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

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Time Flies

The days on this trip are melting away, but I have made some observations over the week...

This trip has been a mixture of success and failure. I failed to complete the Jungle Walk because it was too steep at the beginning. I felt pathetic and worthless following that little problem but, as we say in re-enactment, suck it up princess. I struggled for a bit, but with support from home (god bless the internet and Facebook!) I picked up again.
I have some photos,which have no specific category but things that have caught my attention over the last few days...

This gentleman is the resident musician and he also does a mean doorbell impression - whenever there is a new arrival (or he is bored) he cranks out a tune on the bonang...I remember a kids TV show that had, when the doorbell rang, this annoying refrain of 'There's somebody at the door, there's somebody at the door...etc' - and I now find myself singing this every time I hear the bonang chime...

An impulse buy before setting off was my first pair of jelly shoes for swimming and sea paddling. They are very practical and meet the requirement, especially as the hot sun heats the ground and sand to a blistering temperature - and are a pretty purple...

The man who pays the piper calls the tune...and these two members of staff must have drawn the short's 33C in the shade and they are dressed as bunnies to give away ice creams around the pool. I was thrilled, initially, to receive a purple lolly - only to discover I do not like yam flavoured ice cream...!

When one's gardeners have to tend the palm trees, they need a bigger scythe - say hello to their leetle friend! I watched, fascinated, as these gardeners carefully manoeuvred this extremely long palm scythe around the pool and into the garden...

We are not the only country with this new Monopoly money made of plastic - Borneo also has new notes, complete with see through bit. While the new notes are shiny and clever, as at home I have a deep seated preference for the old notes....but then I still miss the green pound note ;-)

Even the moths are big here; this is, I think, a sphinx moth I found while talking to the excursions clerk. She trilled 'take a picture, take a picture!' - so I did...fricken huge thing about two inches long...
Postscript to this bit, when coming 'home' last night my neck itched and when I scratched at it something huge and papery flew into my hand and then veered off, crashed into the ceiling of my room and ended up on the ledge out of fluttered and rustled periodically and very spookily last night until I fell asleep. I think it perished as it has been silent since...

So that brings us to day seven and the main reason I came to Borneo...more tomorrow.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Day Three - gone but not forgotten

What happened to day three I hear you ask....well, so do I! Being in paradise does not mean I left my Black Dog at home and he came along for the trip. Yesterday he tried whispering in my ear again and I listened - for a while.

Anyway, what have I been up to? On Wednesday (day two) I took the chance of the 'Cultural Evening' in the Tepi Laut restaurant. There I was, sitting on my lonesome with a plate of noodles and veg, miles away from the stage and a figure appeared at my side 'Would you like to join us? We've been given this huge table right by the stage...'but I jump ahead...
Back to Karen :-) 
I met Karen on my first day when wandering on the beach - she and daughter Addie were playing in the sand and we got chatting - how glad I was to meet Karen, as I found out over the coming days.
Day two I pretty much lived in the pool - I love it, so easy for me to get in with arthritis and WARM - and reclined in the shade. And who should say hello in the pool, but Karen - this time with son Jacob. We caught up and she kindly suggested adventures for me. Not wanting to appear the clingy Brit, I chatted then swam off with nice words in my head.
For lunch I decided to ditch the Brit and enjoyed veggie vermicelli and spring rolls (using chopsticks of course) - so delicious and filling without being filling, if you know what I mean (nods to girlfriends).
More lazing by the pool people-watching...Mostly oriental, Japanese, Chinese and Korean, and Antipodean (Aussie and Kiwi)...I have come to the conclusion I am the ONLY Brit here.
Day over, cue 'Cultural Evening' and feeling lonely at my little table for one with Black Dog already whispering,,,,and then a cheerful voice 'Would you like to join us? We've been given this huge table right by the stage...'
So I spent the evening with Karen, husband Nick and kiddies Addie and Jakey. The culture was fun - singing, dancing, blowpipes, and fire-eating,  and so much more entertaining for being with someone to talk to and kids playing. I know I usually manage fine on my own, but I think Karen was sent to ease me into Borneo more gently than I was trying.

Day Two dawned and I was in a bad place. I had been awake until past 3am worrying and slept right through breakfast waking nauseous and sore, smothered in sandfly bites and burnt. I was so careful too - but the Malay sun got to me. Not really sure what to do, after a brief swim I retired to my room, and slept, drank water and slept some more. Black Dog was in his element, whispering how I deserved this, how stupid I could be to think I could do this, I was covered in bruises, even my face, I was all alone 7,000km from home and it was all my fault, I should act my age and not expect so much from life. I slept and cried, and slept some more
So,,,,day four has dawned....I was up for breakfast, and as I was choosing my danish a familiar cheery voice said 'How are you doing today?' Karen was back and I explained about the bad day, bites, burns etc. She directed me to the pharmacy, and the shop and was incredibly strong for me. And Jakey told me all about the animals he had seen on the nocturnal walk, stirring those desires in me again - the main reason I was here, animals. Spurred on by a decent breakfast I got antihistamines for my bites, calamine lotion for my burns, and new sun cream. I sat in reception for a long while reading and looking out over the China Sea reminding myself how lucky I Black Dog slowly faded into the background again. I sorted my money, worked out local currency enough to give the right money in the shop and finally I stopped at the trips desk and booked my Jungle Walk and Nocturnal Walk (thanks Jacob x).
So now I sit here on room-rest - ordered by the pharmacist - and feeling much more positive about this adventure. The antihistamine is kicking in quickly, my a/c is on and my calamine lotion is already working...I sure don't look pretty but it is working!
And I have jungle time and animals to look forward to - tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow...

