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Published: September 6th 2007
I left Kota Kinabalu the day after I got off the mountain en route for Sandakan, then the next day I would head off to my next stop: Uncle Tan's Wildlife Camp.
I thought I would get some much needed shut-eye on the bus, but then I remembered that I was in southeast asia and sleeping on buses doesn't really happen. Eyes widened as I entered the bus because I was the only foreigner. Of course, the cutest little baby was sitting behind me, and an hour into the 5 hour journey started to scream its head off. In addition I had Mel Gibson's new movie about South American tribes playing that made my stomach turn. Rather funny, I had never heard of this movie and missed the opening title, and mistakenly thought this was a Malaysian movie about tribes in Borneo. I kept thinking that Malaysians were sickos to produce such movies and to have tribes like that...and enjoy watching it. Then as the final credits rolled and I saw that Mel Gibson was the director, I thought "no it's my culture that produces such unpleasant films! So the baby plus the gory movie made for a rather unpleasant
Things worsened When we got to Sandakan. I was bombarded by taxi drivers who were clearly overcharging me and I was getting mad, but it was a conspiracy against me and their was nothing I could do. Even worse, when I asked people getting off the bus to help me and what they paid for a price into town, they sided with the taxi drivers. Unable to do anythng else, I paid the price and hopped into a taxi. He tried to talk to me and I screamed at him to not say another word. I was pissed off. He dropped me off at my hostel and I didn't even say thank you. I told the hostel owner what I had paid and she said I was definitely ripped off. Grand total of the taxi- a mere $3. But, its not the money, its the fact that I was blatantly ripped off because I was white.
Sandakan didn't have much to offer and was just my jumping off point for the orangutans and Uncle Tan's. To make the most of our time there 3 other hostelers and I went out for a nice meal where we got
Welcome to summer camp!
to choose our fish and then have it cooked right after. This meal plus the great hostel owner Ocean made up for the crappy bus and taxi experience.
Early the next day I packed my bags and headed to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Sanctuary. As you all know, there never seems to be quite a dull moment in my life. This short bus ride turned memorable whilst talking to an English traveler. I mentioned that I was an English Teacher in Japan. He then mentioned that one of his friends' sister was killed in Japan. I sat there trying to remember all the gaijin deaths that had happened within the past year because when it happens we all hear about it. Then it clicked, and I yelled "Was she the English teacher that was chopped up and put in a bathtub of sand?!" I was a bit overzealous and completely rude, yet to my defense was just overexcited to make the connection. He looks at me and nods yes. Then I felt like a complete ass! He was pretty cool about it and took no offense. Still...a small world!
I hung out with those 3 brits while at
Sepilok. I must admit, seeing the orangutans was a bit of a disappointment. They were very cute and loved seeing them swing along the ropes, but it totally felt like I was in a zoo. Wortwhile, but not something I would desire to return to. Unlce Tan's
I must say I was looking forward to my next stop in Malaysia: Uncle Tan's Wilderness Camp. It's highly recommended in the LP, and it sounded right up my alley with animals, dirt, and fun people. My friend Tiffany went there in May and hated it, but still, I went to give it a go. Uncle Tan's is a campground located on the Kinabatangan River that leads boat trips, and day and night hikes out of the camp to view wildlife. When you sign up they emphasize how basic the facilities are at the camp. I was intrigued to see how it would turn out. I knew that the people that were on my 3 day/2 night Uncle Tan's would make or break the experience. That, or seeing the one rhino still left along the river or an elephant!
Uncle Tan's picked me up at the Orangutan Center and
lets pump it up!
drove us to their city location called Gum Gum. After lunch we piled into vans and headed for the river. We loaded into boats and went on a 30 minute boat ride down the river en route for the camp. I was already excited at this point. It was a beautiful afternoon and we were in the heart of the Borneo Jungle. Once there we hiked through mud to get to the camp. It was gonna be a dirty weekend. The lodges were wood shacks with mattresses and mosquito nets- it felt like I was back at Skylake! We all sat around having tea and cookies and got to know each other. Tea Time quickly turned into Beer O'clock. These were my kind of people! Everyone seemed really cool- a group of irish, an English couple, a kiwi, some Italians, some Swedes, an Egyptian family, and a few English solo travelers. Like always I held strong as the lone american. After dinner (the food was quite good) all the guides came out to introduce themselves. A few beers deep we decided to be a bit obnoxious and cheer for each of the guides. I decided to get the cheers going
it has a better name than that but I can't remember right now...
and say to everyone "All right guys let's pump it up!" This is (I soon found out) an American phrase that is used quite frequently at home. After I said it the room went quiet and everyone looked at me and just started laughing...apparently they don't say that in the United Kingdom! For the rest of our time we ended up using the phrase, hence the title of my entry.
