Blissful Bako

Trip Start Dec 26, 2010
Trip End Sep 10, 2011

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Where I stayed
Hostel B room 4 (40 Ringets)

Flag of Malaysia  , Sarawak,
Wednesday, April 6, 2011

From Joanna

And this is even better.

We are in Bako National Park, on the cafeteria veranda, having a beer and watching the sun go down over the South China Sea. From Kuching it was only a hop (on the local bus for an hour), skip (down the jetty onto a narrow boat for a 20 minute ride) and jump (into the bath-warm sea at the park HQ beach) to get here.

The guy at the hostel told us that Bako is the best national park in Asia, and while I don't have a clue, it could even be true. The guidebook says that Malaysia is a 'mega-diversity’ area. The forest is apparently 130 million years old and contains a staggering amount of life; 14500 species of flowering plant or tree, 210 species of mammal, 600 types of birds, 150 species of frogs, 80 of lizards and loads of insects.

Bako is a 30 square km park on a narrow peninsula into the South China Se, between two rivers. It feels like an island though, as there aren’t roads in so you come by water on long narrow five-seater fishing boats. There are mangroves and beaches, rainforests and ‘kerangas’ (the sandstone plateau), rocky cliffs and peat bogs.

The accommodation is decent and cheaper than in town; bungalows and ‘chalets’ connected by a raised wooden walkway spaced out in the jungle. The food is greasy and formless mush, all yellow or shades of brown. Hardly a vege to be found. There are dozens of trails into the forest to choose from, and none of which need guides or are busy. Often we can walk all day and only see a couple of other people, which, being a horrible shrew I enjoy. And there is plenty of wildlife on offer.

Today we walked away from the complex, past the jetty and through mangroves on wooden walkways, then through the forest only 8oo metres, but the track was so up and down, clambering over huge boulders and clinging to vines Indiana Jones style that it took almost an hour. There we found a lovely little beach, which we had to ourselves for much of the afternoon. The water was murky due to being so close to the river and bath warm, but it was still pretty nice. Our first beach since Sri Lanka in January.

On the way back we listened out for the crashes and, after much peering into the canopy saw grey/black and red langur leaping and swinging. It was very exciting. I believe the grey/balck one may have been the silver leaf monkey, and the red one, which in my excitement I initially thought wa an Orangutan (even though there probably aren’t any here) may have been a maroon one. Langurs have attractive fur and long athletic arms. After a couple of days here we have spent hours monkey stalking and are used to all the different types, but nothing was as cool as the first spotting.

The famous and rare proboscis monkey is an odd looking langur with a giant mushed up nose, huge belly and smooth human-like arms and legs. The male also has a very noticeable penis. These monkeys only live in Borneo, and forage on the beach after low tide.

The smaller grey or brown long tailed macaque is very common and very naughty. They play around the park HQ, pulling each others tails and leaping on top of each other. These cheeky little monkeys will snatch things right out of your hands if you are not careful. They forage and play up and down the beach in the evening and during the day will raid rooms and steal bags. We have been lucky, but some guys on the beach had their very expensive looking camera dragged off down the beach before they could rescue it. The babies are the size of your hand with wrinkly little old men faces and shiny baby eyes. Much cuter than the evil diseased Indian macaques. I am such a racist.

Malaysia is also home to Orangutans, cats (civets, leopard cats, leopards including black panthers, tigers), tapir (300kg hippo-pigs), scaly anteaters, bats (the millions of cave dwelling bats in Mulu National Park were the subject of a well known David Attenborough documentary), birds (the rhino hornbill!), asian elephants, dugong, giant leatherback turtles, lizards (the giant Monitor lizard is the Komodo dragons gentle brother), every possible type and size of insect, especially huge bitey angry ones and the ridiculously endangered Sumatran rhino, a shy mini-rhino that may live in the dense forest by Mt Kinabula National Park. I say may as they are never seen, tracked through thermal imaging and hidden cameras and on the last count researchers reckoned there might be a couple of dozen only. Habitat loss and poachers are to blame. The habitat loss seems largely due to the massive Palm Oil plantations.

After dinner we joined about twenty other visitors and guides and trouped off into the forest for a night walk, all flashing our torches at the canopy and trying to win the quiet walking contest. Every now and again a guide will hear something and we would switched off the lights and freeze, standing silent in the dark intently listening. In the middle of which someone pops off.

