Walking with the man of the forest

Our time with Odyssey may be over but the journey has not ended. Louise and I fly directly to Kota Kinabalu in north Borneo to begin our solo adventure. Our time in Borneo was jam packed so brace yourself, this is going to be a long one.

We arrive on the island early and attempt to spend the day exploring KK. We soon realise that this small town has little to offer in way of tourist attractions and head back to the hostel in order to plan our onward journey.

We leave KK early the next morning and head straight for the Kinabalu National Park. With most people heading to the park to climb the highest mountain in South East Asia it is easy to get to and the park is surrounded by hostels. We hop on a mini bus and sit, cramped, bags on laps for well over an hour. As we spiral our way through the mountains the mist draws in and the rain begins. Just as the rain reaches it’s torrential peak the bus pulls over, I turn to Louise, knowing we have a 1km hike to the hostel, “If this is our stop I’ll cry”, “It’s our stop” she mumbles, disheartened.

In a scene that resembles a tragic comedy we are bundled out of the bus, and our luggage propped at the side of the road, in the pouring rain. Grudgingly we begin the long, wet walk with our over-sized backpacks firmly strapped to our fronts and our back and flip-flops placed precariously on our feet. Eventually, after what feels like hours of trudging up hill, we make it. Soaked to the skin we are ushered inside where we order a hot milo and a blanket to warm up. We are staying in the Kinabalu Mountain Lodge which boasts the best views of the mountain. Unfortunately said view is currently obscured by fog so thick we can barely see the end of the balcony.

The “view”

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Once warmed we are shown to our room. Reviews online had warned us about the bugs “Tsk, we’re in Asia and in the mountains” we scoffed “what do you expect?”. However the wall of bug the greets us still comes as something of a shock.

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With the rain looking like it’s here to stay we wrap ourselves up in blankets and settle down for a day of Malaysian soap operas, promising ourselves that we’ll take a walk around the park tomorrow.

The skies have cleared when we wake and so determined to do something productive on our first full day we head out into the park. The lush green forests are wonderful and wouldn’t look out of place in an English national park. We wander for a few hours before the rain sets in once more and we return to the lodge for more hot milo and showers.

Exploring the park

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From the wet and wild national park we make our way down from altitude and in land to Sepilok, the eagerly anticipated orangutan sanctuary. Our morning starts with a 2km hike each with a 20kg bag, to the bus stop from the lodge. Luckily the walk is mostly downhill and the mountain air cool. It is not long before we are treated to some of the famous Bornean hospitality, as a group of girls pull over eager to help us with our bags, offering us a lift to our destination. Unfortunately their kind offer is perfectly timed as we have just arrived at the bus stop. The bus rounds the corner and we hop on board, winging our way once more round the mountainside.

Late afternoon the bus rolls to a stop and we gather our bags from the side of the road once more, looking around for directions to our hostel. We notice a sign next to the roundabout ‘Sepilok Forest Edge Resort 250m’ feeling incredibly smug we haul our bags onto our backs and head off down the road. Unfortunately it soon transpires that the 250m previously stated was in fact 250m to the next sign that states the resort is 2.5km further on. We look around hoping to find a taxi but on this quiet road we find none and so begins our second hike of the day except this time the sun is blazing overhead and the humidity has hit record levels. After what feels like years and a walk that would appear to be closer to 3km we finally arrive at the resort. Thankfully it is beautiful, the tensions between myself and Louise quickly dissipate as we sip on the welcome cocktail and check out our wonderful surroundings.

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The next morning we wake early and after our morning feed we head to the orangutan sanctuary, a short walk (thankfully) down the road for the morning feeding of the man of the forest. With vast amounts of Borneo’s jungle and forests being lost to palm oil plantations the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre was established in 1964 to rescue and rehabilitate orphaned orangutans. For a small price we are able to go into the centre and watch part of the rehabilitation process. It is only feeding platform one that is open to the public, the keepers are keen to keep interaction between the orangutans and the general public to a minimum. For more on the work that Sepilok do or to donate to the appeal please see this link: http://www.orangutan-appeal.org.uk/about-us/sepilok-rehabilitation-centre

Lou and I morphing into one person with matching outfits at Sepilok

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The morning feeding

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After the feeding we decide to take a walk in the forest along one of the trails where we hope to catch a glimpse of one of the rehabilitated orangutans and hopefully some of the other wildlife that Borneo has to offer.

We are followed along the trail by a rather excitable but extremely friendly Australian family. We are entertained by their young son who squeals with delight when he finds a leech attached to his sisters leg, this immediately puts the rest of us on edge. Having walked for about a kilometer into the forest without water we soon make the decision to turn back. Having failed to see a single animal or bird on our way out we aren’t hopeful we will have an encounters on the return journey. How wrong we were.

