Continuing our overland journey through Malaysian Borneo, we went to Kota Kinabalu, the main city in Sabah, and stayed outside the city in a beachside hostel for Sivi's birthday. Accompanied by our dorm-mate Katrina, we went to one of the islands off the coast of Borneo for some excellent snorkelling and a delicious beach buffet. Many beaches later, that beach is still far and away the best one we've been to on this whole trip! The hostel owners then took us to the local fish market, we bought 2 kilos of red snapper (we actually asked for 2 fish, but since I ended up eating 5, I was quite thankful for the misunderstanding!) which they then barbequed for us, and which went very well with their homebrew rice wine.
Flew to Sandakan the following day for an overnight stay on one of the islands in the Turtle Island Marine Park. There are only 20 rooms on the island, and tourism there is very heavily restricted for obvious reasons. We were shown a DVD narrated by a Julie Andrews sound-a-like with some interesting facts about turtles (their sex is determined by the heat of the sand in which the eggs are buried, and they have magnetic crystals in their heads which help them find their way back to the beach where they hatched to lay their own eggs), before going out to watch a turtle lay her eggs at night. She laid 87 eggs that night, which were then taken to the hatchery to protect them from birds and monitor lizards. And then the best bit - the 40 or so baby turtles that had just hatched that day were taken down to the beach and released into the sea, and they were SO CUTE. All struggling to get out of the box and into the sea as quickly as possible, some of them kept going the wrong way and needed a slight nudge in the right direction...amazing. We went back to the hatchery afterwards and noticed that one had been left behind, so called someone over to make sure it also got taken out to the sea!
The following day we went to Uncle Tan's, somewhere on the Kinabatangan River for a wildlife safari. There was no running water (actually, there was, but it came straight from the river and was roughly the colour of chocolate milk), and only electricity for about 4 hours a day. We were sleeping in windowless huts on the floor with mosquito nets, and the toilets were about 100m away along a pitch black wooden walkway which was terrifying at night. We went on night and morning river cruises, and treks in the jungle during the daytime and at night as well. The wildlife viewing wasn't actually all that great - the closest we came to seeing a wild orangutan was an arm hidden behind a branch, and although we saw dozens of crocodile eyes in the torchlight, by the time we approached they'd always moved or gone underwater. But on the night trek we learned how to spot spiders in the dark - hold a torch at nose level, pointed towards the ground, and literally hundreds of sparkles appeared on the floor. Those sparkles, which I'd much rather imagine are just sequins or glitter, are the eyes of far more spiders than I'd ever like to be that close to! But the animal we saw most of during those three days was a mangy cat that would hang around the bucket of food scraps in the dining area. I asked one of the guides who the cat belonged to, and he said they had absolutely no idea. It just turned up one day, and although they keep trying to get rid of it by taking it across the river and abandoning it, it somehow always manages to find its way back across river to the camp, where it knows it has a constant supply of leftovers!
We had a couple of days left after this before our flight across to peninsular Malaysia, so we returned to Kota Kinabalu with Alicia from Uncle Tan's, and took the opportunity to go to another of the islands near the birthday island for some more snorkelling and sunbathing...excellent!