Day 11- Semporna to Sukau

Since we’d gone to be at dinner time, we were up relatively early. We wanted to head to the market to get Bryan some sunglasses. We’d seen a ton of booths selling them- and clothes, which I’d like to make a comment on. The sayings that people have on their clothes here are truly the strangest- and often seem quite pointless. There was a lady in the airport in China whose jacket said, “I’m Sorry You Look”. There was a shirt here that looked like a UNC t-shirt, as though it’d made it’s way to Borneo- but it said “NORTU CAROLINA”- because apparently U and H look close enough to be confused. There are many other strange examples, where it just seems someone once saw an English word and randomly emblazoned it on the clothes. I am sure this is what those who can read kanji and Sanskrit words people love to tattoo on themselves think too! At least these are just shirts?!

Despite the overwhelming number booths (and those with sunglasses) we’d seen before, the street seemed desolate- all the booths were gone. We did not realize that it was Monday morning, the festival was over- and there may not be so many options for sunglasses anymore. We really didn’t have the opportunity the night before because we had all our luggage and could barely get through the crowd as it was, so we’d just wanted to get back to the hotel, thinking this would still be an option…alas, no.

We went down the covered alleyway we’d accidentally found ourselves in the first night we arrived. It was a little scary then because it’d been getting dark and the aisle is like 3 feet wide, people going in both directions- and in our case, staring at us quite a bit. With the tarps covering the aisle, it seemed really claustrophobic. Doing it again, at least we were a bit more prepared, however, I don’t know how they can stand the cover, because it lets zero breeze through and it was stifling hot! Just as we thought Bryan was SOL we found one guy selling glasses- so Bryan got his first (and only pair of) “Ray Bans”. As we’re quite certain they are not likely UVA and B approved, hey won’t last long after the vacation- but at least will keep some glare down for him while driving. They cost all of $4USD- so now he had something and we could get on the road.

We went to Giant (the grocery store) to get some supplies for our drive and something for brekky. We wandered around for a while and settled on a yogurt smoothie in a bottle, coconut cookies and bought a bunch of fingerling bananas from a woman on the street for the equivalent of $1. We headed back to the hotel to put everything in the car and start the trek to our next destination. Although we would be stopping at Sepilok Orangutan Rehab Center today, this was also on our itinerary for the next your we would be on…but you can never see enough orangutans, right? Especially in the wild!

Bryan booked a hotel for the night near the resort we’d be staying at next- and where we were supposed to be picked up for our boat ride to Turtle Island tomorrow. The resort we were to stay at was booked for the night, so he picked something a few miles down the road, so we’d be close to our 8am pick up point…or so he thought.

It was about a 2-hour drive back the way we’d come already, and then another 2 hours forking off on a road we’d not yet been down, to get to the orangutan center. Another 30 minutes or so was the city of Sandakan, which we didn’t know if we’d see. We saw a sign for a place called Labuk Jungle Centre (or something close) which had pictures of monkeys on it. We didn’t have time then, but we thought that perhaps we’d have a chance to stop there on our way back to KK, so made note of where it was.

We arrived at Sepilok just after 1, which was good because although we thought the feeding was at 2pm, it turned out to be 3- which gave us time to see the sun bear center across the street (which I was not aware of until the German woman from our dive had told us about it). Although we were so hot and thirsty- and it was 1000% humidity, you are not allowed to bring food or drink into the centers so the animals don’t end up with things they shouldn’t. This is not like, oops, don’t drop your sandwich into the sun bear enclosure, it’s the oops, a macaque just grabbed your entire backpack full of snacks off your body kind of thing. We quickly chugged some warm water and as we’d not eaten brekky, nor lunch, ate some nuts and our lemon biscuits. For the first time one of the street dogs approached us, asking if we’d share our biscuits- so I tossed a few to her. She was a shepherd looking dog, although smaller- about 30lbs- and by far, was the friendliest dog we’d seen yet.

