Monthly Archives: August 2014

Return to Sepilok

Snake fruit

Snake fruit

Mangosteen

Mangosteen

Rambutan

Rambutan

After the boat arrived in Sandakan, a bunch of us were loaded onto a bus and dropped at Sandakan market to kill a little time before lunch. I had a wander around, looking at all the bright fruit and the fish, fresh at the back of the market and dried on the stalls at the front. On the floor above were clothing stalls selling sarongs and the mandatory baggy trousers, as well as beauty stalls, disturbingly selling skin whitening products. Oh the irony of all the tourists trying to get darker and the locals trying to get lighter. After a quick lunch at a blissfully air conditioned local hotel with a charming Swedish couple I had met at Abai, I had a transfer to Sepilok, about 15 minutes away.

I wonder what's up here

I wonder what’s up here

Maybe there is something in here

Maybe there is something in here

Here's something...

Here’s something…

Or maybe it is further up

Or maybe there is something further up

I arrived at Sepilok for the second time just after lunch time. I was very pleased to learn that this time the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre had reopened. Although they had not recovered their fugitive bear, she had moved far enough away from the sanctuary for them to consider it safe to reopen. Having had such nice orangutan viewings on my last trip to Sepilok, I headed straight to the adjacent sun bear conservation centre after settling in instead of going back to the orangutan centre. I am so glad I did, as it was a delight. Well run, with friendly and informative rangers who are obviously passionate about wildlife and the most delightful and photogenic of creatures in the adorable sun bears.

Just look at that face!

Just look at that face!

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Sun bear in Sepilok

Sun bear climbing treeI arrived just as one little bear made its way into a little cave and disappeared from view. While I waited for it to reappear, I started to chat to a Canadian man, Mike, who was struggling with the settings on his camera. I gave him a crash course on using aperture priority to shoot without his flash going off. His kids came over and they spoke with impeccable English accents. It turned out they live near me in London. One of the boys, Ryan, mentioned how much he liked snakes, and said they had not seen any. I showed him some of my snake pictures, and one of the rangers overheard him, and went off to look for snakes for him. She came back to say she had found one, but it was dead, having unfortunately fried itself on the electric fence. They went off to have a look, and the founder of the sanctuary, Siew Te Wong, appeared with a beautiful yellow snake. At least the boys got to pose for pictures with a snake, even if was sadly a dead snake. It was lovely that that the rangers responded so well to a child that was enthusiastic about wildlife. They seemed genuinely disappointed that they could not locate any live snakes for the boys. That said, they did tell Ryan that he could not take the snake home with him, but it was funny when he asked!

Just sitting and relaxing

Just sitting and relaxing

Bears started to emerge, and we had a nice chat with the rangers, including Te Wong, as they appeared. We watched them climb trees and eat fruit, and one poor bear sat nearby delicately scratching the soles of her feet, avoiding using her big claws. She must have stood in some ants or something. Te Wong told us the story of the bear who could not wait to be freed. All of the bears in the sanctuary have been taken from the illegal pet trade, either from people’s homes or from markets. Although they are incredibly cute, and small for bears, they make terrible pets as they are designed to climb and to forage. They mainly eat fruit, although they also eat insects (particularly termites) and, like most bears, they enjoy honey. Unlike most bears, though, they nest in trees at night, just like orangutans. Those big, pigeon-toed claws which are so good for climbing trees must do terrible damage to a home. The aim is to rehabilitate the bears and then release them back into the wild, but the sanctuary faces the problems of sanctuaries everywhere. First there is the lack of suitable habitat in which to release them, and the sponsors of the sanctuary are concerned about the long term survival rate of the bears in the wild, as once released they are vulnerable to traffic, poaching, and all the other dangers of freedom. One bear had enough of the debate, and made a bid for freedom when a storm brought down a branch which enabled her to climb over the electric fence. She has been eluding them ever since.

Sun bearOne little bear had horrible gashes on his side. The ranger explained that he had been a pet, and was used to regular human contact. In order to prepare him for eventual release into the wild, the rangers have minimised contact, but he scratches himself with his claws so that the rangers would have to treat his injuries, giving him the contact he craves. Poor little fellow.

Another bear appeared, and posed right below us for some photographs. She was easily identified by the ranger as Susie as she is a rather stout bear. We watched her forage for food, eating some fruit and turning over a huge log to look for termites underneath. I could have stayed there all day, looking at bears, but it was closing time so I headed back to the resort.

Rambutan

Rambutan

On the way I passed an orchard of rambutans and took a couple of photos of the fruit. A passing truck stopped to ask me if I knew what fruit they were. I told him I had even tried them. They are delicious but a lot of work to access a small amount of fruit! People in Sabah are really friendly and helpful.

Monitor lizard

Monitor lizard

Back at the resort, I watched a large monitor lizard swimming around the pond. Then I had curried vegetables and rice, for the umpteenth time since arriving in Borneo. I am trying to focus on the things I will not miss about Borneo as I get towards the end of my trip, like hot food three times a day even though it is hotter than hell. The other thing I won’t miss are the dozens of involuntary blood donations, despite lashings of insect repellent, but I am not sure I am ready yet for my trip to end!

The following day, I wavered between going to the Rainforest Discovery Centre to see if I could spot some birds, and making another visit to the orangutan sanctuary. Eventually I decided that Borneo was all about the ginger apes, so I headed off bright and early to the sanctuary, only to discover that I would have to wait for it to open. Feeding time was not until 10. As there were families arriving in droves owing to the religious holidays, I decided to go straight to the feeding platform and get a good spot.

Clipper - parthenos sylvia

Clipper – parthenos sylvia

Once again I waited in the hot sun. Next to me some children sulked about the heat while their mother told them in exasperation that they were having an experience they would never get again, so they should just put up with it. The children pouted, the mother looked homicidal, and I thanked my lucky stars I was travelling alone! I entertained myself by taking some pictures of butterflies, of which there are many beautiful ones in Borneo.
Unidentified butterfly

Unidentified butterfly

Orangutan at SepilokEventually the food was placed on the platform by a ranger with a large basket, and one orangutan arrived and sat at the back of the platform with his back to the crowd, eating. Fortunately he did turn around after a little while. Another one appeared holding a leaf, which she carefully placed in the ranger’s basket before grabbing a banana and heading off.

Just hanging with my buddy

Just hanging with my buddy

Orangutan eating durianA third orangutan appeared. She too did not linger on the platform, but she climbed the rope over the viewing platform giving the people on that side a close view. People crowded around her, and followed her as she walked along the hand rail towards the exit, followed by a pushing crowd. The rangers struggled to keep people back, and when she stopped near the exit people got very close to her. It was lucky no one lost a phone or a camera, as the orangutans do often grab them when people get too close. The ranger pointed her in the direction of the forest, and after a last superior gaze at her public she swiftly climbed a tree and disappeared.

Orangutan at SepilokimageimageimageimageSadly I was due to depart from Sandakan back to KK towards my final destination, the resort of Gaya Island on the biggest island off the coast of KK. Resisting the temptation to pop into the sun bear sanctuary for a quick visit with my new favourite creatures, I headed back, packed up and went to the airport. It turned out I was in plenty of time for my flight. I had time for a quick toasted sandwich before heading in to the lounge where I was sorting through my photos and I saw the lovely Canadian family I had met at the sun bear sanctuary the day before. They were on my flight, and it was nice to see them again, with their beautifully behaved kids. I also caught up with Tony and Lisa from Abai, and was pleased to hear they had seen elephants at the Kalibatangan River Lodge, after our fruitless efforts a few days before.

If you have enjoyed these pictures of sun bears and orangutans and feel moved by their plight, you can help the sanctuaries which care for these animals by adopting a bear or an ape. For a sun bear, go to http://www.bsbcc.org.my/adopt-a-bear.html and for an orangutan, go to http://www.orangutan-appeal.org.uk.

Monkeying around on the Kalibatangan River

I was dropped at the Lahad Datu office again, given a packed lunch and loaded into a new van to be driven to the river at Sukau, where I was to spend one night at the Kalibatangan River Lodge. There I was introduced to Irix, my guide, and told to wear a sarong to dinner. Sarongs, floral for the ladies and checked for the men, are found on each bed in the lodge. Rather like Sepilok, the lodge is an open restaurant and lobby, with cabins linked by a wooden walkway. It has an attractive riverfront location, but the simple cabins are not air conditioned so can be rather stuffy. Although it was still hot, compared to Danum it felt rather pleasant on the river.

Mother and baby macaque

Mother and baby macaque

My first boat ride was that afternoon. We loaded into a boat. In my group were two English families of four. We set off up the river. On the way, we saw some proboscis monkeys but they disappeared when we got close. Next we saw some long-tailed macaques. They were sitting on the ground next to the river, and there was a lovely mother and baby, as well as another pair (presumably also mother and child) having a long grooming session. The youngster looked right at me as I photographed them.

Shower time

Shower time

Hello there!

Hello there!

Maybe a little roll in the mud will feel good....

Maybe a little roll in the mud will feel good….

Or perhaps a swim...

Or perhaps a swim…

Further along the river we swung into a tributary and saw a small flotilla of tour boats. We parked alongside, stern against the bank and with the prow pointed towards the main event, a herd of Borneo’s pygmy elephants on the opposite bank. I counted fifteen, but there may well have been more. One was drinking and spraying herself with water. We then watched them graze for a while, before two youngsters approached the river for a drink. One of them then had a roll in the mud and a rub against a tree before joining the others which were grazing.

Just hanging around

Just hanging around

I see a crocodile!

I see a crocodile!

On the way back, we saw more proboscis monkeys settling down for the evening. They sleep with their backs to the river, facing the jungle, so they can drop into the water and swim away if threatened by a leopard. As we watched the monkeys, we saw a crocodile stealing a fish from a fishing line below the monkeys as the monkeys shrieked an alarm call. Unfortunately it was too dark for photos of the thrashing croc.

Back at the lodge, I dressed in my sarong for dinner, and joined my group who were all similarly attired. I had a lovely chat with nine year old Charlotte, who scarcely paused for breath. In the middle of a story, she suddenly told me how much she liked my bracelet. We all chuckled at her abrupt change of subject, making her embarrassed. I cheered her up by telling her she could buy one in the airport in South Africa in aid of malaria charities, she just had to persuade her parents to take her to South Africa for their next holiday! I also told the other family how much they would enjoy Danum Valley, where they were off to the following day.

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Kalibatangan crocodile

Kalibatangan crocodile

The following morning we got on a larger boat to transfer to the sister lodge, Abai, about an hour down river. On the way we stopped to admire a huge crocodile, lying on the bank with his mouth open. At Abai, I was handed over to a new guide, who turned out to be Zali, my guide from Sepilok. Abai is similar to the Kinabatangan River Lodge, but has a boardwalk at the back, complete with bird towers. The big difference between the lodges is that Abai sits by itself, whereas there are a number of lodges at Sukau which means that there are far more boats at every sighting.

Tame pied hornbill

Tame pied hornbill

Juvenile hornbill

Juvenile hornbill

Meeting a Proteas fan

Meeting a Proteas fan

Later that morning, I joined my new group and we set off across the river to the village opposite the lodge. We collected a young villager and some saplings. We planted the saplings a bit further down the river, before returning to the village. The villagers have a pet hornbill which they rescued from a nest in a fallen tree. We all got to have a photo taken with her. She gnawed on my baseball cap while I held her. She must be a fan of the South African cricket team!

Fishing baskets

Fishing baskets

We then had a wander around the village, seeing their school, their fruit trees and their fishing baskets. They sell their surplus catch to the lodge, and use the money to buy rice. At the end of the tour, a villager climbed up to pick us some rambutan, a pretty fruit which tastes much like a lychee. The hornbill flew up with him, to supervise his efforts.

Junior the bearded pig

Junior the bearded pig

Back across at the lodge, Junior the bearded pig had turned up to say hello and pose for photographs. He snuffled around under the boardwalk for a while before wandering off again. I in turn wandered around the boardwalk behind the lodge. Other than a macaque, I saw no signs of life in the afternoon heat, but I was accompanied all the way around by a small white cat, who even climbed the bird tower with me!

After lunch, Zali told me I was to join a different group as most of the group I was in was leaving the following day. He introduced me to my new guide, Abbas, who had also been on the night walk at Sepilok. My new group comprised of Richard and Suzanne, a lovely couple from Newcastle, London family Tony and Lisa and their two teenagers and a Dutch couple, also with two teenagers. All the boys on the boat wanted to see was a crocodile, whilst Abbas promised to do his best to get me a shot of a stork-billed kingfisher.

Male proboscis monkey

Male proboscis monkey

We set off in the late afternoon and immediately saw lots of proboscis monkeys looking for a suitable place to spend the night. It is amazing to watch them swing through the canopy. They do not always get it right though. We watched one huge male catapult himself off a small tree onto a brach, which promptly broke under his weight. He did not seem any the worse for his fall, though.

Collared kingfisher

Collared kingfisher

True to his word, Abbas looked for kingfishers for me. We saw several stork-bills, which flew away when we approached them, but we did see a beautiful collared kingfisher which allowed us to photograph it. As the evening wore on, we saw lots of proboscis monkeys settling down for the night, with much squabbling and chattering, as well as macaques. We even saw a wild orangutan, high in a tree. It was a youngster, so its mother must have been nearby, hidden by the trees. It was hugging a branch so we could just see its arms and legs, so it did not present photo opportunities.

Purple heron taking flight

Purple heron taking flight

Gold ringed cat snake

Gold ringed cat snake

We passed a pair of graceful purple herons, one of which I captured just as he took off. An excellent spot from the boatman showed that hanging just above the water in the branches of a bush was gold ringed cat snake. We drifted slowly past it to allow everyone in the boat a chance to take photographs of it. I do not think Lisa appreciated the chance to be so close to a snake, as it hung just above her over the boat, even though it just hung motionless as we went past. It was keeping a close eye on us, however.

Blue-eared kingfisher

Blue-eared kingfisher

Stork billed kingfisher

Stork billed kingfisher

As it grew dark, we did see a storkbill, but I did not manage to get a great photo, as I was right at the back of the boat and he was too far away from me, and flew off before those of us at the back had a chance to get a bit closer. I had better luck with the blue eared kingfisher, which was a more cooperative subject, waiting for us all to have a chance to get a good look at him.

Leopard cat

Flat headed cat

As it grew dark, we stopped to admire the fireflies blinking like Christmas lights on the river bank. Rather than attempt more blurry photos, this time I made a little video of the fireflies, which I then promptly accidentally deleted when I tried to look at it! We then slowly made our way back to the lodge. There was time for one last sighting, as Abbas’ light picked up some eyes low on the riverbank. Peering into the bushes we eventually spotted an elusive flat headed cat right by the bank. It may look rather like a domestic cat, but the distinctive stripes on its face identify this cat as a flat headed cat even though it’s distinctive head shape can be best seen in profile. Sadly I was only able to take one picture of it as the boat drifted by, and it is not my best as I have focused on the branches in front of the animal. Thanks to Brian Phillips for help identifying it.

Young proboscis monkey

Young proboscis monkey

After a fantastic day of wildlife spotting and dinner with the group, I went to bed, only to be woken a few hours later with pain in my arm. I turned on the light, and could see two tiny marks on my forearm, bleeding slightly. Still half asleep, I decided I must have scratched my arm and tried to go back to sleep. As I lay there, the pain in my arm became increasingly severe, and as I felt it burning I realised that it was no scratch, and that clearly I was not alone in my bed. I switched the light back on in time to see a large centipede scurrying across my bed before disappearing down the far side. I looked at my arm, which was swelling around the two little puncture marks. Arming myself with a torch and my camera monopod, I tried to find the centipede, but I was not successful. Meanwhile, my poor arm continued to swell. Eventually I had a swelling about the surface area of a tennis ball, raised about one centimetre, which was red, hot and extremely uncomfortable. I got no more sleep that night, and went in search of ice in the morning. Rather to my dismay they had no ice at the lodge, but they put some ointment on the bite and I took some painkillers. My top tip in this part of the world would be: do not cuddle up in bed with a centipede.

Stork billed kingfisher

Stork billed kingfisher

We set off for another boat trip. It was humid and misty when we got going, and one of the first things we saw was a stork-billed kingfisher. I had another chance to get the coveted shot, and fired off a couple. A quick check revealed my camera lens was misted up! I frantically wiped it and tried again, but sadly the bird flew off, leaving me with some rather foggy pictures, which I cleaned up as best I could. I am not sure why my camera fogged up, as there was no air-conditioning in the rooms, so the camera was not cold. I guess it it is just one of those things in the tropics.

Branching out with the kids

Branching out with the kids

We headed into an oxbow lake off the river where there have been some exciting sightings, but the only thing we saw were a few catfish and some egrets. It is a beautiful spot though, and we sat and had a cup of coffee and watched the catfish occasionally flopping near the boat. We had a fleeting glimpse of a large crocodile but he went straight into the water as we went past. I felt bad for all the boys on the boat. Even the adult men were desperate to see a crocodile but with this group we did not have a good sighting, seeing only the odd set of eyes or this quick glance of a disappearing back.

Sadly we did not see much more that morning, and returned to the lodge for breakfast. Later that morning, my group was going to do the tree planting exercise I had already experienced, so I went back to bed after the staff kindly checked my room carefully for uninvited guests, and caught up on some of the sleep I had missed out on the night before. When I woke up the swelling on my arm was starting to go down, and it was much less painful.

Juvenile proboscis monkey

Juvenile proboscis monkey

That afternoon’s outing was also a bit unsuccessful. We went looking for some elephants, and eventually saw one at the riverbank in some tall grass. As soon as it saw us it turned and fled into the long grass. We sat for hours waiting to see if the elephants would appear, but they were hidden in the long grass. We could hear a popping sound as they ripped up the grass, and occasionally a low grumble or a bit of trumpeting would settle a dispute, but the only signs of the elephants was the grass waving as they tugged on it to feed. I did feel sorry for the others on the boat, as I had seen so many elephants upstream at the other lodge. Tony and Lisa were headed there the following day, so would have a chance to see that herd, but it looked like Richard and Suzanne were out of luck. Even though we were only metres from the elephants, the grass hid them completely.

Oriental dwarf kingfisher

Oriental dwarf kingfisher

Wolf spider

Wolf spider

Eventually as it grew dark we had to give up and head back to the lodge for dinner. After the meal we went on a short night walk on the boardwalk behind the lodge. Once again we were accompanied by the small white cat. I was at the back of our group of eleven, and to be honest it was a bit of a bust, as by the time the other had seen and photographed whatever Abbas found, he was ready to move on before I had even seen what they were looking at. Fortunately I had already seen oriental dwarf kingfishers. Other than that we mainly saw insects, including lots of huge spiders. I was impressed that the little cat did not try to eat any of the animals carefully illuminated by Abbas. I think she just wanted to make sure we did not get lost!

Misty morning

Misty morning

The following morning we had breakfast on the walkway behind the lodge, closely watched by a troop of macaques, which the staff rather naughtily encouraged with some bread. As these monkeys can become pests, this was probably not a great move, and I am not sure white bread is of great nutritional value to monkeys (or people, for that matter). After breakfast we boarded a boat towards the port of Sandakan. This time there were no crocs or other exciting sightings as we sped down the river and across the small stretch of sea to Sandakan. Once there I was to head for one last night at Sepilok.

Danum Valley

 

Danum Valley

Danum Valley

Sabah's second longest river

Sabah’s second longest river

I had a transfer from Sepilok to Lahad Datu by road. It is a bit bumpy, but the road is straight and we made good progress through lots of little villages starting their Hari Raya Aidalfitri celebrations. The mosques were crowded with men dressed in brightly coloured silk pyjama-style suits. We passed many mopeds, driven by similarly dressed men, with their wives clinging to the back. At one point we went past a huge monitor lizard at the side of the road, ignored by everyone.

Reaching for durian

Reaching for durian

Prize secured

Prize secured

Is this my best angle?

Is this my best angle?

At Lahad Datu, I was dropped at an office belonging to the Danum Valley Rainforest Lodge where I was given a metal water bottle and introduced to Jannine, another London resident with whom I was to share the transfer the rest of the way to the lodge, and a guide once we got there. We got into a large 4×4 with a driver, who set off out of Lahad Datu and we were soon on the dirt road. It was actually in better condition than much of the tarred road from Sepilok. Our driver did not speak a great deal of English, but had printed cards to prompt him as he pointed out various highlights, such as a nice view over the canopy or a river. He gave us regular updates as to our progress towards the lodge. For me the highlight was a sighting of a rhinoceros hornbill which was not too high in the canopy or far away to photograph. Or at least that was the highlight until we came close to the final turn off to the lodge, where we could see wild orangutans high in the trees. It was a mother with a youngster. We could clearly see the youngster as he stretched mightily for a durian fruit and then went off to eat it once he had it within his grasp. If anyone is not familiar with durian, this is a tasty but foul-smelling fruit. If you are wandering through a market in this part of the world thinking the drains could use some attention, that is probably just the odour of an afternoon snack.

Hammerhead worm

Hammerhead worm

At the lodge we were met by our guide, Mike, a tiny ball of energy, who was to prove knowledgeable and enthusiastic, with a great sense of humour. I bought some leech socks from the gift store prior to our first walk. Leech socks in place, I sprayed on the insect repellent and was ready to go. For our first walk, we started along the boardwalk near the lodge, along the trail called the nature trail. It is not long and largely flat, and was meant to give us a chance to acclimatise a little to the jungle heat and humidity. The thick rainforest traps the humidity, and although most of the trails are shaded by the huge trees, it is extremely hot. Mike pointed out things like a hammerhead worm, and ancient plants which are the link between mosses and plants.

Baby Einstein?

Baby Einstein?

Within minutes all three of us were soaked in sweat, but the discomfort was forgotten when Mike heard over his radio of an orangutan sighting. We headed briskly on a short cut through the staff quarters towards the trail where a mother and baby could be found, and soon we were peering up at a mother with a year-old baby with a shock of mad scientist hair. We could see the baby clearly, but the mother was just a clump of fur with her back to us.

Photography is a challenge in the rainforest. Mostly it is very dark, and when light does penetrate it is very bright. All my photos involve the ISO pushed up to levels where there is a lot of noise in the photos, but it was clear to me that I would not be able to lug a tripod around on top of my camera gear and water in the heat and on slippery trails.

Millipede

Millipede

With our first walk complete, we headed back to the lodge. We then had a briefing from Mike to all the guests about what we would be doing during our time in the Danum Valley. It was hard to hear as it had begun to pour with rain. Also some small French children spoke all the way through the talk, which presumably they could not understand. Fortunately we were on a later night drive, and by the time we had eaten some dinner, it had stopped raining, and the children where nowhere to be seen.

Millipede ball

Millipede ball

We set off on the night safari, which is a short drive down the road in the back of a truck. I was sitting right at the back, so did not have a great view of the sightings. We saw an owl, some rhinoceros hornbills and a squirrel, so it was probably not their best night ever for sightings. The guide holding the spotlight got stung in the face, so he certainly did not have his best night!

The next morning we set off on the Coffin Trail. It is not called this because that is where you will end up, but because there are some old coffins on the route. The route is fairly easy for a while but then goes up very steeply. We started by checking on the wild orang utan mother and baby we had seen the day before, who remained in the tree we had seen them in the previous day. Leaving them to it, we headed off on the trail. After a very hot and steep scramble, we reached a platform. Before climbing up to it, we walked along a narrow ridge to see an old ironwood coffin. A blowpipe is all that remains inside. They believe that it house the remains of a chief of the village that used to lie below the ridge, and that he was placed there where he could watch over the village. It is amazingly small in diameter. Perhaps he was a skinny old man when he died.

Ironwood coffin

Ironwood coffin

Small ironwood coffin

Small ironwood coffin

After climbing up the stairs to the platform, we could see the remains of two other small coffins. One is believed to have been for an infant, and the other to have been used for skeletal remains, perhaps of someone who had died in the forest and been discovered after some time. Fragments of a skull and jawbone are also visible.

Wild orchid

Wild orchid

From there it is a steep climb but not far to the top of the trail. In places you have to haul yourself up on a rope, where the trail is steep and slippery. Once there, we could hear the distinctive call of gibbons. They were incredibly hard to photograph because they swing at a frantic pace and with amazing acrobatic ability through the trees. I will not share my photos of gibbon hands and backs! I was hoping to catch one as it paused on a branch.

There were a number of groups which had all met at the top, and the guides pointed out a bay cat. We could just about see it peering from a fork in a tree, and just when it looked like it was going to come into the open, along a clear branch in sunlight, a small child discovered a leech on her tummy and let out some piercing shrieks. Bay cat and gibbons vanished.

Bay cats have only ever been photographed five times in the wild. I was sure I was about to secure a rare photograph, so while the child’s dismay was understandable, it is very frustrating that she spoiled the wildlife viewing for everyone that day. What the parents were thinking, allowing such young kids to undertake such an arduous trek in that heat is anyone’s guess. They were lucky none of them ended up with heatstroke.

The view from the top is of the lodge on one side and the canopy stretching out below on the other. We watched some hornbills hopping about on a tree far below for a while. It was impressive to see how high we had climbed.

Fairy Falls

Fairy Falls

Jacuzzi Pool

Jacuzzi Pool

We headed on to the Fairy Falls, a pretty spot for a short break, and best of all, rather cool as the falling water generates a breeze, which was very pleasant. It made a nice break, especially since heading down was harder than heading up the steep and slippery trail. Fortunately there is a rope to hold on to, so I turned around and sort of abseiled down the steep bits. We headed on, crossing the stream about five times before arriving with wet feet at the natural pool called the Jacuzzi Pool where we could have a swim. I decided not to swim, as I was not sure I could bear to put my wet shoes and socks back on if I removed them to swim. The pool contained fish about the size of my hand that came to nibble on the heels of the swimmers. After that, it was a short walk back to the lodge.

Red leaf monkey

Red leaf monkey

After a shower and lunch, we set off for another walk in the afternoon. That afternoon was particularly oppressively hot, and I really felt it badly, feeling dizzy. It was very muddy in places, and eventually I slipped and fell. Fortunately Mike was carrying my camera and other than a jarred wrist, I was fine, if rather muddy. I felt bad for Jannine, who was feeling full of beans and had to go at my glacial pace. We saw nothing on the trail, but just as we got near the lodge, we saw a flash of red in the trees. These were red leaf monkeys, who sat and ate fruit in a tree right above us as we watched. They were not too worried about us, as we watched and photographed them. Unfortunately it was almost dark and not many of the pictures came out, but they were fun to watch. Two youngsters swung high on a branch just being kids as the rest of the troop fed. It was lovely to see these monkeys which are endemic to Borneo, with their huge and rather mournful eyes.

When we got back, Mike suggested Jannine and I should avail ourselves of the jacuzzi feature in our rooms. This was a large outdoor bath, with no bubbles, but after my fall a soak sounded nice. He sent us to the bar for a G&T while the staff filled the tubs. We may have waited too long for this to be done, because the the bath was cold and not appealing even in the heat, so I did not linger in it. After dressing, I went to dinner. As I got there, I felt something soft through my trousers on my thigh. I went to the loo to see what it was, and when I pulled my trousers down a fat leech dropped to the floor, engorged on my blood. It had attached itself to the front of my thigh, just in the crease of my hip. Goodness knows how it got there, presumably it got on me when I fell earlier. It did not hurt, but bled copiously. It was still bleeding when we got back from our night walk, hours later.

Harlequin frog

Harlequin frog

Female harlequin frog

Female harlequin frog

Red triangle keelback

Red triangle keelback

Tarantula

Tarantula

Our night walk was short but yielded some lovely sightings. We started at the pond near the entrance to the lodge, where there were lots of frogs and a couple of little snakes fancying frog for dinner. We pressed on around the staff quarters. Passing a huge tarantula on a tree, we saw a beautiful kingfisher which had found a roost for the night but was not yet asleep. I was proud of myself, as I photographed the tarantula without any histrionics, as I do have a phobia of spiders. I would not have been happy to see this chap in my room, but on the tree I could admire him from a safe distance!

Oriental dwarf kingfisher

Oriental dwarf kingfisher

Canopy walkway

Canopy walkway

The next morning we had an early start on the canopy walkway. The walkway is about 30 metres above the ground, linking several huge trees, and is about 300 metres long. It was a misty morning and we saw no wildlife. There was no time to linger on one of the platforms to see if any birds would appear, as we were being pursued by the French families with the noisy children who had disturbed all the animals the day before. With the din they were making, there was little hope of any sightings, and we headed back so I could pack and head off to my next destination, Sukau on the Kilabatangan River. It was a bit of a shame that we rushed the canopy walkway. When done I realised I had taken no decent photos, as it was all a bit of a mad dash, and I had been looking forward to it. Maybe one day I will have to go back and do it again. Just not during the school holidays!

After saying goodbye to Mike and Jannine, I headed back along the road to the Lahad Datu office. I was hoping we might be lucky enough to see elephants along the way, as evidence of their presence can be seen all along the road, but sadly I had no such luck. Perhaps the Kilabatngan River would deliver in that regard.

Going ape at Sepilok

The Sepilok Nature Resort is a simple resort of air-conditioned cabins connected by a wooden boardwalk around a pond, right next to the orangutan sanctuary. When I arrived, my room was not ready so I gathered my camera bag and handbag and set off to the sanctuary next door. Fortunately the guide who met me at the airport was headed there for lunch and dropped me in plenty of time for the 3 pm feeding, saving me a short walk in the hot sun. There is a charge of RM 30 plus RM 10 for my camera. After stowing my bags in a locker, as you are not allowed to take any bags in with you as they might be stolen by mischievous orangutans, I headed onto the boardwalk towards the feeding platform.

Hold on to the hand railing at all times

Hold on to the hand railing at all times

After Semmengoh, my expectations were low, and I would not have been surprised if once again there were no apes to be seen. This time there was no detailed ranger briefing, just a friendly ticket inspector who admired my camera before sending me down towards the platform. I suspect he was checking I should not be counted as a professional photographer and therefore charged a fortune for admitting my camera. The rather blunt instrument they use for determining if a person is a professional photographer is apparently by the size of the telephoto lens. 500 mm and above is deemed to be professional, and the charge for the camera goes up to RM 10,000! Fortunately mine is 400 mm. I had not gone far along the boardwalk before I saw an orangutan mother and baby high in the canopy. As I watched her, I heard muffled excitement and turned to see an orangutan heading along the hand railing next to the boardwalk right towards me. I snapped a picture before backing up, but he moved too fast, so I flattened myself against the far railing to let him pass. I followed him towards the feeding platform and took one of the last slots at the front of the viewing platform, next to a man wielding two expensive cameras. A Dutch couple came and asked if their little kids could stand in front of us. The serious photographer refused, but I could not be so rude. To be fair to the parents, they did tell their kids to stop jostling me when the apes arrived. I would have liked to be able to kneel and use the railing as a tripod, but it was probably too crowded to do so anyway. It is tough for kids in an environment like that, as it is very hot and they have to stay quiet and still.

Just let me check my messages...

Just let me check my messages…

As we stood in the hot sun, one young male arrived at the platform. He struck a very human pose, leaning against a tree with his arms folded. Then he grabbed a rope and leaned out hips first from the platform, which made for some rather X-rated photos, but at one point he looked right at me, so I focused on his face. He showed clearly it is not just humans that suffer from male pattern baldness, and just look at the intelligence in his gaze.Orangutan

Dropping in

Dropping in

Mother and baby

Mother and baby

Eyes on the prize

Eyes on the prize

Baby with banana

Baby with banana

Silence was not maintained at all, as a series of oohs and aahs greeted the arrival of a mother with a young baby. Despite the signs asking for silence, some people made a lot of noise. The mother scrambled along the rope to the platform and then hung there, eating bananas. After a while, the baby emerged from where she had been tucked firmly against her mother, one hand still clinging to her mother as she tried to eat some fruit. More orangutans appeared until there were five plus the baby, while the ranger who supplied the fruit sat unmoving on the platform with them. I fired off over a hundred photos until after about half an hour the orangutans took to the ropes one by one and headed back into the jungle. I had seen my first orangutans in Borneo. Hopefully I would also get a chance to see some in the wild in the coming days.

And stretch

And stretch

Adjoining the orangutan sanctuary is a sun bear sanctuary. A few days before, one of the bears escaped and remained at large and in the vicinity. As a result, the trails in the orangutan sanctuary were closed to the public. I collected my things and headed back to the adjoining resort, as there was nothing further to be seen.

Flying squirrel

Flying squirrel

That evening I had a night walk which was supposed to be in the grounds of the orangutan sanctuary, but which was moved as a result of the fugitive sun bear. I was collected by a guide and driven about fifteen minutes away to a construction site where the tour company is building a new resort. We waited with about four other small groups for night to fall. At dusk, a flying squirrel appeared in the tall canopy above us. I had taken a monopod in an attempt to get decent photos in the dusk, but despite my best efforts at steadying my lens, it was too dark and all my shots are fuzzy other than one silhouette. It was a magnificent sight, though, at one stage flying straight towards us. We watched it glide at least four times between trees. It would climb to get some height and then launch itself off a branch, gliding to the trunk of another tree in a flash of bright red fur.

Horn frog

Horn frog

Agamid lizard

Agamid lizard

We then proceeded down to the nearly complete boardwalk. It had no side railings, and we had to access it via a narrow plank, but once on there, it was solid and we saw an agamid lizard and lots of large spiders. We could hear lots of frogs calling, and the guides got very excited when they heard the distinctive honk of a horn frog. The torches caught is eyes, and we were able to photograph this lovely frog which looks just like a dead leaf.

Oriental dwarf kingfisher

Oriental dwarf kingfisher

Our final spot of the night was a tiny, technicolour kingfisher fast asleep on a branch, with its head tucked firmly under its wing.

After that, it was another scramble over the plank and back to the resort for the night before departing the following morning towards Lahad Datu.

Kota Kinabalu and Garama Wetlands

I arrived at Kota Kinabalu after an early flight and could not yet check in to my hotel. I left my bags there and wandered into the hot sunshine in the direction of the harbour. I sat for a while on the harbour front admiring the hazy view of the islands just off the coast. Then, after exploring one of KK’s many shopping malls, I looked for somewhere to eat. The local cuisine appears to be Italian, judging by the number of Italian restaurants. Well, when in KK, do what the Romans do, and eat pasta!

Fruit at KK market

Fruit at KK market

Back at the hotel, I settled in before heading out to the evening markets on the waterfront. These are dizzying with their array of local fruit, local fish, both fresh and dried, food stalls and all manner of other things. The smoothie stalls are tempting but probably not a good idea for foreigners as the ice may not be safe to consume. Tailors sit outside fabric shops carrying out alterations on beautiful old pedal driven sewing machines. KK does not have a lot of old architecture, having been almost completely destroyed by Allied bombing in the war in the effort to retake it from the Japanese. It is a funny city, aspiring to be very modern with its array of new buildings and shopping malls, but crammed with street markets. Even the malls are very different to the spacious western malls, as they tend to have narrow corridors and many small shops, more in the way of a souk.

Boat, Sabah Museum

Boat, Sabah Museum

The next morning I headed to the Sabah museum. This was really fascinating, housing an archeological collection showing the spread of man to Asia from Africa, and a collection of Stone Age tools. There is also a collection of photos showing the history of the Sabah Rangers, trained by the British to fight the Indonesians in the sixties. There is also a model longhouse interior showing some heads and the swords used for cutting them off, along with photos of head hunters and an explanation of the history of headhunting. The other side of the museum houses a beautiful collection of baskets and hats. The weaving varies depending on the function of the item and the ethnicity of its maker. This gives way to a collection of local dress, which is slightly incongruous in that it is displayed on blue eyed mannequins.

Walkway over pond in the gardens of the Sabah Museum

Walkway over pond in the gardens of the Sabah Museum

Model longhouse, Heritage Village

Model longhouse, Heritage Village

Tower, Heritage Village

Tower, Heritage Village

Outside, the museum is set in beautiful tropical gardens, where a photo shoot was taking place. I stumbled across a model in beautiful traditional dress and huge modern heels, posing with an unhappy model’s expression. Further along is the heritage village, which contains replica long houses showing the different design for different ethnic groups. I had to leave to get back for an afternoon excursion. Much to my frustration, the departure time was pushed back without anyone telling me. I only found out when I called to find out what was going on. This was annoying as I could have spent more time at the museum, as I had had little time to explore the Heritage Village.

Model longhouse

Model longhouse

Eventually my guide, Keli, appeared and we had a long drive to the Garama Wetlands. We stopped twice to kill a little time, as it was very hot and so little wildlife would be out yet. We briefly explored a local market and we stopped to photograph an impressive Chinese temple. However, my camera steamed up going from the air conditioned vehicle to the warm humid air outside and the pictures were all fuzzy.

He said what?

He said what?

Once at the base camp, I was given a cup of tea and some banana fritters before heading out on the boat. There were some macaques near the camp and we saw the flash of some proboscis monkeys disappearing as we got close, but otherwise we had little luck with the wildlife. Another long tailed macaque was calling a warning in a tree. It may have spotted a crocodile in the water below. Once it was dark, we passed herds of water buffalo lying in the water to cool off. My guide told me that in his culture he would have to pay a dowry of several water buffalo if he wanted to marry. It was easier when all you had to do was get a head, he lamented.

Black crowned night heron

Black crowned night heron

Long-tailed macaque

Long-tailed macaque

Get out

Get off my lawn!

Fireflies

Fireflies

After dark, we admired the scores of tiny fireflies which light up the trees on the bank like Christmas trees. These tiny flies, each about the size of a grain of rice, blink furiously from their abdomens to attract a mate. It is amazing how much bioluminescence they emit given their small size.

Fireflies

Fireflies

We then headed back to the base camp where I had dinner surrounded by many skinny cats, which tucked into my tofu as soon as I left the table. We then had the long drive back to KK, during which Keli regaled me with tales of being caned with rattan for being caught drinking rice wine at school, and how he got into tourism as he did not meet the 1.70m minimum height requirement to become a policeman or fireman.

image imageThe following morning I just had time to explore the Sunday market before leaving for Sandakan. This had stalls selling bright sarongs and baggy trousers (much favoured by the backpacker crowd), beaded jewellery and souvenir key rings. At an intersection there was a large board containing condolence messages in memory of flight MH17. Along the side of the market, blind people were giving foot massages, which I confess I did not find at all tempting in the heat. After once again resisting the urge to buy souvenirs, I headed to the airport to catch my flight to Sandakan, from where it was a short drive to the Sepilok Nature Resort which was to be my home for the night.

Monkeying about in Bako National Park

View from the pier at Bako National Park

View from the pier at Bako National Park

Guides need to be specifically licensed for Bako, so instead of Panch I was collected by Louis (pronounced Luis in the Spanish fashion) for my day trip to Bako National Park.  After a transfer by car to the jetty, Louis organised paying the entry fee and we set off by small boat to Bako. This national park is flanked by beautiful limestone cliffs. Unfortunately the sun was right above them, so none of my photos came out, meaning you will have to picture it for yourselves.  The sea was jade green, the sky blue and the creamy cliffs topped with green jungle. Bako is beautiful even before you start to explore it and see the creatures that make their home there.

Hermit crab

Hermit crab

Fiddler crab

Fiddler crab

Mudskipper in water

Mudskipper in water

Mudskipper on land

Mudskipper on land

We landed at the jetty and immediately Louis pointed to a hermit crab on the beach below us. There were also bright blue fiddler crabs with their one giant pincer and fish walking on the beach. Lots of tiny mudskippers darted about across the sand. Of course, they are not fish but amphibians, but it does look for all the world like a bunch of fish have decided to take a stroll on the beach.

