Tag Archives: Sabah

Day 91 to 93 – Wheels on fire

Barring seeing the orangutans and proboscis monkeys our plans on what to do in Borneo were pretty non existent (as usual) so a bit of internet research identified that there was the opportunity to do a cycling tour.

As keen cyclists in the UK we have missed our iron horses over the last 3 months, and traveling by bicycle is a great pace to see the world.  We identified a company that had great Trip Advisor reviews, called Bike Borneo, and although they are a mountain bike company they were more than willing to work out a more road based trip for us.

The plan was to spend 3 days heading north form Kota Kinabalu and get as close to Kudat (or more specifically the Tip of Borneo) as we could.  Sadly due to the limitations of packing for a 6 month trip around the world, we would be doing this without the aid of padded shorts and padded gloves….gulp.

We are met by our support team for the trip, Dan and Christian (mad keen cyclists themselves) and get our mountain bikes fitted (only 3 months old as the company had recently updated their fleet) before heading off in the early morning to beat the traffic out of the city.

The initial tour suggested by the company had very short distances planned for each day, in the 10-15km a day bracket, which seemed far too short so I pushed them to plan a longer route.  I think that I should have researched the weather a little more before I did.  Given that we are cycling in tropical rainforest near the equator it perhaps it wasn’t a surprise that we experienced conditions that were hot, hot, hot. And humid.  Apparently it is supposed to be monsoon season but it is unseasonably dry at the moment, and we are astonished to hear that during a recent monsoon season Malaysia recorded its lowest ever temperature of 17 degrees!

Over the course of the 3 days we experience searing heat in excess of 40 degrees and humidity in the 90s.  Without this the distance (around 150km across the three days) and terrain (that would be described as undulating with the occasional hill) would not have been challenging even given the fact we have not been on a bike since October.

That said early starts to reduce the amount of cycling during “mad dogs and englishmen” time plus amazing support with cold drinks, ice and snacks available at anytime made it challenging and not impossible.  And the route, scenery and stop offs along the way made it an unforgettable experience.

Along the way we saw the KK University campus (which takes up 999 hectares and has a private beach), wonderful green and lush scenery, quiet local villages inhabited by the tribes people of Sabah, a luxury 5 star resort (home to the nursery part of the Sepilok Orangutan programme – cue another 500 photos of the baby versions that look a lot like surprised coconuts), and some of the most deserted and  beautiful beaches we have ever seen.

One of the more surprising aspects of the journey is the reaction of the local people to cyclists.  It is almost universal happiness!  People shout hello, beep car horns, wave enthusiastically as we go by, and according to Christian and Dan its the same with all cyclists across Sabah.  It makes the journey even more special and it feels a privilege to experience it at first hand.

Chatting to the guys about the cost of cycling in Malaysia, it perhaps explain this reaction.  I think that cyclists must be a rare sight (the one and only cycle lane in the province is still under construction) due to the cost.  A fairly standard entry bicycle costs around 3,000RM, about £600.  That is not cheap, but almost inaccessible when you consider the average wage in the area is 700RM per month.

In fact one of the joys of the trip was spending time with the two guys who have lived in the Sabah area all their lives, we learnt so much about the culture and history of the area whilst on the bikes,  that it added a wonderful level of colour to an already memorable few days.

Advertisements

Day 89 – (Hey Hey we’re) The Monkees

Whilst orangutans are rare, Borneo is not the only place in the world you can see them as they are also present in the Sumatra region of Indonesia.  The same cannot be said of an even rarer sight, the Proboscis monkey.  If you want to see one of these in the wild, then Borneo is the only place you can do it.  So today like yesterday, we head out in search of simians of the rarest kind.

It is apparently getting easier and easier to see the rare wildlife in Borneo, and this is due to the sad fact that the area of natural habitat that they live is getting smaller and smaller and therefore concentrating the animal populations.  In Borneo, the natural jungle habitat is being destroyed to make way for thousands and thousands of acres of palm plantations.

This commercial activity needs land, and lots of it, so large swaths of the landscape are now covered in neat rows of plantation palm trees.  The value of 1 wet tonne of the product is between 300-500RM (£55-£90) and therefore very attractive to the Malaysian population.   We were not really aware of the negative impacts of palm oil production prior to this trip, and would recommend people read the following articles to get some more information:

http://ran.org/palm-oil

http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/palm-oil-production-social-environmental-impacts

We were extremely impressed with the work and ethic of both the Orangutan and Sun Bear sanctuaries we saw the previous day, but I am not sure we feel altogether the same about the Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary at Labuk Bay.

As with the orangutans, there are specified feeding times and a couple of different viewing platforms from which you can see the animals.  But unlike the orangutans, where this was part of process to help rehabilitate animals back into the wild, here it appears to serve the sole purpose of guaranteeing that tourists can see the animals.

The 6 hectare natural jungle area was maintained by a plantation company, and in essence acts as an ecological island within which some of the indigenous Proboscis monkeys have been able to survive.  The size of the area is sufficient to provide food for a healthy population of animals, but the supplemented supply to ensure we get to see them probably makes them a bit lazy and I am not sure pancakes (albeit sugar-free) are the normal staple diet of any monkeys.