Jim and I lagged behind with one of the guides, who was particularly skilled at finding snakes, spiders and stick insects. We were apt at finding sticks only. One Dutch guy almost wet himself with excitement when he saw a frog. The attractive vipers are super poisonous and bloody everywhere, including in the trees just outside the canteen but all are blasť about them. The guides poke away at everything and once, upon releasing a branch he had bent over with a six inch brute of an stick insect on it, sent it catapulting through the night, much to his surprised amusement. We saw at Everyone was especially looking out for the civet cat and flying lagur, which we eventually saw.

The proboscis monkeys sit on their bums with their long human limbs hanging down and rounded bellies, distinctive long mushy noses and the most extraordinary bright red erect human like penises. In all the publicity shots for the park they hide the giant erect cocks fig leaf style with branches of poorly photo shopped foliage.

From JB

Our first full day spent in the park was an absolute treat. We slept late passing in and out of delirium due to the heat, though it was all somehow quite comforting like a drunk conversation between old friends.

The breakfast buffet looked suspiciously like the dinner buffet last night. As we sat there wondering whether or not it was odd to have two types of rice and three of noodles for your morning meal, I convinced myself that it was all cooked fresh and thus there was no need to think more on the subject.

We headed to a beach just 2.6km northeast of the park HQ. In this type of climate and terrain that takes an hour and a half and took us through some surprising varied landscapes.  A few minutes in we had our first sighting of a proboscis monkey (or Cuuzer Monkeys as I like to call them, due to their famous flaming peckers that Jo mentioned earlier). The Cuuzer Monkey was sat on a rock in the shade, appreciating the peace and tranquillity.

On route to the beach we saw a picture plant which traps insects (and it is rumoured, small mammals) through attracting them with a sweet nectar.  The plant is long (like a small green vase) and thin with a pool of this fluid at its base which its prey attempt to get to and find it impossible to escape. The picture plant has a series of angled fibres that prevent it prey from escaping– so it’s curtains once anything goes inside.

A couple of dragonflies kept us company for awhile, one a startling sapphire blue the other scarlet red. They flew close to us and settled on branches as if to afford us a decent view. Perhaps it is something that everyone does, to personify animals,  I imagined them to be tiny little men with suits and an elaborate set of wings. I swear they looked the part.

The beach was worth the trek to get there, it was a wide open expanse with beautiful (though slightly murky) water and tropical rainforest thrust up on three sides that made it feel even more dramatic when you looked back from the surf. We spent the afternoon swimming and reading in the shade as day tourists came and went via boat.

As we were leaving a man came charging in from the sea shouting and waving his arms, he’d been a little too relaxed with his gear and the local macques had been into it, pulling his camera out and dragging his possessions along through the sand purely for their own amusement. (Note to self, watch bag in monkey zones)

The heat of the day had passed by the time we set off on the return journey. Though it doesn’t really seem to alter the temperature, always hovering around 28-32 degrees and always humid.

The return journey provided the highlight of the day. A group of Cuuzer Monkeys slowly swung through the forest as we sat and watched, waiting of almost an hour to try and get a clear shot of them through the canopy. After about 5 minutes of waiting the surrounding forest seemed to decide that we’ve left and an orchestra of insects burst into life. The sound so loud that you’d struggle to hold of conversation over it. This seemed to reassure the Cuuzer Monkeys that no people were around and a heated fight developed in the trees above our heads, only every now and again would be see a flash of their ginger fur through the trees though their bickering was clear as day.

As we were about to leave a clearing we had been waiting in for 20 minutes, three Cuuzer Monkeys swung into view and I was able to get a semi decent shot of one. It is a war of attrition getting a clear picture through the canopy – but we have one and hopefully on the next couple of days we’ll be able to clearly document the Flaming Cuuzer in full glory!

We are sitting on the veranda outside our room, while we wait for the room to cool down. During the day we can’t open the windows due to the monkeys, and at night we can’t have the windows or doors open while we are inside, for fear of luring in the dreaded mosquito (seriously Philip, they are the size of 5p and don’t give a shit about repellent). Bats fly past us, trying to catch the bugs attracted by the light, geckos also come for the light. And a massive Bearded Hog sow that snuffled her way right up to us, only to find a disappointing lack of food.
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chris on

If it's got to be a Zoo, this would be my type.

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