Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Sepilok Jungle Trek and Unexpected Orangutan Photo Shoot

We had opted to stay for both of the day's feedings at Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (good tip - the entry ticket is for the day, rather than one feeding, so why not?). In between the feedings we took a trek through the surrounding jungle. Unfortunately there was only one short route accessible, but it was a pretty pleasant and easy walk and we were able to take our time and keep an eye out for wildlife. As is often the case in the jungle, we could hear plenty of wildlife but couldn't see a great deal. We heard plenty of woodpeckers in close proximity, but even after spending a while in a bird-spotting tower, and with the assistance of Mr Lego Explorer were only able to spot a couple of them.

We did come across a pretty cool looking bug...

...as well as a couple of beautiful snakes...

...and a slightly podgy lizard.

After our jungle walk we returned to the visitor centre expecting to rest for a while before the second orangutan feeding. What we weren't expecting was a private orangutan photoshoot. It turned out that while we had been exploring the jungle a gorgeous juvenile orangutan had been exploring the visitor centre. There were just a few other tourists present to take advantage of the opportunity to see a wild orangutan in such close proximity. She wasn't the most co-operative of models because she was too preoccupied with playing and didn't stay still for very long, but I managed to get a handful of good photos.


 The experience was slightly dampened by the fact that one of the Sanctuary staff eventually led the orangutan away by the hand. I would like to think that it had been a completely natural turn of events that we had been luckily enough to stumble across, however I suspect that the orangutan was also led to the visitor centre. Even so, it was still a fantastic, and unexpected, experience that we're unlikely to ever have again.

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre Part 1

From Kuching at the West end of Borneo we made the long journey to the very East end of the island. We flew from Kuching to Kota Kinbalu, then headed straight out of town to the main bus station, and were lucky enough to get seats on a bus for the 9 hour journey to Sandakan. It made for a very long day, but we covered lots of ground in a short space of time, and consequently gave ourselves more time to see the exciting things that Sabah had to offer.

Sandakan didn't have much going on, except for an area of riverside restaurants. We opted for the only place that offered vegetarian fare for Monique, and which completed the dining experience with loud hip hop complete with highly explicit and uncensored lyrics. A romantic riverside dinner it was not.

We stayed in Sandakan due to its close proximity to Turtle Island – an island that is home to a turtle sanctuary where you can watch a turtle laying eggs on the beach and see baby turtles being released into the sea. Unfortunately the island only has one hotel, and that hotel insists that all visitors stay overnight on the island. We knew that the hotel was expensive, but had decided that it would be worth the splurge for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. However, after liaising with the hotel it turned out that the cost was double what we had expected, we would only be on the island for about 20 hours, and would not be able to see baby turtles being released into the sea. In light of that information we just couldn't justify the expense of visiting the island. In any event, we had already spent plenty of time swimming with turtles in Indonesia, and the chances of the Turtle Island experience being better than that seemed slim. Consequently, after a night in Sandakan we headed back on ourselves by a couple of hours to Sepilok.

We were really pleased with our accommodation in Sepilok; our room was pretty basic as per usual, but it was part of a nice resort with much more expensive rooms, a restaurant, and a swimming pool. It felt much more like we were “proper” people instead of travellers for a change. More importantly, the resort was only a short walk away from the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre.

The following day we made the short walk to Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary and made our way along the jungle walkway to the viewing platform. It was certainly a more slick set-up than we had seen at Semenggoh Orangutan Sanctuary, but the downside to this is that it is a much more popular tourist destination, and consequently a large group of tourists built up after we arrived.

After a long wait two adult orangutans swung their way towards the feeding area. Only when they got closer did we realise that one of the orangutans had brought a baby with her. He/she was adorable! We had plenty of time to watch them as the park staff handed fruit to them. It was clear that they were still extremely comfortable with human interaction from their time at the sanctuary; the downside was that it didn't feel as much like we were seeing wild animals. That said, it was still a great experience and we got to see the orangutans interacting with each other pretty close up.

After the food had run out the orangutans casually made their way back into the trees. One took a snack for the road...

...and the mother orangutan took the opportunity to show her baby off to the visitors.

Due to the number of photos I've opted to split this part of the blog into three sections, so don't worry mom - there's plenty more to come.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Bako National Park

Our second fantastic day-trip from Kuching was to Bako National Park. As a result of the previous problems we had encountered with the local buses we arrived at the bus station a full 30 minutes before the bus was due to depart. However, an Italian/Spanish couple informed us that they had been waiting for well over an hour and not seen a bus going to Bako, so we opted to share a taxi with them to the park. This had the added bonus that we were able to share the cost of the boat journey from the park reception into the jungle.

After arrival we arranged our return boat journey for later that day. After carefully negotiating our way past some wild boars we registered with the visitor centre, selected a suitable route for our trek and set out into the jungle. 

