Back where we feel most at home

Trip Start Feb 08, 2011
Trip End Mar 11, 2012

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Where I stayed
Bako National Park Hostel
What I did
Hung out with some Probiscus, Macaques and Bearded Pigs

Flag of Malaysia  , Sarawak,
Friday, August 26, 2011

So we booked an overnight stay at Bako, and intended to leave the very lush confines of our luxury chalet accommodation, in Sematan, at first light. 

Best laid plans, etc.... We ended up leaving there at 11:00am, good job that Kuching is only 90 minutes away, Bako a further hour.
We pushed our little Kancil to it's limits, taking it to the 100 km/h mark. At this speed the car feels as light and secure as a box made from tin foil. 
The doors are rattling - where's the gorilla? The engine whines like a cranky, pre-pubescent teen, forced to come out of their room during daylight hours. Every time we drive over bumps or subsided road surface (quite frequent on Sarawak roads) the car feels like it's about to take off or burrow into the ground. Turning the steering wheel more than 10 degrees in either direction results in a serious bout of side splitting inertia, this car has about as much stability as a footballer's marriage.

A couple of hours later we arrive at the Bako NP Boat terminal. Yes, that's right, it's now 1pm and we still aren't actually at the park. We register for our accommodation, pay the entrance fees (10RMs total, thank you ISIC!) and arrange for a boatman (47RMs) to take us 20 minutes up the river estuary to the actual park entrance. It's a real shame that we are so tardy as if we'd managed to get our act together a lot earlier this morning we might have been able to share the boat trip cost with some other tourists, seems like we are the only late arrivals!
The trip itself is short, but very smooth and fairly scenic - as soon as we leave the jetty we pass by the local village, that literally surrounds the terminal and sits on either side of the river. We see countless crocodile warning signs posted along the banks, but this doesn't deter the villagers in the slightest, as they bathe and swim on the shallow banks, seemingly without a care in the world. After a few minutes we are out in the South China Sea, though you wouldn't know it, as the waters are so calm, the only choppy waves are created by other passing boats.
The first thing that we notice after arriving on the jetty for Bako is that there is only the customary Selamat Datang sign to welcome us - there are boardwalks to the left and right. Though a little bit disorientated, and without much clue as to where to go, we decide to pay the boatman and head towards the right. There are a group of guys here, who seize the opportunity to try and jump on our chartered boat for a ride back to the terminal - but to our collective surprise, the boatman says no - wtf!? Someone in SE Asia is doing things by the book? Looks like their is a pre-booking system in place so that all boatman get a decent chance of making a fair wage.

The 3 guys walk off in a huff and, reassuringly for us, disappear in the direction we are also about to head into. As we walk through the short boardwalk onto a cemented path through some jungle thicket, first impressions are good - the park feels secluded, as there are no roads to and from it, and only the occassional sound of a motor boat. The biodiversity is immediately apparent with beach turning into either Mangrove forest or jungle. Limestone cliffs jut out amongst the undergrowth adding to the variation in landscape.

We register and get the key to our hostel room, the only room available when we booked was a four bed dorm room, with shared WC and shower, it costs 42.40 RMs for the whole room so we decided not to share when we booked it! The Park Ranger also gives us a map and tells us what he thinks we should do with the few remaining daylight hours left to us!
First things first, we head towards our fabulous accommodation, a far cry from our chalet in Sematan - sniff sniff! On the way we see several long tailed macaques hanging around, ominously (they are known to be only, slightly less aggressive, but possibly more mischevious than their pig tailed cousins!). As we have no food or water, they don't seem interested, paying about as much attention to us as they would to a pair of worn out underpants.
We get into our room, a gloomy affair, the smell of damp fills the nostrils immediately. Thankfully there are fans to help propagate the stench evenly! A quick relief break at the nearby facilities reveals a kitchen that you'd rather shit in and a toilet which you wouldn't even piss in - ahh the joys of living in the jungle! At least the showers are relatively clean, shame that they only pump out cold rain water (think that one night at the retreat has really raised my expectations too high).