That said, whilst it might be easy to be critical of the approach taken, it is at least something to help preserve the animals, which is more than most of the plantations do.

Our exposure to the monkeys is a visceral experience, and far removed from the gentle orangutan observation.  There are only a small number of visitors to the first feeding we witness and the monkeys take over the platform.

In what we believe was a territorial battle between family groups and recently ousted bachelors, we see them thundering through and over the viewing area at high speed making thunderous noise with their arms and legs against the wood and corrugated metal.  They pass within in a few feet of you before launching themselves over the railings into the nearby trees – up close and personal they are a remarkably powerful animal.

Powerful they might be, but you wouldn’t describe them as cute in a traditional sense.  Ginger, pot-bellied and a slightly dodgy haircut would be enough to make them stand out, but then you add the rather remarkable long floppy nose and unmistakably permanently aroused state associated with the male and you have one of natures most remarkable mammals.

We complete our Sepilok animal adventure with an evening boat trip on the Kantanagan River, for a chance to get deep into the jungle to see animals truly in the wild.  With any trip of this kind, it’s down to luck for what you will see, and whilst we didn’t get to the see the extremely rare Pygmy Elephant or Orangutans, we did see Proboscis Monkeys, Horn billed birds, a monitor lizard and plenty of Macaque monkeys.  The evening was particularly enjoyable thanks to sharing it with Paul and Ann, a retired couple from Cheshire who were incredibly pleasant and entertaining company.

P.S. The “bargain” Ice watch that steamed up, was gaining a solid minute a day, and then the case cracked and the strap fell off.  Ho hum.

Day 88 – I wanna be like you

Our accommodation is in Sepilok, an area on the far eastern side of the Sabah region of Malaysian Borneo (which is divided into three countries: Malaysia, Indonesia and the tiny country of Brunei).  It is good value, but on the more basic side of things, the outdoor bathroom attached to our room has a ‘not quite’ cold shower to ensure you are awake in the morning!

This area is a popular tourist destination mainly because of the wildlife, and in particular primates as it is one of the few places on the planet that has 10 species of them.  In fact the main reason that we included a trip to Malaysia in our plans was to see Orangutans, and today is all about these rare magnificent animals.

The name is Malay for ‘man of the jungle’ or jungle man (Orang is the Malay world for man), and Borneo is one of only two places on the planet that you can see them in the wild.  We spend the day at the Speilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (http://www.orangutan-appeal.org.uk/about-us/sepilok-rehabilitation-centre), home of a wonderful programme that rescues young orphaned animals and raises them in a way that facilitates their release in to the wild as adults.

Orangutans are probably the closest relation to humans in the animal kingdom.  Their young remain dependant upon their parents for 7-10 years (so the rehabilitation process takes a long time), a fully grown male can stand 1.4m tall and weight 100kg, and humans share 98% of their DNA.  Probably more if you are a ginger.

Once the Orangutans reach a certain stage of maturity they are released into the jungle around the centre, but are still in need of support.  This is done by providing food twice a day on wooden platforms in the trees, and its these ‘feeding times’ that are the major attraction for tourists, and we have time to see both feeding sessions in the day.  What is interesting is that the food given is deliberately bland to encourage the animals to source their own food and become totally self-sufficient.

The excitement in the crowd builds as the trees and ropes attached to the platforms start to move, and then the suddenly you see a large ginger ape swinging and scrambling through trees and along ropes to get to the pile of fruit that has been deposited by the keeper.  Its an awesome and unforgettable sight.

Arms and legs, hands and feet, are seemingly interchangeable as they move, and are clearly comfortable hanging upside down from any combination of limbs from branches and ropes.  As you look up and see a little bundle of ginger fur directly above you, you are not exactly sure what they are holding on with, but are sure to follow the advice of the guide which was “don’t look up with your mouth open”.  Their acrobatic ability and flair for showbiz is demonstrated in the afternoon by one of the larger males tightrope walking from one platform to another, which drew a few ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from the crowd.

There is a clear pecking order to who gets to eat first, with the larger males sitting down for breakfast whilst the smaller ones skirt impatiently round the edge of the platforms waiting their turn.   The intelligence of them is demonstrated by a pair of the smaller orang-utans working together to get some food early, one distracted the large male whilst the other swipe a bunch of bananas that they then shared between them.

In case orangutans are not enough to satisfy your wildlife cravings, there is the bonus literally popping across the road to the Borneo Sun Bear centre (savethesunbear.org).  Similar to the orang-utan centre you have a series of boardwalks that take you to a viewing platform, where whilst there is no feeding times, we get to see up to 6 of the delightful little bears.  They are about the size of a big dog (the smallest bear in the world), have sharp claws used to scale trees, and get their name from the patch of yellow fur on their chest.  The are very cute and seem quite accustomed to posing for photographs.

For the first time on the trip we (*cough* Niki *cough*) manage to fill all the memory cards in a single day so we finish the day with a relaxed evening back at the accommodation of food, drinks and 24gb of  photograph sorting….

These wonderful creatures are under threat.  If you want to help, click on the following link, say ‘awww’ at the picture, feel inspired, and donate.

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/a_plan_to_save_the_orangutans_nd_24_3/