Monkey World!

Trip Start Jun 15, 2011
Trip End Jun 01, 2012

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bako national park

Flag of Malaysia  , Sarawak,
Saturday, July 30, 2011

In our last blog entry I mentioned that Sabah is considered the nature state, whilst Sarawak has more of the culture but we must have been lucky because we have seen so much nature and so many unique wild animals to Borneo in Sarawak. 

We had thought that a good way to get introduced to the wildlife in Borneo before going into the jungle was to visit the museum (especially as we had an afternoon to use in the city and wanted something cheap to do). When we got there and the first building was the natural history museum we thought that sounded perfect so we went in and paid our 4 Ringitt each. But I'm afraid the Natural history was a joke and all we got to see was loads and loads of fossilised wood. I know I should find it more interesting but to be honest once you've seen one piece of fossilised wood you've seen them all. The sign read something along the lines of 

 "The natural history museum has been commissioned because it will play an important role in the future of Sarawak. This is a good idea for the city" but there was no natural history to show yet and I thought it was going to be the best museum to go to. Maybe if we went back in 10 years it will have improved (and actually have something in it) but for us it wasn't great. Oh well, just have to go into the Jungle... much better museum and we properly got the Jungle adventure we had hoped for from a visit to Borneo!

The animal that Borneo is most famous for has got to be the Orangutans and as soon as we found out Sarawak had an Orangutan rehabilitation centre within one of the national parks it became the top thing we wanted to do whilst in Borneo. We went to the Semenggoh nature reserve and the Orangutans there are wild and can come and go as they please but twice a day there is food put out for them and they can come and eat there if they want, so this was our window of opportunity to see them. It's luck of the draw because sometimes all of them will be deep in the jungle and you won't see any, however fortunately that wasn't the case for us. During the feeding we saw 5 Orangutans, three young males, one female and a baby. 

It was amazing to watch them swinging across the trees and we took loads of photos. The only problem was that they were all just a bit too far away for a close-up with my camera. Katy's zoomy lens (as we refer to it) is sat in a box in Australia whilst her SLR lens is broken. So we were so lucky that on our way out of the park a mother, baby and another male were sitting in a tree near to the path only 3 metres away from us and we got some amazing close-up pictures of them. The rangers had seen they were there and a Chinese man was trying to get really close for a photo (they always do...anything for a good photo). The Rangers were shouting "Hot Mama, careful, this is a Hot Mama", which it turns out is the name of this Orangutan and she is notorious for biting people who get too close.What we didn't know at this point was just how bad an Orangutan bite can be, and when we returned to the centre's headquarters we saw a sign with all sorts of shocking graphic images of Orangutan bites from the park we were in. I'm just glad we saw that after the photo session as clearly they can do some serious damage with those teeth so you have to be careful. The current dominant male had actually bitten off the finger of his opponent when he battled to be the big boss and they had to move the other guy to a different park because they were worried they may fight again and who knows what would happen if they did.

They're amazing animals, and 97% similar in DNA to humans. You can only see them wild in Borneo and Sumatra and these ones were wild so you don't always get to see them... we were lucky! The only thing that would have made it any better was if the dominant male had paid a visit, but seeing the babies up close was probably better to be fair. While we were watching the Orangutans our guide showed me a poisonous centipede which was just behind us and we also saw a number of colourful squirrels, a giant squirrel, lizards, spiders, giant red ants and millions of termites.... you're never far away from something dangerous in Borneo!

We also visited 2 caves with a guide. We weren't sure what to expect because the famous Borneo caves are near Miri, so our expectations were quite low and even more so when we arrived and were basically the only people there but again Borneo didn't disappoint! The first cave we visited was called Fairy cave and this cave is quite a big space with some smaller chambers and tunnels at the back. It is beautiful as there is some sunlight that gets in and allows plants to grow throughout, facing the cave entrance. After admiring the main chamber we put our lights on and went bug hunting in the chambers at the back and came across a small cave scorpion and an enormous cave centipede which looks like something you'd see in a sci-fi movie! 

The second cave, Wind cave, was a series of pitch black chambers absolutely teeming with bats. There were thousands of bats and when you shine your torch at eye level you can see the red eyes staring back at you. I've never seen darkness like in that cave, you can't even see the outline of your hand right in front of your face... pitch black. The caves were brilliant but it made me realise that I don't think I'd be up for proper caving. Our guide told us about a caving trip he had been on when a larger girl got stuck in one of the tiny gaps they had squeezed through to get to the next series of tunnels. Half the group were behind her now trapped because a girl had plugged their escape and half already through. For hours they were pushing at her stomach and pulling her arms trying to squeeze her through. In the end they had to get chisels and hammers and try to break through some of the rock to get her out. So the fear of getting stuck along with crazy alien creatures doesn't really appeal. Outside the caves we also saw a chameleon, leaf insect, sting-less Bee, pineapple trees, banana trees, wild pepper plants and a turmeric plant as well as a load of other things the guide showed us that we've already forgotten. There is cool stuff everywhere!