We started walking to the sun bear center and man, just a few paces and we were dripping with sweat; running down inside our shirts- and my face was just drenched. I looked like someone had dumped a bucket on my head. I looked around and it did not seem as though anyone was sweating as much as I was; I am not sure why everyone else seemed so “cool”…but then again, I always look the least glamorous of anyone when I am doing activities as such. Like after diving, everyone else looks pretty normal and maybe their hair is a tad messy, but my face is beat red, I have major mask lines and my hair is all insane; my eyes red…I look like a crazed crackhead. This happens when I surf too…

My second or third time surfing, I’d been out all day on the water and beach and it was really sunny, not the least bit overcast. We stopped at the Safeway in Seaside to get some drinks and go to the bathroom and I had to ask someone where it was. The look she gave me was one I will never forget and I just thought, “what the…ok, sorry I had to use the bathroom”. But when I got there and saw myself in the mirror, I did a double take- and actually said out loud, “woah, OMG”. My hair was sticking up in all directions (and at this time it had been pretty damaged by bleach so was broken off too at all weird lengths), my face was totally red and shiny- and my eyes?! My eyes were so bloodshot and red- in a streak across them especially, (from squinting in the sun) and I have never seen anything quite as frightening in my life. I couldn’t believe as well I looked this insane and none of my friends said anything to me about it- but I guess they were trying to be nice! Now I look in the mirror after surfing to make sure I am at least slightly “presentable”- or put on sunglasses before going in to ask for the bathroom!

We went through the main shop/ ticketing booth and onto a walkway which was graded, rising up as you went. There was a viewing platform where you could look down on a few enclosures that butted up to each other. The sun bears were pretty hard to find and pawing around in the dirt; they like to hide just behind the leaves so you can’t see them very well, of course. One decided she’d giving climbing a tree a try and thankfully and perched just where we could see him her. We got some ok photos and listened to a guide for a different group talk about the bears and their plight.

I guess people keep them as pets and sell their parts (I don’t know why but imagine they have cure-all magical properties like rhino horns), but they are terribly endangered and it’s pretty bad. They are pretty cute and its sad people would be so horrible to them- but glad we had this unexpected surprise of seeing them…although I think now I remember Pate mentioning them as one of her favorite animals here, as she grew up in southeast Asia and had been to Borneo years prior.

While we were watching the sun bears, some monkeys came along the fence line. Everyone took like 3 big steps back but Bryan and I just watched- we were excited because this was basically the first time we’d really seen them- so while we weren’t going to be stupid, we did want to be a little close. They just strolled by, walking on the fence of the sun bear enclosure, just below the railing of the platform we were on and pretty much ignored us- but it was cool we got to see them AND the sun bears, relatively unexpectedly. It turns out these were pig-tailed macaques and can be kind of aggressive- which not like we’re totally naïve over, but we’d see this tendency shortly.

The walkway continued on to another viewing point, at which we were confronted with another monkey, about 10 feet away or so in a tree, eating some leaves. There was a baby in the background which never really showed itself and didn’t seem to be related, as it didn’t follow this other monkey at all- but was cute to see and I wish he or she had come out more. All the other people in tour groups had left the area, while Bryan and I and a German girl were watching this female monkey, taking pictures- because she was seemingly posing for us. She made a cawing/ mew, kind of like the ring-tailed lemur, which I found interesting. I did it back, but she did not repeat- she just stared and chewed more leaves.

The German girl left so it was just Bryan and I when suddenly, the monkey jumped off the tree onto the railing in front of me- about 3 feet away. I stopped where I was but I didn’t really want to make any other moves either, for fear of causing her distress or eliciting a reaction. She started towards me on the railing, so I slowly backed up a bit as she approached. At the point where we were closest, and she was just about to pass, she looked at me and flashed a huge, fanged, toothy grin- a definite, gesture of hostility. There was little I could do about what had happened, but it was interesting! I wish we’d gotten it on camera, as it would have made an insane picture. Just seeing that especially, I can’t believe some people intentionally try to interact with or pet these monkeys, as that really seems like asking to get your eyes clawed out…but I guess some people just can’t be helped either…and they probably don’t learn their lessons as often as they ought.

