So we spent a lazy morning packing and having breakfast before heading to the long distance bus station to head to Sandakan. The taxi driver told us to go with a certain company as it was safer...we went with the other one! But after the bus drivers in Nepal I assumed these guys couldn't be worse. I hoped. We got on the bus ready for the 6 hour journey across the island. The scenery was stunning going through the Kinabalu National Park and then all the palm plantations. But you quickly realise how much of the rainforest and natural habitat has been lost to the plantations, which are so vast they cover the entire landscape. Then I started to notice the sheer number of palm oil tankers that were on the road to satisfy human consumption at the expense of the wildlife (which is what I'm here to see). To distract me on the journey the driver put on a 'brilliant' film, the classic love story but where the actors can't seem to decide whether to do it in Malay or English so went with a half and half. But tragically I watched it all while Charlie slept most the journey.
The journey over was fine, heavy on the brakes but a breeze compared to Nepal. We checked in to Borneo Sandakan Hostel which is a great little place and went and found a little roof top restaurant for dinner. Other than eating there is nothing going on in Sandakan and best to use only as a base. That night an almighty storm kicked off and seemed to be right above our room, to say it sounded like a war zone would not be a stretch of the imagination.
The next morning (Sunday 26th October) we headed over to the Orangutan Sanctuary for the first feeding after shaking off some random Filipino guy who I think was as high as a kite. There we were fortunate to see 5 Orangutans including a baby. Whilst it sounds a bit zooish for the tourists, it was great and they are rescued Orangutans that are being rehabilitated in an umpteen hectare area, so I thought it was great. After the first feeding we went across to the Sun Bear Sanctuary where they too are rescuing and rehabilitating the bears. The guy there was telling us that the bears are shot in the palm plantations and in one instance he knows of, a cub was being sold at a market as a pet whilst the mum was cut up next to it and the meat being sold. So you can't help but think the sanctuary's are essential. Also in the area is the Rainforest Discovery Centre where you can walk the canopy walkway, but whilst we heard so much, we only glimpsed a squirrel. The midday heat and high humidity probably wasn't the best time to walk around. Then we headed back to the cheeky Orangutans for their final feed and again saw a few new faces as well as mum and baby. The baby had a bit more energy and was trying to learn how to climb and do acrobats up the ropes. Worth coming to Borneo for that moment alone.
That evening we went for a nice cheap local meal where I finally had my first coconut. Again with nothing to do with out evening we ventured into the mall, that killed about 20minutes and that was with us milking it. We admitted defeat and headed back to the hostel.
The next morning we jumped in a shuttle bus and headed to the Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary. I personally think they are hideous as they (the males) seem to have dicks for noses. But it was a nice day seeming them and the silver leaf monkeys, who were grooming each other is some very compromising positions. Again with a few babies scattered about it was great watching them play and scrapping with each other. Back in Sandakan we went for another nice cheap eat on the seafront whilst watching the lightening roll about out at sea. When we got back to the hostel we found Greg in the reception...small world. So we collected him and headed out for dessert (literally the best I've ever eaten) back at the rooftop restaurant followed by several beers on the seafront and back at the hostel to celebrate Charlie's last night.
Feeling a bit worse for wear in the morning, Charlie had hurried off to the airport and I had a lazy morning planning the next part without her. Then headed out for a walk where I stumbled across the English Tea House where I felt obliged to pop in for coffee and a classic scone. Who needs to go back to England when you can pretend to be super English in the sun with a sea view??? Granted the ants made for an annoying companion.
With Charlie having left me, I roped Greg into joining the 2day 2night Kinabatangan river and jungle trip. So the next day, after heading to the local market for lunch Greg, Stephan (a Czech who also joined the tour) and I set off on the 2.5 hour drive to Kinabatangan. On the way we passed 2 large coaches being escorted by the police. The driver informed us they were the buses full Filipino immigrants who will be deported. He said some days the convoy can be up to 5 coaches. We reached the log cabin we were staying in and met Maria from Spain and then set out on our first river cruise. The heavens opened but still spotted the proboscis monkeys, macaques, hornbills amongst other monkeys and birds and then we stumbled across the pygmy elephants. And what a racket they made, as one group tried to scare off another group of elephants. After dinner we went on a night walk in the jungle and spotted a few colourful sleeping birds. Thank god I hired the wellies as in parts the jungle had flooded.
After a crap nights sleep and following another storm, we were back on the boat by 6am. It wasn't as active as the previous afternoon so there weren't many sightings apart from tropical birds and colourful kingfishers. Followed by a jungle hike that resulted in us pretending we could see random jungle animals through the binoculars but actually all we found was a lake with the fish that nibble your feet, so obviously we all stuck our feet in. Then spent the afternoon swinging in hammocks with a strong Guinness before heading back out on a river cruise. During the cruise we saw the pygmy elephants but this time actually swimming across the river in front of us. Was a great sighting and one I'll never see again...probably. As we had also heard that the elephants hadn't been sighted at all for a few weeks. After dinner another night jungle walk took place where a couple of birds were trying to doze and then the evening was spent playing s***head (the best card game) and drinking Guinness. Perfect.
It was difficult getting up for the 5.45am boat ride given that I was in bed for 2am but ah well it's not like I have work to worry about. It was a nice relaxing final cruise featuring the monkeys, kingfishers amongst other birds. Then shortly after breakfast we left and I headed back to Sandakan. From there I jumped on the bus and went back to Kota Kinabalu. Traffic was pretty bad and I reckon the driver didn't like been late as he was hammering it down the mountainside and I think he scared himself on one of the corners as he slowed down at the following corners (well just a bit). I checked back in, exhausted, at the Akinabalu Youth Hostel where I have a lovely sick man in my dorm. But know to decide whether to go to Sarawak or Brunei next.