Friday, September 22, 2006

Orang utans, monkeys with big noses and an elephant

Firstly I want to reassure you that I am nowhere near Thailand at the moment, I have no real idea what is going on there apart from some snippets from the ABC and CNN, you probably know more than me!

Other than that, I just got back from Borneo! Yeah it is fantastic! Now for the geographically challenged (OK I admit it, I had to look it up on a map) Borneo is not really a country in it’s own right. It is an island to the east of Indonesia. The bottom part is Indonesian and the top part is divided into the 2 states of Sabah and Sarawak that belong to Malaysia and the Sultanate of Brunei. (Who knew that Brunei wasn’t in the middle east???)

I went to Sabah which is in the north east part of the island. One of the main attractions there is the orang utans, which I saw at Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre. They get the animals from people who are keeping them illegally as pets, or from poachers who have been caught. Most are in a poor state of health on arrival and the program firstly gets them healthy and then gradually returns them to live as wild animals by teaching them how to fend for themselves. Visitors can see them twice a day at a feeding station and I was lucky enough to see about 6 during my visit. They don’t stay long but are quite beautiful to look at. Also there for a free feed are the macaques, a type of monkey. When all the tourists left I was able to sit and enjoy the peace of the jungle in the park, and saw many lizards & butterflies.

But that wasn’t enough, so I headed off to a jungle camp for 3 days/2 nights. The camp was reached by road and then by boat. We were literally in the middle of some jungle. I stayed in a wooden hut, slept on a thin mattress and was protected by a mosquito net. The trip included safari trips in a boat at sunset, night and early morning, and 2 jungle treks, which involved wading through some deep mud in gum boots (wellies for you Brits). During these we spotted a pygmy elephant, apparently a rare sight, 3 crocodiles, one a huge one about 2 m long, probicus monkeys – they have a big nose, google them to see what they look like. Apparently the bigger the nose the male has the more attractive he is!! There were some beautiful yellow and striking blue kingfishers, they look like small kookaburras dipped in paint, lizards, the world’s 2nd smallest frog, & other frogs, scorpion, ibis, eagles, wild pig – well ok, they came into th camp to scavenger, oh huge water monitors and also some plants and flowers. In all a very exciting experience.

I also went to see a memorial in Sandakan which was built in rememborance of the Aussie, NZ, British & Malay POWs who were forced into what is now known as the Sandakan Death March by the Japanese during WW2. They were marched off about 250km (I think) when it looked like the Japanese would lose control of the island. Unfortunately there was very few survivors.

The other main attraction in Sabah is Mount Kinabalu. It is about 4100m high and takes 2 days to go up & down. I gave it a miss! Too old, too fat, too slow! (as my brother would say) I tried to join an Intrepid group, but it was full so I couldn’t get a bed anyway, then I decided to wait until my other walking buddies from home come with me (that is my excuse and I am sticking to it). It looked nice from the bus though!

The rest of the time I spent lazing around the pool and taking walks on the beach or looking around Kota Kinabalu, the capital, which to be honest doesn’t take that long. The food was good, a change from the Thai & Vietnamese that I normally eat a lot of. There is a strong Indian influence there, something about being slaves, so lots of Indian food, and to my surprise it is also very Chinese. Borneo is on a good trading route from China so there are a lot of people living there descended from them and most of the signs are in Malay & Chinese as well as schools in both languages. Most speak English which is good for me as I had trouble getting my head around ‘thankyou’ until I was told be another leader to say ‘tear in my car seat’ and that was close enough!

I caught up with 2 leaders who I trained with, and they were happy to see me as they are a bit isolated down there, and also met another leader there in holiday as well. It is a small world in Intrepid. I have to say that being a leader has made me a bit soft. I had forgotten about how to be a backpacker, things like finding a hotel, figuring out which bus to catch and actually having to plan ahead instead of having it all done for you. Or maybe I am just getting too old for the backpacker caper, share dorms & bathrooms with cold showers at my age are not all that much fun.

Hopefully there will be some pics to accompany this story but sad to say the elephant shot didn’t work as it was too dark and he was too far away.

Right now I am back on the Cambodia trail for 3 weeks, then holidays when my family comes to Thailand for a week (I hope this coup thing is over by then) and then back on that 29 day loop that is sending me loopy! Bring on the tiger!


At 2:44 pm, Anonymous JB said...

I've heard that about big noses......


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