Hi everyone, and welcome to the next installment of my blog. The brighter amongst you may realise that I am currently about 2 weeks behind, but it has been so hard to get online recently, what with being in the rainforest and all (the rainforest does not have internet, I was disgusted.) But I plan to be up to date by the weekend.
So, I left you in Poring Hot Springs, with the taste of dried cicadas in my mouth. We woke up the following morning, still exhausted and completely unable to walk down steps without looking like emaciated old people. We hobbled onto a (very posh) bus bound for our next stop, which was to be a night deep in the jungle. The bus actually had a TV and DVD player, and we were delighted that they put on American Gangster. The administration of this film says a lot about Malaysian culture: the many graphic scenes of violence and drug abuse were happily displayed to all on board, which included a large number of children, but as soon as any scene involving kissing or sex cropped up, the guy with the remote was quick to forward through it. I actually saw a body lotion advert on the back of a magazine today, which displayed a woman's bare arse from the side. Somebody had thoughtfully glued a piece of paper over this obscenity to avoid embarrassment (and possible sexual corruption) of the viewer.
We arrived at the headquarters of the jungle project, which is set up to educate travellers and the global community on the delights of the jungle. We then took a 15 minute ride by motorised long boat to our camp for the night. Here we were given a hammock, and a tarpaulin, and taught to put up our bed for the night. This was much more complicated than it looked, and most of us were at least a bit worried that it would collapse in the dead of night. But having tested their strength, we climbed back aboard the longboat for a ride down the secluded river to look for wildlife. It really was like being in Jurassic Park: so tropical and exotic. We saw many hornbills and macaque monkeys, as well as proboscis monkeys. These are locally called Dutchman, as their massive red noses and huge bellies make them look like early Dutch settlers. Unfortunately it started to rain torrentially, so we headed back to the campsite to hide under tarpaulins and eat our dinner.
The rain stopped shortly after we had finished eating, and we were able to go on a night walk. The sounds of the jungle were incredible - there really are a lot of insects and frogs which can make a good bit of noise. Unfortunately we also had to deal with sucking mud: I fell into one puddle up to my ankle.... and the leeches. we managed to get these all over us, and they were a nigthmare to get off again. Mostly the guide managed to pull them off for us, until I managed to get one in my bra, in between my boobs. I had to deal with that one myself. I felt slightly better about all this when I discovered that leeches only need to eat once a year - once that slimy thing had sucked enough blood from my boob it would drop off and just go and chill out on leaves for a whole year. So I suppose I'd done it a good turn really.
We clambered into our hammocks for an early night as we were all expecting to sleep badly. But in fact it was one of my best night's sleep on this trip. It was so cosy under my mosquito net listening to the sound of the rain on the tarpaulin. Not so good for our 55 year old Australian called Susan though, whose tarpaulin leaked - she had to spend the night on the dining table in the communal area sleeping on a pile of lifejackets.
I will interject here to say that I have just received my second compliment of the day on my shirt, while going to top up my internet time. If you want to look cool in Malaysia, it seems that blue Lonsdale t shirts with silver writing on them could not be more hip-hop-happening.
I woke up in my hammock on Saturday morning, and was extremely delighted to be waking up on my birthday in a hammock in the jungle. Beats being hungover at GP this time last year! We had an early breakfast and climbed aboard a longboat for a morning cruise. We were absolutely delighted to see 2 wild orang-utans in the trees that morning - extremely rare as there are not many left in the wild. We went back to the jungle headquarters for a day of cultural experience, which included dancing, a martial arts display, a fishing lesson and a cooking lesson - we cooked our own lunch and it was delicious. After this they presented me with a birthday cake and all sung to me - a really lovely surprise.
Our group then challenged the locals to a game of volleyball (which I watched as I thought it would give my team a better chance of winning.) They still lost but they did very well against the locals who get to practice against a new group every week.
We spent that night in a local muslim family's house - 3 of us stayed in my house. Not many of them spoke any English at all, although the grandmother made up for this by cackling uproariously at nothing in particular through her toothless mouth, and the washing facilities were very basic - a bucket of water in a cement room. But the family were very welcoming and it was a great experience.
The following day we rode to the town of Sandakan, which is an industrial town on the east coast of Borneo. Here we spent the afternoon seeing the sights - the house of Agnes Keith, an author from the 1940s, a Chinese temple, and a war memorial to the thousands of Australian and British troops who died in the most horrifying conditions in a Japanese labour camp on the spot in the 1940s. Truly moving.
