Sunday, November 27, 2016

Leaving Day

After a hesitant start for this solo trip of a lifetime, the last day came round far too quickly.
All packed and ready for off I went down to the Coffee Terrace for my breakfast, like I did every day.

Breakfasts are magnificent at Rasa Ria and there is everything to choose from - Chinese, Thai, Malay, salad, danish, Japanese, English, fresh fruit, toast, a man making fruit juice, a man cooking eggs any way you wanted them, sweets, chocolate fountain...
I loved that the sweets were displayed over the fruit....

My usual breakfast was juice, fruit, danish and toast - and buckets of coffee...although I did try the chocolate fountain on pancakes...

yep chocolate fountain...

But the sweet display was magnificent - and entire wall of marshmallows and jelly beans...

On arrival in the restaurant, my regular server Izza guided me to my usual table - but it didn't look usual that morning...I was touched to find the most beautiful flowers on my table. I loved them so much that I still have the picture as my wallpaper on my phone.

I couldn't eat much for nerves and was ready in plenty of time for my car to the airport.
While we were driving to Kota Kinabalu, I took photos of everything I could bemoaning that I had not made it into the many interesting things to see...but first, a magnificent view of Mount Kinabalu from the Mengkabong River bridge - I spent many happy hours on that river :-)

Trying to take photos from a zippy car was not easy, but I wanted to get an image of home life in Borneo, from blocks of flats, each with their own blue water butt... the more spacious traditional homes - usually over shops and businesses.

and the stunning architecture of the City Mosque, second main mosque in KK, bordered on one side by roads and the other side by water, absolutely stunning.

And finally, the anachronism I saw on my arrival in the city, which bothered me the whole two weeks...Borneo has seen an influx of fast food, an irony itself in a country of fast cooking. McDonalds, Pizza Hut and KFC are all fighting for trade with more traditional noodle and coffee houses.
This KFC is a gleaming glass and chrome building, brightly lit and popular...

...sat cheek by jowl with a traditional Malay street market, virtually empty and the coffee house with a couple of die-hard customers.

And so were sown the first seeds of my decision to return to see everything I missed this time round.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Drawing to a Close

Where was I...?

Sorry, dear reader - I have been distracted by work recently. Lots of stuff happening in November, so my holiday memories took a back seat.

Britain does not have the monopoly on rain, but at least in Malaysia it rains quick and hard then dries just the same way. In the last week of October with Hurricane Haima off coast we had a couple of gorgeous tropical downpours. I found it very restful to watch the rain drops ping off the ornamental pond in an almost musical rhythm....

The staff are most pragmatic and well practised about it - clearing outdoor tables is a work of minutes and the sunbed mattresses are tucked under to avoid the worst of the rain.

One bonus of the rain was seeing this little man - or girl....a water monitor decided to come to bask by the ornamental pond. My server Izza asked what I was looking at and I pointed saying 'that large lizard', she chuckled and replied 'huh, him SMALL lizard!' :-)

Doing some research, I bow to Izza's knowledge - this was indeed a small, young water monitor - they grow quite big!

And saving for my last night, the excursion everyone recommended - the fireflies.

We were picked up by Nasim again and whisked to the same dock, ten minutes from the hotel. As the sun set we cast off and headed north on the Mengkabong River in the hunt for these elusive insects. With Mount Kinabalu watching over us we zipped up the river waving to fishermen and other tour boats.

Now I have never seen fireflies and had no idea what I was going to see, so this was a final adventure for me.
As we entered the mangroves for the second time it got dark really quickly and, with the rain holding off and the moon obscured, conditions were perfect for fireflies. The mother next to me had explained to me that we were there to see fairies, according to her three year old daughter Bea, so we were ready to see fairies.
The boat came to an idle and we looked about in the dark expectantly. Nasim told us no camera flashes and no torches as they would frighten off the sensitive insects. The local boys have learned the best way to encourage the flies to light up and respond to them, so we waited hopefully.
There are no words expressive enough to describe the first sight of a whole bush lit up with fireflies. Like a hundred tiny LED lights they sparked up and then danced about in the bushes. Bea was, in her innocence, absolutely right, they weren't flies they were definitely fairies, skipping about in the dark and having little parties.
As we turned corner after corner Nasim kept us on tenterhooks before flashing his torch under his shirt to encourage the little flies to light up. About half way through he showed us how he could attract the flies to the boat, so much so he could catch them.
One of my enduring memories is sitting in a boat in the dark peering into my cupped hands and seeing a tiny firefly lighting up my fingers. There were six adults and two kiddies on the boat and the choruses of ooohhhs and aahhhhs came in waves as we were immersed in the nighttime mangroves.
While the understandable ban on flashes meant no decent photographs, I was so blown away by the incredible beauty and dreamscape effect created by the fairies, I wouldn't have been able to drag my eyes away to take pictures anyway. At one point there were so many fireflies lit up we didn't know where to look first and I felt the first tears pricking my eyes that the next day I would be travelling home from this magical place.
Pictures courtesy of the interweb to give you an idea of the experience I will never forget;