After dinner we went on our first excursion: A night boat safari. We broke up into teams and we were "Team Tarantula." Equipped with headlamps, bug spray, and of course beer, we waded through the muddy trail to the dock. During our booze cruise we saw lots of monkeys, some birds, and a some special cat but can't remember the name. I guess I am used to zoos where everything is up close and big. When on the river looking for animals, things are really tiny! After our enjoyable time we headed back to the lodge for some guitar and more beer. And, like in every country, the guides knew how to play "Hotel California." Its the universal song that everyone seems to know.
The next morning we
woke up at the crack of dawn for our morning boat safari. No booze this time, yet I think Jonathan was still drunk from the previous night! We saw river otters, birds, crocodiles, and of course monkeys. I mean, monkeys used to be really cool but since I have been in Asia for 2 years, they have lost some of their appeal. After breakfast we went on a nature hike where we saw huge bugs, an orangutan (that was pretty cool), and tons of different plants. We got to wear galoshes through the mud. Sometimes along the trail the mud was so gooey it felt like we weren't going to be able to get out. Our guide even showed us his orangutan mating call. Still no signs of elephants despite being one of two times of year that you canthem. I wasn't giving up hope just yet.
After lunch we had free time and instead of swimming with the Egyptian kids, I ended up napping for 3 hours. I decided to take a "shower" beforehand. The shower was a bucket of the chocolate water from the river. It was gross, but somehow made me feel better. My nap was
awesome- much needed since I was still recovering from the hike.
I woke up just in time for our sunset boat safari. On our way out to the boats the newbies were arriving. All of a sudden I hear a "Hello Casey" in a very normal, nonchalant tone. I look over and its none other than Dave Morrison, a good Irish friend of mine from Japan! I on the contrary, greeted with an exuberant "OMIGOD WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?!" hello and the other newbies must have thought I was crazy. I knew he was going to be in Malaysia, but didn't think we were going to cross paths! What a great surprise! Team Tarantula had another great outing with lots of monkeys, birds, and crocodiles, but no elephants :-(. Lucky me, the cute guide Lan Drove our boat! As we drove back to camp we had the most amazing sunset over the river.
After dinner and a catch up with Dave, we headed on our final safari- a night hike, again equipped with beer and bug spray. We were so loud at points no wonder we didn't see many animals! We did manage to see a tarantula,
which was very fitting for team tarantula. I also conquered my fear of bugs and let a scorpion run over my hand. We kept asking our guide if the scorpion sting hurt. The guide said "no, it's not that bad. One time I had it in my mouth and it bit my lip. That hurt, but not too bad." So we all stood their dumbfounded because a) he had been stung by a scorpion b) in his mouth and c) kept wondering why the hell would anyone put a scorpion in their mouth? I guess it can get pretty boring out at camp sometimes!
We headed back to the lodge for (you guessed it) more beer and hanging out. One guy Christian is really good at juggling and entertained us with his badass skills. The next day we had the option of going on a morning boat safari with the other group, but I opted out and instead enjoyed a long breakfast. After that we had a quick game of soccer, sweating just enough to make myself very gross for my ride to Semporna. I was the lone girl, showing these guys how to play soccer. It was fun.
and they all carried cool knives, you know, to fight of the lions tigers and bears
After that Team Tarantula and the rest of the gang took the 30 minute boat ride back to the mainland, and we all went our separate ways.
I had an absolutel BLAST at Uncle Tan's! I totally felt like I was back at summer camp, this time the camper and not the counselor. the guides, the "campers," the food, the animals, and the whole set up rocked. All was fun until we got our beer tabs (dun dun dun)! I would totally reccommend it to other travellers, and maybe you will get to see an elephant. And if you do, tell me because I will be very jealous!
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