Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Borneo - Part 2: The End Of An Era

So, what did happen in Kota Kinabalu?  Not a lot really, but I was very busy doing it.

Lucy's proved to be a great base for my time in Sabah.  Apart from the midnight curfew, which proved to be a bit of a stumbling block from the very start.  Until now we had not been out drinking too late, but on arrival were greeted by Denise who was having her last night of freedom before heading to a teaching job in Kabul for a year.  Needless to say it was only right to see her off in style.  Midnight came and went and much karaoke was sung (I will not say enjoyed) and we had to spend our first night in a different hostel.

Kota Kinablu is a nice city but there isn't much to do beyond drinking and shopping.  What day trips there are are either expensive or need good weather, which we didn't get to begin.  It is mostly used by travellers as a stopover on their way to other excursions in Sabah, such as scuba diving, rainforest tours and climbing Mount Kinabalu.  We got ourselves booked onto a trip to the Kinatabangan River as soon as possible and headed to Sepilok to start our rainforest experience at the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre.  Here they rehabilitate orphan orangutans so that can be released into the wild when they are fully grown.  Visitors are able to view the orangutans twice a day during feeding times.  It could possibly be seen as a bit tacky, especially the amount of visitors that crowd onto the viewing platforms, but the money does go to a very good cause and many of the orangutans at the centre may never even get that level of exposure to humanity, as other feeding platforms are not accessible.

Our real experience started with a transfer to the Kinatabangan Nature Lodge where we would have river cruises and jungle treks and the chance of seeing animals in their habitat.  At first this was a lot of monkeys - Proboscis and Macaques, and on the night trek nothing but a kingfisher (which everyone seemed to see, no matter which night they saw it on, on the same branch, leading to the theory that it was in fact just stuck there).  What we did get, however, was a 4 foot long Doctored Cat Snake in the open roof space of the dorms which was chasing a very large Gecko for it's tea.  This moment spawned a lot of excitement, and some terror when it disappeared.  It was eventually shooed of into the undergrowth, which I'm sure was perfectly safe.  A 3 hour day trek did not reveal anything except some old elephant tracks, but it was a good experience of being in the rainforest.  Our first treat came on the second day - a sighting of an orangutan in the wild.

These are rare as they like to stay away from rivers (they can't swim) and this one was staying above a small lodge, so clearly had no issues with humans.  And we finally saw lots of birds, which had been noticeably missing from the earlier cruises.  Although these were far away in the tops of trees, it was nice to see the Hornbills of Borneo.  And then we had our biggest surprise as another boat went passed us - and there was Rob from Miri grinning and waving!  Much to the bemusement of everyone else dates were arranged over the water to meet up back in Kota Kinabalu.  We got our final treat on the last morning - the eyes of a crocodile peeping up out of the river.

I have heard of better sightings than this, but at least we could check it off the list.  The only animal we didn't get to see was the Borneo Pygmy Elephant.  These are very rare and you either see none or entire herds.  The river is long but the forest curtain narrow, so seeing these elephants can never be guaranteed.  We were told that this nearest herd had travelled further up the river a couple of weeks previously.  Apparently they returned a couple of weeks later...

We returned to Lucy's and settled into life again.  The friends that we had made only a few days earlier had gone on their ways, but new ones were not far away.  Eventually the weather improved and we made full advantage by heading out to the local islands to take in some snorkeling. I'm not a big fan of water so this was a bit nervy, but to see live coral reefs with the most amazing fish and other sea life was wonderful.  Discussions with various people over the next couple of weeks have mad me seriously consider diving to experience further what lies below the surface.

Sally was due to leave at the end of the week and so on our last night we met up with Rob as arranged and our friend Anna, who we had met before heading to the river.  And then the first farewell had to be made.  I had been travelling with Sally for 7 weeks and it had been an amazing adventure, but she had to return to real life.  I feel she has prepared me well for the months to come, but it was time to do it alone.  Which meant staying where I was awaiting the big event for Borneo - the ascent of Mount Kinabalu.  I was not left alone however.  Rob had also left for further adventures but Anna was still here for a couple of days and so we did what you do in Kota Kinabalu - drink, shop, and watch films.  The Sunday market was fun (apart from the possibly dead pets) with the most incredible range of large foam food fridge magnets.  But that fun was also soon over, and saying goodbye to another friend I looked forward to my first night alone in a 6-bed dorm.

This feels like a short blog, and the next is not far away, but chapters of our lives are not of standard lengths.  That would be dull.  And this is a good time to end this chapter.  With the departure of Anna I was alone.  I knew no one in the city.  It's not a great feeling.  But it was short lived.

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