who managed to get away with the help of local people. It was very moving and distressing but I feel that it is very important to recognise these events and what happened. It is the most important Australian memorial was a third of all deaths from WW2 were of inmates of the camp. Roxy found it very distressing as she was able to read all the displays whereas Connor was saved the details and given a very edited version.
    After the glorious natural environment of the river the day before the Probiscus 'sanctuary' was a massive disappointment. It was basically a Palm oil plantation which had left about 100m of forest untouched. The fed the monkeys every day and charged the tourists for the viewing pleasure.It felt so fake and sad to see how the mangrove forests which are home to these monkeys disappearing. We watched a video about the monkeys during which the commentator explained how the dominant males have the largest noses have the largest hareems. Connor hears this and remarks to dad ... "monkeys with the largest noses have the most sex".
   Next stop was the Rainforest Discovery Centre. A pleasant short walk through the forest revealed a pair of birds unsucessfully attempting to hunt a cockroach. Unfortunately both cameras were on the top of a tree top walkway with dad. Roxy was really not enjoying things but everyone suspected that it was due to dehydration - unfortunate when she got quite ill later in the day.
   The highlight of the day and one of the highlights of the trip was the visit to the Orang Utan rehabilitation centre Sepilok. As we entered the forest we saw an Orang Utan in the trees...Roxy is a good nature spotter we should have had her on our Kruger trip. As feeding time approached the place filled up with some tourists but a majority were Malaysian. It was hilareous watching a guy ask mum to take a picture with him except he meant not take the picture but be in it. She was less than impressed. When the Orang Utans arrived unfortunately many of the Malaysians thought watching the tourists was far more interesting that watching the apes. Connor was far more interested in the Orang Utans than he had been about the Probiscus and probably liked the way they swung into view onto the platform on ropes. He said "I hope the all go home and bring all their friends" but unfortunately they didn't and we just had the three. One was pretty mean and kept taking all the bananas away from the baby. Whilst the other adult stayed out of it all and concentrated on it's sugar cane instead. It was such a priviledge to see these amazing animals in the wild especially as they are disappearing so quickly.
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