By this point in our trip we had spent a fair amount of time trekking through different types of jungle, and had seen all sorts of wildlife en route. However, what had attracted us to Bako National Park specifically was the possibility of seeing proboscis monkeys which are easily identified by their pot-bellies and huge wobbly noses.

We chose to explore the area of the park in which it is most common to see the proboscis monkeys, and even before we had entered the jungle proper we had our first sighting (albeit a sighting obscured by tree branches) – a family of two adults and a baby proboscis chilling out in the trees on the far side of a narrow river. They are really fantastic looking creatures.  They look a bot like a caricature of a middle-aged man!

After watching for a few minutes we decided that if we had seen some proboscis monkeys already then the park must be full of them, so we headed into the jungle.

As we crossed the boggy area around the mouth of the river we found lots of bizarre looking crabs with colourful markings and just one giant pincer.

For a while that looked as if it may have been a mistake to leave the family of proboscis monkeys so soon; we trekked through the jungle for well over an hour without seeing any wildlife apart from a huge colony of ants.  We saw and heard plenty of movement within the trees, but couldn't see anything at all. The nice thing about having spotted them early on, however, was that the trip had already been worthwhile, so the pressure to spot wildlife was off and we could enjoy the jungle itself. 

Eventually our luck changed and we spotted a small group of proboscis monkeys high up in the tree canopy.  We also discovered that they sound almost as remarkable as they look, because the calls that they were making to one another were unlike any that we had heard before. Unfortunately we weren't able to get any decent photos, but we watched until they moved out of sight, before heading on through the jungle. After about two and a half hours the jungle ended suddenly, and we found ourselves in a beautiful rocky bay. It was really quite bizarre to see jungle and beach right next to each other.

It was a hot day, and clambering up and down through the jungle had taken it out of us, so we took a well deserved rest in the shade before exploring the bay and searching the rock-pools for sea-critters. The most remarkable animals we came across were some strange little fish-type things which had two front legs rather than fins, and lurched around on the sand. It was like looking at some sort of evolutionary link.

We then made our way back into the jungle to return the way we had come. Almost immediately we came across a huge bright green snake making its way through a tree just off the path.

Once again, as we walked we scoured the tree-tops for wildlife. We stopped at various points to investigate movement or sounds in the trees, however it looked like the proboscis monkeys had gone in to hide from the afternoon heat. It therefore came as quite a surprise when we came across this fella sat in the middle of the path dead ahead of us (NB: if you don't want to know how I know he's a fella please don't look too closely at the photo).

After focusing so much on the tree-tops it was completely unexpected to see a huge proboscis monkey sat on the path, so much so that it took a few seconds for either of us to realise what it was. We stood for a few more seconds while he looked straight back at us, before he casually climbed up into the tree next to him. He then seemed happy to sit in the tree not far from us, although frustratingly our view was obscured by branches. In fact, he was so relaxed that he promptly fell asleep. It was a really quite bizarre encounter.

After that, we made our way back through the jungle without any further wildlife encounters. We soon discovered that this was because all the local wildlife seemed to be hanging out near the visitor centre. First we encountered a big gang of rhesus monkeys terrorising some of the park accommodation. We then passed some more wild boars before coming across a group of proboscis monkeys hanging out in a tree right next to the path. After trying so hard to spot them in the jungle it was slightly underwhelming to see that we could have seen plenty of them just by hanging out at the visitor center. That said, it was really great to see such fascinating looking creatures so close up.

That wasn't the final encounter of the day - as we approached the visitor centre we witnessed a truly bizarre scene. The gang of rhesus monkeys we had seen a few minutes before marauded into the cafeteria, and one of them grabbed a bag of potato chips from a table; as the monkey fled the scene he was mugged by his monkey friends and a fight ensued over said potato chips; the fight was resolved by a wild boar who ploughed right through the monkeys, grabbed the potato chips and ran off with the monkeys unsuccessfully chasing after him. It was completely surreal! It also appeared to have riled all of the monkeys in the area, as they started to stare at us menacingly as we passed by them to make our way to where we were due to board our boat back to the mainland.

There was still time for more, as on the way along the beach towards our pick-up point we came across a final group of proboscis monkeys. Unfortunately we didn't really have time to watch them for long because we were running late for our boat.

Monique also discovered a hermit crab who didn't take too kindly to being picked up.


This succession of encounters made for a thrilling end to our visit. Even getting soaked in a torrential downpour on the boat-ride back didn't dampen our spirit. At pretty much any other time the experience of getting soaked whilst hiding behind life-jackets to protect ourselves from the painful rain would have been quite a miserable experience, but neither of us could help but laugh after having such a great day. The only downside was that we both wished that we had enough time to have stayed a night in the park so that we could explore more of it and see more of its fabulous wildlife.