Back in Malaysian Borneo, the next few days were about spotting primates and stuffing ourselves full of food. Arriving in Kota Kinabalu an hour after sunset, we made our way straight to the night market for dinner, meandering past rows and rows of fresh produce to arrive at the dining tables. We took a good 20 minutes to work out which of all the delicious-looking food we'd eat, deciding on a huuuuuuuuuge barbecued parrot fish, some prawns and a giant bowl of mee goreng, prepared by a guy proficient in the art of tossing a full pan of noodles high in the air while making small talk. We waddled back to our hotel feeling like we'd never eat again but, of course, we did it all again the next night.
From there, it was off to Sandakan, site of the infamous death marches in World War II. Sandakan is now a bustling town that is home to a big naval base. It still has reminders of a colonial presence - we ate lunch one day at the English Tea House, a restaurant complete with croquet lawn and posh service high up on the hill looking over the bay. Lucky the
view was good as the prices were definitely ridiculous - a VB (yes, a VB!) was the equivalent of $17AUD!!!
We hadn't come to Sandakan to drink Australian beer though, we'd come to see some monkeys! Borneo is one of only 2 places (Sumatra is the other) where orangutans are now found, their numbers having dwindled as their habitat was destroyed. And, it is the only place that is now home to the proboscis monkey, a comical creature that looks like it's straight from a Disney movie, with a big nose, giant belly and an amazing jumping ability.
We spent a day at Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, a centre for injured and rescued 'pet' orangutans to be rehabilitated to independent life. The rehabilitation program has many aspects but the only the feeding sessions can be viewed by the general population. The orangutans have to be somewhat advanced in their program before they make it to the feeding sessions, needing to learn so swing in order to get to the feeding platforms. They progress from a relative dependence on the centres workers and volunteers, which was highlighted nicely for us at the afternoon feeding session. Nico, one of the
baby orangutans, came right up close to where we were watching and put on a bit of a show - posing and displaying his skills, only to then seem unable to work out what he should do next, scampering over to one of the volunteers and climbing up her leg for a cuddle.
The proboscis monkeys are a little more aloof but no less fascinating. We saw them out at Labuk Bay Sanctuary, about an hour out of Sandakan. Each afternoon, a couple of families of monkeys come warily out of the trees one giant leap at a time, arriving at two separate platforms to feed. After feeding, they sit around for a good hour like a group of rotund old men in no great hurry, before scampering back into the trees.
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