Published: September 6th 2011June 23rd 2011
On arrival back to Kuala Lumpur I had a special someone to pick me up. It was only my Mother. I guess that is the advantage of having one side of the family on the other side of the world. Big hugs all round. She had already been in Malaysia for two weeks, with her sisters and began speaking Malay to me. Interrupting her I said, "you do remember I only speak English, don´t you?!" One perk of not seeing immediate family for a while is the treats. For example, on the first day my Mum asked me, "Fancy going to have some Reflexology?" What do you think my reply was? As well as this, my whole family met up for a slap-up seafood meal. Lush. Nice change to fried rice and Pad Thai every day. In what seems a family tradition, we all went bowling too. I'm sad to admit this, but I came a close second to my cousin Una. It was bad enough that I lost but to lose to a girl too?! Oh dear. She did say she would win the rematch. Well played! After several days of shopping, meeting obscure relatives and showing off photographs my
little old Mum departed back to London. I hung around for a while with my Aunt (Mak Teh), Uncle Ali and cousins (Sakinah and Naz) in Seremban before finally saying goodbye on departure to Borneo.
After arriving to Sepilok, near Sandakan, and a good nights sleep, I awoke to a healthy breakfast spread to set me up for an exciting morning. I hopped on a minibus to journey to the world famous Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary. I got there for the morning feed. I stood on a wooden terrace in the middle of the Bornean jungle. Slowly these balls of orange fur started making their appearances. Awestruck at the way they moved, I stood mouth wide open. They effortlessly swung from branches and ropes. Most looked like they were working in slow motion. Eventually, the food was placed, by the keepers, on the main platform. Orang Utans showed up out of nowhere to enjoy the fruity feast. Some mothers were carrying their tiny babies, while swinging. These little guys were literally hanging on for dear life. As well as the beautiful beasts were some mischievous macaques who wanted to join in on the fun. At times the macaques got
to close and the Orang Utans batted them away. The Orang Utans were definitely in charge. Some ate whilst swinging from ropes and branches. Their wondrously flexible hips allows their legs to act like hands. One young ape wanted to eat on the tourist viewing gallery. Hordes of onlookers gathered around. This is where people become their most selfish. I had the best photo opportunity, just half a metre away from this elegant creature, when a woman knocked my camera out the way to pose next to him. At that point, she scared him and he quickly dashed along the handrail. In his haste, he fell but luckily one of the handlers was around to save him, with a last ditch hand. The handler pulled him back up, just like in a film, and walked him along the path holding hands. A lovely sight. The Orang Utan was waddling along with his short legs and huge arms with his handler. Every cloud and all that, yet selfish people who act like that should be taught a lesson in manners. This was not enough to spoil the memorable experience of being so close to so many stunning animals. Just unfortunate I
did not get to see more of them.
For the rest of the day I occupied myself with darts and playing pool against myself. Since it was pretty familiar to me, I put myself up against James (a recent travel partner), in my head. Oddly enough, James beat me in my imaginary competition. The world, or I, must being going mad. Again, a huge spread for dinner filled me up and more. It was delicious and completely different from Peninsula Malaysian Cuisine. That night I met a lovely Dutch girl who had just got back from the Jungle Tour. She mad it sound terrific and that it would be impossible for me not to have a good time. That set me for a good night sleep. That was before I had come across the gaggle of Danish girls who burst into the dorm room at 1 o'clock in the morning. I was not too displeased. Sharing a six bed dorm with five other girls was not the end of the world. Still, they tried their best to get me to stay up. Firstly, the girl in the bed above me, who I later discovered was called Marianne, did not
stop moving all night. The bed was typically creaky too. She became the well known Batman villain, "The Wriggler" to me following this. If this was not enough, at one point it took five minutes to try to switch of the fan. Every cord and button was pushed. in that space of time. To add comedy to the bedtime madness, Marianne exclaimed during a period of complete silence "Hello?". I did not know what to do. Should I reply or not? I chose the latter to avoid the craziness.
To make me feel better, after arguably the oddest night ever, I had another feast for breakfast. One of the girls, Thea, sat with me. I told her of the goings on and I found out she had the best laugh of all time. This was confirmed on many other occasions, including times where a little snort was part of it. I found out that Marianne was suffering from jet-lag and did not sleep a wink. Then the third member of the clan approached the table, of whom was called Stine. We had some small talk for five or so minutes and then asked, "Are you the guy we slept
with?". I happily replied, "Of course!" and Stine then explained "You are the first guy we've slept with in Borneo." I felt very privileged. I could see that I over the next few days, we all would have an interesting time together. There seemed to be no ice to break and everything just flowed.
Together as a group of nine, we hopped on the minibus that was destined for a jetty on the Kinabatangan River. From here we would get a boat to the "Uncle Tan´s Adventures Jungle Camp". Even the bus was entertaining. Whilst talking to Thea, Stine drifted off in the seat in front of us. She then proceeded to nod during her sleep. This was not like nodding I had ever seen. She went through full 360 degree revolutions, head-butting the guy sitting next to her. She was even drifting in and out of consciousness throughout. This went on for at least half an hour where Thea and I did not stop giggling. When we arrived at the jetty, Thea and I told her and she didn't sound surprised at all. Apparently she does it all the time and just cannot help herself. She told us
she even knows she's doing it, at the time, but has no urge to halt it. Strange.