After Orangutans, the biggest nature attraction in Sarawak is Bako national park which is home to the Proboscis monkey,a very rare monkey found only in Borneo. Our guide from the caves had told us that to really see the park you have to stay overnight but everyone had told us that getting accommodation was impossible unless you had booked weeks in advance. We decided to try our luck anyway and went to the booking office and as luck had it someone had canceled their room for the day we wanted to go so we could stay over. The first day we arrived at the park really early having left the city on the 7am bus, you can only get to the park by boat and we landed just after 9. We went on a jungle trek to the beach and spent the whole walk looking high into the trees hoping to spot a Proboscis monkey but had no luck. The jungle Treks are amazing, and you can go without a guide on one of the 17 trails they have marked out to various sights. When we arrived at the beach we just sat under a tree admiring the view and then had a nap on the rocks before making our way back into the jungle.

We asked one of the rangers how we could see the Proboscis monkey and they said to go to the Mangroves at 7pm which we did.... still no monkeys in sight (other than Macaques and silverbacks). It wasn't a wasted trip though as the sunset over the mangroves was stunning. The Macaques are horrible little buggers, they're far too used to people now and steal people's bags, break into their accommodation and rummage through everything whilst peeing everywhere. We actually saw one of their raids, there was one monkey hanging out of the window to a dorm room whilst the others were chewing on toothpaste and snacks they had found inside. We just tried to stay out of their way because they can be quite aggressive. 

 After dinner and after dark we went on a night trek which was really fun. The rangers are amazing at spotting things because if we had gone alone there's no chance we'd have seen anything but the they spotted several very poisonous snakes, frogs, the biggest spider I've ever seen, a kingfisher, catfish and lizards. Again there was a Chinese person who insisted on getting as close as possible to all the animals for a photo. I couldn't believe it, the ranger spotted a green snake (like the one in the picture here) and someone asked how poisonous it was. He said that this one could easily kill a person and it would probably only take a matter of minutes before it would be too late to use anti-venom. The Chinese women listened to this looking impressed, she then said "Wow" and thrust her camera into the snakes face. I reckon there must have been a few fatalities in the park from this sort of thing because while we were there we must have seen at least 8 of these very very poisonous snakes and they're so well camouflaged so there will be a lot more that we passed and didn't see.

While we were in the park we saw quite a lot of wild boar wandering about, mainly at night. They're really ugly and have proper beards... it also looks a bit like they're wearing high heels... Katy decided they suited the name "Lady Boars!". One of the ones we saw was near the public toilets and he was chomping on human sewage which stank... it was enough to make you feel properly sick. Katy said "They're so weird.... they're like pigs" haha, yup!

The most annoying thing was hearing everyone banging on about having seen loads of proboscis monkeys and showing each other the photos whilst we hadn't seen any. One girl wasn't even bothered about them and had seen one up close saying "Yeah, they just look like a monkey really... with a big nose." (You don't say!)

So the next morning we got up early at about 6.15 absolutely determined that we weren't doing anything until we had seen a monkey. We went down to the mangroves where there are some lookouts and you can see into the edge of the jungle, we had heard you can often see them high in the trees from there. And we were in luck, after about 15 minutes we saw our first Proboscis monkey in the trees... again wishing we had Katy's long distance lens for her SLR. But then slowly but surely they made their way from the top trees down to the bottom and then eventually into the mangroves and right next to us. It was brilliant, there were probably 6 or 7 monkeys eating and running around the mangroves putting on a little show for us... "Yes, now we can be smug with our photos, and act like it's no big deal!!!

After that, we saw the monkeys everywhere, there was even one in a tree next to the canteen and in the end we saw over a dozen of them.... We were so so happy we managed to stay over in the park as if we'd have only done a day trip we wouldn't have seen any. Proboscis monkeys are one of the weirdest animals I've ever seen, they have enormous noses and the locals called them the Dutchman because the Dutch settlers reminded them of the proboscis monkeys with big noses and big stomachs.
Whilst the park was beautiful, the scenery was incredible and the wildlife was better than anywhere I've been, I don't think I've ever been so uncomfortable. It was so hot, you find you just sweat non-stop, all day and all night. It's relentless and it's horrible! My clothes were just dripping with sweat and you can feel that you just smell horrendous, fortunately so does everyone else... and you could always blame the wild boar for the bad smells if you needed to. So despite really enjoying the national park it was so nice to get back to our hostel, have a long cold shower and sit in an air-conditioned room.

Whilst Borneo wasn't quite what we had expected initially, it has ended up completely exceeding all expectations. The Jungle was incredible and we feel so lucky to have seen the number of rare and wild animals we have. So so glad we came to Borneo... and really glad we came to Sarawak as it was perfect for us. 

So this is the end of our Malaysian adventure... on to Singapore!
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Ann on

So Katy when you come home and are confronted by nothing more than a little wasp you will be totally blase about it and not race around screaming at it...... x

seanspacifica on

Nice idea.... never gonna happen!

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