Monday 14 August 2017

Exploring Borneo

Our first stop was My Nature Resort in Sandakan, just 20mins from airport. It was beautiful. We relaxed by the pool, had cocktails on the veranda and at 6.30pm as the sun was setting, we watched huge red flying squirrels soar from one tree to another to begin their night of hunting. They're the size and weight of cats and can soar hundreds of metres. We were really lucky to see them.

The next morning we went to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. Most of the orangutans there had been found as people's pets somewhere in Asia, and the idea of the centre is to slowly rehabilitate them into the wild. We saw a few of the the littluns at the nursery then onto the outdoor feeding platform where a mother and baby, along with a cheeky male stopped to grab a bite to eat. We also saw some of the rescued Sun Bears which are apparently the smallest species of bear.

That afternoon, we got a boat over Abai Lodge to have lunch, then on to Kilamantan River Lodge where we stayed for two nights. During our stay we took a boat out for a few river cruises and were lucky enough to see salt water crocodiles, long and short tailed macaws, proboscis monkeys, red leaf monkeys, wild orangutans, kingfishers, hornbills and a snake.

Saltwater crocodiles looks so different to ones I've seen before with spiny, dragon like tails. We were told that they're quite dangerous over here and get the local fisherman every now and then.

The proboscis monkeys were brilliant - making odd moaning noises to one another and wiggling their falic noses. They have two stomachs to process the leaves they eat, which gives them a beer-belly.

The red leaf monkeys were beautiful and bouncing around from tree to tree. They have amazing cheekbones, black faces and kind of a wise expression.

As well as the boat tours, we also took a trip to the Gomantong Caves to learn about the birds nests and see the bats leaving for their night of hunting. I have never seen so much poo. The cave was piled high with bat feaces and every wall was covered with spiders, cockroaches and other bugs. Looking up on one side was a huge black mass of birds and their nests, and on the other was a rippling expanse of over 2 million bats. As dusk came, the bats flew in a swarm up and out the top of the cave. It was cool to see, but I was a bit preoccupied with getting cockroaches in my shoes and bat poop on my head at that point.

We learnt that once the chicks have fledged their nests, they are harvested and sold to the Chinese for large sums of money. 1kg of nest costs between 3000-6000 ringitt. They put it in soups with lots of sugar and the idea is that it prevents aging. Who knows if it's true, but some people are making a lot of money from it!

We met some really cool people on the trip - Sarah and Dela - a couple from Cirencester, as well as a family from Essex.  We have plans to see Sarah and Dela at Japan 2020 Olympics. I hope we do.

The thing that has shocked me most about Borneo is the palm tree plantations. The plantations go on and on as far as the eye can see - and this is all at the expense of the natural rainforests. It's how the people of Borneo make their money, so who am I to say it's wrong. But it just doesn't feel right when so much wildlife lose their homes to palm trees producing oil to fry our chips and burgers in MacDonalds!

We got a blink-and-you-miss-it flight from Sandakan to Tawau then drove a couple of hours over to Semporna. The next morning we were up early again to get a boat over to Mabul where we would be staying for the next few days.

Mabul is a tiny little island just east of Borneo. We were diving with a company called Scuba Junkie which is based right next to the islands sea gypsies who use explosives to fish and leave all their trash in the ocean. Scuba Junkie do a weekly clean up of the surrounding oceans and the explosives have now been banned in the area. It's still not great though.

The diving was incredible. We saw huge Green and Hawksbill Turtles, Stingrays, and Eagle Ray, dancing Frog Fish, Trumpet and Cornet Fish, Moray Eels, and all the other usual suspects on the reef like Bat, Clown, Angel Fish etc. There were also invisible jellyfish which got me three separate times during my dives! 

Both Phil and I have developed a new respect for Nudibranches. Dive masters always bang on about them and we never understood why, but after seeing so many different colours, shapes and sizes on the trip I now kinda like them too.

Our last day of diving was in Sipadan and it was out of this world! We did 4 dives around the island, the best of which was called Barracuda Point.

We saw upwards of 50 turtles, a huge shoal of Barracuda and another whirlwind shoal of Jack Fish we got lost in.

There were also Black Tip, White Tip and Grey Reef Sharks. We swam into the blue at one point and saw a shoal/shiver of Grey Sharks, it was unreal.

My favourite were the huge Bumphead Parrot Fish which look quite scary with their beaks but are completely harmless. All they do is swim and poop which we got caught up in along the way..

I've never been on a trip like it - I feel really lucky to have seen such an array of beautiful birds, mammals and reptiles and fish in the wild!

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