We made for the riverside camp via speedboats. The scenery around us was beautiful although it was obvious to all of us that much of the rainforest had been chopped away. A lot of the once virgin rainforest is now plantation land where much of the nature is unable to survive. A little saddening yet there are big plans to regrow the forest in a hope for nature to thrive. In transit, we dashed past several pack of monkeys and saw a few egrets (fishing bird). We were told we would be sick of them by the end of the trip. After an hour of wind blowing through our hair, we arrived at camp. The head tour guide greeted us warmly by saying "Welcome to the Jungle!". We knew we would be at home quickly.
As a group, we were treated to an informative and funny welcome talk. During our tour guides speech I witnessed the most abnormal event. A gecko lost its grip and fell from the roof. These creatures never fall, do they? Well apparently so. The guides then
invited us for a game of footy, or that's what I thought. It was normal apart from that the goals were not the nets but the posts. It was played on a sand pitch they had created themselves, within jungle surrounds. Great setting. First kick of the game by the cook hit the crossbar. Three points. They made it look easy. They ran rings around me. Uneven surface, boiling hot and in bare feet. Not exactly what I'm used to. I nearly died of exhaustion. They were fit as fiddles and jogged off for a dip in the river. I was not completely comfortable with my surrounding and chose not to dive into crocodile infested water.
When the other group got back, we all ate together. Again the food was phenomenal and there was enough to feed an army. There were probably ten types of dish involved in this dinner. Astounding. Our first tour had now materialized, the night boat. All excited, we hopped into our boats in the pitch black. Slowly, we drifted down river with our guides using powerful torches to search the surrounding trees. Every time they spotted something, the boatman would slow the engine to
head towards the bank. We sighted a couple of owls, crocodile eyes and a leopard cat. All were impossible to take photos of but were still intriguing to see in the darkness. On return, the guides, of whom were all born and raised in the jungle, got out the guitars. They had a firm grasp of Western music. Green Day was a big favourite of theirs. The music was played while drinking some Korean Dester Beer and rice wine. The rice wine was strangely fruity and went down extremely well with orangeade. When others went to bed I stayed up with a chap from Manchester. I had not had a good conversation about football in months and the only thing we disagreed on was how good Rio Ferdinand was. As the generators were out, we had to find our way back to our huts in the dark. I had not seen darkness like it. I shifted my body along the board walk ever so carefully. Any wrong moves and I was in the swamp. I ended up hugging my hut wall scared to move another inch. I shouted for someone to help me and thankfully I survived with no embarrassment.
I had a terrible night sleep. Bitten to pieces by mosquitoes and just simply not getting any shut-eye made me an unhappy camper. Monkeys woke me up from the little sleep I got, by jumping on the roof of the hut. To make matters worse, we had a morning tour boat at dawn. We all embarked our boats feeling groggy. Marianne again got no sleep and felt worse than me. We could not help but feel sorry for her, although it was a little amusing. As the mist hovered above the hushed Kinabatangan river, we again drifted down river. Monkeys were aplenty and a monitor lizard showed itself on the bank. Birds were all else we saw, which was a disappointment. The birds were amazing though. Hornbills perched on tall leafless trees to make themselves easy to spot. A couple of eagles flew over us too, amongst other things but none of the big sights, such as Orang Utans.
A good pancake breakfast rose our spirits. Especially because we were all intrigued at the way our Chinese companion ate his pancakes. He folded them up and ate them using only chopsticks. It was remarkable. The girls took it
upon themselves to learn how to do this too. He even intrigued us with Chinese culture. One thing we learned, was that he was on a weeks holiday of only two weeks, which he receives for the whole year round. One reason why he was leaving after breakfast, not the next day like the rest of us. I was humbled to be in his company.
Ready to rumble, a proper game of five aside football commenced. it was guides versus guests. The guides were all kitted in German jerseys, shorts and football socks, whereas I played in walking shoes and a casual t-shirt. They had the upper hand with fitness but we had the class. My fellow tourist from Manchester had played semi-pro football as had I, in the past, plus a couple of other handy players. Our goalkeeper was a beastly rugby player from New Zealand. There was not much goal around him when he stood in front of it. Extremely competitive, the game ebbed and flowed. The sweat was dripping off the guest but not one drop off the guides. The more contested the game became the more aggressive the challenges were. The jungle boys did not
enjoy them but not one complaint was made and just got on with it. Close to passing out, I slotted the winner to triumph 8-7 after an hour's play. Epic! Probably the best game I have played in years considering the people I played with and where it was held. Now too exhausted to care, I leapt for a refreshing dip in the river. The guides told me "The crocs don't like human blood", so that was calming.
