Sunday, 20 November 2011

Kota Kinabalu to the Kinabantangan River

In which we get stuck in the mud and go adrift on a river of mosquitoes
Starring monkeys that catch crabs with their tails

From Kota we got a hellishly early bus to a tiny restaurant in the middle of nowhere called Medan Selaka where we were then picked up a bit later (“Don’t worry they will be here”) for a two day trip on the Kinabantangan River – Sabah’s longest river, renowned for its wildlife.  

The point is to get as much genuine jungle experience as possible without giving up too many of the familiar comforts such as hot showers, good food and apparently, wifi.   The tours all run to very fixed itineraries and once you’re checked into your little wooden hut, you wait for the gong to sound for your next activity. 


First up a two hour cruise down the river looking for monkeys.  We set off in the absolute pouring rain. It was pooling in the bottom of the boat around our feet and we were back in the ponchos with cameras and so forth in dry bags.  An hour in it had dried up slightly but all we’d seen was a few distant hornbills sitting as forlornly as were in the tops of trees.   But we then turned up a side tributary, the rain stopped and the monkeys started coming down to the river to settle in the for the evening. The main treat was the wild Proboscis monkeys well known for their strange noses, bizarre fur, uncanny human resemblance and of course their flatulence.  The large males look like they are wearing an orange life jacket and white underpants (y-front style) and they have huge round bellies for processing the poisonous mango leaves they feed off. 
There were also plenty of the long tailed Macaques you find everywhere in SE Asia the ones here specialise in catching crabs by using their tails as fishing lines, dipping them into the holes along the river bank.  A small family of silver languars were crossing the ‘Monkey Bridge’ a set of ropes and wires that conservationists have strung across the river to let them cross.  When threatened (by some sort of leopard and snakes) the Proboscis monkeys leap into the water and swim across to reach the other side – however the river is full of crocodiles awaiting just such an opportunity.

This sign says: Beware of the Crocodiles

We set off for home as the sun dipped behind the trees and the surface of the river became a shivering mass of enormous mosquitos.  We were still some way from the jetty (like twenty minutes) when the engine began to intermittently cut out and the driver started muttering to himself in Malaysian.  It’s a fast flowing river so each time we stopped we drifted back to pretty much where we’d been a few minutes before.  Thankfully he whipped out his mobile phone and called for an escort who followed us all the way back.  So the jungle, but not really the jungle.

Silver Languar  on the 'Monkey Bridge'
We were advised to hire wellington boots for our night walk due to the extreme muddiness of the trail.  Ordinarily we would have immediately sniffed this out as yet another ruse to extract cash from tourists but having been warned by some other travellers we submitted and were extremely pleased with our decision as we were knee deep in mud from the minute we stepped outside the camp’s electrified fence (to keep the elephants out).  The mud made for quite slow night walking as you had you had to step with great care so as not to lose your boot entirely and fall face first into the squelching filth - as one of the Americans demonstrated quite early on.   We had hoped to see a Slow Loris (who wouldn’t!) but our squeals and remonstrations meant we had to settle for some sleeping birds who eyed us wearily, a centipede and some very small frogs. 

There was another boat ride very early the next morning with more Proboscis to see – now having their breakfast at a very leisurely pace – mostly just sitting staring into space, sort of like us.  Also several huge water monitor lizards sleeping in trees.  We could hear the Bornean Gibbons calling the in the trees further back but they never came close enough to get a glimpse. 

Water monitor lizard

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