The next part of our trip was focused around seeing some diverse sea life (up close) and hopefully Orangutans. Wild orangutans can only be found in a few places around the world and Borneo is one of them. I got a little confused with our itinerary here as Borneo isn't actually a country as I had thought, but part of Malaysia - a country made up of 13 states and 3 federal territories. The 3 territories are Peninsula Malaysia, Sarawak and Sabah, with Sarawak & Sabah making up Malaysia Borneo. Geography lesson over - here's what we got up to:
Kuching (capital of Sarawak): starting point for our home stay at a longhouse, based 60km outside of Kuching the old Annah Rais Longhouse - home to the Bidayuh tribe houses around 80 families all under one roof
. The longhouse is built on stilts and mainly constructed from bamboo (there was definitely a bamboo theme to this trip). The reason for the stilts wasn't because of flooding as we first thought, but because in the past this is where they housed their animals. One reason being to keep them close to hand for looking after, and secondly as a alarm system against headhunters. Headhunting is a practice that hasn't been around for a while, but was resurrected in WWII when certain tribes fought back against the Japanese. We were promised a bedtime story about this practice to help G sleep tight, but sadly the storyteller couldn't make it and we ended up with a music lesson instead (more on this later).We spent the day fishing for our dinner, which meant wearing the worlds oldest snorkel mask and dunking your head under water trying to spot fish which were no bigger than your little finger. The guide then had a net to try and trap them in or shoot them with a spear gun (home made from a piece of wood and a rusty old pin). After about 4hrs of traipsing up and down the river we had managed to catch the massive haul of around 10 sprats (thankfully we weren't meant to be feeding the whole village). Our lunch break was rice and chicken cooked in piece of bamboo over a bamboo fire - which was actually v tasty. That night they cooked up our fish for us (with rice and more chicken so we didn't starve). We smiled through the meal, picking bones out of our mouth and politely declined eating the fishes heads. Just when I thought the bush trial was over the traditional music instruments came out
. The village that we visited had a instrument unique to them, a bamboo gong, and they also had the most enthusiastic music teacher who liked to talk about it. And talk. After hearing about its very long history he then launched into the Bidayuh top 100. We were then invited to try them out and succeeded in learning the Borneo Gong version of Chopsticks.
Kota Kinabalu (capital of Sabah): on the NW coast we spent our time here taking water taxis to some of the islands and snorkelled of the beaches. There were lots of clown fish here (Nemo) who were v inquisitive when you approached and came up close to your mask to stare back at you. Nemo wasn't on the menu at the night markets but it seemed that every other type of fish was.
Mabul: and island of the south east coast of Sabah which offers some of the worlds best exotic small marine life (and some big). We had a couple of days diving here and saw many weird and wonderful things such as nudibranches which are a type of sea slug which have amazing colours and forms. There are two many other sightings to mention but one of my favorites was a cuttle fish which looked nothing like the thing we use to give to our tortoise to gnaw on.
Sepilok: The Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Center was set up in 1964 to rehabilitate orphaned baby orangutans, it is set up in a lush 4,300-hectare Forest Reserve
. One of the reasons that there are so many orphans or injured O'tans is because of the logging and deforestation that has gone on to make way for Palm tree planting. Apparently palm trees now cover 60% of the landmass of the country, something you can't fail to miss when traveling around. There are a lot of blogs about whether Sepilok (one of only 4 similar O'tan sanctuary's in the world) is a good thing and or whether it actually succeeds in its goal of releasing the Orangutans back into the wild. I cant answer the latter part but when you travel around Malaysia and see nothing but palms for hrs on end where once there used to be forest you start to realise how the wildlife has suffered. At the reserve there is a walkway to a viewing point where twice a day the O'tans are fed - we had spoke to people that had been and hadn't seen any but we were lucky and 6 turned up for lunch. We were captivated by just how cute they were and human like in some of their expressions. Our original plan was to stay here for 2 days in case we didn't see any on day 1, now however we were even more keen to go and try and see one in the wild asap.
Kinabatangan: we spent three days here trekking in the forest and cruising the river in the hope of seeing a O'tan. There was plenty of other wildlife to keep us occupied, one of our favorites was the Proboscis monkey which is native only to these parts
. These are the guys with huge noses. And another 'stand out' feature of the males is that shall we say they are always happy - & I dont mean that they have a smile on their face. How they didn't do themselves a mischief when they were leaping from tree to tree I don't know.
It was the final part of the third day and G was getting a little bit disappointed with another sighting of a Hornbill - a huge bird that has a downward curved beak with a large 'lump' on the top of it. We had stopped for a rest before returning back to the lodge to set off to HK when another guide popped out of nowhere and told us that there was a O'tan just up the path. We got there in time to see him/her fleetingly (from behind) before he/she swung lazily away deeper into the jungle.
We had cut our trip to Malaysia short so we could see the Chinese New Year celebrations in Hong Kong - I think we would have both liked to have stayed longer as the diving was superb and spotting the wildlife thats survived the Palm tree boom was excellent, even if the O'tan sightseeing was just for a few seconds.
Now its onto HK for the Chinese New Year celebrations and spicy crab with my friend and his family.