Author Archives: paulaclarke

About paulaclarke

I am a lawyer from London who loves to and take photos. I do not profess to be a great photographer, but hopefully I will get some nice images for this blog. I started this blog when taking a three month trip around the world and now add to it whenever I get a chance to travel

Welcome to Madagascar

I landed in Madagascar’s capital, Antananarivo, at about 11pm, but it was nearly one before I had purchased my visa, cleared passport control and collected my luggage. The airport involves lots of chaotic queues.  First to clear the health check (just a man checking the form you have completed confirming you do not have a fever), followed by a queue to purchase a visa, and then that for passport control. This involves having one’s passport taken and added to a pile. You then have to wait until they call your name to recover your passport, before joining a scrum to retrieve your luggage. I then fought my way through a throng of porters and taxi drivers, resisting all attempts to take my suitcase until I spotted my driver.  I had to try to remember to resist gently, as Madagascans are sensitive (but at the same time rather pushy), whilst being firm. I did at least succeed in hanging on to my suitcase. Fortunately the hotel was a short drive from the airport, and I was soon united with my friend and travelling companion Andrew and could get some rest after my long flight via Paris.

Daylight revealed a motel style layout to the hotel, with a collection of single story buildings, a rather nice pool and a large restaurant. Tana (to use the nickname for the capital) is very hilly, and is at altitude, sitting in Madagascar’s central highlands. It was sunny but rather cool in the shade, and chilly at night. Our guide for the day, Adza, collected us and drove us  through the narrow streets of Tana towards the Lemurs’ Park. Tana’s streets are narrow and chaotic, lined with stalls facing the skinny pavements. The stalls sell all manner of things, including fresh meat, which must stop being fresh quite quickly as it hangs unrefrigerated from the stalls.  We passed beside many rice paddies at different stages of cultivation; some being planted, some being ploughed by zebu cattle and some being picked.  Cattle egrets and geese dotted the water.  As we drove along the Ikopa River we could see the local brick-making industry. The clay is dug from the river and the bricks shaped and fired right on the bank.  The traffic was heavy and comprised cars, trucks, scooters, zebu carts and hand drawn carts. There were also a number of earnest cyclists attacking Tana’s many hills.

The Lemurs’ Park is a tiny five hectare reserve south west of Tana. It is made up of families of lemurs confiscated from the illegal pet trade and their descendants.  It is well run, and staffed with knowledgeable guides who talk about the local flora as well as the lemurs and chameleons in the park. As it is so small there is not enough natural food for the lemurs, so they are fed.  As a result they more or less stay put and are very habituated to humans, so are very easy to see and to photograph.  We saw Coquerel’s sifaka, the ring tailed lemurs of King Julian fame, and the doggy black and white ruffed lemur. At one stage a family of the latter set off an impressively loud alarm call, which did not seem to bother the sifaka family we were looking at in the slightest. I spent quite some time photographing the baby sifaka and its family, all of whom have a faintly puzzled expression, like they are slightly stoned.

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Coquerel’s sifaka baby

As we stood and watched the ring tailed lemurs with another group of tourists, one came right up to us, causing a toddler to try to embrace it, much to the consternation of both her parents and the lemur. The tour also included a visit to some small cages housing some nocturnal lemurs.  This was a bit sad and unnecessary. They are kept this way so they can be shown to the visitors, but of course they are curled up and asleep, so there is not much to see, and the poor creatures would be better in the relative freedom of the reserve.

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Ring tailed lemur

After the tour, we passed through central Tana to the old station for lunch at the Cafe du Gare. Pleasant, although there were some rather odd flavour combinations.  Mozzarella, tomato, pesto and mustard?

On the way back to the hotel, Adza broke the news that our Air Madagascar flight the following day had been postponed from the morning to 3.30 in the afternoon. This put rather a dent in our day, as it did not give us enough time to do anything before the flight, as the Monday traffic in Tana can be extreme and the hotel was near the airport rather than in the centre.

Andrew and I decided to go for an evening stroll before dark. This is probably not an activity for the faint hearted, as we wove through crowds of people along the tiny pavements, past the many stalls.  At one stage we braved a quiet unpaved side road, where we passed three small boys.  As we were looking out onto a vineyard at the end of the road, some dogs appeared and barked at the boys, chasing them off so abruptly that one fell full length in the dirt.  Those clever kids used us as a shield when we returned, putting us between them and the direction from which the dogs had come, with much giggling. The dogs did not reappear (I rather got the impression they were chasing the kids for a bit of sport rather than with any real intent) and we continued our walk rather uneventfully.

