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.

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