We have been in Borneo for the last 10 days or so and have had a very full time! After a couple of days in Kota Kinabalu by ourselves we met up with our tour group on the 31st dec. That night we all got to know each other over several beers at a bar and celebrated new years eve together. The next morning was a bit of struggle when our alarm failed to wake us and we had less than 5minutes to pack the bag and be on the bus, whilst supporting bad headaches!
Our tour has been really fun and action packed. The first challenge was to climb Mt. Kinabalu which stands at 4092m and is the highest mountain in south east Asia. We all felt slightly misled by the tour description that the climb only required average fitness... The most challenging moment was the 2am climb to the summit which involved hauling ourselves up very steep smooth granite rock faces by ropes, needless to say, in the pitch black! The official reason why we had to wake up so early to get to the top was so that we could watch the sunrise. However, we believe it was because climbers wouldn't be able to see the sheer scale of many of the rock faces and how far they could fall. The standard of safety in Borneo is worlds apart from Europe. Our guide actually refused to tell us how many injuries there were every year. We took it slowly and lived to tell the tale. Certainly it was one of the most insane things we have ever done. It can't be denied, however, that the view from the top was spectacular. You could see the whole of Sabah, from Kota Kinabalu to the South China Sea. Looking out above the clouds at 6am on the barren dormant volcano you could have been on the moon. It was an incredible experience!
From the cold summit of Mt. Kinabalu we travelled in the pooring rain to the steamy jungles surrounding the Kinabatangan river. Because of it being monsoon season, the river was completely flooded. We took several river cruises and were very lucky to see 11 wild orang-utans in 1 day. To put this in perspective, there are estimated to be between 10,000 and 30,000 wild orang-utans left in the world. Our guide said it was lucky to see 3 or 4 in a trip. We also saw the shy proboscis monkeys with their signature huge noses. We struck gold by being able to get up close to a herd of 60 wild elephants who were enjoying the monsoon's lush grasses on the banks of the river. We also saw the "raja caja" or king elephant who was enormous! The photographs speak for themselves! During our trip in the jungle we stayed in an (almost weirdly) friendly lodge with all the staff knowing our names after the first evening! Being in the heart of the jungle had it's perks. During lunch one day a huge monitor lizard (at least 6feet long) decided to join us. We would have happily spent weeks there.
We then travelled to sepilok orang-utan rehabilitation centre. This is a fantastic government organized insitution where the orang-utans can be wild and safe in primary jungle whilst learning the necessary skills from each other so that they do not need human assistance. It is so refreshing seeing this conservation and rehab centre treating the animals as wild and trying to keep them that way.
Our last trip with the tour took us to an island in turtle island marine park. We spent the day relaxing and snoozing on the beautiful beach. There were very large monitor lizards here that lazed around on the sunny football pitch and looked exactly like large bits of wood until you got up close! The main reason for the visit to the island was the program that started after sunset. Green and Hawksbill turtles choose the island to lay their eggs on. The rangers here closely monitor them and collect the eggs after the nesting and keep them safe from lizards, birds and poachers. We witnessed a large green turtle dig her nest and lay eggs. Sadly, because of the 30+ people who crowded around her, some of whom ignored instructions not to take flash photos or gather around her head, the mother abandoned laying her eggs and made a hasty retreat to the sea. It is a shame that some tourists have absolutely no regard for the animals themselves and only care about getting their photos. However, 6 other turtles came to the island that evening and over 100 eggs were gathered and will be protected until they hatch. We also got to see the release of 50 baby turtles that hatched during the day. They were cute and very funny!
The least favorite bit of our trip to the island was they journey back to the mainland at 6.30am to "avoid the bad weather". In fact, sitting at the back of the boat, we were drenched as we powered parallel to the waves breaking in torrential rain. The lowest point was probably when a huge wave broke over the side at the same time as the engine exploded and the lid hit Simon on the head! The captain got lost on several occasions too!
We have been very lucky with our tour group. Our guide and group leader, Arkin, is fantastic. He is funny and knowledgeable and also is a human jukebox with a guitar! All our fellow travelers are really fun and it has been great exchanging stories over a few beers with a sing song. We have had a great time in Borneo!