Adventures in Borneo
Trip Start Aug 22, 2005
48Trip End Jul 17, 2006
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Our first destination was Uncle Tan's Jungle Camp, on the banks of the Sungai Kinabatangan. Human encroachment and development in the area, particularly the afore-mentioned palm oil plantations, has reduced the jungle to just nine small pockets along the river and this diminution of habitat has resulted in the highest concentration of wildlife in SE Asia
Before setting out for the camp we visited Sepilok Orang-Utang Sanctuary to learn a bit about the plight of the orang-utang and to view its residents in the process of rehabilitation come down from the jungle for feeding time. The sanctuary does excellent work, taking in young orang-utangs found abandoned or being kept illegally as pets after their mothers have been killed by poachers. The centre first checks their health and then begins the long process of preparing them for a return to the wild
The boat ride down the river to the jumping-off point for the jungle camp was a safari in itself, and we spotted monitor lizards, proboscis monkeys, long-tailed macaques, hornbills and stork-billed kingfishers (otherwise know as kookaburras). Accomodation in the jungle was very basic, with mosquito-net covered matresses on the floor of wooden huts with wire mesh doors and windows. It felt like we were in a zoo and when the generator was switched off at night we were visited by all kinds of nocturnal animals including owls and civet cats.
During our time in the jungle we saw all manner of creatures great and small, and I particularly enjoyed donning a pair of wellies for the night walk through the mud and standing knee-deep in a swamp photographing spiders and rare frogs. But the real highlight had to be sighting a dominant male orang-utang (recognisable by his pronounced cheek-pads) making a nest for the night right next to the river. There are probably only a handful of such males, aged about 30-40, in this particular pocket of jungle and observing the excitability of the otherwise unflappable guides made us realise that we were witnessing a rare and special treat. And so it was hardly surprising that none of us complained when we were woken at 5.30 the next morning to see the big fella wake up, stretch, have his breakfast and head off into the jungle in search of a mate
After a much needed shower back at the Gum Gum ops base we headed straight to Kinabalu National Park to get a good night's sleep in preparation for the climbing Mount Kinabalu, which at 4095m is the highest mountian in Se Asia. The return hike was 21km, and an imposing sign at the start of the trail informs you that the record time for up and back down again is 2hr41min for men (Mexican), and 3hr13min for women (Czech). It took us 3hrs just to get to our mountain hut at Laban Rata, the rest stop before attempting the pre-dawn climb. Up at 2.30am, I abused the "light breakfast buffet" in preparation for the gruelling last 2.5km, parts of which you had to haul yourself up using a rope. I decided to get it over with as quickly as possible, overtaking those who had set out an hour before me and almost passing out due to lack of oxygen on a few occasions. It took me an hour and a half to summit, at 4.35am, which meant that I had a long wait for sunrise
Finally, my Borneo adventure took me to Semporna, a scruffy town on the east coast of Sabah popular as a jumping-off point for Pulau Sipadan, one of the top dive destinations in the world. A big thumbs-up from Jacques Cousteau has ensured Sipadan its legendary status, and every diver I had met so far found it difficult to hide their jealousy when I told them I was planning to dive there. It did not disappoint.
Sipadan is an oceanic island, only a small part of which is visible above the surface, and was formed by living corals growing on top of an extinct undersea volcano, which plunges 600m to the seabed. The geographic position of Sipadan puts it in the centre of the richest marine habitat in the world, the heart of the Indo-Pacific basin