We had a delicious evening meal in an English restaurant surrounded by croquet lawns and rose gardens. It was interesting to see the Bornean take on English cuisine, and good to have fish and chips, even though the batter, like all Malaysian batter, bread, pastry, tea, coffee and savoury snacks is actually flavoured with a great deal of sugar.
Monday morning meant a trip to Turtle Island, an island about an hour's boat ride from Sandakan. The island is tiny and can be walked around in about 45 minutes. And it's beautiful - crystal clear waters, coral reef and white sands. We spent the whole day lying on the beach, but despite my carefully applied factor 30 I still burnt really badly. I think this is probably a result of my anti-malarials which make my skin a lot more sensitive to the sun, but it is still very annoying considering I am going to lie around on a beach in Thailand next week!
By now our group had got to know one another really well, so we spent the afternoon drinking and chatting before watching one of the most amazing sunsets I've seen in a long while. We then went to eat dinner and wait in the bar for the turtles to come ashore. Generally several turtles will come ashore every night, and dig a hole to lay their eggs in. When the turtle has been laying eggs for about 45 minutes we get called to the beach. We're not allowed any torches or lights at all (hence no photos) as the light can disrupt the process, but while laying her eggs the turtle is in a kind of trance and doesn't notice 40 people crowded around her. As soon as the eggs are laid, they are collected by one of the beach rangers, who buries them inside a secure area, away from predators. The turtle then fills in the empty hole and digs another hole to confuse predators, and then heads off happily into the sea. The eggs take 60 days to hatch, and a turtle will typically lay between 40 and 160 eggs - of these about 85% will hatch. Some of the eggs are buried in the shade and some in the sun. This is because a difference of about four degrees fahrenheit can mean the difference between the babies being male or female!
As soon as the baby turtles have burrowed their way to the surface, they are collected, and released into the water under cover of darkness - we got to see this too. They are only about as long as a finger, and scurry down the beach into the sea - a great thing to watch. Only 2-3% of these turtles will actually reach adulthood, the rest are caught by predators, and that is why what the rangers do on the island is so important in sustaining the turtle population.
On Tuesday we took a boat back to the mainland, passing several waterspouts in the distance. We got taxis to the Sepilok nature reserve which houses an orang-utan rehabilitation centre. We made it in time to see the morning feeding, and it was well worth the hurry. We were lucky enough to see about seven orang utans make their way along the ropes to the feeding area - including one baby. They are incredibly articulate and expressive creatures and are so amazing to watch. While I was stood at the front of the observation deck one of them jumped onto the fence right in front of me - I got a great picture!
The rehabiliation centre is for orang-utans which have been orphaned, displaced, or are sick. The aim is to gradually train or encourage them to return to their own communities. They are able to come and feed at the feeding platforms twice every day but many of them start to live by themselves in the rainforest and don't come back. It looks like a very rewarding job though as the orang-utans really bond with the park staff. We watched a video of a load of babies being wheeled around in a wheelbarrow, it was so cute!
After the feeding we went for a walk in a nearby rainforest park. Again, I cannot stress enough how ridiculously boiling and humid it is all the time, and to stand still and feel the sweat running down your back is a pretty novel experience. The walk was worth it though as I sweated all the way to the top of a 40m high observation tower and saw an orang utan sitting in the tree right next to me.
Our next trip was an optional trip to a Proboscis monkey sanctuary - the ones I told you about called the Dutchmen. It was a really irritating journey as our taxi drivers got hopelessly lost, despite claiming they knew where they were going, and we almost missed the feeding time. Luckily though, we made it just in time and it was definitely worth it. There were no barricades so we could go as close to the monkeys as they would let us. We also got to stroke Silverleaf monkeys which have David Beckham-style mohicans, and carry orange babies. So worthwhile. Check out my photos, the proboscis monkeys were hilarious. I have a great video too, they make these hysterical burping noises through their noses!
That night we had a delicious barbecue sat out in the rainforest listening to all the crazy insect noises, before heading off to the airport the next morning.
The following day we headed to Sandakan airport, and flew back to Kota Kinabalu where this part of the trip started. We spent the night in a really relaxed hotel where we could laze by the pool or on the beach. The more active amongst us even went for a game of badminton and sweated profusely (I did not partake). That night the tide was so low that we could walk all the way out to one of the islands on sandbars. We saw the most breathtaking sunset, before heading back to the hotel for our final dinner as a group. This was a lovely group and I was really sad to leave them.
I think this is probably a wise place to stop this blog now. I have a load more to tell but I will put that up tomorrow....
p.s. check out my photos as they should all be up there now xx