In which Jo gets a hand holding offer on the bus and Cath is robbed in the night.
Starring Orang-utans who bring their own umbrellas and a boy with a cardboard box full of kittens
Jo had been travelling for almost continually for 24 hours so we decided that the best thing to do as soon she arrived was to get straight on a bus. I say straight on a bus but what I actually mean is that we wandered around Sandakan a few times, looping backwards and forwards (through some fairly disgusting puddles) between conflicting sets of instructions before eventually boarding the No 16 bus to Sepilok. As we were the only tourists on it, and in fact the only ones with any luggage, we took possession of the back seat and settled in as the bus wound its gradual, frequently stopping way, through the suburbs of Sandakan. About ten minutes into the journey a man got on and despite the large number of empty seats elsewhere in the bus asked to squeeze in beside Jo. Then he wanted to take our picture. We eventually agreed. Then he wanted to take a picture with just Jo. She eventually agreed. Could he hold her hand in the picture? “No!” we all yelled in unison. He was replaced by a bunch of sniggering school boys one of whom was brave enough to strike up a conversation. His favourite subject was science.
The bus took almost three hours to get to Sepilok (about two hours longer than we had expected) and we kept having to go up and ask the driver if we were there yet because Cath vaguely remembered that there had been some kind of monkey on the roundabout where we were due to get off. What we discovered quite quickly is that every single roundabout in the wider Sandakan area has some kind of large animal sculpture on it. We passed plastic proboscis monkeys and faded giant crabs before finally, finally getting off at the moulding orang-utans.
|View from our balcony|
The hostel in Sepilok was gorgeous – a stilted wooden hut with an outdoor rain shower (like rain but not actually rain) and a balcony looking out over the jungle that was just perfect for sundowners. Earplugs mandatory thanks to the roaring of the insects and scuttling of various creatures. It wasn’t until we were packing up that we discovered two energy bars had been stolen from deep in Cath’s bag during the night and consumed in haste beneath one of the beds. That is why it’s important in the jungle to always, always take the top bunk.
The first afternoon we hired a taxi and went out to the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary. This is not so much a sanctuary as a large palm plantation (most of Borneo is covered in them) with a slither of remaining jungle somehow still miraculously inhabited by quite a lot of monkeys who are partial to unsugared pancakes. We learnt all of this from a propaganda film that is shown between the feedings that covers exactly what a wonderful man Mr Lee is for feeding these animals in lieu of the restoration of their habitat. Of course for Mr Lee there is the additional benefit of revenue diversification - with tourists paying a fair whack, he’s sure to be ok should the palm oil industry ever, you know, become restricted by let’s say, conservation laws. For someone quite prone to getting wound up, the video contains enough sentimental tosh and artificially created ‘poor monkey’ narratives, to sufficiently incense. Unfortunately its surprisingly easy to calm down and forget about the ethics of it all when you are three foot away from one of the strangest creatures you’ll ever lay eyes on munching on a bunch of his favourite type of leaves.
Under normal circumstances it would have been difficult to top a day with bus hand holding AND proboscis monkeys, but Borneo doesn’t seem to dish out ‘normal’. We spent our second day at the Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre which really is a good thing. They take in animals that have been injured or turned up at markets and socialise them back into the wild. It takes years but they eventually disappear off into the forest and come back for lunch if and when they fancy it. One of the older males disappeared off for ten years before returning again.
During the morning feeding it was pouring with rain but we were still lucky enough to see a mother called Brit turn up with her one year old baby- Charlie. They were shortly joined by the alpha male – Miskin – who despite having bought his own bunch of leaves as an umbrella, helped himself to Brit’s as well. Most people clear off after about half an hour but the orang-utans don’t – we stood around taking pictures until they literally escorted us out of the area. The second feeding was even better with two mom’s and their babies and some juveniles. Miskin was back again paying particular attention to his offspring.
Between viewings we walked down the road to the Rainforest Discovery Centre which is a large park with labelled plants and some nice walkways through the canopies. We didn’t really see anything (wrong time of day) other than lots of colourful insects but we did meet a boy with a box full of kittens going along the road in the opposite direction.
More pictures: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150404942101058.359150.532581057&type=1&l=260f590418