Thankfully, I escaped with my eyes intact and it was time to see the orangutans! We walked back down the platform and back across the street to get our tickets for the 3pm feeding. It had only been about $12 for us to go into the sun bear place, so it wasn’t terrible we didn’t stay long- plus we know the funds go toward their conservation- but we really wanted to see the orangs and this was our true reason for being here, so I did not want to miss anything. The office had been closed when we’d arrived, but it was now just after 2 and it had opened again. They charged us an entrance fee and a per camera fee- so it was more than the sun bears, though only a few bucks more. The camera fee we’d find out is a regular thing at their parks and features.

There isn’t much to the center, which was a bit surprising, and everything around it is the wild jungle (other than the palm oil plantation which comes right up to the opposite side of the road) unfenced and not managed in any way. The center consists of a welcome/ exhibition hall with video room, a ticketing building and a bathroom and the boardwalk loop which leads to the feeding platform. There is a baby nursery (indoor), and vet clinic somewhere behind the scenes- as well an outdoor nursery that is typically open to the public and where you can see the babies playing- which of course was closed, as they said a tree fell on the pathway! I was not going to see baby orangs!? This was of course, disappointing as we’d have loved to see the babies playing- we also wondered how long it may have been that way and they just didn’t/ couldn’t fix it. I was hoping it didn’t matter, as we’d made contact with an organization that helps fund the center called Orangutan Appeal UK. I had sent them some grant info I thought might help their org- and we had a contact to meet, with secret hopes we’d have some kind of behind the scene access for a few minutes.

We walked to the platform which wasn’t too far off, but the heat and humidity are really hard to describe! It was hard to breathe because there was so much moisture in the air and I was still sweating buckets. My hair was drenched and I was just dripping- wishing I’d brought my scarf to wipe my face with…I was at this point, tired and trying to nap a little, hunched over with my arms over the railing, in an effort to keep my prime position in the front corner of the platform. People started piling in but, even at it’s fullest it wasn’t too bad at all. Mondays are apparently a good time to go, FYI- and I always appreciate when there isn’t a major crowd.

However, it was super annoying that so many of them had their phones on, making a variety of bings and bloops which was making me crazy! One lady was texting and every time one came in it sounded like a drip of water. Then there was a kid whining in the background with the parents being loud and ON their phones too, just yammering on very loudly- and then their baby started shrieking and throwing a tantrum…

I really don’t understand why people go to places like that if they are not even going to at least put their phones in their pocket, shut the heck up and pay attention to the moment- at least so others can enjoy it. It made me really annoyed, though I hoped at least they’d stop when the orangs showed…at the very least hoping that the baby shrieking wasn’t going to scare off the orangutans and spoil the event. I could stand being annoyed if at least I got to see what I came for!

As I was dozing off, Bryan tapped me on the shoulder and pointed as one of the orangs came around the corner, across the ropes onto the platform. It was a mom carrying a little baby!! There was a man climbing up a ladder to the platform with a wicker basket of bananas, watermelons, some sticks and other things I couldn’t tell what they were. He pulled out the items and laid them down as the mom situated herself, baby clinging to her, as they assessed the goods in front of them.

Of course, they sat with their backs to us nearly the entire time- certainly intentionally- but we did get some cute vids and pics of the baby swinging and playing and stuffing his or her face. Some of the macaque monkeys came along to the platform too and I thought there might be an issue- especially with mom and baby already there. These were males, but they very much knew their place in the pecking order. They’d reach for the bananas really slowly, stretching as far as possible so as not to move their body, while closely watching the mom and her reaction. Once they got their hands on a banana, they’d snatch their hand back really quickly, as though they thought they had triumphed surreptitiously. The orang mom knew they were there but oddly enough, didn’t really care- which is something Tony had noted in his book too: he was really amazed that it was a very laid back thing where everyone seemed to take their turn and the animals seemed to have some kind of manners. It is a bit surprising, but I suppose as this is technically the wild, the animals will take advantage of an easy meal but aren’t relying upon it completely either.

