Friday, August 11, 2006


Before I begin, sorry if bits of this doesn't make sense. I keep trying to write it but am finding it difficult as the internet cafe is really noisy with kids playing computer games. This is mainly why my diary entries aren't very frequent. I need quiet to write.

We are on the Island of Borneo, in the Malaysian part at the top called Sabah. (Borneo is divided between Malaysia and Indonesia). I have wanted to come here for a long time, before it is totally destroyed by the planting of Palm Oil plantations. I haven't been disappointed although the destruction is evident. Palm oil is number 1 for Borneo's economy. If you look at a lot of products in your home; in your kitchen or bathroom, you can bet that the majority of them contain Palm oil. Coming in at a close number 2 for Borneo's economy is eco tourism, the main reason I and I imagine most tourists want to visit. Obviously the two are not compatible. I realise that people have to live and this kind of destruction has happened for many years (including in the UK with our Forests being chopped down to make way for crop fields) ,but it doesn't take away from the sadness I feel when we we travel through the country and all you can see for miles and miles are neat rows of palm trees. Amongst plantations a lone tree stands, a reminder from the days when where the palms stand stood a diverse jungle/forest, housing diverse creatures, many of which are becoming increasingly rare, a statement you hear too much these days.

Everyone knows about the Orangutan(man of the jungle). 20/30 years ago seeing one of these gorgeous creatures was common and taken for granted. Nowadays, although they still live in the wild, people are more likely to see them on the T.V. although it was the T.V which contributed to their plight with films like the Jungle book leading to people wanted them for pets. The plantations have destroyed a lot of the Orangu-tan's natural habitat leaving them with nowhere to get food. This leads them to raiding plantations, which in the past caused them to be killed by the owners. However, now there are laws in place which make sure Sepilok Orangutan sanctury are called to come and relocate the primate to one of the protected areas of Sabah; luckily these do exist so it is not all bad news. Conservation is in place and things are actually looking up, albeit slowly.

It is these protected areas which make Sabah beautiful and worth visiting. We are travelling around Sabah by bus. The towns we have seen so far are not very remarkable, some in fact quite ugly, but they are bearable with the promise of Jungle/tropical paradise not too far away. so we have used the towns as a base to visit these. Our first stop after arriving in Kota Kinabalu (the capital city) was Sandakan from where we booked a boat cruise and overnight stay along the Kinabatangan which flows for 560KM.

We travelled for about an hour across the sea to the mouth of the Kinabatangan. The river was quite wide and we all studied the tall trees on either side in search of wildlife. The two hour trip down the river to the lodge we were staying at produced sightings of birds, Proboscis monkeys (although not very clear) and a small crocodile lazing on the bank, then sliding smugly into the water. (I always think that Crocs look smug). The guide told us not to be disappointed as we are sure to spot more wildlife later. At this point, although I wasn't disappointed, I was a little doubtful as it felt like he was saying that because he had been told to to keep the punters happy. Lines such as "I'm feeling lucky today" , produced cynicism in me as I can imagine him saying that to every group everyday. I don't know when I became such a cynic!

I didn't mind if we didn't see anything though as I just loved cruising down the river. Just knowing that the wildlife is somewhere deep in the jungle doing their jungley things was enough for me. We arrived at the lodge and after being shown our rooms and eating deep fried banana we got on a smaller boat and rode down one of the tributaries off the river. I loved this as I felt closer to the jungle, being closer to the bush and nearer to the water. There were a few other boats going down the tribitury too and going past these boats I felt like part of the wildlife myself as all the passengers sailing past were really gawping at us. During the two hour trip we saw Mangrove snakes, a water monitor, Longtailed Macaques (Monkeys) giant Hornbills, another crocodile and lots of Proboscis monkeys which are endemic to Borneo and are yet another species on the decline. They are really funny and me and Tim fell in love with them. They have really big noses. Apparently the bigger the nose in a Male Proboscis the more his luck is in with the ladies of the Proboscis world! We saw one with a really big nose and a very small willy! All I can say is that it's a good job they go by the nose!

After the wildlife spotting we went back to the lodge for our dinner. During dinner our guide came to our table (all the group sitting together) and in a conspritorial whisper informed us all that another guide had spotted elephants earlier on in the day and for R15 he would take us to find them. Knowing what distance the elephants move and how big and dense the forest is Me Tim and another couple decided not to bother, instead opting to watch a couple of documentaries filmed in the area about Proboscis monkeys and Orangutans. I'm glad we did as they were really interesting. I hadn't realised that Orangutans and clouded leopards lived around where we were too. Tim and I went to bed and never found out whether they saw elephants.