Long-tailed macaque

Long-tailed macaque

Bako has many miles of trails, but Louis assured me that the best animal sightings were in or near the camp. After signing in, we walked around the camp and immediately saw some long tailed macaques sitting in a tree behind the main building. My first Borneo primates!

Bearded boar

Bearded boar

Baby macaque

Baby macaque

As we walked along the boardwalk through the camp, we saw a large bearded pig foraging in the ground. After watching more macaques drinking from a dripping tap, we set off into the forest on one of the boardwalks near the camp. It was very hot and humid, and we walked slowly through the dark rainforest. Louis pointed out the huge base of the durian tree, with its famously malodorous fruit, which has a broad buttress.

Pit viper

Pit viper

Right next to the boardwalk, about a metre above the ground, Louis pointed out a gorgeous, bright green pit viper coiled on a branch. It was not moving, so I was not afraid to take its picture, but I was not about to go looking for its head in case I disturbed it.

Baby macaque

Young macaque

We also found a terrapin in a tiny pool and a little swiflet sitting on its nest, both too dark to photograph. There were lots of beautiful bright blue butterflies, which when at rest look like a dried brown leaf, but in flight are an iridescent purple blue.

Female proboscis monkey

Female proboscis monkey

Male proboscis monkey

Male proboscis monkey

As we passed a steep path to another trail, we heard proboscis monkeys calling. We headed up the steep path strewn with tree roots and peered into the canopy. At last we were rewarded with a flash of bright fur. We saw the distinctive flash of orange fur, but they were high in the trees and hard to see. We headed round another trail to see if we had a better view from the other side. Again we could see the monkeys swinging through the trees, but they were far away. We went back to the original trail and waited. We were joined by a German couple and their guide and we sat until our patience was rewarded and we had a clear view of both the male with his pendulous nose and the female with her more dainty retroussé nose. They are fascinatingly odd-looking creatures, with huge, grey hands and feet, big pot bellies a long white tail which looks like a G-string from behind, and, in the case of the male, a bright red chilli pepper, as the Germans’ guide put it. Their backs and shoulders are orange or red, and they often have bemused expressions, as though slightly drunk. Their pot bellies house a chambered stomach full of bacteria to help them digest leaves.

image

While we waited, we were treated to the sight of two tiny nuthatches hopping up the trunk of a huge tree. These funny little birds hop vertically up and down the tree trunk as comfortably as though they were on the flat. Getting any photos in the forest is a challenge as there is so little light, and inconveniently located leaves often spoil what is otherwise a nice shot.

Heading back to the camp, we pointed out the viper to the German couple before eating our packed lunch in the canteen, which has hand basins for washing before eating and welcome ceiling fans. We were joined by the Germans, Norbert and Sigrund.

 

Silver leaf look-out

Silver leaf look-out

Silver leaf monkeys

Silver leaf monkeys

Silver leaf monkeys

Who says ginger babies aren't cute?

Who says ginger babies aren’t cute?

After lunch, we headed around the back of the camp through the staff quarters looking for silver leaf monkeys. We could hear monkeys but could not see anything. We came to a boat shed from where we saw a large mudskipper both in and out of the water. We had one last chance to look for silver leaf monkeys before leaving. Behind a chalet, success! There was a small family group feeding. I moved slowly towards them keeping my back pressed to the building, and they allowed me quite close to photograph them with their endearing Mohicans and bright orange babies. They care for their babies communally, and you can see a youngster moving from one adult to another in my third picture.

After that rewarding sighting, we headed to the beach where we waded out to our boat in the warm sea water. The warm air rushing past the speeding boat soon dried our feet, and we returned to the jetty quite dry, ready to return to Kuching. I was very hot, but had a very successful day’s wildlife viewing; just what I had come to Borneo for. It is worth getting a guide for Bako, as I would never have seen the silver leafs or the viper without Louis. I suspect it may also be worth spending a night there, to see some of the nocturnal creatures.

It is all about the Kuching

I had a terribly early start on my trip to Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, one of the two states of Malaysian Borneo. My flight left Darwin at 5 am and despite flying via Kuala Lumpur, I arrived in Kuching at midday, thanks in part to the time difference. I was met by a guide, Panch, who gave me a brief tour to orientate myself in the small city before dropping me at my hotel. My room was vast, and very nice, if a little noisy as it had a balcony overlooking the lobby. After my early start, I had a rest and then set out to explore. The first thing to hit me was the heat. Imagine wrapping yourself in your warmest duvet and then stepping into a sauna set to the hottest and dampest of settings, and you will get an idea of the Borneo heat and humidity. I walked along the riverfront looking for a bank, which I found. However, just walking about half a mile in that heat made me feel drained and exhausted, especially since I had had so little sleep, and I soon retreated to the air conditioned hotel. I contemplated doing a cruise along the river in the evening, but decided to do that the following day when I was feeling more perky.

Kuching Parliament

Kuching Parliament

The following day I had an expedition to Bako National Park, which was fantastic and which I will cover in a separate post. Once I got back to Kuching, I had time for a quick shower before the 5.30 river cruise. As I walked through the lobby of the hotel, I heard a huge rumble of thunder, and the heavens opened before I reached the door. The river cruise would have to wait for another day. Once it stopped raining about two hours later, I decided to try to find some of the restaurants recommended in my guide book, which are all close together, and pick one for dinner. Much to my frustration, I could not find them, even though I was sure I was in the right place. I retreated to the hotel for an uninspiring meal.

The Astana

The Astana

The next morning my guide collected me for a trip to the Semmengoh orang-utan sanctuary. It is no longer a rehabilitation centre, but is a sanctuary for semi-wild rescued orang-utans. As the area hosts more orang-utans than would be found in an area that size in the wild, their diet is supplemented through twice daily feelings which are open to the public.

After a detailed briefing from the ranger, including detailed instructions on what would upset Ritchie, the large male, we set off to the viewing platforms by the feeding station. We were told to remain silent, and had been told that if Ritchie appeared we should not use long lenses, tripods, umbrellas or anything which might look like a gun, as he had never forgotten the fate of his mother. Also, he hated the sound of crying children. In fact, the ranger recommended, if we saw Ritchie we should probably just run.

imageIn silence we waited at the platform, but no apes came. It is the fruiting season, and they are getting all they need in the wild. Although it is great that the rehabilitation is working so well, it was sad not to see any, but I was hopeful that in other places in Borneo I was yet to visit I would see some. I was particularly sorry not to see the fearsome Ritchie, since he shares a name with my big brother, a big ape very dear to me!

On the way back to my hotel, Panch showed me the restaurants I had been unable to find the night before. They were right where I had looked, but were closed on a Monday, which is why I had not been able to find them, as all closed up there is not much to show for them.

