Uncle Tan's Jungle Adventure

Trip Start Dec 14, 2007
Trip End Mar 16, 2009

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

After being spoilt at SMART with luxurious accommodation, great food and diving it was time to take in another great experience that Borneo is famous for, itīs jungles. Originally the majority of the landscape of Borneo consisted of lush jungles filled with all kinds of wild life. As in many countries this is no longer the case and much of the jungle has been destroyed and replaced with palm plantations for their lucrative palm oil crop. There are still patches of protect forests between the sea of palm plantations where animals still roam free.
One such forest is where we were intending to spend the next 3 days where we hopped to get a little closer and possibly a view of some of the jungle inhabitants. Uncle Tans Wildlife Adventures have set up a camp in the jungle along a river bank. From our research we knew that we would be roughing it but were soon to find out to what extent.
From Semporna the port closest to Sipadan we transported via bus to the Airport at Tawau which was an hour and a half away. To get into the jungle we needed to travel to a costal town 400km north of Tawau called Sandakan. This trip can be done by bus which takes about 5-6 hours, we chose the easier option of hoping on a plane for a 35 minute flight to Sandakan. Since we arrived at around 7pm which is too late to leave for the jungle we spent our first night at Uncle Tans Guesthouse which is more a very basic dormitory than a guesthouse. Little did we know that this was luxury we would dearly miss over the next few days.
Since the ferry to the jungle camp only leaves at 2pm we had the opportunity to visit the Sepilok Orang-Utan Rehabilitation centre. It was only a few minutes away from the guesthouse and is situated in a little patch of virgin forest on the edge of the city. We were a little hesitant to visit the center as we were not interested in seeing orang-utans in cages so were pleasantly surprised when we arrived at the park and found this wasnīt the case. The rehabilitation center was set up to reintroduce orang-utans who had been stranded by their mothers or captured by people back into the wild. The center had a series of stages that the orang-utans are taken through to reintroduce them to the wild and ensure they are not dependant on man. One of the stages involved feeding the orang-utans further and further from their original cages to lure them back into the forest and visitors were able to witness the first of these feeding stations.
Twice a day the center staff feed orang-utans who freely walk between the bus loads of tourists who come to see the daily feeding. It was amazing to see how close they get and how comfortable they are around people, the very thing the center is trying to get out of them. As the feeding is about to begin, orang-utans start swinging coming out of the jungle from all directions. They have the most incredible agility and effortlessly swing across the ropes leading to the feeding platform. Apparently some of them even need to be taught how to swing and climb trees. We expected a feeding frenzy but instead they calmly took a few bananas from the center staff and sat quietly and ate. Things did get a little tense when some short tailed macaws wanted in on the free food.
Despite the bus loads of spectators it was still a wonderful experience to see the orang-utans up close and watch them playfully swing around. At one time we saw up to 8 together at a time which is rare in the wild has they are solitary animals. The remarkable thing about the orang-utans is that they have a 96% DNA match with humans and this is evident in a lot of their behaviour and facial expressions. On arriving in the park we even got to see some unexpected "monkey business" as the older orang-utans showed the younger on lookers how it was done (itīs mating season). Only 20,000 remain in the wild so we were very exited to have a chance to possibly see one.
At 2:30 we were met by our driver who transported us along with a few other guests to the ferry which was just over an hour away. The ferry or boat ride took us down a jungle lined river for about another hour and along the way we were fortunate for see our fist wild Orang-Utan in a tree close to the river. He wasnīt too concerned with us and lazily went about is business. We also saw a troop of proboscis monkeys which have the strange shaped noses feeding in a tree along the river. It seemed that much of the wild life gravitates closer to the river in the late afternoon. An hour into the ride we turned off from the main river into a narrow entrance through some reeds and followed a winding stream though mangrove trees for another 30 minutes. I was thoroughly disorientated and hoped the guide knew how to get us back to the main river.
We arrived at the camp around 5pm which is basically simple huts raised off the ground a few meters and a common dinning area and kitchen. All the huts where shared and consisted of two double mattresses on the floor covered with a mosquito net. Of all the places weīd visited on our trip so far we had not met many South Africans so we were very surprised to find out that our room mates were two ladies from Durban in South Africa! Small world? The huts were all covered with wire mesh and this was obviously to keep the us in and the jungle out.
Our itinerary for the two-night three-day stay was explained to us before dinner by one of the local guides using some broken English. He talked us through the animals we might see to the best of is ability and even though he knew the names of all the different bird and animal species he didnīt have a clue about the frogs species and collectively referred to them as just plain frogs.
Co-incidentally it was one of the staff members birthdays on the day we arrived and it wasnīt long till the guitars were brought out, the table was turned into a drum and the staff broke out into song. A quite a few local songs were sung as well as an English song every now and then, I will survive came up a few times. Apparently this was the usual evening entertainment and clearly the staff enjoyed their music as everyone joined in to created a very festive atmosphere. The beers were flowing and happy birthday was sung a few times.  We headed off to bed just after 10pm to get some sleep before the 6am safari boat ride. At 1am the party was still going and the song and laughter was so loud Iīm sure no one got much sleep. When it did quite down the sounds form the remaining jungle animals that werenīt frightened away were amazing.
At 6am the next morning there wasnīt a single guide to be found, no surprise as the late night had clearly taken itīs toll. We did manage to get going just after 7am and had a very nice boat ride through the mangroves and down the main river. We got to see the usual Macaw and Proboscis monkeys as well as an Orang-Utan feeding in a tree over the river. We returned to the camp for a breakfast and to prepare for our jungle trek at 11am.
Leaches are a big problem in the jungle and we were advised to buy gum boots and cover up on the walk to protect against mosquito bites. The first few minutes of the walk were slow going as we walked through thick ankle deep mud. A few days before most of the walking track was still underwater as the river was still receding. We were grateful we had the gum boots but unfortunately our short sleeves and pants didnīt do much to protect us from the thousands of mosquitoes, so we applied a 2mm layer of mozi repellent on every exposed bit of skin and hoped for the best.
The guide was great and pointed out many small and big insects, lizards, frogs including Borneoīs smallest, scorpions, spiders and towards the end of the walk we passed by a Orang-Utan that was feeding in a tree 5m from us. I was amazing to see a wild Orang-Utan up close and he didnīt seem bothered by us at all. The male we saw was still quite young and therefore not dangerous but we were told that some of the older males can be dangerous, a little scary considering a full grown male is three times as strong as a man.
Back at the lodge we settled in for lunch and watched the resident bearded pigs forge around for food. Occasionally the local monitor lizard also made an appearance. The rest of our stay at Uncle Tanīs was very similar, boat safariīs, walks, eating and sleeping. It was amazing to get such an up close view of the jungle animals which we are completely unfamiliar with.
The two night three day package was just perfect as the day we checked out we were eagerly looking forward to a hot shower and a nights sleep on a real bed in an air-conditioned room. The ferry ride back to our bus had a few surprises install in the form of two very big crocodiles. Just a reminder of why we didnīt go swimming in the river!
After the 1:30 hour bus ride back to Uncle Tanīs guesthouse we were driven to the airport to catch our connecting flight back to Tawau where we would spend another night before our early departure back to Kuala Lumpur (KL). 
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