Borneo - an ecoadventurers dream come true
Trip Start Aug 21, 2007
27Trip End Dec 20, 2007
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Where I stayed
Hello, everyone. Thankfully the 40 degrees temperature I had on the eve of our flight to Borneo came down in time for the transfer to the airport by our lovely host Hakimi. And that's following the advice I give to my patients: ample tepid sponging, in case you wanted to know...
We safely arrived in Sandakan and found a nice B&B with rooftop views of the harbour and the Bornean sunset. Sabah is one of two self-governing Malaysian provinces in the North of Borneo. The other province is Sarawak and both are more or less seperated by the oil-rich Sultanate of Brunei. The rest of Borneo, the third biggest island in the world, forms part of Indonesia. Sandakan used to be the Capital of Sabah until the Allies bombed it to smithereens to free it from Japanese occupation in 1945
We found the Malaysians of Sabah (mainly descendents/members of over 20 indiginous tribes) even more friendly than the peninsular Malaysians already are. What a lovely people! Always trying to help and smiles galore. We've been very lucky to have encountered mainly extremely friendly people on our journeys so far. This makes us somewhat edgy in anticipation of the fabled uncompromising unfriendliness of the Chinese (by Chinese and western fellow travellers' accounts alike). But we'll see...
Another great fact about Malaysians is that they are the rockers of South East Asia. Where you get soft knees from all the asia-pop schmu on Thai and Cambodian sing-along TV, here you'll see plenty of Metallica and Motorhead T-shirts, blaring metal riffs from speaker systems everywhere. Even the Mighty Mighty Bosstones have reached my exalted ears from inside a relaxed sales shack. Way to go, Malaysia! (Oh and for those who don't know the Bosstones, do yourselves a favour and listen in to one of their albums!)
Sandakan is a harbour town on the Sulu Sea of (persistent) pirate fame. And the fish there is exquisite and rock-bottom cheap. You can eat half a tuna (can feed 2 for 2 days) for 5 Ringit (about 1 Euro) on the local Ramadan market
This is basically an orphanage for freed captive Orang Utans or those whose mothers died through logging or farming mishaps. They have over 60 apes there at present. Orang Utans usually stay with their mothers until age 5. At the sanctuary they are potty trained and taught climbing and other basic skills in an indoor nursery until they are about four from when on they are released into an outdoor training program and coaxed further and further into the jungle. The hope is that they team up with more experienced apes and take to the jungle, never to return. Sometimes they end up staying in the sanctuary or at least returning regularly, though.
We stayed there for 2 feeds and saw a behind the scenes video as we sadly weren't allowed into the nursery for hygienic reasons. Considering that Orang Utan share 96.4% of human genes cross-infections between both species are a very real threat.
At the feeding platform we were only a few feet away from the apes and could witness their social behavior and their individuality. Generally, Orang Utans are very shy and tranquil beings
We then headed back into the jungle for a three day stay in a nature lodge on the Kinabatangan river. We met up there with two professional tour guides we'd met in Sandakan, Tony and Jay, who spend their lives shuttling groups of travellers across continents in big Mercedes trucks. A kind of legal and very upmarket human traficking, I guess.
They had many a tale to tell and taught me the excellent card game of Kiwi rules shithead. Other lovely fellow nature enthusiasts were Orsa and Hendrik from Sweden and Karina and Stephanie from Austria. We wish them all excellent onward journeys.
We had 3 packed days of jungle trecking, night walks and boat safaris on the mighty Kinabatangan River near Kampung Bilit
Not only did we see countless Orang Utan nests (they move them daily), but also observed a dominant male of about 100kg with trademark round cheeks and beard.
Large families of unphased long-tailed macaques everywhere along the river.
The proboscis monkey is unique to Borneo and visually the redneck of the monkey world. The dominant male of a family is characterised by his red face, enormous drinker's nose (hence the latin name nasalis larvatus) and huge beer belly. I am certain that, despite all lore to the contrary, these monkeys are actually the immediate predecessors of homo sapiens in the chain of evolution. This hunk of a man is rightly admired by his harem of several stubby nosed females.
