A tick on life's to do list

Trip Start Oct 17, 2007
Trip End Feb 04, 2008

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Flag of Malaysia  ,
Saturday, October 27, 2007

How to begin writing about a time in your life that you have dreamed about?  Being in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo was like a fantasy, I couldn't begin to imagine being somewhere equally exotic and wild as plagued with the problems of reality.  Unfortunately for me, this moment was heavily marked with being as sick as I can remember in a very, very, very long time.  Everything hit me at once, the never-ending headache, runny everything, plugged everything... couldn't see, hear, taste or really enjoy anything properly.  Fortunately Scott was fine and I don't think I passed anything on to him.  Nevertheless (do I have to say it?), Sabah is incredible, and the bigger the wildlife/plant or green anything enthusiast you are, the more you want to explode with happiness, whether healthy or sick.  Wow, I have so much to write about, I'll try not to ramble on.

We stayed at a lodge called the Jungle Resort, set a 5 minute walk from Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary, one of only 4 orangutan sanctuaries in the world.  The sanctuary is protected jungle which covers several square kilometers, and where orangutans (one of the great apes, our 3rd closest cousin with a 96.4% genetic match to us) that have been injured, confiscated, or left as orphans are reared by the sanctuary staff, rehabilitated and essentially taught how to "be" wild orangutans again.  Once they are mature, they are released (with some exceptions) back to government-protected forests in other areas of Borneo.  The sanctuary has 2 daily feedings, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  In the morning the orangutans (which by the way, means "man of the forest") are fed bananas and milk, and they looooove it!  About 6-8 of them made an appearance and they feasted on their fruit.  When they eat their bananas they break the peel down the middle lengthwise and then push it in their mouth as they pop out.  A very cheeky appearance was also made by wild macaques that would take turns, or not, making wild runs for any bananas that the orangutans didn't down quickly enough!  The macaques put in some great effort into stealing the show!  The afternoon feeding consisted of milk and what looks like long green beans, and I mean LOOOONG, like vine stalks.  If anyone knows what that was specifically, please pass on.  In the afternoon session a mother and baby swung in, and the baby was hilarious, a total and complete trouble-maker.  He jumped off mum and started pulling the fuzz on another orangutan's head,  he tried to wrestle, jump on him... mum didn't give a crap, just sat there eating her food until about ten minutes in where she got up, picked up the scrappy little baby and sat him down beside her and in front of the food.  As Scott said, she was telling him "Ok, enough play, time to eat your dinner".  And he did.  Need I say, adorable!

Ok, this paragraph is where I get on my soap box, I have warned!  And the following applies to essentially every animal I write about in this entry.  There has been HEAVY deforestation in Sabah (Malaysian Borneo), most poignantly for palm oil plantations.  You can drive for endless kilometers and see nothing but palm oil plantation, dotted with palm oil factories, harvesters etc.  It's so different to hear about it, as opposed to seeing it yourself; it's just difficult to understand its extent.  Palm oil is found in many, many, many food items we buy, i.e. cookies, crackers, chocolate etc., and it's listed in the ingredients.  The big issue is that native forests are cut down to make way for the plantations. In the process there is an enormous loss of habitat and sometimes animals, such as gibbons and orangutans are purposely splayed because they are in the way.  That's how many young are orphaned.  The key issue is that the palm oil industry is not regulated, and companies don't need to state where the palm oil came from, therefore the demand for palm oil continues and so does the deforestation and habitat loss.  So, what YOU can do is write the equivalent of your Minister for Foreign Affairs in your country, and demand that food companies act responsibly in their purchase of palm oil and state where it came from in their ingredients list.  It's not about destroying an entire industry; it's about responsible and sustainable growth, and consumers knowing what they are impacting when they purchase a product.  Alright, jumping off my proverbial soap box now.  See, that wasn't so bad!  Ah!  PS: if you want to know about the Orangutan appeal connected to Sepilok, visit: www.orangutan-appeal.org.uk.  Oh, here's a link (I think this is it) to an ex co-worker of mine' documentary trailer, she made in Borneo. She knows a lot more that I do as she's spent a lot of time there: www.youtube/watch?v=4sTyJ8PTwZc.

Also on our wildlife agenda was Turtle Island which was a 45 boat ride from Sandakan.  During the day we went snorkeling just off the beach and came across the feistiest fish you ever did meet.  He was about the size of Scott's hand, was black with a yellow stripe, and would NOT back down when we happened to snorkel over his little hidey-hole.  Whack!  He aimed towards Scott's head! Thunk!  He head-butted my goggles!  He was screaming "Get away from my #$@& seaweed hidey place!" (Not making that up, I am a fish whisperer.  Yes, I know, another talent...).  Scott made the mistake of resting his knee at one point on a bit of sand off the coral, and he swam his little fins off towards him and nipped him on the knee!  At least, we think it was him, if not it was his Italian cousin, Vinnie the mafia-fish.  Scott after all, did get whacked!  He won, of course, we went back to the land, where the humans belong.