I arrived home at the hotel at 8pm ready for some dinner and with time left to pack ready for the morning departure.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Nocturnal Animal Watch...and Watch....and Watch

Being unable to do the jungle walks, the nocturnal animal watch was my last chance to see some of the local fauna in the hotel's neighbouring rainforest.
Starting out with one of the local hens who settled to roost every evening in the Nature Centre toilets...I loved this girl's quirk

And I loved the 'waiting area', a stone built hut open to the neighbouring windows. While one waited, one couldn't help thinking (and hoping?) about what was the other side of the three foot wall....

My first nocturnal animal watch was a bust; after 40 minutes we had only seen a rather ponderous tortoise, so Le Roy called it a night and took me back - but disappointment turned to thrill when a viper was pointed out only a metre from me, snoozing in the fork of a tree.

Outside the Nature Reserve my torch flicked over something unusual and on closer inspection I found a moving shell, home to a hermit crab. I've never seen one in real life, so that warranted a photo...and to that I added the biggest snail I have ever seen, the shell must have been two inches across... reminding me how far from home I was...

Two days later I put on my one long sleeved shirt yet again (note to self, pack more long sleeved shirts next time!), liberally sprayed myself with my super dooper insect repellent and trundled off down the hotel path lit by my little emergency torch...

I was not alone this time (with a group of four Brits), and with the proper Ranger, Sabinus, back on duty we began a two hour vigil to see, hopefully, bearcats, civets, deer, snakes, etc.
This was my view for the two hours. sitting in a hide with an area of the rainforest subtly lit so we could see any visitors.

And did we...? Nah...
Despite Sabinus baiting the area with two cans of sardines (interesting experience, spending two hours inhaling sardine fumes) and, later, some delicious bananas we saw nothing more than a rat chancing his arm for some free banana. Finally, as we were getting tired and disappointed, we saw movement. As I craned into the dark I saw a porcupine (my first wild one!) which snuffled across the area. It was not interested in the free food, but happily wandered across our view and off into the dark. Unfortunately, no flash meant no decent photo of the beastie, but I held my breath as it pottered through the leaf litter sniffing all the interesting aromas left from the day. 
But he/she looked a lot like this picture of a Malayan Porcupine from the innerwebz;

So, the nocturnal watch was a complete bust, and this was my main opportunity to see the wildlife as the walks were prohibitive with mobility issues.

When I was later asked for feedback I let them know my disappointment on the jungle walks to the hotel and this was the lovely response I received from the Director of the Nature Reserve;

"Your comment was shared with our Nature Reserve team as soon as it was received. Please do accept our apology for any inconvenience caused to you due to the lay out of the tracks within the Nature Reserve. For your information, we are in the midst of creating a trail system that can be utilized by all nature lovers without involving any slopes or more challenging terrain during the tour. We will also be introducing the use of night-vision goggles to make jungle trekking in the evening, and nocturnal watch even more interesting.
We sincerely hope to be given another opportunity to welcome you to our resort soon. Should there be anything that I can do to assist you in any way, please do not hesitate to contact me directly."

And so I began my plans to return...the place kinda gets under your skin.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

On the River

Animals out of the way, for now, it was time to explore the local area. What better way than by boat - up the Megkabong River into the Mangrove forests and on into the local fishing community. This was a great opportunity to see how the local population live and earn their living.

Puttering up the river, after checking out a soaring sea eagle (too far away to photograph), we got an amazing view of Mount Kinabalu with a glorious coronet of clouds. I could see why the locals are proud of their mountain, a 4,000m World Heritage site which attracts climbers and hikers from around the world.

Then we had an up close and personal trip through the mangroves, seeing the unique flora that grows in the tidal brackish waters. Malaysia is the third biggest mangrove holding country in the world, with Sabah holding half of that record - and we only saw a tiny, tiny part of it.

I was holding out for a mangrove crocodile (and Nasim did his best to spot one for me) - but had to settle for white cranes and macaques...neither of which stayed still long enough for photos.

After this fun trip through the maze of mangroves to the soundtrack of cicadas and diesel engines, we stopped at a village of Malay stilt houses to visit with the locals. As we debarked we noticed local women gutting the morning catch ready for home and market, these people redefined 'upcycling' - everything they use is in a second or third existence. 

