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Published: June 23rd 2017
Geo: 1.54907, 110.344
Hard on the heels of the Brunei we found ourselves in Sarawak which was originally part of the Sultanate of Brunei but it was ceded to the British adventurer James Brooke as a reward for help in putting down a rebellion and Brooke ruled it as his personal kingdom and he was even made a Rajah by the Sultan (I suspect the Sultan had heard of soccer hooligans and decided that a title and patch of land in northern Borneo was a small price to pay for peace and quiet). His big claim to fame- under James Brooke, piracy and headhunting were banned. Known as the White Rajahs of Sarawak, it was a very short- lived 'monarchy', lasting only three generations before the invading Japanese encouraged an informal abdication and a quick boat ride out of town. After the war Sarawak was signed over to the British as part of the Malay States and eventually became part of Malaysia.
Kuching is the capital of Sarawak and it's the largest city on the island of Borneo. The name Kuching does mean 'cat' in the local language and the cat does seem to hold a special place of honour in the
town with a number of statues scattered about. It was largely untouched through the war and, as such, retains a historic atmosphere in a multicultural environment.
Perched on the edge of Chinatown we were in a great spot to explore most of the more interesting sights in Kuching. Having gone some time without a good meal of Chinese food, we were hoping to dig in but, much to our dismay, virtually every Chinese restaurant in Kuching served Shark Fin soup which is front and centre on our boycott list.
We did the usual touring around town but the highlight of our stay here was Bako National Park. A public bus and a boat ride got us into the park and we ran into a veritable treasure-trove of native Malaysian critters. As faithful readers might have assumed, the monkeys grabbed my photographic attention while DH found herself captivated by something called a Mudskipper (a fish-shaped critter that had both lungs and gills, and was able to crawl on land and swim in the water)- it did seem to be evidence of evolution gone sideways and I'm not sure why it wasn't a greater source of fascination for more people. The jungle
did offer up a bunch of additional oddball sights like sting-less bees (I almost felt sorry for them as DH did her 'I am a giant alien attacking your honey hive' impersonation), a meat eating pitcher plant found only in Borneo, strange but colourful mushrooms, and stick insects galore.
I did my monkey warm-up with a couple of quick Macaque shots, found some Silver Leaf monkeys that had obviously worked with photographers before, and then hit the mother load- trees filled with the endangered Proboscis Monkeys. The males in particular would never do well in any sort of monkey beauty contest but because of their extreme shyness, rarity (found in Borneo only and don't do well in captivity so you don't see them in zoos) and their unusually large nose (scientists think these outsize organs create an echo chamber that amplifies the monkey's call, impressing females and intimidating rival males), I was photographically excited to see them in relatively open areas. Both sexes also have complex, chambered stomachs that give the monkeys what resembles a pot belly which doesn't help their chances for the front cover of Monkey Monthly. And just to complete the unusual look, many of the monkey's
toes are webbed and they are known to be excellent swimmers which is very unusual for monkeys. Over the last 40 years, proboscis monkey populations have plummeted- they are currently protected from hunting or capture in Borneo and are formally listed as an endangered species.
If anyone wants more info on these rapidly disappearing jewels of nature, you can use this link: www.proboscismonkey.org/
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