That evening we were fortunate enough to see a greenback sea turtle come to shore to lay its eggs.  The island has a conservation program and the rangers regularly identify and tag the turtles, remove the eggs once they have been laid and re-bury them in a controlled, predator-free area where the eggs have a much higher hatch rate.  Once they hatch, the little ones are released into the sea again, hopefully so that a small percentage survive to the age of 30-50 when they are able to reproduce again.  And yes, numbers of sea turtles have declined dramatically and they too are endangered, not because of natural factors, but because of us.  It's fantastic they have these programs in place to try to balance out our damage.  Oh, do you want to hear a funny (well morbid, really) fact about sea turtle mating? I did not know this. The male has a "claw" on each flipper that allows him to latch onto the female so she can't get away while they mate, and during this long process she has to swim him around, and come up for air with the male attached to her so they don't drown.  The funny/morbid part, is that sometimes more than one male wants the female, and they all try to latch on, sometimes dragging her to the bottom too long in their "Who's the man?! I'm the man!" struggle, and drown her in the process...  What the???  Another factoid from the fascinating world of nature.

The most surprising part of our trip to Borneo, as we enjoyed it soooo much, was the Kinabatangan River.  We stayed in a riverside lodge where we had to use mosquito netting at night, and the wildlife, both plant and animal was profuse!  We got to the lodge by crossing the river in a rickety, powered canoe tied to a half-submerged jetty.  Wow, is it ever "fun" to walk on an angled, slippery half-drowned jetty with all your crap!  Our limits of balance and coordination were tested to the maximum!  Needless to say, success was our game, we were like Olympic athletes on a balance beam when crossing it.  But with bags.  And it's wet.  And we're not Olympians.  And my runners are soaked.  Again.  God they smell.

Ok my wildlife aficionados, here is a list, carefully compiled by moi and our trusty boat guide Aloy of what we saw that was identifiable!  Before we begin though, we didn't see the pygmy elephants which are found along the river also; apparently we were about one week too early from when they arrive in that area.  Bummer.   At twilight and sunrise (but not necessarily all in the same trip) we saw:  Long-tailed macaques (TONS, they are sooo cheeky!), pacific reef and little egrets, Proboscis monkeys (which was a thrill and a half as they are endemic to Borneo and are very shy of passing humans but there they were, males with their harems in trees hanging over the riverbanks), white-bellied and house swiftlets, oriental darters, swooping swallows, stork-billed kingfishers, crested serpent eagles, lesser fish eagles, silver langurs (another primate), a monitor lizard, a mangrove snake and pied, black, bushy crested and wrinkled hornbills.  And that's only what we identified and saw!  Imagine everything else! All the birds and crocodiles and insects and plants and frogs.... And this is with major habitat loss!  Imagine what must exist and what has not even been discovered?  Imagine what was there before?  Incredible.  Needless to say, those were unforgettable canoe journeys and wildlife lover or not, it's thrilling, and I would HIGHLY recommend it.  The morning boat ride was at 6 a.m. but how beautiful to be up before the sun and to hear the echoing sounds of frogs and insects first, only to die down and begin hearing bird calls you've never heard before and then to see hundreds of dragonflies begin their morning fly-around to dry off their wings and look for food along the river banks....  It was so beautiful, definitely a moment to never forget.

Then it was back to the city of Sandakan.  We took the local bus into town from Sepilok where we were staying, and whatever you imagine a local bus to be in the middle of Borneo, you are correct.  Chairs falling apart, overcrowded at times, people smoking, standing in the open doorway when the bus was moving... the 40 minute journey took a very bumpy and leisurely hour and a half, but what an experience!  On the bus we met the self-titled "two distinguished gentlemen, who were from Kuala Lumpur and were in their 70's.  What a crack up those two were!  The ultimate team, like Siegfried and Roy, Bonnie and Clyde, Sherlock Holmes and Watson.  Seventy year old Hardy boys, agile as agile can be, full of smiles, and telling us tales of all the mountains they've climbed, and kilometers of world they have walked... and this is as senior citizens!  We had dinner with them in Sandakan, and took their photo, they were so lovely.  And yes, the photo is out of focus, I could spit!  We also met two Canadian women doing some hard-core backpacking.  They didn't know where they were going, how they were going to get there, where they were going to stay, or where they would be next.  We got lots of tips on packing light and South-East Asia from them.  Again, such nice people.  Ah, one thing I absolutely have to tell about the bus is the lovely music they blared, as loud as possible over the speakers:  Malaysian metal.  Oh yes, there is Malaysian metal indeed, and I can now inform you all that no matter what the language, all metal songs, somewhere within their lyrics scream in a very Smashing Pumpkins/Metallica/Guns and Roses manner :  "HHHEEEEEYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY YYYYYYYYYY, YEAAAHHHHH!".  Remember, sound must imagined with raspy, throaty metal voice.
Alright until the next one....Over and out.  Wait!! 

Canaussie rating time my friends!
Jack fruit: 3, tastes good, but gives me tingly mouth and throat I'm so excited to continuously discover my many hidden allergies!
Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary:  5
Turtle Island:  3, it's good to see what they are doing, but many things are difficult to see.  Better to go diving if you have a certificate, it's supposed to be amazing
Kinabatangan River cruise: 5++++
Malaysian Metal:  hmmm, 2. Unless you really want to listen to metal in a bus in Borneo  
Until the next....
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john on

nice picture collected keep it up.

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