All of this still cannot really dampen our enthusiasm for this place and we set off on our little trek. We decide to take a short 1km walk to Telok (bay) Paku which goes past the boat jetty and some mangroves via a boardwalk (necessary, as at high tide the mangrove is underwater). The bay is hidden from view by a set of cliffs, so the path is fairly up and down all the way to it, making this a short but fairly taxing trek.

As we pass the HQ and registration office we se some more Macaques - yawn :) and then as we turn round a corner towards the jetty we come across a fairly hefty bearded pig, sex unknown (and, no the beard isn't a clue!). This one is fairly filthy, probably been wallowing in our kitchen, it seems more startled by us, than we are of it, immediately trotting off towards a more shady hidden away spot behind the HQ. We literally move a couple of more paces and then see our first Probiscus monkey, prancing around from tree to tree, like some young, ginger haired, red faced, tree hugging prince of wales.

The sightings of these rather funny looking monkeys continues as we walk along the boardwalk towards the trails. They really don't seem fazed by a nearby human presence.
The actual trail for Telok Paku starts at the trails head just after the boardwalk and is only 0.8kms, but this still takes us 20 minutes as the ground is fairly uneven and a little treacherous at times, with steep inclines and declines and a lot of exposed tree roots lining the floor in wait to embarrass a passing unsuspecting rambler!
The trail leads out into a beautiful sandy bay, ensconced by sheer cliff faces on all sides. The sea is so calm, it rolls over the sand as gently as blanket over a bed. The sun is still fairly high, and intense, so we don't stay too long. 
On the return leg we come across an entire troop of probiscus monnkeys an arms length from the boardwalk. The Alpha male is closest, he resembles Eric Cantona in both his facial features and his paunch, is there such a thing as a French monkey?

On the sand below we also catch a glimpse of some really odd looking crabs, one claw about 5 times bigger than the other, they are called fiddler crabs and the large claw seems to be used for fighting (courtship ritual and territory?) and the small one, for feeding (if they used the big claw for eating, would be like watching a bad Kenny everett sketch - hang on, is there a good one!?).

This short walk has given us so much for so little, that we decide to go on the night time walk, too.
We meet up at the registration office at 19:45, where we register for the night walk, and also get to see who else is coming. Straight away I can spot a few big foots - great no chance of seeing any mammals tonight then! The guide - Ali, is in a very animated conversation with a couple of Spanish men. One with a lot of hair on his chin - so much so, that I wonder if he's ever thought about transplanting some of it on his shiny pate! The other, a more timid individual, who, it turns out, is a biologist who wants to volunteer at the park. They are taking all of his attention, so much so that he forgets about the walk for about 10 minutes! Leaving the rest of us to just twiddle our thumbs - great start!
Whe he finally remembers why he came out this evening, Ali gets his act together, gathers the group around him and gives us the do's and don't's. He turns out to be quite a jolly character - his booming jolly tones, reverberating throughout the jungle, giving animals of all shapes and sizes enough time to get the hell out of there!
The first attraction on the night time tour are the "resident" fire flies, something that you can see on any river in any part of Borneo, still always nice to see. After this rather tame start, things do start to heat up as we see... some spiders, yes spiders in a jungle - not tarantulas mind you, these mean beasts were more like you average garden/semi-detached variety.
Things were not looking good! As Ali lead us past our room, I felt a sudden urge to use the toilet, yes THAT toilet, I really was that desperate, but then his team (he had a little entourage, to do the hard grafting, whilst he entertained the men from Del Monte) suddenly found a Pit Viper - Finally something that could inflict more pain on us than this walk! .
As we continued down the boardwal onto another trail, we also came across several poisonous frogs, sleeping king fishers, snakes, fatally toxic centipedes and millipedes, stick insects and a hemaphrodite tree (HINT: You had to bee there!)
The last hour was definitely worth the effort, and perhaps I should've been a little more patient with Ali and his team, as they did come through in the end - all in all a really great end to a fantastic day!
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