What's a primate then? I'm note sure, but it appears that primates are monkeys with eyes facing the front and 5-fingered limbs with fingernails rather than claws
The wackiest primate in the world and a certain proof of the good Lord's sense of humour has to be the western tarsier. This cuddly notcurnal critter has the appeal and fur of a koala, large eyes and 270 degrees swivelling neck of an owl, eyes of a bat, is as big as a rat with a rat's tail to top it and can leep incredible distances between horizontal tree trunks with it's strong suction-cupped feet like a frog. We were very lucky to spot one and will never forget the site of it ping-ponging between trees. Long live evolution!
Other memorable encounters: a large white moon rat with injured hind legs, possibly after an attack by a crocodile; a grown micro leyla frog the size of a finger nail. Also a large black scorpion craqwled over my arm (yikes!), i got bitten by a fire ant (yeeow!) and sucked and bloodied by a huge leech (one also fell from high up and stuck to Regine's hand to her utter horror. Also, have you ever seen a sleeping bird? We hadn't and were surprised how exposed they perched, an easy picking for any predator. They were completely undisturbed by our bright flashlights and our conversations right next to them. Astonishing!
A more concise list of animals we spotted in the jungle is at the very bottom of this entry if you're really really interested.
So we're now in Kota Kinabalu staying at the very excellent Summer Lodge and drinking a nice cool beer to replace the minerals we're constantly sweating out (it's 5 degrees from the equator here). We spent yesterday at the Sabah Museum touring scale models of various tribal buildings. Bjoern taught us to play yet another game. And I discovered Tiger Balm to sooth the trillions of mosquito bites I got the night before (I hope it isn't bed bugs...).
We also scanned the displays on traditional costumes (mostly elaborate wedding dresses :o) ) of the 42 different tribes spread throughout Sabah. Also displayed are the million and one things you can make out of bamboo. It was a nice taste of cultural diversity, especially since we had no cultural experience of our own. This is something we'd like to include in a future visit to Sabah's neighbouring state: Sarawak. Here trips to former headhunter villages give an insight into traditional village lifestyle and there are numerous fabulous natural wonders to be admired. We also missed out some on the sultanate of Brunei.
Today we went for a daytrip to Sapu Island, one of the Islands of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park in the bay of Kota Kinabalu. The snorkeling was excellent as long as you went outside the area officially roped off for snorkelling. The dedicated area is used by vast numbers of inept locals in life jackets for standing on long dead coral and feeding the fish. But people here seem to obey the rules. So once you're outside this coral graveyard there is an abundance of many varieties of hard corals, anemones and lots and lots of fish. Used to food dispensing tourists, one type (brown with a white spot) was very cheeky and kept nibbling at us which hurt quite a bit. We had a good 2 days here and for the first time were able to use Regine's student ID with good success.
We've just had another exquisite supper and are planning our upcoming climb to the peak of Mount Kinabalu. It will be exciting and very cold!!! Watch this space for out report!
Only enthusiasts should read on: this is just a list of animals we found in the jungle:
mammals: orang utan, western tarsier, long-tailed macaques, proboscis monkeys, huge flying foxes (bats) and moon rat
birds: eagle hawk, lesser fish eagle, brahminy kite; oriental pied, bushy crested, black and rhinoceros hornbill; oriental darter (snake bird); small blue-eared and large kingfishers; the rare Storm's stork and the lesser adjutant; great white egrets, purple and night herons; terns; swallows and swiftlets (of birds' nest soup fame); sleeping birds: hooded pinna, warbler, white crowned sharma, Jerden's baza and tailorbird.
reptiles/amphibians: yellow freshwater crocodiles; monitor lizards, flying lizards, various geckos, a rhinoceros-horned leaf agama, various frogs, from fist sized tree frogs to fingernail sized micro leylas; mangrove snakes.
insects, arthropods and worms: various snails, huge leeches; web scorpion, large black scorpion, huntsman and giant golden orb spiders; fire ants; woodlice; a (carnivorous and poisonous) centipede eating a (vegetarian) millipede; the colourful lantern bugs; various stick insects including a praying mantis; green and brown giant grasshoppers; a huge moth then caught by a gecko, equally large birdwing, wood nymph and clipper butterflies.