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Published: August 4th 2009
How do I sum up Bako National Park? It stinking hot and there's no water. On the last night there was no power either. It hasn't rained at Bako in quite a long time and their dam is almost empty. Sometimes the toilets flushed, mostly they didn't. Sometimes there was a trickle of water from the taps, mostly there wasn't. The streams in the forest were reduced to small puddles filled with dead leaves and little shoals of rasboras. I had a bit of a poke around to see if I could find any catfish or bettas but there appeared to just be rasboras in the pools. However on one of my nocturnal ramblings I did see a catfish of some sort in one.
The meals at Bako are served buffet-style at 7.30, 11.30 and 6.30. The food is always cold so you don't need to worry about getting there too early, but if you're too late you miss out altogether. At lunch there was often the same food as at breakfast -- not the same type of food, the exact same food leftover from earlier in the day. I had stomach pains the entire time I was there and
I'm sure it was the food.
The park was very busy, with both people staying overnight and day-trippers, the latter often in tour groups of ten or fifteen at a time. Readers may remember that I had to book a week ago to get a bed at Bako because it was so much in demand, and I got the last bed on the 1st, the last on the 2nd and one of the last on the 3rd. Well as it turned out, while the park was undeniably top-heavy with tourists, a lot of the people that were booked in never showed up. My four-bed dorm was empty for the entire three nights I was there. And yet oddly the reception staff wouldn't let anybody stay who wasn't officially booked through the Kuching office. They just kept saying to day-trippers or people who wanted a longer stay that they were full, even though they quite plainly knew they wouldn't be full any night. On the whole I found the guides there to be very friendly, and the reception staff to be very unfriendly and unhelpful. When I first arrived the guy at reception said everybody had to sign in when
they went on walks and they had to be back by 6.30. I asked why and he said "because its getting dark then. No-one's allowed out after dark."
"But I want to be out after dark, that's why I'm here," I reply.
"No, no-one is allowed on the trails after dark, its too dangerous."
We had a long discussion about this, with both of us getting quite annoyed, and eventually he lost his temper a bit and told me I could go out at night if I wanted but it was own responsibility if anything happened, which is what I'd been trying to get through to him all along.
As it turned out I didn't find anything of interest in the forest at night, and neither did the participants of the official night walks. There are certainly interesting night animals there, including pangolins, lorises, tarsiers and mouse deer, but I think the dry weather has forced most things away back into the forest. It was very quiet in there at night, especially in contrast to the noise at Kubah. There was just the occasional owl, a frog or two and a lot of insects.
The trails at Bako are
even steeper than the ones at Kubah, often just being jumbles of boulders and tree roots up the sides of hills. I walked some short trails when I first arrived but it was too hot and everything too steep and frankly I'm sick of walking up and down hills, so I gave up and just sat around the headquarters watching the abundant wildlife there. The first animal I saw at Bako was actually a proboscis monkey sitting in a mangrove tree as the boat came up to the jetty. The Paku trail is supposed to be the best trail for seeing proboscis monkeys but really they can be seen just as readily or even more so, and without any strenuous activity, in the trees right around the rooms where you sleep. In fact its easier to see all sorts of animals around the headquarters than it is out on the trails, including silvered leaf monkeys with their adorable bright orange babies, massive bearded pigs, water monitors, Wagler's pit vipers, hill mynahs, barbets, fairy bluebirds, plantain squirrels, and even colugos. Most obvious are the pesky crab-eating macaques who are an absolute menace. At meal-times they often mob the restaurant, snatching food
from people's plates right in front of them, and if they can access a room through an unlocked window or open door they will ransack the place and carry off anything small enough. The park's promotional material also claims you can sometimes observe small-clawed and hairy-nosed otters in the mangroves, which I was looking forward to, but apparently no otters have been seen here for three years now (at least that's what I was told, although the comment at the end of this entry from Craig Smith proves otherwise!).
I was really trying to get some good photos of proboscis monkeys but while they were easy enough to see they proved frustratingly difficult to photograph. They liked to hide behind clusters of leaves or branches, or when in the open to position themselves against the sky so they were in silhouette. Only in the middle of the day when the sun was too strong for good photos did they sometimes come out to pose. I found a big male along the mangrove boardwalk which would have made for some nice habitat shots. He sat in a tree and ate leaves, then walked across the mud to another tree and
ate leaves. I sat in one of the shelters for four hours, watching the mudskippers race the tide, waiting for the monkey to come within a good range for the camera but he never did.
Out of all the fantastic wildlife at Bako, the best one of all for me was the colugo. The vulgar masses call it a flying lemur, although it doesn't fly and it isn't a lemur. I've always wanted to see a colugo. If you don't know what one is, imagine some sort of mashed-up mix between a bat and a lemur and a flying squirrel, and that's about right. They're nocturnal, spending the day clinging to tree trunks, and because the fur is exactly like lichen-covered tree bark (except for the startlingly orange ears!) they are extremely hard to spot. There happened to be one suspended in a tree almost right outside my dorm, looking exactly like a lump of tree trunk. At dusk I returned to its tree to watch it as it became active. By day you can't really see much, just a lump of speckly fur, the forelimbs stretched out in front, the head either laid down on the trunk or
the colugo (Cynocephalus variegatus) at rest
head facing upwards, on the left side of the trunk.
raised to see what the people below are doing. Their eyes always seem to be open and they don't really seem to ever sleep while clinging to the tree. They are most odd little creatures. As night came along, the colugo started moving its head around, peering down at me, its huge bulbous eyes like glowing orbs, licking its fangy lips. Then it shuffled round to the other side of the tree, moving very much in the manner of a sloth, clambered up a branch and hung upside down, tucking its head down inside its gliding membrane, looking suspiciously like it was licking a baby. And sure enough out from the side of the wing popped a tiny grey head to have a look down at me. It was a very amazing experience. The reign of the bear cuscus as top mammal didn't last long. Best mammal I have ever seen is now the mighty wierd colugo.
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