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Day One...

So...after a hellish flight and a decent night's sleep, yesterday was spent mostly mooching on the beach barefoot, picking up shells and feeling very 'Tenko' and then an afternoon nap.
Learning by experience, even in that short walk I burned...and shoes are definitely required on the paths!! Hot hot hot!
But oh so lovely, beautiful vistas across the beach and South China Sea.

Came back hot but contented, stopped off at the aid station for chilled drinking water - yep it is free from huge iced dispensers!
No lugging heavy bottles about... #5starbaby

I ended my first day with a meal in the hotel Italian restaurant, their minestrone was perfect and served traditionally, but the gnocchi was instantly forgettable...

I walked out of restaurant to find burning fountains and beautifully lit pools looking exotic and serene....

Couple more days unwinding in the hotel and I'll be ready for some trips....

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Reincarnation for Utopia

So, another try at resurrecting my blog. Mainly because there is too much to say for Facebook...

About 18 months ago I was inspired to consider holidaying in Malaysia as I had come into some extra funds and Borneo was the #1 choice destination because of the orangutans (I support several animal charities out there).
Long story short, I saved up the extra and spent six months planning my trip. 

The trip of a lifetime didn't have an auspicious start...

The plan was - fly to Singapore and then shuttle across to Kota Kinabalu...simples.

So I woke at 5am to travel to Heathrow...I always hate that there is a 5am...anyway, I digress. Me, one very heavy suitcase and one light backpack pitched up on time for the 13 hour flight and waited....and waited....and waited...
Finally, two hours late, my flight began to taxi and my holiday of a lifetime had technically started. However, as the connecting time was only 75 minutes at Singapore, I knew from the get go I was not going to make the local flight.
13 hours in an aeroplane flying economy, is a trial all of itself.With an elderly lady in front who insisted in having her seat reclined the whole time and a teenage girl behind me who was obviously a football fan, from the amount of kicking she did, it was not a restful flight. The policy on long haul flights is to feed you and then encourage you to sleep, that way you are less likely to cause trouble. Once dinner was finished and cleared away the lights were dimmed and we settled down. I think I finally managed about four hours sleep, interspersed with various movies from their wide collection.
Now, I know my maths is basic, but I was right - 120 minutes does not equate to 75 minutes and we were way late for the Kota Kinabalu flight - only problem, there is only one flight a day from Singapore. I threw myself on the mercy of the lovely girls on the Transfer Desk and imagine my surprise when they said they were flying me out via Brunei. I've never been to Brunei - actually unless you count the airport, I still haven't been to Brunei!! At this point I was wondering what would happen with my hotel transfer - I mean 5* is 5* but would they take into account my 6 hour delay?
To their credit, Royal Brunei were brilliant, shuttled me around Malaysia on time and with the most amazing politeness, although I was now wondering about my suitcase's final destination.
Finally, after 28 hours travelling, I was finally in Kota Kinabalu. I was exhausted but somewhat victorious. I had travelled 7,000 miles alone and, despite various hurdles, I had done it without incident. Even more amazing, as I walked off the little creaky A320 plane I noticed my lilac suitcase had also made it 7,000 miles with some detours and arrived at exactly the same time as I did....
So, somewhat inspired despite the fatigue, I made a short pitstop at the airport washroom. After carefully reading the notices ( I always read signs - it's the H&S officer in me) I tripped on the step they warned me about in the notices and fell face first onto the slate floor.
It was with a loose tooth and a bloodied and bruised face that I staggered out of Kota Kinabalu International Airport to find a local waiting for me with my name scribbled on a sheet of paper. I have never been so happy to see a little Malaysian man...I was so relieved I nearly cried. From then on I was not permitted to lift a finger. He manfully toted my case into the little old van and pootled me out through rush hour to the hotel.
At the Rasa Ria Hotel and Spa you are welcomed by the greeting gong, and when the gong sounds the local instruments are played, you are guided to a seat and a welcoming fruit drink is pressed into your hand (none of the old hoi polloi queuing at the reception desk) - so all in all, a unique arrival after an unusual trip.

**Oh, did I not mention the reason for the delay in the first place? One of the ground crew in Heathrow collided with our plane...yes, he didn't see the enormous double decker A380 and drove his vehicle into the plane...