Before it was too hot we took the morning jungle walk. This walk in the jungle mud was not easy. I was still getting eaten alive too. The walk was more about the environment around us than wildlife spotting. it was very interesting and we happened to spot some little critters along the way. Our guide, tong-Tong, most of the time seemed to enjoy chatting more than informing. He was a very curious young guide and we humoured him. Along the way, I mentioned I knew of Aalborg FC and Mia, the final Danish girl, nearly had a fit of hysteria. She informed me that she now loved me, which I was not totally against, since that was her club. Football
Due to the heat, we had several hours break before our afternoon boat trip. Hammocks were jumped in and our lovely group of seven, including a honeymooning couple from New Zealand, Chrissie and Caleb. Caleb was informed he looked like John Cena by one of the tour guides and I could totally see resemblance, minus the enormous physique. Now, this is when many priceless comments began to arise:
Number one: While one girl rooted through Marianne's handbag to find her lighter, Marianne exclaimed, "Wrong hole!"
Number two: While we were all chatting Stine proclaimed, "My boobs are sweating" and Marianne replied, "So are mine!"
Number Three: I told Mia her trousers were dirty, to which she came back with, "I like it dirty!"
Number Four: During a discussion of me sleeping in my own hut, Stine asked, "Can I stay in your one tonight?", to which Marianne said, "I'm going first!" and finally another girl said, "Can we take turns?". Unfortunately, we had some new tourists share the hut with me that night. I never found out what could have happened that night. Just kidding, or am I?
Number Five: While all seven of us were
having a swim, Stine asked, "Dan, could you wash my hair?". I really was stuck what to do or say following this. The girls "saved" me from the awkwardness and did it in my place. Stine then tried to get out of the water in a boat. I have never seen a moon so bright, during the tropical sun. Her bikini bottoms came fully down for what felt like minutes. We all called it "The elegant mooning" but it was far from this.
Number Six: The girls had decided to use "Deet" as their new buzz word. Songs such as "Deet me up before you go go" and "Oops a Deeted again" frequented the airwaves. One that went down well was "Deet Deet" to get by someone. I think we exhausted the phrase by the end of the trip, yet Thea insisted there was more to come.
Within these comments, I was roped in to a game of guess how old we are. I stupidly fell for it. I guessed them all correct but made the fatal mistake. I was asked who I thought was the youngest. I got it wrong and the lady in question was not happy.
I knew never to place this game yet I still did for "fun". I have now learned it is never fun!
We jumped aboard the boat for our afternoon spotting. We had much more success. We saw the incredibly unusual sight of proboscis monkeys. These guys have red sausage like noses and a large in stature. Later we saw one do a giant leap from tree to tree. I was happy not to see anything else since I can only see them in Borneo. A dazzling thing to witness. We saw a rapid gibbon virtually flying from branch to branch, troops of smaller monkeys and several types of bird as well. As dusk approached we were treated to a lovely sunset as well as seeing flocks of huge flying foxes passing overhead. A real treat.
Dinner did not disappoint again and we headed back into the jungle to do some night-time trekking. Tong-Tong, our guide spotted a really rare animal, The Slow Loris. The guides spot these a handful of time a year. "Wows" were given by the other guides, when we arrived back. I was able to take some amazing pictures of birds, on this excursion, and
also saw a surreal bug, that looked like a cotton ball. A positive day ended with more Dester Beer, rice wine and music. Caleb even played some guitar to delight the crowds. This place really felt like a home away from home and we were all sad to be leaving the next day.
The pancakes were eaten with relish and the girls practiced their chopstick technique. We boarded the dawn boat again and the best was saved until last. A crocodile of ten feet, gibbons, lizards and many incredible birds were seen in the space of an hour. Not only this, we saw three wild orang-utans. It is one thing seeing them up close in a sanctuary but to see them in their natural environment is truly magical. For one of them, we pulled up at a bank to get the best view. An old man in the other group repeatedly stated, "I reckon there's an orang-utan up there!", despite us being told there is one by the guide. He then bellowed several times, "I reckon, I can see the leaves moving!" as if we could not see it ourselves and , "I can see a mouth and a
hand, I reckon!". He made our viewing of the apes that much more memorable.
Sadly our jungle voyage was over. The group of seven were dropped at the jetty to go in various directions. Uncle Tan's Adventures had put on a real show for all of us. Great food and drink, top hosts, awesome setting, fascinating wildlife and terrific company. They are highly recommended to all who visit the Kinabatangan River. We were also lucky that we had a small group. The group before us was larger and the group the day after was triple the size of ours. For me, it was arguably the best weekend I have ever had and hopefully it was the same for the girls plus Caleb and Chrissie. I hope the group will read this blogpost with memories and emotions evoked.
To put the icing on the cake, I visited the city of Kota Kinabalu. I ventured to the best food market I have ever seen. Next to the harbour, anything from prawns to chillies to watermelons were sold at this thriving market. The colours and smells were to die for. On ordering some food, one vendor loved the fact I was
half English and half Malay. He could not stop staring a if I was a being from another planet. I looked like him and the people around, yet spoke English in a London accent. How very different. I am different and I'd never really thought about it before. The time had come to depart Borneo and I was sad to leave. What a place!
There are more photos below