Looking at the platform and watching this of course, doesn’t seem like the wild, because it feels like a zoo, with a boardwalk, railings and such- but as stated before, there are no fences or enclosures out here. The orangutans decide if they want to come to the platform or not- and some days, no one comes. They know it’s there, as this is partially how they get them acclimated when they are first released after rehab- maybe even growing up at the center- but the orangs themselves decide where they want to be. Some will come often and favor this way of eating- and others will never be seen from again. Bryan commented how he thought it strange that more orangs don’t come or become dependent, but I think it’s because they are smart enough to know that while they trusted people when they needed to- and want to believe in them- they also know that staying away from them is by far the safest and best for their survival. I imagine on this same note too, they know they are being watched, stared at and otherwise spied on- and probably feel almost as sensitive about it as people might- which I think is reflected in the fact they love to turn their backs to you when they are eating. It kind of reminds me of Planet of The Apes of something, where the chimps and apes are protected and taught things, studied- but of course, people will turn on them in a heartbeat if they feel the slightest bit threatened. I think orangs, chimps and apes are well aware people can bring some benefits, but often mean more trouble than they would be worth.

Another orang appeared and settled over the mesh roof of the platform, lazing about, posing and sleeping, which gave us some good ops for pics- especially from my position. I believe it was a she, I think Mara or something like that- and according to a volunteer there, this was a pregnant female who had just started showing. We could not see any of this, so it surprised me later to learn, but I got some really cute shot of her just daydreaming. She never made a move for the platform of food either- just hung out- as though for her, the feeding was a human show she’d entertain herself with.

By now, the baby had climbed way up high into the canopy and was playing around on his or her own, but the mom just sat the entire time with her back to us eating and messing with the sticks. However, just as the orang excitement died down, the native black squirrels made their appearance, so the show started all over again for me! They are pretty big- they seem to be almost twice as big as our squirrels- or were at least in comparison to a gray squirrel that was also foraging among the remains of the food. I got some cute pics of them running up and down and around the trees, sitting and eating things- for my new “Squirrels of the World” calendar, haha. I started that idea back at Mt. Kinabalu, so every time we saw a squirrel- unique or otherwise- I asked Bryan to take a picture (I often have the wide angle cam and he the telephoto) for Squirrels of the World- then we’d both laugh. There were some German women were next to us watching as well. I asked her what the German word for squirrel was and it’s probably the hardest word to say in the whole German language: aechhornchen (aeysh- hoorn-schen)…the whole word is all the throaty sounds that make German hard for people. Although I studied German at one point and do have pretty good pronunciation, it was a tough one. I tried to say it a few times and did ok, but probably won’t be using that one much at all in the future. Who knows what a mangled version of it sounds like and what someone would think I was saying!

The guides were trying to usher us away but I was looking for my contact! She was supposed to be here on the platform after the feeding. I asked one of the guys if he’d seen her and he said she worked the morning and he hadn’t seen her this afternoon. I was a little sad, but as this was our “bonus” visit to the sanctuary, we’d hopefully run into her next time around, because I was still hoping to get a little behind the scenes stuff if possible! Even just a short vid of the baby nursery would be fine by me! Sadly, not today as the center was closing actually- so we made our way back to the car.

We’d seen a really nice hotel next door that had a restaurant, so I asked Bryan if we should eat there before heading to our hotel since we didn’t know what we’d find there. I was under the impression our hotel was very close- but I was misunderstood: it turned out to be 2 hours away! It was now 4pm, so we’d be pushing it to get there before dark, which had me a little worried- but as we’d not eaten real meals all day, eating something solid now was a priority.

This place was so beautiful- one of the nicest, prettiest places I have seen. Even the bathrooms were amazing. We looked at the menu and tried to order pizza but were told that wasn’t available until 6pm- instead, we were directed to a menu called “small bites”, of which the only things on it we could eat were “tomato breads” and fries. I asked Bryan if that’s what he wanted- and even then, no brekky or lunch- he seemed hard pressed to make a decision like there were so many options waiting for him! I told him firmly, that’s what I was getting so we had at least some kind of meal. He shrugged his shoulder- I shook my head. I don’t get it at all- but thankfully I am not shy about making decisions in those instances either.