Having survived our walk the previous day, we went for another walk the following morning before our flight.  Once again we braved the crowded pavements of the main road into Tana before finding a quieter side road to walk down. We saw a skinny chicken chase a large rat who turned tail and fled, and fields planted with crops behind a tethered zebu. Despite warnings about safety in Tana, we were not bothered at all, and indeed a number of locals greeted us as we wandered past. Eventually we returned to the hotel, before embarking on our flight to Morondava on the west coast.

At the airport I took the opportunity to exchange some euros into Madagascan ariary.  A tip for travellers to Madagascar is that you need places to the store your cash. As there are not many places to exchange cash you will probably end up exchanging all your spending money at the airport at the start of your trip and leave with large bundles of cash. You will also get a better rate for higher denomination notes, so a €100 note is worth more than five €20 notes. As a result, try to book and pay for as many things as possible before you travel, as you cannot always pay with a credit card and carrying lots of cash is not practicable.

Sleepy in Seattle

Mount Rainier in 50 shades of blue

Mount Rainier in 50 shades of blue

Seattle did not make the best first impression. The airport, whilst easy to navigate and quick to clear immigration, has no discernible information and a lack of human beings. The cheap train downtown (just three dollars) is a very, very long walk through the car park and once you get to the station, it is not manned. I might still be there had a helpful local not told me where to go, in the best sense of that expression.

I should mention that I am suffering from a slipped disc, as this probably coloured my view. This is not something I’d recommend. It is painful and debilitating and has turned me into an old lady, unable to run, bend, or do any of the things we take for granted. Like being able to put on socks.  Dragging my camera and suitcase around until I found my studio apartment left me fighting tears and regretting the decision to make this trip.

However, after a lot of rest, some painkillers and a coffee, I was ready to enjoy the warm autumnal sunshine. Yes, warm sunshine! Everyone knows it rains constantly in Seattle, right? Apparently not when I come to stay! I decided to rest my poor back on the first full day I had, leaving my camera behind and doing a bit of shopping to pick up the last bits of my Alaskan cold weather gear. Seattle is walkable, although it does have some serious hills. I set off to REI, an outdoor shop set in its own little park which you can ride around to test drive a new bike, should you feel the inclination. There is certainly no shortage of outdoor shops in Seattle, and I pottered about, buying warm boots, socks and mittens and walking off some of the kinks in my back.

Pike Place Market

Pike Place Marketing

Shopping done, I checked out Pike Place Market, but would advise against visiting on a Sunday. There were so many people I got quite claustrophobic and had to leave. It was more pleasant earlyish on Monday morning! It is an eclectic mix of fish stalls, flower stalls and fruit and veg stalls, with the inner reaches made up lots of little gift stores.

Monday was another beautiful day, so I decided to pick up my camera and take the ferry to Bainbridge Island for lunch, as much to enjoy the view of Seattle from the water as for the destination itself. The ferry terminal is a walk via the market from my studio. At the market I armed myself with coffee, but not from original location of Seattle’s most widespread export. There was a huge queue, and even though this might get me shot round here, I’m not convinced Starbucks is worth even a short queue! In fact, I did not even take a picture of the original Starbucks. I make a lousy tourist. Fortified with my not-Starbucks coffee, I paid my $8.10 return fare and waited for the ferry.

Seattle from the Sound

Seattle from the Sound

The ferry was huge so there was plenty of room, and as I stood on the stern looking back at Seattle I could see the layout of the City. Downtown is quite compact, and the high rise buildings are flanked by the Seahawks stadium on the left and the Space Needle on the right.

The crossing was fairly quick and I took plenty of uninspiring photos of the view from the bow. All a bit 50 shades of blue. Arriving at Bainbridge Island, I walked from one end to the other in about ten minutes. I found a place to have lunch; a salad and a large glass of a rather thin, young Cabernet Sauvignon which I drank in the warm sunshine leaving me feeling distinctly relaxed and which greatly reduced my back pain.

Church in autumn

Church in autumn

After lunch I wandered around a bit more, finding a place with a nice beer garden overlooking the marina which might have been a better choice for lunch, as I had sat in a courtyard looking at a wall. I admired the local church and the autumnal trees, snapping a few photos and lying on a bench to photograph some birds eating berries. Of course they did not choose the tree near me, which would have afforded a nice clear shot, but chose to eat those furthest away, but eventually I got a passable shot. It was a way to while away a little time before heading back on the ferry.