Chinese temple, Kuching

Chinese temple, Kuching

After the long drive back to the city (there was a lot of traffic) I had lunch by the river before setting off to the ethnology museum. Although just a short walk from my hotel, it was quite an effort in the heat. I passed the square which contains a huge tree, the buttress of which spreads for about fifteen metres. Men were hanging green and yellow decorations from the lamp posts. Hello, they said, welcome to Sandakan! I was later to learn that these decorations were for Eid, or, as it is known in Malaysia, Hari Raya Aidalfitri, and they were based on woven parcels of palm containing glutinous rice which are typically served at the end of Ramadan.  I cannot imagine not having water all day in this heat. I have to admire the devotion.

Big old tree

Big old tree

The museum is quite interesting, and is free. I wandered into the first section on the ground floor, which was a miscellaneous collection of old machines with no explanation of their origin or purpose. I went to examine one ancient looking machine more closely only to discover it was throwing out cold air. Despite being merely the air conditioning, I stood in front of it for a few blissful moments before seeing what else was on offer. The rest of the ground floor is a natural history museum and houses the 100 year old collection of mammals and birds collected by Alfred Wallace, a colleague of Darwin’s, who was invited to Sarawak by James Brooke. The explanatory notes are small and quite hard to read in the museum’s gloom, but it was quite interesting nonetheless. The shell collections are also interesting, showing how a nautilus crafts its shell and how buttons are made from shells. There is also a little section on the capture of a man-eating crocodile, featuring a huge hairball removed from his stomach and a set of dentures found attached to the hairball.  If that does not put you off swimming in Sarawak’s muddy rivers, nothing will.

However, the upstairs is the most interesting part of the museum. It contains a model of a longhouse as well as explanations of the contents. Probably the most gruesomely fascinating are the skulls tied to the ceiling. Head hunters would collect the heads of their enemies. In the house, the spirits of the dead would protect their skulls, protecting the home with it. Young men wishing to marry would have to cut off the head of an enemy of the father of their intended to prove their worth. Although fresh heads are no longer collected, long houses are still decorated with old skulls.

Square fort

Square fort

I had a quick look at the art museum, which contains a collection of modern paintings. Most interesting are the longhouse carvings housed in the lower section of the museum. I then headed back for my river cruise, but once again the heavens opened at 5 pm, so once again I failed to join the cruise.

That evening I found the restaurants I had failed to locate the night before. My guide had recommended Junk, so I went in there. To my surprise its main offering was pizza, but after two days of eating rice and vegetables, I confess a pizza sounded and tasted great.

The following morning I headed to the river with the aim of getting a ferry across to the other side of the river to see the orchid garden. I asked an English man if I was at the right spot for the ferry, and he told me he and his family were heading there too. I joined him, his wife Liz, who was originally from Borneo, her mother and their young son Matthew. They had also gathered up Ellen, a young Dutch traveller. The river crossing was 50 sens (about 10p) and they kindly treated us all.

Guards at the Astana with Matthew

Guards at the Astana with Matthew

We stopped at the Astana, the palace built by James Brooke, who was the Rajah of Sarawak. He was given this title by the Sultan of Brunei for his part in suppressing an Iban rebellion, and ruled it until his death. The guards told us we could not go in, but were happy to pose for a photo with Matthew. They even got out their gun to make the photo more official!

Orchid garden, Kuching

Orchid garden, Kuching

Orchid garden, Kuching

Orchid garden, Kuching

Orchid garden, Kuching

Orchid garden, Kuching

The orchid garden was lovely, although we did not see it in its full glory as not all of the orchids were in bloom. There were enough to admire, though, and make it worth the trip, especially since admission is free. While we were there the temperature soared, so we had a cold drink before getting the ferry back. There was just time for a quick lunch before meeting my guide for my afternoon excursion. Ellen asked if she could join me, but rejected the cafe next to my hotel as insufficiently authentic. I tried to warn her we would struggle to find local food I could eat as I am a vegetarian, but she would not be deterred. We used up my lunch slot looking for such a place without success and arranged to try again at dinner time.

Irrawaddy dolphin doing whale impression

Irrawaddy dolphin doing whale impression

Irrawaddy dolphins

Spot the dolphins

 

The afternoon excursion was to the Santubong river. After more than an hour’s drive to the boat club, I boarded the small boat with my guide and our driver and headed off down the river. Once at the river mouth, we cruised around looking for Irrawaddy river dolphins. Just as I was sure that I was to be disappointed, I spotted a dorsal fin. A small group swam busily about. They were hard to follow, as it was impossible to predict where they would surface next. We focused on listening for their sharp exhalations as they emerged for air, and at one stage they surfaced right in front of us, but of course had gone under again before I could snap a picture. My best shot is of one doing its best whale breach impression! After about five minutes they had disappeared.

Santubong River village

Santubong River village

Home in fishing village, Santubong River

Home in fishing village, Santubong River

After that, we headed to a small and colourful village on the river’s edge. The locals are fishermen, and the brightly painted houses show them to be Muslim. They were busily decorating the outside of their homes for Eid. The headman had offered a prize for the best decorated house and they were hard at work. Bamboo railings had slots carved in them for simple candles made by filling a piece of bamboo with kerosene, inserting a wick and covering the top with the top of a soft drink can. There were also some more ambitious ones set on coconut shells. They also had lots of the woven leaf parcels for glutinous rice hanging as decorations, so I could see where the green and yellow decorations I had seen in the city the previous day originated.

Hari Raya Aidalfitri decorations

Hari Raya Aidalfitri decorations

Preparing for Hari Raya Aidalfitri

Preparing for Hari Raya Aidalfitri

Two little boys aged about four and five came to show us their toys, talking Iron Man style action figures. The little one explained that there was a little man inside doing the talking. The older one used his as a mobile phone. I did not take pictures of them as I did not want to do so without their parents’ permission, but they were very sweet, and waved us off shouting bye bye, presumably their only word of English.

We then had a short trip up a mangrove-lined tributary looking for crocodiles. After all the ones I saw in Australia, I was more interested in the stork-billed kingfisher I saw in a flash of bright colours, but which flew off before I could take a picture. Time was up and we had to head to back to Kuching.

They really mean no entry in Kuching

They really mean no entry in Kuching

After a cooling shower I met Ellen and we decided to check out Top Spot, a food court at the top of a multi-story car park. It mainly offers sea food, some so fresh it is still alive! We ordered rice and vegetables, and some prawns for Ellen. We got there just after eight but it was winding down by nine.  I think the locals eat very early during Ramadan, understandably. On the way back I showed Ellen my favourite sign in Kuching, a no entry sign illustrated with a drawing of someone being shot in the back of the head. Obviously they have to go to some lengths to keep people out of building sites!

That was the end of my time in Kuching. Too late I realised I had not taken a single cat statue picture. Kuching means cat, so there are a lot of large feline tributes, mostly rather garish and kitsch, so bad they are good. The following morning I was off to Kota Kinabalu, the capital of the other Malaysian Borneo state of Sabah.