Friday, 7 March 2008

Looking forward to seeing you all soon!

Counting down to going home now. Back in a very comfortable hotel, close to Kota Kinabalu. Went into KK last night. Food's much cheaper than in the hotal and much more interesting. Malays are very welcoming and friendly, and we've never felt uncomfortable or intimidated. Ate at a local place last night. Sabah veggies in a shrimpy sauce, singapore noodles, tom yam noodle soup, all 3 dishes for 21 ringit ie 3pounds fifty. Then on to Irish Bar next door, honest that was local too!!. Total food bill 21 ringits, and total drinks bill 80 ringits!!! Typical!!!!
Anyway not much else to tell you about, so it's probably best to sign off now until the next lump of travelling on the boat this summer.
I'll finish with 2 more words, but you'll have to say these out loud to get a real feel for the hang-over from colonial times. Malaysia became independent in 1957 (2 years after I was born!!)
--- Teksi Taxi
--- Bas Bus
Were n't the ex-pats posh!!!

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Say Goodbye to Danum Valley, the Jungle, and our special guide Andy!

Four hours drive in a 4x4 along a dirt track into the Borneo jungle (the Borneo Massage), and we were in the Borneo Rainforest Resort. An exclusive resort for the slightly squeamish! By day you pick off leeches by the dozen, tough your way through the jungle and then come back to lovely cuisine, extremely comfortable accommodation, fantastically helpful staff who'll let you use their sat phone to ring mum's to wish them Happy Mums Day, outside tub overlooking the Danum River, with the sounds of the jungle ringing in your ears. Seeing the orang utans in Sepilok was good. Their desire to touch base with their friends at the rehab centre is rewarded with forest food, and they are easily observed by the tourists. But seeing them in the Danum Valley is superb.
The jungle here is primary, in that it has never been logged or reforested, so it's pristine. Every time we went out with our guide, another Andy, we saw Sambah Deer, Flying Squirrels and Slow Loris on our night ride. We saw Orang Utan mother, baby and juvenile and a solitary gibbon calling out his territory on another walk. All the animal and birdlife are out there in this very inaccessible place, but you might have to pick your way through leech valley, and crane your neck and train your eyes to see it. But Ian and I felt this was a far better way than the spectacles at Sepilok and Sandakan. This is Borneo for those who want adventure but comfort!!
Last day of our trip with Andy , our guide. As we flew into Kota Kinabalu from Lahad Datu, Andy became more and more quiet. Clearly not happy about being back in "civilisation". He is at his best macheting his way through the jungle, informing of what you can eat, what you might get bitten by, and how best to deal with snakebites. Poor guy was completely fed up about being back in KK last night!! We were missing him within a few minutes, and kept looking around expecting to see him with his Billabong hat on and his combats, stretching his neck!!
Anyway, Andy honoured Ian by giving him his machete. We were both very touched and surprised by this personal gesture.
Nice to be back in a lovely hotel room again, but felt really strange not seeing jungle and hearing cicadas and night noises. Gone from being the only non-Asians, to being surrounded by Brits, in a typical holiday destination. Brits are all talking about the weather!! and yes it is raining again. Torrentially. But the mornings are usually sunny if you get up at about 6am to make the most of it!!
I miss everything about the jungle already, apart from the leeches. I feel so lucky to have had such a fantastic experience in Borneo, completely different to the usual tourist stuff.

Monday, 3 March 2008

More Rumbles in the Jungle!