Bird and berry

Bird and berry

This time the ferry was full of football fans heading to the Seahawks game. They were loud and dressed in many odd combinations of lime green and navy to show their allegiance. It seemed like the whole city was streaming down to the stadium to watch the game. When I got back to the studio, having picked up some veggies from the market for dinner, I even watched a bit of the game to get in the spirit. The home team won. I was done, though, as the jet lag kicked in and I went to bed pathetically early. Again!

image image On Tuesday it was a bit overcast but still quite warm. I decided to head to the Washington Park Arboretum. To get there, hop on a number 11 bus from Pike Street and get off at Washington Lake Blvd. I decided against the Japanese Garden near the entrance and opted to explore the rest of the park instead. I am sure the Japanese Garden is lovely, but having visited quite a few in other places, and with limited time at my disposal, I thought I would see what else was on offer. The Arboretum is long and narrow, so quite easy to navigate. It is not as big as it looks on the map, so you can wander around most of it in a couple of hours. I did not check, but it cannot be more than a mile from one end to the other. It must be amazing in the spring when the rhododendrons are flowering as it features a huge collection, but was a lovely place to while away a few hours. Many of the trees were dressed in their autumn colours and not many leaves had fallen. The colours do seem more vibrant in the US than in Europe. Are trees more full of sugar over here? image

In my opinion it is a bit of a shame about the big roads running through it, as you cannot escape the traffic noise which would make it even more pleasant, but other than that is is a lovely place. I did my best to tune out the traffic and listen to the birdsong. The main path is pretty flat, so even the less mobile could have a pleasant amble along. Smaller paths head up the hill to the side of that path. They are all well maintained so I was able to get about easily despite my current decrepit state.

Is this what they mean by disembarking?

Is this what they mean by disembarking?

I soon found myself at the visitor centre at the far end of the park. It was manned by a rather miserable volunteer. There is no cafe, so bring your own lunch if you are planning to eat. I feel I did not spend as much time looking at the trees themselves as perhaps I should have, but I really enjoyed the peeling park of some lovely pinkish coloured trees.  I think they might be paperbark maples.

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Squirrel with acorn

Squirrel with acorn

 

I kept seeing flocks of tiny, busy birds, which moved so quickly I could never get a proper look at one, let alone a photograph. Finally one alighted for long enough for me to take a photo of him. This was when a little flock seemed curious about me, and seemed to fly at me, hover and change direction mid-air before alighting for a moment in a tree.  Turned out they looked rather like sparrows, just smaller. Google tells me he’s a chickadee. A black-capped chickadee to be precise.

American robin

American robin

What am I?

What am I?

I also saw some American robins. I spent ages trying to get one that kept flying off just as I found it in the viewfinder before noticing that there was one watching me, posing beautifully nearby.  I also saw a beautiful bird I have yet to identify.  There were plenty of squirrels busily laying in stores for the winter, which would do a comical double-take when they saw me, before scampering off up the nearest tree.

After catching the bus back to town, I was keen to visit the Chihuly Garden and Glass. This little exhibition, showcasing the work of glass artist Dale Chihuly, is not to be missed on a visit to Seattle. It is a riot of shape and colour exquisitely crafted from glass. Some of his inspiration is obvious – flowers, the sea – and some seems plucked from a wild imagination.

Chihuly

Chihuly

imageIt it started with a delicate piece in muted orange and blues, which made me think of music.  From there there is every form of glass you can imagine, and many you cannot. He is clearly influenced by Venetian glass, but there seems to be no limit to what he can achieve in the form. One room, a glasshouse featuring huge orange and red flowers hanging from the ceiling, was closed to the public as it was being set up to host an event. That was a bit of a shame, as it looked spectacular from outside, but it was hard to see clearly because of the reflections on the glasshouse. I was even more upset to discover it had featured at Kew Gardens in 2005 but I missed the opportunity to see it close to home. The indoor rooms are all dark, with the pieces lit to show them off in glorious technicolour.

Glass ceiling

Glass ceiling

I think that my favourite room featured a ceiling made of coloured, flowerlike glass shapes lit from above. It is more impressive than it looks in the photo, as the camera can see the light through the glass more clearly than the naked eye, so there were no white spots, just colour.

Outside, the glass is cleverly complemented by the planting in the garden. I should imagine it is even more spectacular in spring and summer, when there are natural flowers to complement the glass ones. As it is right next door to the Space Needle, one can get a photograph of a large sculpture (which looked to me like a children’s party entertainer had gone mad with balloons) with the Needle behind it. For some reason I rushed through the exhibition a bit, compelled by a strange sense of urgency. I rather wish I had taken a little more time, but perhaps all that colour was an assault on the senses! In fact, I think I was so excited to see what was coming next, I forgot to appreciate fully what I was seeing in the moment.

