Monkeys, Mud & Marine Adventure in Majestic Borneo
Trip Start Feb 29, 2012
11Trip End Ongoing
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Touching down in this personally-unresearched land I recall looking out of the window of the cheap-as-chips Air Asia flight and seeing hardly any city lights at all. Compared to flying over Bangkok it looked baron, and I remember thinking this must be the proper jungle wilderness without electric – oh how wrong I was! Kota Kinabalu, the main city in Sabah (this region of Malaysian Borneo) is one of the most rich, developed and built up cities I have been in yet. Driving along the road one night on the way back from a trip I recall thinking 'if Britain made jungle states, it would probably look like this'
Borneo is indulged in an ubundace of breathtakingly beautiful scenery and inhabitants. The people are lovely, smiley, polite and always happy to help you, and the plants and wildlife are mind-blowingly otherworldly and complex – the biggest of this, the smallest of that, the only place this exists, the world rated number one of that. My first few days at the lovely Lucy’s Homestay (55 years old and she has opened up her home to travelling backpackers for the last 17 years!) was spent with one hand in the lonely planet and the other on the laptop delving into some hardcore research to dig out the cheapest ways to see everything. Borneo’s tourism industry is so well run (a little too well run for my liking on my last adventuring stint) that it tries to cater for all your needs, but at a price
I took a great tourist trip to the Mari Mari Cultural Village, where 6 different Bornean tribes have setup a living museum to show off their cultural ways in house construction, cooking and hunting among other things. I I got taught how to shoot a blowpipe, make rice wine, cook strange rice cookies and smoke the local pipe, before settling down to a feast of traditional local cuisine and a tribal dance and music display. Block out the fact that I was with a group of snap happy tourists and that I suspect some of the ‘tribesmen’ were in fact sort of am-dram actors, and in my head I was Levi-Strauss, I was Malinowski, I was a pioneering colonial anthropologist discovering the ancient ways of this undiscovered tribe! It was a great and informative trip though, and I kicked-ass on the blowpipe. Oh and I left my wallet behind. The second wallet to go astray. New cards please…
Another trip was to Mount Kinabalu, which unfortunately I couldn’t climb this time around due to lack of funds for a permit, so I spent the day walking around the park at the base of the mountain seeing all kinds of plants and flowers including the amazing Rafflesia Flower, the largest in the world which can grow up to a meter in diameter. I also conquered my vertigo to cross a 200m canopy walkway 45 meters above the rainforest floor walking along a 1ft wide wooden plank in the pissing rain, every slippy step accompanied by my slow calming chants: ‘your feet are welded to the ground. You’re almost there. Stay cool, that’s it. Easy and solid!’ I was gripping on to both hip-height ropes for dear life and lowering my centre of gravity by swatting slightly and taking every step on the wet beams with focus and caution
So then it was off to Sepilok, and to a place I have wanted to visit for about 7 years -The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, one of the best places in the world to see our orange cousins in the wild. Watching them munch their way through fruit given out by the centre for those Orangs that have not fully caught on to life back in the wild yet (free food? Id stay close to the centre too…) was a special experience. The work the centre do here is top notch, rescuing Orangs orphaned by the destruction of their forests for Palm Oil plantations and raising them by hand, teaching them the skills necessary to live life back in the wild. I have driven down most of the east side of Malaysian Borneo now and have seen first hand the extent to which the rainforest is being cleared for Palm oil plantations, and its quite shocking
Another interesting Monkey experience was seeing the Proboscis Monkey at a sanctuary close to Sepilok. This dude has a massive dong-shaped nose as well as a permanent twitching red boner which he shares with his 20 odd wives frequently - I witnessed one male doing his thing 3 times whilst watching him for an hour. The locals call him the Dutch Monkey as he’s fat, orange, and likes sex...I also did a great walk around the Rainforest discovery centre here, learning about all the plants and wildlife before setting off for a three hour trek around the trail where i didnt meet a single other person...it felt like i was alone in the rainforest. It felt great!
And so to the Kinabatangen River for 3 days of safari. Crocodiles, monkeys, snakes, lizards, orangutans and the beautiful Bornean Pygmy elephants were among the wild creatures I spotted crusing up and down the river and trekking through the rainforest….BAREFOOT
My smugness lasted for most of the trek, and to my credit, my pink sealed calves were indeed leech proof, much more infact that peoples wellies which let the little blighters in through the gaping hole at the top. The trek was quite hard and although it was 9am, the sun was beating down and started the sweat pouring, stomping through up to 6 inches of sloshy mud on the well trampled trail (by visitors and elephants) following the river to the oxbow lake. Every ten minutes or so we would stop to rip alien-like leeches from our bleeding skin, all turning away to stuff our hands down our pants double checking the vitals, and continuing on through the mud. And this was serious mud. Muddy boggy swap that clutched at my soggy mud-soaked feet like a vice as I tried to pull my flappy oversized sandals up through it. 5k walk – 3.5 hours they said. Really?? 3.5 hours for 5k? I run that in 25 mins! But oh yes. I would say on average a single step took 4 seconds, to pick your spot, keep your balance, shift your weight and then pull your foot out, this was quite an arduous process. But I made it to the lake with my makeshit rig fully in tact, leechless and ever so slightly full of British smug! Washing our feet off in the lake (before remembering that there were salt water crocs on the prowl – we’ve all seen Crocodile Dundee!) we then began the trek back, which I am sure the guide deliberately altered the route of in order to take me down
Suffice to say the laughing began again, and I hobbled along the rainforest terrain constantly batting off queries into my wellbeing with lies such as ‘Its fine actually, it gives me more balance as I can grip with my toes’. This kind of bullshit line saw me home well, and I returned to camp the triumphant jungle hero who came, saw, and conquered the trail in only his bare feet! (…socked)
By this point in my Boreno experience its fair to say, having spent a week staring into treetops and bushes and snapping anything that moved with my camera, I was if im honest a little bit sick of monkey spotting
I type to you now on my brand new Acer Aspire One netbook, fully recovered with all my photos and videos thanks to my astuteness in not wiping any of the memory cards yet (always, ALWAYS back up!), and I sit in the Dragon Inn Floating Resort, in Semporna in a bar that ever so slightly sways with the waves underneath, not enough to notice, but enough to make you feel slightly queezy after a few beers. This cool seafront hotel is the venue for my final night in Borneo, and it follows my final adventure here, having just returned from the AMAZING dive island of Sipadan, which is considered one of, if not THE #1 best dive site on earth. And by god, its quite something.
You need a permit to dive Sipadan. Only 100 odd are issued each day by the Sabah Parks Authority that now manage the restricted island and the marine park it sits in. Sounds a lot, but that means each dive centre operating out of the port of Semporna only has 7 permits per day. I chose to dive with Uncle Chang’s partly because of the name (I pictured a slick-haired chinese-malay drug baron operating out of a restaurant in China town, selling guns and coke on the mean streets of Malaysia and ruling his people by way of the machete whilst operating a tourist dive shop on the side to launder his dirty money – yep, too many eastern gangster kung fu films!) and partly because they were the cheapest and the only dive centre to offer me a 1 day Sipadan dive (most are tied up in a 3 day package)
I finally got to Uncle Changs with minutes to spare and arrived at the stilted seaside resort
So now my SE Asian adventure is winding up and I have merely 3 days in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur before I head to Perth where Darragh has just secured himself a job for THREE TIMES what he earns at home. I need this fortune too as I am now officially the poorest I have ever been in my life. But also the most travelled and enlightened.