....finally - the wildlife comes out to play!
17.02.2007 30 °C
Sandakan certainly gets it's fair share of stick for being abit of an unsavory place but I must admit I did quite like it's gritty, down market charm. Having said that, one day was quite long enough hangin' with the local crazies and dodging the little kids who seem only to happy to relieve you of your wallet.
I booked myself on a 3 day river safari on the mighty Sungai Kinabatangan, Sabah's longest river (measuring 560km) held in the highest of regards as "the" location for spotting a multitude of wildlife. Home for the next three days was a quaint little cabin on the riverbank and my fellow wildlife enthusiast, a bus load of SAGA Holidaymakers from North Yorkshire.
Met our guide Terence, the most portly of Malay guys who fell dead asleep if he sat still for longer than 2 mins. Our first stop en route to the Kinabatangan was Gomantong Cave. This limestone cave is Sabah's most famous source of swiftlets nests used for birds nest soup. No pictures I'm afraid as there was a 30RM charge for your camera, a luxury which, quite frankly I could ill-afford. Essentially very brave men build very dubious looking ladders from bamboo & twine and then use them to climb 18m high to retrieve swiftlets nests. The nests, made from bird spit and feathers are then sold to restaurants who make them into birds nest soup. The soup is regarded as a delicacy to the chinese, believed to enhance a males fertility and provide the ladies with eternal youth.
Checked into camp just after lunch, promptly piled aboard our vessel and set sail to observe the many wonders Kinabatangan had to offer. Well this is where Terence came into his own for he could spot a Rhinoceros hornbill bird a mile off. So it wasn't long before we were feasting our eyes on an assortment of tropical birds (not really my thing) snakes, proboscis monkeys, pig-tailed Macaque monkeys, silver-tailed Macaques - my old Olympus was working over time.
Mother & Baby
An excited male
Back at the ranch, dinner was dominated by eager conversation of what tomorrows jungle trek would hold in store for us.
Leeches, leeches and more leeches - brown leeches, tiger leeches and hammer head leeches. I was just waiting to be dragged under the surface of the jungle floor by the Great White leech! Luckily I had invested in a pair of leech socks to keep the blighters out of my shoes but we were covered. Non-the-less, Terence took us deep into the jungle cutting our path as we walked to look at alot of Elephant dung. All was not lost though as we cruised back to base camp for another hearty lunch, we spotted wild crocodiles chilling on the banks and more neon colored birds.
That afternoon, whilst cruising still, we made the ultimate spot - wild Orang-Utans. Eagle-eyed Terence spied a mother Orang-Utan with it's baby thick in the trees. We pulled over to observe them for a good few minutes before they gracefully swung back deep into the jungle. It was quite a treat to see them in their natural habitat although from a distance.
After all the excitement of the river safari I opted to stop off in Sepilok on our way back to Sandakan for a few days.
Sepilok is home to Sepilok Orang-Utan Rehabilitation Centre and our brief but thrilling sighting of seeing Orang-Utans in the wild had only fuelled my interest in "the man of the jungle"
It was once said that an Orang-Utan could swing from tree to tree from one side of Borneo to the other without touching the ground. Sadly this is no longer the case as hunting and habitat destruction (the result of illegal logging and palm olive plantations) are shrinking their natural habitat. This has resulted in an increase in the number of orphaned and injured orang-utans which are brought to Sepilok in order to be rehabilitated to return to forest life.
I learnt that a male Orang-Utan can have an armspan of 2.5m and can weigh up to 144kg. They also have the strength 4 times more powerful than the average human male and if you really piss one off, they have the ability to rip a human in half!
The centre has twice daily feedings which are open to the public just to supplement the younger Orang-Utans with what they can find for themselves. So after hitting the information centre and watching a particularly heart-warming video about the work Sepilok has carried out over the years I hit the viewing platform.
We were lucky this time as 5 or 6 of the younger Orang-Utans made an appearance for feeding and I must admit, at risk of sounding completely soft they are endlessly appealing with their ginger fur and big intelligent eyes. We were treated to quite a show as they wrestled and scrapped like little children would. They are statically 96.4 part human and seeing them close up I was surprised at how human like they are, they all have their own individual personalities, the braver more confident ones making the first move followed by the shyer ones who are quite often hanging onto their buddy. So we watched them drink milk and pour it over their heads, eat banana's, spit it back out and wipe it on their mates back then run off and other such like tomfoolery before they ventured back into the undergrowth.
The Orang-Utans (aren't the best quality)
My personal favourite
And so my whistle-stop tour of Borneo comes to a close, was it worth travelling all the way from the South Pacific? ....Abso-bloody-lutey!
Next stop - Brunei.