Space needle with sculpture

Space needle with sculpture

imageSince I was right there, I decided to go up the Space Needle to see what I could see. It does afford nice views, but the dull day made for dull photos and I could not get terribly excited about it.

The following morning I woke to grey skies and rain which signalled the end of my time in Seattle. It is a shame I could not make the drive to Olympic National Park which is about three hours away, but with my bad back I decided I had better not spend a day in the car. Another time, perhaps! With that thought, I set off for the airport to fly to Fairbanks, on the first step of my search for polar bears! With such an exciting prospect in mind, I could not be too sad about leaving Seattle behind.

imageI am not sure what I made of Seattle. In many ways it seems a nice, liveable city. Relatively small, well served by public transport and walkable, it has an awful lot to recommend it. However, it did seem to have more than its fair share of homeless and/or drug addled people. It is always sad to see so many people who have fallen through the cracks.image

Goodbye to Gaya

After the short flight from Sandakan back to Kota Kinabalu, I was met by a representative of the Gaya Island Resort, and transferred to a hotel with its own marina and ushered into a lounge where I checked in to the resort and was given a refreshing sorbet to eat. Also waiting in the lounge was one of the families I had met at the Kalibatangan River Lodge. After half an hour, we were taken to the dock and boarded a small boat to Punau Gaya. We arrived at the dock, the waters around which were teeming with fish. We were all given a welcome drink and handed a list of activities. I was shown to my room, which was a ten minute walk up the hill along a boardwalk.

Gaya Island Resort

Gaya Island Resort

I did not mind the long walk to the room, but the resort would not be suitable for anyone with any mobility difficulties. I settled in, and arranged to do some laundry. To my dismay, they ship this to the mainland, so it takes some time, as I was completely out of clean shorts at this point. Not having clean shorts would restrict the activities I could do, as a hike would not be best in a dress and it was much too hot for jeans, and these were my only clean clothes. It turned out to be tricky to book any activities as the phone in my room did not work. This made booking activities, dinner and spa treatments a bit of a challenge.

After settling in and having a bit of a look at the resort, I decided against having dinner and just went to bed. I woke bright and early the next day, and had breakfast, before realising that I would then have to wait before I could take a boat to the private beach. I decided to try to sign up to some activities the following day while I waited, only to discover that things like snorkelling and kayaking were fully booked. I signed up for the nature walk in the morning.

View from my sun lounger

View from my sun lounger

A short hop on a speedboat got us to the private beach. It has a restaurant with a fixed menu for two, so not suitable for a lone vegetarian. There are some sun loungers, a couple of hammocks, and several staff members to hand you a towel and a bottle of water in an ice bucket. Along with the other six guests, I grabbed a lounger in the shade and read for a bit before having a swim. The water is really warm and clear, but there is a lot of litter in the water, especially plastic bottles, which is rather unfortunate. There were lots of well camouflaged cream fish with brown stripes and invisible jellyfish which periodically inflicted a short sharp pain like a small electric shock. I thought I was imagining it until two Swedish girls started squealing about it happening to them too.

Back at my sun lounger, I heard a rustling a turned to discover a bearded pig in the bushes behind me. One of the staff members told us that she was the last of a litter of four that had been born behind the restaurant, and she was reluctant to leave her mother and favourite spot to snooze under a tree right behind the restaurant. They have another common visitor, which we also saw, in the form of a metre long monitor lizard.

When I was having another swim, I got back to discover that my towels had been changed and my sun lounger had been swept free of sand. Very posh. They talked me into having a cold coconut to drink, which was very refreshing. By this time the sun had moved and my shady lounger was in the sun, so I got the boat back to the resort. Once back, there was little to do but sit in my room and sort through photos and update my blog, as I had had enough sun. There is wifi, for an extortionate 50 ringgits a day, but I bit the bullet and paid it as I had not had much access to wifi in Sabah. In the evening I had an indifferent pizza in the bar, which was the only vegetarian food on offer, so washed it down with a large glass of wine.

The following morning I nearly missed breakfast before my nature walk as I was busy playing with my photos, so I just had some fruit before meeting Iffah, the guide, and heading off on the boardwalk around the resort. On the way down to reception to join the group I passed a beautiful green lizard which was terrifying a Chinese tourist. I am glad I paused to snap a quick picture of it as it was gone when we came back that way about fifteen minutes later. I only had time for one shot, so I am glad it came out really well – it is the picture at the top.