I got a pina colada while waiting- which it was so nice to have a cold drink and a cocktail at that! But I was sad when walking from the bathroom, saw on a different menu they’d had a pineapple mojito I missed out!! I’d have much rather had that- although any cocktail was good. I sucked that down fast and thankfully our food was ready in a few more minutes so we went to reception to pay. It was there we saw this was the same company that owned the Kapilai Resort- the really cool (and slightly scary out in the middle of the water) resort we’d dived at just a few days before with the sunken huts! Looking back, I think I tried looking at rooms there- which were booked and they were definitely upwards of $500, maybe they were even into the thousands…so yeah, not happening for us! I guess this restaurant and their lounge and bathroom were the closest we’d get to staying there- at least until I am a paid travel blogger who gets invited to such places 😉

We had to backtrack again, but then took a turn towards Sakau, where we’d be staying near the river for just the night- though was near the next place we’d be staying. It was getting dark, so we were trying to hurry a bit- however, the area was not a through road- so became very residential like with kids play in the road and riding their bikes. I made a comment how my kid would not even get a bike if we lived on this road- and I am clearly not one to be overly cautious either, but he totally agreed. As well the dogs were really bad as though few cars ever go that way- and they lay right in the middle of the road, or start to walk to the car as you’re approaching going 45mph. He had to stop and honk at numerous dogs to get out of the way!

We hit a point where we started seeing some “home stays”, which are kind of like B&B’s but vary dramatically in their condition- and one of them looked kind of frightening. We also seemed to be dumped right into the middle of a village where it seemed the road just dead-ended. We were starting to wonder, but then saw the road took a jog around the school building in front of us- so we kept going like the GPS said! At this point it’s dark, the houses are all pretty shack like and I am really starting to wonder what we will find. Finally, we saw some lights and came to our place called the Sakau Greenview Resort which looked pretty nice! We could see there was an open dining hall across from reception, which was essentially the front porch of a home that had been turned into dorms…we started to think maybe we would get dinner, especially as it wasn’t even 630p yet!

They sat us down outside on some patio furniture to get oriented and check in- and gave us our welcome drink, which at first he joked was local wine. When I a little too enthusiastically said “that sounds great”, he said he was joking and laughed. I laughed too- though I wished it was! The woman with him apologized as we’d missed dinner, which Bryan looked crushed over. It was crazy since it was just after and at the other places, we weren’t even starting dinner till 630. I had sadly, figured as much (if they’d even had a restaurant, was my thought initially)- but she said they did have ice cream for purchase in the cooler. Ice cream dinner it would be for me, I knew- though I don’t know what Bryan thought he would have done without eating the tomato bread and fries?!

We were shown to our room which was a cabin down a few raised walkways, which were actually pretty slippery. I figured it wouldn’t matter if I was hungry anyway because I was so tired, I knew I’d fall asleep fast. The room was simple- and really bright green- kind of like an upgraded camping cabin. The bathroom was small and short and oddly enough had a device on the wall that was a water heater/ shower attachment- although there was no designated shower area. You just shut the door and showered in the middle of the bathroom and the water drained into the corner. We did not try this out, despite being kind of gross from the day of sweating, we were just too tired. The fan was making a clicking noise so we had to turn that off, but there was AC which was nice, considering everything was so moist. I hoped the AC would cut down on the humidity a bit- so our clothes were not damp in the morning like we’d experienced in Swakupmond, Namibia.

Bryan at some nuts and fingerling bananas, but I was fine with the ice cream, and we went to bed. Just as we started to drift off, we were startled awake by our neighbors: stompy, loud neighbors. They apparently just gotten back and were clomping around, making a bunch of noise and shaking the floor with every step. Our room at the dive resort was kind of like this too: basically, one building divided into rooms. And although there I think there was some insulation between the rooms, the floor was basically shared. If your neighbor was heavy footed you’d hear it at least, maybe feel it a bit. Here however, there was no insulation between the walls and the floor actually shook as they stomped around.

Of course, they didn’t know we were in bed, as it was all of just after 7pm, and I am sure they had no idea they were really being quite so disruptive…but still, give it a bit of thought! I try to be a little bit courteous and quiet when in places like that- though it seems everyone else takes the opportunity to be as loud and stompy as possible! We could also hear in another room- one whole room away, one the other side of the Stompers- a couple arguing. I wondered what the people next door thought as I could hear it clear enough?! It seemed it might be a long night…but thankfully, as I can usually sleep through anything and we were both so tired, we fell asleep quickly, despite!

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