I thought I saw lots of waste plastic in the water, and after thinking 'what a shame', I realised they made brilliant free buoys for the fishing spots. Tied together, milk bottles jostling with coke bottles and random plastic containers were unique markers for each fisherman.
The government built new stilt housing for the fisherfolk, but only 75% of the populations took up the option, so there is an anachronistic display of old and new houses.

Pandan coconut and sweet coffee awaited us, with a local cake called penjaram - a sweet cakey pancake made of rice flour, flour and sugar. 

The stilt house was obviously the centre of the community, being larger than most with thrones set out for elders and a bonang ready to play. 

A display of local weaving was laid out for us to see and, of course, their prized possesssions - from the shells of enormous mangrove horseshoe crabs, elderly bonang to the remnants of an ornate old school telephone and a battered typewriter.

Sitting on the floor seeing the water through the gaps was a weird sensation and after our coffee break we peered out of the window flap to see catfish frolicking under the house enjoying the penjaram scraps thrown by Nasim. While looking out the window, Nasim pointed out a neighbouring stilt house where he was born and grew up. A quick hello to hissing feral kittens and it was time to say goodbye to the local woman hosting us.

On our way back we pootled past an island that is the burial ground of the Sama-Bajau people; a race found across South East Asia. While they were historically involved in two uprisings against the North Borneo Chartered Company they are now peaceful people trying to follow their fishing traditions in a quickly changing modern world. 
Tied to branches of trees jutting out of the rock were cloths of yellow, red and white. These were gifts to the spirits whenever a wish was granted. Nasim pointed this out very proudly, as he is descended from the very people buried on this island.

Then a gentle trundle back to the mooring and we were whisked back to the hotel, hot, speechless and overawed.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Once in a Lifetime - Part 2

So, once the orangutans were checked out, it was time for a first for me - Sun Bears. As the day got progressively hotter, we crossed to the other side of the sanctuary to check out the Sun Bear enclosure.
Also known as the honey bear for its love of honey, the Sun Bear is the smallest, least well-known and one of the rarest of all the bear species.The Sun Bear can be clearly distinguished from other bears by a white or yellowish patch on the chest - every patch pattern is unique and is their identifying mark. Sun Bears are excellent climbers and spend considerable time in trees. They feed on sweet fruits, small rodents, birds, termites, and other insects. Like other bears in Asia, Sun Bears are hunted for their gall bladders and other body parts for medicinal uses that have been proven by science to have no medical value at all - they are classed as Vulnerable.

Enough education - we want photos!!

They are so cute...

Showing off his Sun Patch

Happy little bear rolling in leaves - move along now..

OK, one more LOL - check out the claws designed for climbing trees and their long tongue is perfect for poking into holes to get juicy honey/wee beasties etc

Digging out scrummy titbits......

More soon....

Friday, October 21, 2016

Once in a Lifetime - Part 1

Those who know me well will be aware I am very supportive of animal charities, both home and abroad - and this is what partly led me 7,000km away from home to have my holiday.

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Sandakan is, in essence, a sanctuary for orphan Bornean orangutans preparing them for life back in the jungle. As the jungle is being decimated daily, first for logging then for palm oil, whether or not they will have a home is still under debate around the world.
But I digress, this is all about the animals, not the politics (Monkey World Director Dr Alison Cronin has taught me well).

I hasten to add, Sepilok is not the ONLY rehabilitation centre in Borneo, there are others such as those supported by International Animal Rescue and Centre for Orangutan Protection in the southern states. Those are not open to the public and they do a lot of wonderful unsung work there - my adopted orangutan rescue Gito is with International Animal Rescue in Ketapang. I will never meet or see Gito in the flesh (or fur) but I know he is well and thriving and has a safe home with IAR.

So, back to Sepilok; after a 3.30am alarm call and a hairy drive through the remnants of a tropical storm, I boarded the flight for Sandakan. After a timely flight and prompt pickup by my SDN driver I was whisked off to Sepilok, abuzz with nervous tension and anticipation.
The way trips are organised here is madness, so many tour operators using the same resources, so drivers are picking up and dropping off tourists all over the place. I was collected with a couple from another flight, but when we got to Sepilok we had to wait for the rest of our party who were being delivered by another driver....

Oh, you want to see Orangutans - not read my boring journal?...ok :-)

First the babies in the nursery - very young orphan orangutans, learning to fly and dangle, what is good to eat and what is not...

And then the juvenile feeding, as they grow orangutans become darker and their faces change shape, depending on their gender.

And finally, after all the excitement of the centre, while we were having lunch - we spotted a WILD orangutan with her juvenile in the canopy, hoorah!! We played spot the ginger for a while, she was very good at staying hidden...

Next - Sun Bears