As I stop to pose for a photograph in the forest at Louise’s request I hear a movement next to me, I turn and gasp…

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No more than 20 meters to my right is a young orangutan swinging on a low branch. As we watch he climbs down from the tree and begins to make his way towards us. After a rather traumatising experience in a Kenyan wildlife reserve with a group of young baboons I am somewhat weary around dangerous primates, ‘I don’t like this’ I whisper taking a hasty step backwards.

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In that one moment something magical happens as the orangutan reaches out and grasps Lou’s hand. Hand me your camera I hiss in her ear.

A beautiful moment between [wo]man and ape

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A slightly hairy moment as Lou’s attempts to let go (luckily she escaped with all ten digits)!

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We return to the centre elated. Poogle, the orangutan, it transpires is a rehabilitated young male who is not too keen on the wild and regularly returns to the centre seeking attention and interaction with humans. A wonderful experience for us all but a sad tale of a wild animal who has lost all of his natural instincts. Suddenly the reasons the centre wishes to limit any interaction with the public become all too clear.

We return to the centre once more in the evening to watch the later feeding where we are treated to a show by Bella, a young and vibrant female.

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From Sepilok we have arranged a three day trip along the Kinabatangan River. Still on a high from our days spent exploring the forests surrounding Sepilok and our close encounter with the wonderful red headed man of the forest we are equally excited to see what we can find on the river. Thankfully our departure from the Forest Edge Resort is far less of an ordeal than our entrance. We are picked up by Uncle Tan, the company with which we will be doing our river cruise and taken to the river where we jump on board a fiber glass boat. With our possessions in black plastic bags, in preparation for a sudden downpour, we whizz up river, the wind whipping hair around our faces. However within minutes our driver is slamming on the breaks and turning us sharply towards the bank where we come face to face with our first crocodile basking in the sun. For a few moments the croc appears nonplussed with our presence and then suddenly with a flick of his tail he is gone.

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We are soon zooming along the river once more but no sooner have we started than one of our party have spotted another crocodile, this time a monster of a croc. His head appears to be as long as I am tall but he is too quick for us and submerges as we approach.

After about an hour on the river we reach camp and home for the next few days. This is basic living with no showers or even doors on the huts, we are given a bucket for our belongings (to protect from rats), but this is nothing that Louise and I have not become accustomed to by now.

The steps to Uncle Tans

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View from our cabin

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The huts

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Once we have settled in we are given a brief induction and a breakdown of exactly what we will be getting up to over the next few days.

Hectic schedule

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After dinner that very evening we are taken out on our first cruise down the river at night in the hope that we will spot some nocturnal animals. It would appear our luck is not in this night until we spot something swimming across the river. ‘Snake’ our driver shouts, jumping up and directing our boat towards the animal that does indeed appear to be a snake. That is until we come within touching distance ‘Ah’ our driver concedes ‘mouse’. The three of us on board collapse with laughter but this is one athletic mouse. This river would prove a challenge for even the most accomplished swimmer.

Lou and myself on our first night time river cruise

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Wonder mouse!

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We wake at the crack of dawn the next morning for our very eagerly anticipated dawn cruise, where we will hopefully catch a glimpse of our first truly wild orangutan. Unfortunately we are greeted by a torrential downpour meaning we are unlikely to see anything. We are fed and sent back to bed, hoping that the rain will cease soon. At around 10am, when the downpour has relented to a gentle drizzle, we are roused from our huts and taken out on the river for an extended cruise and the first of our jungle walks.

Views along the river

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We spot an abundance of wildlife along the blanks of the river, we soon leave the boat and continue on foot. The weather has now cleared and it’s time to get up close and personal with some of the islands more creepy residents.

Ready for a wet boat ride

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Creepy crawlies

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Lou, Shelly and myself checking out an indigenous tree

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Our wonderful guide

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The afternoon brings another cruise up the river to search for wildlife. This time we are on the hunt for the elusive and rare proboscis monkey. With it’s strange elongated nose this monkey is found only in Borneo and a single sighting will make this river trip all the more special for me. After an hour on the river it seems that luck is once again not on our side. We have failed to see anything and with the light fading behind the clouds it would appear that we are not going to get to witness a Bornean sunset from the river either. But then, as if by magic as the light dwindles, we spot them, high in the trees, settling in for the night. We pull the boats up onto the bank to watch. As we sit reveling in our stroke of luck, Borneo’s flying foxes (the worlds largest bat) break from the trees and soar over head. Just when we feel like the evening could not get any better the clouds break revealing a dazzling orange glow, it looks like we are going to get that sunset after all.

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We make our way back to camp where we are fed and watered before our final evening activity. Once the sun has set we are once again off into the jungle, just outside our front door, in search of nocturnal creatures.

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Poisonous, don’t touch!

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The giant ant

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We are even treated to the briefest of sightings of the rare Civet cat.

We leave early the next morning after two wonderful and wildlife filled days on the river. Lou and I will be returning to Kota Kinabalu the same evening, sad to be leaving but very ready for a shower. It is time for us to leave Borneo for a few days, Alex and Fi are waiting for us ready for a short trip to Brunei.

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