Danum Valley, Borneo Rainforest Lodge

Trip Start Aug 03, 2007
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Trip End Aug 01, 2008


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Saturday, April 12, 2008

We were picked up from our hotel by a 4WD pickup and driven to the Borneo Rainforest Lodge. Shortly after we started we turned off the tarmac and onto a rough logging track. For the next two hours and 80 km we bounced our way through a forestry concession. It was hard going to see such a massive area that had been logged, although now much of it had been replanted. The concession was vast, about the size of a small country, and we passed by housing communities for the forestry workers and saw a great many logging trucks. We also passed by a small group of macaques and fresh droppings from the elusive Pygmy Elephant. Eventually we arrived at the Danum Valley Conservation Area and after a few more kilometres found ourselves at the Borneo Rainforest Lodge.
 
The Borneo Rainforest Lodge is the only tourist accommodation in the Danum area and is very expensive. The main building is two stories high with the reception, a concrete meeting area a shop and offices on the lower floor and the restaurant and bar on the top floor. As our car pulled up staff met us with smiles and hot towels. We struck a rapport with the lovely receptionist who had family running a bakery in Mt Eden, Auckland. We immediately started to relax. We went upstairs to the huge balcony that looks across a short grassed area to a river on the other side of which towers virgin rainforest. On arrival, as we gaped at the view, about 6 huge rhinoceros hornbills flapped by. All of the accommodation is connected to the lodge by a raised wooden platform. Our bungalow was fabulous as we had been upgraded, possibly as an apology for the pickup fiasco in Tawau, and had a nice deck with reclining chairs that also faced the river and rainforest. From this deck we saw enormous water monitor lizards (which we first thought were crocodiles due to their size) swimming in the river. One evening we watched a beautiful male crested fireback and his two mates fossicking for food right below our balcony. On another evening a troop of pigtail macaques made their nightly next in three tall trees directly opposite our bungalow.
 
Visiting the Borneo Rainforest Lodge is a package event. We were assigned a guide, Vivian and a small group of 3 others. After we checked in, Vivian took us on an orientation walk along a wooden boardwalk through jungle immediately behind the Lodge. He explained the different types of trees, showed us a variety of wildlife from leeches to giant millipedes to lizards. Despite the shade from the canopy even the short 600 m walk resulted in us being covered in sweat. After dinner, we did our first night safari, where we and most of the other guests filled the back of a flatbed truck that roared its way 4 km down the access road, scaring off all the wildlife. Apart from plenty of fireflies drifting through the trees, all we saw was a single black flying squirrel. Feeling disappointed, we returned to our bungalow only to discover a herd of Samba Deer grazing just meters away.
 
The following morning we headed out with Vivian and our group at dawn to see the birds from the canopy walkway. Unfortunately a branch had fallen and broken the first platform of the walkway and so we had to walk to the end of the walkway on the other side of a small ravine. As we were walking at the pace of an elderly Indian lady, we arrived on the canopy far too late to see any of the morning activity. The canopy walk itself was nice, with swing bridges attached to platforms 60 m up the tree trunks. After a fantastic breakfast on the huge balcony of the Lodge we headed out for a longer trek. This time the two older members of our group bowed out and so we travelled at a good pace. Almost immediately after starting out we came to a swing bridge across the river where there was a huge tree in which was sleeping a large hairy orang-utan.  
 
We did several treks over the following day and a half. We walked up a steep hill opposite the Lodge and came upon a cliff with the human remains of a chief and his children. Then we climbed to the top of the hill for a great view looking over rolling hills covered in rainforest. We could see our Lodge in a bend in the river just below us. On our return we took a spur of the moment detour to the Serpent Waterfall where we were lucky enough to see an orang-utan with her baby. The mother was watching us and kept in the shadows but her little one jumped and swung through the branches. It was amazing. On a later trek we came upon red leaf monkeys, long tail macaques and the tell-tale sign of elephants - their huge droppings. We saw all manner of amazing wildlife and thoroughly enjoyed the trekking. On a night walk, with torches, our guide spotted a civet in a tree as well as mouse deer and other nocturnal critters. On the final day we saw some elusive Bornean Gibbons, whose haunting cries we had been hearing in the mornings. At first they were high in a tree but they descended and moved through the boardwalk by the Lodge and so we got to see them close by.
 
We also saw many leeches on the treks and they were particularly evident after rainfall. To protect ourselves we wore long sleeves and pants despite the sticky heat and also covered our arms and legs in Deet. The final leech score was Louise = zero, Franz = 2 brown leeches and 1 tiger leech. The tiger leech has a painful bite but the brown leech first injects anaesthetic so its bite is painless. The worst leech was a brown one that worked its way right into the armpit. Once bitten, anti-coagulant exuded from the leech makes the bite seep blood long after the leech has left.
 
We were sad to depart. Our last memory of the Lodge was waiting to depart on the balcony and watching a large orang-utan moving through a fig tree on the other side of the river while a pair of hornbills flew by. We then left this wonderful area and took the 2 hour drive through the logging road. We drove around five or six logging trucks that were so overloaded that they had burst tires. Just before the track hit the highway we passed through a staging area where twenty-two logging trucks were parked alongside the road, each loaded capacity with the ling trunks of rainforest trees. Just as well they are winding down the logging.
 
We were dropped off at the 4WD station in Lahad Datu and caught a car to Sandakan. They managed to pack in the four men in the middle seat and the three ladies in the rear. It was an extremely uncomfortable crush and, with no headrest, Franz fell asleep on the shoulder of another passenger. Our soundtrack was one of the ladies who found something to say on her cell phone for the whole three hours. Luckily one of the men turned out to be a tour guide returning home for a break. He recommended his former boss, Sahar, as a guide for the Sandakan area.
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