The next day after breakfast we set off in the boat, the 2 hour ride back to Sandakan with a couple who were in our group the day before and another couple who weren't. Nobody really spoke, I suspect because it was the end of the trip and we would be going our separate ways. The guide was optimistic saying 'if we see anything special on our way back like Orangutans we will stop'. Although I smiled along with the rest of them, I wasn't expecting to see Orangutans as I think it is quite rare as is seeing elephants, and I just knew that he knew that too. However, I was looking forward to the boat ride and enjoyed looking out for wildlife.

About 15 minutes into the journey, one of the couples shouted. The guide turned round to them as we all did to see them looking really excited and pointing over at the river bank."Elephants", they cried. It took me a while for it to sink in, but as the boat turned round and went over to the bank low and behold, there were 3 young elephants right on the edge of the river bank. We all looked at each other in amazement and the walls which had between between us instantly fell away.I noticed the guide look at the boat driver and exclaim in disbelief, suggesting that my theories of seeing animals such as these is quite rare. He confirmed this and said that he had only seen them about 10 times and that this was special. As we watched the elephants we could hear crashing about in the trees behind and suddenly where there were 3 elephants there were about 23! We all couldn't stop saying wow! and grinning from ear to ear. The cameras, including the guides were snapping away and we just couldn't believe our luck. Asian elephants are usually rare to see and we were seeing 20 plus of them right near our boat. At one point they could have reached their trunk out and touched us. They were trumpeting and snorting away and 2 of the young bulls were pushing each other with their tusks. They didn't seem bothered by our presence although at one point a matriarch stared right at us as if to say don't come any nearer. It was so special and I found it really moving. I just can't explain the feeling. I had it before when we saw the elephants in South Africa and I can't believe that I was privileged and lucky enough to have experienced it again. What made it even better was that we were the only boat there for a long time before 2 other boats from our lodge joined us. We all felt so lucky and it is certainly a moment that I will treasure.

Continuing the wildlife theme, we headed to Sepilok the next day, home of the famous Orangutan sanctuary. Here Orangutans are rehabilitated back into the wild. The centre is based in the forest and the Orangutans are taught to fend for themselves in the surrounds. There are different feeding platforms, each graduating further into the forest, colerating with the maturity of the Orangutan. The first feeding platform is the only one open to the public and is the one that the youngest Orangutans begin their rehabilitation at (although older Orangutans are welcome to come back when they want.) A warden brings milk and bananas twice a day at the same time. The food is purposefully monotonous to encourage the Orangutans to forage for themselves. Therefore the bananas are only supplementary food.

Tim and I arrived to the platform about 4 minutes before "feeding time" to see Macaques waiting on the platform (these compete for the food with the Orangutans). As we waited I turned round to see a large Orangutan peering through the platform fence behind at us. We were the only ones to notice him. He was so close and he was gorgeous! I was rooted to the spot!He didn't seem to care about us though and then he ducked his head and disappeared under the platform we were standing on, appearing through the other side to climb up to the feeding platform, causing a bit of fear amongst the Macaques!

We watched more Orangutans climbing about and when it was time for "feeding" they all congregated around the warden drinking from a tray of milk before making off with bananas; a bunch in each foot as they swung across the rope (provided from the feeding platform to prevent damage to the surrounding foliage).The Macaques made off with whatever they could grab.

The platform was very busy with people watching and it was sweltering. After, Tim and I visited the information centre, had some lunch and chilled out at the resthouse we were staying at which was owned by the centre and only yards away.

We went to see the Orangutans again for the afternoon feeding and I was glad we had been to the morning one as although there were less people there were also less Orangutans who seemed like they just wanted to get their bananas and be off thankyou very much! ,However, we did spend quite a lot of time watching the remainder older Orangutan repeatedly eat a banana and sick it up!

In the evening Tim and I went on a guided night walk into the forest. It was brilliant being the only ones in there (Me Tim and the guide). We watched a Macaque climb across a branch at the top of a tall tree, silhouetted against the darkening sky and as it got darker, the jungle got noisier, with sounds as loud as a car alarm made by insects only as big as the thumb and frequent crashing branches. I think in the Forest at night the sounds and senses are heightened so much more. The guide told us to watch for flying squirrels and I spent ages looking up one tree where we had seen one briefly, waiting for it to "fly". I was most annoyed when at the moment I decided to look round Tim shouted, "look there it is, it just flew from the tree". Oh really! The flying squirrel was obviously watching me to wait for me to look away! (I'm not paranoid, honest!) He must have taken pity on me though because as we continued looking, my head feeling like it was going to fall off with all the craning of the neck, we all (the guide, me and Tim) saw him glide from one tree to another. It was a cool sight (my powers of description fail me, but it was cool!) He seemed quite majestic. During the walk we saw a sunbird; a really small cute bird hiding under a leaf, spiders, a viper, a big scorpion, and a stick insect. The guide was apologetic that we didn't see more wildlife, but I was just happy being in there and hearing all the sounds. My imagination was running wild and I decided I would love to do a trip trekking through the jungle.

No comments: