Friday, November 21, 2008

Nov.20-22 Jungle adventures in Wild Borneo

During the drive from Poring to Sepilok I saw a sign for "Rafflesia Blooming" at the roadside, but the old lady sitting there wanted 20 ringgits (each!) to go see it. That and the rain started so we reneged on seeing the world's largest flower. (Supposedly it smells like rotting flesh to attract insects?)

Compared to the roads we drove on through the Crocker Mtn range where in many spots half the road has disappeared due to a landslide the main highway to Sepilok is a pretty good road and could do 100km/hr for spurts. Got pretty good at passing trucks quickly on winding roads! (You may not want to drive with us after this trip as we're definitely getting accustomed to Asian driving methods)

Julie found us a nice place to stay that’s near the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre: lovely woodwork and furniture set amongst the trees, good food and comfy bed. We highly recommend the Sepilok B&B; it’s quiet except for the jungle noises and the mosquitoes aren’t too bad.

It rained all day today instead of the usual mid-afternoon shower so we stood in the rain to watch 7 young orangutans come to eat the bananas and bamboo shoots. Even they don't like the rain; trying to hide under the trees or even putting banana peels over their heads. Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre As recommended, we hung around until tour groups left the viewing deck and saw 1 or 2 more come by for seconds. The feeding platform is about 10m away so the views are quite good. It's entertaining to see the young orangutans swing along the ropes to get to the platform. Also entertaining to see how they pull rank with each other when clamouring for food or a good spot to sit and eat.

While in this area it's quite popular to go into the jungle along the Kinabatangan River. The wide, muddy river (similar to MB's Red River) is Sabah's longest river and is home to much of Borneo's fabled wildlife. Unfortunately it's also smack-dab in the middle of the plains that are being overtaken with Palm Oil plantations. As we drove from Sepilok to Sukau I kept wondering when we'd start being in the jungle. It didn't happen until we were 500m from the river's edge. Our camp manager said that the plantations are getting as close to the river as allowed and it's really decreasing the animals' habitat.

Kinabatangan Jungle Camp is operated by husband & wife team of Robert & Annie Cheung who lived in Vancouver/Calgary for a little while in the seventies. Fairly expensive at Rm390 each for one night (includes 3 meals & 2 river cruises) plus Rm50 for optional night kinabatangan jungle camp cruise. Accommodation here was better than some guesthouses we've stayed in and nicer than most cabins in Manitoba! We chose the more luxurious jungle camp as opposed to famed Uncle Tan's camp which is the true jungle experience (trudge thru mud to get there and bathe with river water).

Here's a rundown of wildlife we saw:
  • Afternoon river cruise: Orangutan, Proboscis monkeys, Long-tailed macaques, Black and Oriental Pied hornbills, Wallace's eagle (?), Imperial pigeons, egrets, and a small black & yellow Mango cat snake.
  • Night walk: not much except 1 bird and a couple leaches. Was scary to be in the jungle at night, especially when we turned the flashlights off.
  • Night cruise: Broadbills, stork-billed Kingfishers (juvenile & adult), Fish owls, small crocodiles, oriental dart (similar to heron)
  • Morning cruise: same as afternoon cruise (proboscis monkeys, kingfishers, egrets, hornbills) but disappointingly not much else. Hoped to see snakes and monitor lizards but no luck.

When we were departing for the afternoon cruise Julie went back to use the toilet. While waiting I heard some branches snapping in the treetops. I followed the noise and spotted a female [?] orangutan feasting on the leaves. It was pretty cool. When Julie walked back I waved at her to look up as it was right above the path from the river to the lodge. Our boatman Razmir ran to the lodge to alert the others who came with their cameras. I chose not to photograph it instead just to observe it swinging through the branches. It's just a unique feeling to watch one of these in the wild as opposed to yesterday's feeding. As we cruised down the river I felt quite lucky to be here in the jungles of Borneo seeing all of these neat creatures. When Razmir spotted the small snake he managed to get the boat up close to it as I was very keen to look at it, even though he warned that it's poisonous. It was just a small one and was so coiled up around the branches I felt quite safe as I tried to get a better view through the branches.

The night cruise provided its own magic. Some more rain fell in the evening nearly cancelling the cruise but our boatman insisted it was clear on the river while it sounded like rain amongst the trees. We went out around 9pm and were greeted with a clear and amazing sky full of stars. The sight of the trees of the riverbank silhouetted against the starry sky was beautiful. Our 2 guides (one on the outboard, one on the spot light) were amazingly good at spotting the small birds sleeping in branches over the water. We got super close to the kingfishers, able to reach out and touch the tail of the juvenile. I felt bad that we woke them up only to shine a bright light in their eyes and scare them off. I got some great shots of the kingfishers and some broadbills, but could not photograph the small crocs or owls.

The facilities here at KJC are top notch, as is the dining experience. I’m beginning to think that I'm going to need to find an Asian cooking course back in winnipeg to make these dishes myself. It was unfortunate that we only had one night here in the jungle. 

The Next Day: 22-Nov

Upon getting back to civilization and most important, the internet, we plotted our next move at Labuk B&B (also operated by the Cheungs). We learned that we could not dive Sipidan until a week from now thereby scrapping our plans for a quick visit to Kuala Lumpur. So now that we’ve got an extra week to kill, looks like we’re going to see more of Sabah than we’d thought. Julie took the time to relax in their pool while I was introduced to the strong sweet flavour of Malaysian coffee accompanied by some fresh mango, papaya and watermelon. Oh so good!

We briefly debated driving across the state to Tewau and on to Semporna to go diving, but after experiencing the roads here during the past few days we decided against it. It would be better to spend a few days exploring than just driving.

Some interesting information about the Dipterocarp forest that used to cover the whole of Borneo, but now is drastically reduced 

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