Two days ago went to see Orang Utans at Sepilok Rehab Centre, where they rescue, protect and rehabilitate injured or orphaned orangs. Mainly as a result of logging. Less of a need for this now because of restrictions on logging, and creation of National Parks sanctuaries. Logging companies also involved in reforestation programmes (but it still takes 30-40 years to produce a tree).
At Sepilok too many noisy tourists! But lovely to see mother, baby and juvenile orangs coming back for food.
Following day laid in the sun on the quiet beach of Seligan Island, one of three Turtle Islands, 2hr boat ride from Sandakan, on the SE coast of Sabah. That evening we and 40 others were on "turtle watch". At 8pm the ranger told us that a turtle had arrived ashore, and as she was coming to the end of her laying at 9.30 we were ushered into a noisy, crowded circle around this large, magnificent green turtle. She was new to the island because she had n't been tagged. Group too large and too noisy!
The ranger collected 77 eggs from the one mother and then we followed him to where he buried them in the sand in the hatchery. In the sun, to create females, and the shady area to create males!!
They stay there for about 40-50 days. Then saw the wonderful spectacle of a bucketful of about 30 newly-hatched turtles being released into the sea. Tiny, weany things scuttling as if their lives depended on it (which it did).
The Borneans do the conservation bit very well, but there are more chalets being built and signs of an increase in tourism, and they do n't seem to be great at managing large groups of them. What ought to have been a quiet, respectful, natural spectacle, was marred by the ranger himself loudly and repeatedly checking whether everyone had paid their 10 ringits for the use of their camera. Now bearing in mind that 10RM is about 1 pound 70p, wouldn't you think that most people, even the stingiest, would have paid their 10RM!! But there's always one, or maybe a dozen or so in this case!!!
Left Selingan Island at 7am. Speedboat, 2hr van drive to Lahad Datu and then 4hr off-road 4x4 drive into the Danum Valley. Got seriously stuck in the mud churned up by about 30 lorries laden with 6-8 trees each. Had to be towed out by caterpillar-tracked, heavy machinery!!
Arrived exhausted to the best accommodation so far. Up to now, cheap huts,longhouses, beach chalet, in pretty poor or basic state. But this is wonderful. Internet, outside tub overlooking the Danum river and Jungle canopy, birds and wildlife, comfort, good food and lovely staff!!
More about what we do here later!
Impossible to keep it brief, and no time to edit, so this is as concise as you're going to get. Sorry Laura and Anj!!!

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Back in touch! Borneo

Been incommunicado and in search of the "Wild Man of Borneo". Came across a few strong contenders- see photo!

Been in some of the most isolated spots in the world, and strangely there is n't an internet cafe in the jungle!
"Brief" summary of events, you'll be pleased to hear Anj!
. living out of a day-sack for seven days, because of a luggage cock-up.
. soaked through with either sweat or rain. The usual pattern is a spell of dry weather a.m. and then torrential rain which sometimes lasts all night.
. you don't see anything in the jungle, but you can hear lots.
. been in a few of the biggest known caves in the world. Sat and watched the mass exodus of bats from the Deer Cave.
. the walking around here is tough because the terrain is relentlessly steep. You're either climbing like your grandma, or descending like a small child (backwards and painfully slowly, in case you cut your legs on sharp rocks.
. Seen "The Pinnacles". WOW!! Jagged, teeth-like rocks that shoot up from the jungle slopes. Wonderful sight, but exhausting scary climb. Free-climbing in some placesd with ladders and ropes.
. Managed to make it to the top of Mt Kinabalu, the highest peak in SE Asia. Amazing views and geology. Hardest thing I've ever done or want to do again.
. Stayed in a traditional longhouse- built from bamboo with roof covered in palm leaves. Stayed with the chief of the Iban community and his wife. He took us for a memorable moonlit early am canoe-ride in his boat. Travelled for 14hours that day starting off in the jungles of Sarawak and ending up in Kota Kinabalu. KK being the biggest town in Sabah.
. Visited Sabah Tea Plantation, the only organic tea producer. Observed the process from picking to drying and eventually packaging. Then enjoyed a good cuppa overlooking the beautiful plantation, with the evening mists swirling in. Seems it doesn't matter if its t-bags or loose, as long as it's organic!
. Visited War Memorial at Kundersang. 3 gardens dedicated to the Australian, British and local Borneans who were killed. 2300 of them were marched from Sanderkan to Ranau, 236k. Called the Death March, because the Japanese were ordered to ensure that no-one survived. All died apart from 6 who manged to escape. The local villagers risked their own lives trying to help them. Very moving and very sad.
Enough for now but will be back soon with more about orang-utans, turtles and more LEECHES!!!