Green-crested lizard

Green-crested lizard

Angle-headed lizard

Angle-headed lizard

Angle-headed lizard

Angle-headed lizard

Skink

Skink

As we headed up into the jungle on the hill behind the resort, it soon became clear that this walk was going to be all about lizards. We saw lots of angle-headed lizards, another of the little green-crested lizards I had seen down on the boardwalk and a skink, as well as tiny flying lizards we saw skimming between trees.

Iffah also pointed out big mud balls sitting about a metre above ground level. Theses operate as air conditioning for underground termite nests, and one can see the little mud tunnels heading along branches and underground taking the fresh air to the colony beneath. We could hear monkeys occasionally, it did not see any. It was a nice group, and a pleasant walk, although hot and sweaty as is the custom in Borneo.

Back at the hotel, I went for a swim in the pool and then the day stretched somewhat ahead of me. I was not in the mood for more sun, and all the activities which were interesting were fully booked. I decided to have lunch in the restaurant to relieve the boredom, only to discover that the only veggie option was the same indifferent margarita pizza on offer the night before. Once again I decided not to bother, and passing through reception, had a bit of a whinge about the lack of activities. This turned out to be a good thing, as they signed me up for a mangrove kayak that afternoon and snorkelling the following day, both if which had been full when I enquired earlier. Sometimes it is good to complain!

Mangrove kayaking trip

Mangrove kayaking trip

It turned out that some of the people on the kayaking trip had been on the nature hike that morning. Even though the trip itself was not wildly exciting, I did quite enjoy it. Once again our guide was Iffah, and we set off from the beach to the mangroves. A very nice London couple I had met that morning, Andy and Diana, were in the group. Hilariously, Andy was amazingly incompetent at kayaking, and kept lying down in the boat, and was rather carried by his tiny wife who was much more adept at paddling. We paddled up a rather smelly inlet in the mangroves, where we saw a few small back crabs and some tiny mudskippers. We heard lots of cackling pied hornbills but did not see any. We had not gone very far before we had to turn around, as the tide was low and it was very shallow.

After the trip, Iffah told Andy and I to meet Justin, her boss, at the pool, and to bring my camera. As I headed back up to my room to get my camera, I could hear the distinctive sound of pied hornbills, and I saw a pair sitting in the tree just outside my room from the boardwalk below. I rushed up the hill to my room and quickly grabbed my camera, but I could tell from the silence as I emerged that the birds were gone, and sadly they did not return.

Brown hawk owl

Brown hawk owl

Barred eagle owl

Barred eagle owl

 

Brown hawk owl

Brown hawk owl

Grasshopper

Grasshopper

Justin had a surprise to show us. When he appeared, it turned out that the surprise was two owls he was nursing back to health. He kept one in a shed and one in the office, and they were both lovely birds. Eventually he hopes to release them into the wild. The hawk owl was already allowed to fly around but has become attached to his spot in the office. I took some fuzzy photos of them, as it was too dark to shoot properly without a flash. We had a chat about a child that had become infamous at the resort. An English boy of about ten, he kept grabbing at the wildlife. Even being bitten by a lizard had not dampened his enthusiasm, and I met him on the boardwalk when he tried to catch a little snake that had to take a flying leap of the boardwalk to avoid him. Justin mentioned he had tried to educate he child to appreciate the wildlife in a more hands-off fashion, but with little success. The yellow grasshopper was one of the child’s captives which he brought to show Andy and me on our way back for looking at the owls. As a result, I kept my discovery of a giant lyssa zampa moth, about the size of the palm of my hand, to myself. I do wonder if that boy will one day be bothering wildlife on TV, in the style of Steve Irwin. He certainly had the zeal!

Lyssa zampa moth

Lyssa zampa moth

Wild orchid

Wild orchid

Andy and Diana invited me to join them for dinner. I am so glad they did, because not only were they delightful company, but they seemed to have become particular favourites of the chef. As a result, I just told him to please make me some vegetarian food, and with no further instructions required, a very nice meal appeared. The chef came to check on us, so we made valiant attempts to eat it all, washed down with some rather nice wine. A bearded pig appeared on the beach below as we ate, but vanished as soon as it realised we had seen it. He must have been afraid he would end up on the menu!

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imageThe following morning I went snorkelling off one of the small uninhabited islands nearby. It was pleasant enough and I saw quite a few fish, especially parrot fish, but I had been rather spoilt by the Great Barrier Reef. Although the water is clear, there is quite a lot of litter floating past, which is a real shame. After that, I had to head back and shower and pack for the long trip back to London. All too soon, three months of travel had come to an end, and it was time to grab my trusty (and by now badly battered) little case for the last time and head home. Perhaps appropriately, it poured with rain as I departed.

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.

image

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.