Borneo

Trip Start Apr 26, 2005
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Trip End Ongoing


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Where I stayed
Borneo Rainforest Lodge

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Sunday, July 3, 2005

Borneo - Shaken not/and? Stirred

Malaysian Borneo - Land of mists, rain, forests & beaches. In our dreams, Borneo has a romantic sheen. We imagine ourselves like intrepid explorers of old, trapsing through the jungle armed only with a machete, a cotton hat, marmite and a good supply of tea, whilst we hunt for the big game -
orangutans, proboscis monkeys, macaques, Asian elephants and exotic birds.

We started in the Northern State of Sabah, staying in the Capital Kota Kinabalu and then flying west to visit Sukau and the Danum Valley.

The thing about rainforests is that they are full of rain and given that Phil was also diving immediately afterwards he did in fact spend most of his time wetter than a 'haddocks bathing costume'.

The rainforests have been well protected here and there are a large number of reclaimation projects here, that are turning farm land back into forest, we saw some that were 7-8 years old and it is amazing how fast the plants and faster trees come back. However, getting to the rainforest still involves a 3 hour drive down logging roads passed plantations and deforestation but it is getting better. The drive was in a large non 4WD bus and we had to cling to the seats and arrived totally shaken.

Today we are still hunters/explorers - but armed with binoculars & digital cameras rather than guns. We cover ourselves with copious amounts of mosquito repellent, wear our leech socks (heavily impregnoted with green Baygon') to be escorted by our naturalist guides (not Naturists as Dee keep accidentally saying!) for a few hours wildlife spotting. We might look like Indiana Jones after he went shopping at KMart but 200 metres into the jungle from the lodge we are in virgin rainforest. Its beautiful trees 100's feet high with vines and orchids growing from them. And then after several hours trekking we can return to the lodge for Tea and Marmite sandwiches.

Sadly the wildlife is not always compliant & sensibly hides away wondering what the hell those crazy tourists are up to now. In Sukau, the Proboscis monkeys are recognisable by their generously large noses - and their 24 hour (bright red) erections, apparently a side effect of eating leaves with a similar action to Viagra (we were told by our guide John). While wondering around the forest we did get to see fantastic birds from giant hornbills to small dazzling Asian white paradise birds, we could also hear wild elephants moving through the forest and calling to each other.

The late afternoon carnival procession brings at least 20 boats crammed onto a small tributary off the famous Kinabatangan River. Dozens of tourists all stare at the monkeys through their 3rd eyes (binocular, Camera or video) and you start to wonder whether we are watching them or they indeed are watching us.

The main draw for visitors to Borneo is of course the wonderful, peaceful & extremely hairy orangutan. Every tourist wants to see them in the wild but the harsh reality is that we, man, are destroying their habitat by unchecked logging. We are told that logging is now under control but it is hard to totally believe this as more & more tribes & entrepreneurs fell rainforest for farming, tourist lodges or condiminiums to be sold to to foreign investors.

One easy way to see the orangutans is to visit one of the orang sanctuaries in either Sepilok in Sabah or Serengoh in Sarawak. Here at set times you can see orangs of all ages avrive to mounds of bananas & milk. It is not as exciting as the one we saw in the wild but they were 1/2 a mile closer.

After the jungle came another motorised shaking session back along the logging road. We almost cheered when we reached tarmac but it was short lived. We were dropped off at the local bus station and caught a bus to Tawau in the south. I say bus but actually it was a minibus designed for 12 people. Not only did the population of the bus at times exceed 30 but it also rarely dropped below 100 miles an hour. Phil described the experience as being like falling out of the sky in a microlight - but 3 hours long.

We did survive. And we went to Mabul and Sipadan Islands for diving. Sipadan is one of the worlds best dive sites because it has a reef with a 200 feet reef wall. Phil had a great time with 12 dives in 4 days.   Dee on the other hand got to learn the Malay words for "bored". If you don't dive bring many books, there is nothing else to do here, if you do dive it's great. 

Our last bit of Borneo was the city of Kuching where we discovered something even more scary than mad bus drivers - the "Cat Museum".

Kuching is a very new city with limited history, our tour took in such great sights as the council offices and an empty stadium and the library. But Kuching is actually translated as Cat City. Every roundabout has an arrangement of fibre glass cats on. Our driver kept insisting we stop to have our picture taken with them. Then we arrived at the cat museum.

The cat museum has 100's of posters, pictures and figurines of cats. Even worse are the dozens of stuffed cats. Just in case your sanity is not bending at this point there is a continually looped Kylie Minogue tape and from the other end of the museum were random cat calls. There must be a thousand pieces of cat memorabilia in that place but not one mention of "Bagpuss".

We think the Cat Museum affected our sanity because we spent the rest of the day singing Kylie, meowing and giggling.

Our guide took us to local food courts with lots of different food stalls all arranged around a massive open air dinning area. Everything is cooked fresh and the stalls are stacked artistically with different colour vegetables.

We spent a day visiting traditional Longhouses, some in a cultural village the others set in the wild. These are One big communal building on stilts with family areas coming off public areas.

At the Cultural Village we saw a series of dances performed to show the many cultural groups that live in the area. Dee got dragged up on stage by a very fit and handsome warrior, to join his demonstration of blow pipe prowess. He had shorts so tight that they are more suitable for a bar girl (Phil's opinion). Dee in comparison thought it was a good way for making up for all the Bar girls Phil has seen!

The longhouses can be quite large, the last one, Annah Rais, we visited must have had 100 families and resembled a small town. We felt very at home here, sitting with the local shop owner discussing his family and longhouse life.

Kuching is actually a beautiful city, wrapped around a wide river and bursting with greenery. The people are full of energy as the state of Sarawak is now getting investment to build tourism.

We are now heading to Kuala Lumpur for few days and up to North Malaysia and Southern Thailand.
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