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Published: April 25th 2018
This morning we had to be up really early at 5.30 a.m. to pack our rucksacks and fly to Sandakan. We left the rucksacks at the hostel in Kota Kinabalu and just took our small backpacks with gear for three nights. The GRAB taxi picked us up at 6.30 a.m. and we got to the airport just after 7.00 a.m. in good time for departure at 8.30. By 9.30 we were landing in Sandakan and were met by our bus driver for the journey to the Sungai Kinabatangan (River Kinabatangan) about three hours’ drive away. The second pick up in Sandakan was for a young Latvian couple, who were extremely late (no apology to either us or the driver). They were nearly half an hour late and the anxious driver had to make several phone calls to get them. Hence, we were late for the third pick up, another young couple, lovely English cab driver from Camden Town and his delightful German girlfriend who lifted the ambience in the bus most cheerfully! Half way through our journey we stopped for lunch and collected the remainder of our party who joined us from an organised
tour (a middle aged Danish couple, a solo Danish guy and a solo English woman). So, with our cosmopolitan party of ten intrepid travellers complete, we continued on to Bilit village to get a boat across the river to our nature lodge. Five of the party were only staying one night, so by day two we were an exclusive small group of five (ourselves and the Danes).
The journey to Bilit was a surprise to us, because we drove for several endless kilometres through palm plantations. We knew that most of the Malaysian rainforest on the Malay Peninsular had been destroyed for palm oil, having driven from Singapore to Melaka through endless plantations nine years ago; we had no idea that so much rainforest had disappeared in Borneo also. The orang-utan´s habitat is getting seriously smaller. It is claimed that the percentage of palm has been reduced from 30% to 20% of the land, however we saw new acres of planting.
We crossed the river in a small open boat in torrential rain (the bucket seats had puddles in them before we climbed on board, so lots of scooping out of water to sit
down). However, landing at the nature lodge was such a treat! It is such a beautiful location beside the river. The sun came out, our cabin is gorgeous with a river view from the terrace. No mobile connections, no internet, off the radar with just the sounds of the jungle (so this blog will not get published until we get back to civilisation next Tuesday). We arrived at 3 p.m.
Our first river “cruise” (from 4 until 6 p.m.) in our open metal boat with outboard on back was so rewarding. We saw a lot of wildlife, Proboscis monkeys (only found in Borneo), Long-tailed Macaque monkeys, Pig-tailed Macaques, two crocodiles, a huge Crested Southern Eagle, who sat high in a tree peering down at us, Egrets and Hornbills. After the river cruise, whilst we had dinner, a wild boar came by looking for scraps from the kitchen and a lizard, about one metre in length, walked through the garden. The jungle is teaming with life here. Later, five of us went on a night hike in the rainforest; we saw a poisonous bright silver millipede, about 25 cm in length, a small snake, and several spiders and
we were also really lucky to see a Civet cat. Our guide Joe spotted the cat’s shining eyes, then we saw him running off across a clearing into the undergrowth. Today was such a great day!
Today is our Wedding Anniversary. Fifty one years ago today we could never have imagined that we would now be waking up at 5.30 a.m. to go out in a little boat for two hours on a croc-infested muddy river before breakfast! The best time to spot wild animals here is dawn and dusk. We saw more animals today, including Silver Leaf Monkeys, which are black with silver hair; they proved impossible to photograph being so high in the canopy, however they were quite distinct through our binoculars. In fact, we have few photos of the multitude of monkeys seen early morning here because we found it difficult to let the binoculars fall from our faces! We saw four monkey species, including Proboscis, which the locals call “Big Belly Big Nose” and these are quite a sight to see, especially the very large males with their orange coats. We saw two more crocs,
Long-tailed Parakeets, Grey Heron, huge bright blue butterflies, more Egrets and a very large bird called an Oriental Darter. We didn’t see any Orangutans but saw lots of their nests. The Orang-utan build new nests daily by the river but leave at very first light to head further into the forest.
After breakfast four of us went on a two hour forest hike with Joe our guide, to study the flora. We saw more birds, plenty of insects including stick insects and leopard scratches on tree trunks (they like to eat monkeys) and more millipedes, butterflies, spiders and a couple of rats and black squirrels. We are pleased to say that we didn’t meet the monkey’s other main predator, the Python. Some nasty creatures became very attached to John, however. Leaches! Seven of the nasty little blood suckers. One on the back of his neck, one on the chest, two on his side and three in his navel! The latter were really difficult to remove and the blood flowed for two hours (which made us a bit worried at the time). I didn’t get any, everyone else did including our guide. I think it is because I
don’t just spray on insect repellent, I practically bathe in the stuff, heavy duty DEET due to my susceptibility to mosquito bites.
We chilled out in the afternoon for a couple of hours, then went on our final river trip at dusk (more monkeys) and another night hike where we saw a yellow breasted Kingfisher. Went to bed exhausted but exhilarated. What a great anniversary day we have had!
Tomorrow morning we leave the Sungai Kinabatangan to travel to Sepilok to visit the Orang-utan rescue centre. We have spent two very memorable days here and seen so much wildlife. We didn’t see wild Orang-utan (some other groups in the area did) and the pygmy elephants crossed the river about three weeks ago on their migration south. However, we saw everything else we were hoping to see and more. Wild animals do not appear to order! To see what we have seen here so far has been a privilege.
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