Well the start the placement at Sepilok has begun. Though we don’t officially start until Monday we have spent the last few days getting some work experience at Sepilok - probably because they realized that the volunteers are just too excited about working with Orangutans to be able to wait until Monday and how correct they are. The talk for the last week has revolved around orange, hairy babies.
We started with an Induction by Sylvia and we were model students - listening intently just in case we lost out on the Hands On
experience that was going to happen later in the day.
A few hours later we split into 2 groups of 6 and headed off in different directions; one group to the Indoor clinic and the second group (my group) to the Outdoor Nursery.
I should say we had had an orientation of the Outdoor Nursery as part of the Induction in the morning which involved taking us to the feeding platform. All I can say is never stand between a young adolescent male Orangutan and his bananas - we got to see that Orangutans have something other than a cute and cuddly side.
So when in the afternoon we were the first group to head in this direction again it was with some in trepidation. Not helped when buckets of food were handed to some of us and the young Orangutans realized - mugged is an understatement. Very funny if you are not on the receiving end!
When we returned we found that the other group were out having playtime with the younger Orangutans - we were all pleased to find we had not missed out on the opportunity to have ‘One to One’ with the little’uns when we were informed we could take over and we all quickly rushed to get our own personal experience of the cute youngsters with their big eyes, little hands and bad hair day styling. Encouraging climbing and play with some individuals is not as easy as you would think and we all came away hot sticky but elated with out first experience.
For the evening we were to enjoy an Intro Meal with some of the staff by the lake. At 7pm we headed down and to the potential mosquito fest - I should mention as it stands I am holding the record for the number of bites despite using every repellent I have with me (even tried the dreaded DEET and the Mosies here seem to laugh in my face and bite me anyway). When we arrived at the lake it was in darkness and a quick reconnaissance by torch light revealed mosquitoes were the least of my concern. The jetty where we were meant to eat has a thatched roof and a healthy population of large spiders - that would be little close for comfort for me. I don’t think I can express enough how relieved I was to find that the meals were to be relocated to our Resthouse due to electrical problems. I didn’t sabotage it to avoid the 8 legged critters - honest!
As it was we all enjoyed a lovely meal - got to know some of the staff and found some English words have different meanings in Malay and caused lots of sniggers. But we had plenty of laughs too as Sylvia stories especially those about herbs that cure various interesting conditions and one has a similar name to a member of the group, Ali.
The following couple of days involved working a half day in the Indoor Clinic, learning what we have to do when it is our turn to work there as a group. Part of the experience is finding out the small little hands will in the case of certain individuals will involve taking the opportunity to grab a handful of loose volunteer’s hair and give it a tug or two. Fine if you are an Orangutan where this seems to be almost a way of greeting another orangutan but when you are a human and your scalp is not as tough as the skin of the Orangutan then you learn quickly to keep hair tied securely and to watch those hands (or feet come to that matter - they are equally dexterous!)
Play time is always an experience and I think we all quickly gained a soft spot for one or two individuals over the two days and you learn there characters. After the first day where Gendu spent his whole time up a very tall tree rather than in the play area you can imagine he was not as popular the next day. I have expected to gain a crick in my neck looking up at a tree on the Sunday when I took him out. Instead he stayed in the play area after a few wistful looks at the tree but the pull of playing rough and tumble with little Piot was stronger - when I say pull I do mean a literal pull as Piot spent most of the time attached one way or another to little Gendu.
I have managed to do something other than Orangutans in the last couple of days. We took the local bus to Mile 4 - just outside Sandakan. After a slow journey we finally made it - though we did get off at the wrong stop initially. The idea was to visit a much needed internet cafÃ© but all I can say is do not try and find a computer in an internet cafÃ© between 2pm and 5pm they are chocked full of school kids playing internet games - very loud and not a single computer free in the 3 we tried. Giving up we enjoyed a consolation ice cream before heading to the supermarket to stock up on supplies of nibbles. Finding bus a) to get us to the supermarket was really fun - not! And then b) to get us from the Supermarket back to Sepilok was even more fun. Seemingly Sepilok doesn’t mean right up to the Rehabilitation Centre unless it is BATU 14. Other buses say ‘Yes to Sepilok’ but drop you at the junction which is 2.5km away from home - a long way with shopping bags full of stuff but luckily we were given a lift by one of the Sepilok staff. Though for several minutes we thought we were been kerb-crawled by they guy in the car saying ‘I will give you a lift’. I think he finally realized that we didn’t recognize him out of uniform and said ‘but you are my volunteers I can not let you walk’. Relieved we jumped in and got home safely and much quicker than expected. Lesson learned - always read the Guide Book before heading off because now that I have checked I have found out that only BATU 14 will get us to our doorstep.
Bearing in mind the bus adventures the next day when we all headed into Mile 4 again - this time for Canada Day
(we have two Canadians in our Volunteer group) we decided to splash out on a taxi there and back. The aim of the trip was a visit to Pizza Hut - Borneo has two known fast food outlets - KFC and Pizza Hut. All I can say about Pizza Hut is if it is busy and you are a large group expect a long wait and for some expect an even longer wait - at least an hour after everyone else has finished to get your Pizza - an yes I did chase about 10 times.
So all in all it has been interesting few days and a sharp learning curve or two; 1) Tie hair back securely 2) check guide book if venturing out on buses 3) avoid Pizza Hut in Sabah if it is busy and you are a large group!
P.S No really pictures for this part because while we are working we are not allowed to take photos.
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