Day 12- Sakau to Turtle Island

We both woke up a ton in the night (just because, not because of the Stompers), and finally, at 430, I checked the phone to make sure we had not missed the alarm.

I thought the neighbors would be surprised how loud it would be at 630a when we got up and collected our things- not even intending to be loud; we were going to try to be quiet. But no such luck as they got up at 530a banging and stomping before we’d even risen! We didn’t even have the chance to show them what it was like to be stomped at!

We laid around for a little while longer but got up at 615a- I figured if the kitchen could give us breakfast early (they’d said 7am), we’d for sure get to the 8am meeting point and get to sort out the car (needing to leave it there for the 3 days) and anything else. Bryan also suddenly announced that we had to repack everything, only taking a small bag to Turtle Island, which I was glad we had time for since this was the first he’d mentioned it. If we’d been on our original schedule, we’d have barely arrived at the meeting place and had about 5 minutes to do that…maybe I should double check the itinerary next time, hehe.

I put on my clothes- which I’d hung up- and they felt totally wet! It was crazy how damp they could be even with the AC going all night. It felt a bit gross but what can you do! I went out to the car to repack my necessities into a smaller bag and the host the lady saw us getting ready and said she’d set our breakfast out for us- which was good because now we’d be ahead of schedule, although a little weird because what if we had not been up and it’d have totally been cold when we arrive 30+minutes later?

Brekky was a pile of the same brown noodles- super fine though this time- with a fried egg on top. I forgot to take a picture, and I downed it in about two second flat anyway, being extra hungry from lack of proper meals the day before. There was a kitten wandering around, who was really cute and playing with something on the floor, when it suddenly climbed right onto the table to check out what was left on our plates. I am sure the kitten is not supposed to do this, but I also can’t imagine how they stop him or her from doing it either. The apparent Stompers, had been eating at the table next door and actually left a bunch of noodles on their plate (and also didn’t bus their dishes!), so not sure why the kitten wanted our scraps rather than a whole pile he could have laid in? Cute kitten or no, we had to get on the road so we bussed our dishes and said goodbye to our little friend. I noticed as well there were quite a few more cats around- again, most with stubby, poofy tails. I took a couple pictures but we were off. It was supposed to be a mere 20-minute ride to our pick up point for the tour…just back a ways down the same road.

We drove back down the main road and turned off onto a secondary road- which was paved, albeit a tad bumpy and out of shape. This narrowed to a small neighborhood where 50-gallon drums were set at different points in the road, almost like an obstacle course- seemingly, to make people slow down…but considering there were also speed bumps, this seemed a tad excessive. I saw something I thought maybe was a post office- a tiny one-room building- but never did remember to ask either. I honestly seemed like a shed, so who knows.

Further down the road we drove by a pile of gravel and a pile of bricks partially blocking the road, and it seemed someone was building a new house. The road then turned to dirt, a little rough, but overall fine. You could hear the jungle noises and cicadas, of which there are millions and most times it sounds like the air is humming…and then suddenly we turn a corner to see a giant section of the jungle has been cut down! It was really sad to see as all the large trees were laying in piles and ready to be sent to the mill- and you know this was for a palm oil plantation. I felt a bit betrayed coming all the way out here to a private resort and essentially right next door, they were deforesting and planting palms. It really is heartbreaking because you just can’t fathom how this could still be going on- the jungle is really nearly, completely gone.

We pulled up to the Myne Resort in front of an open-air building. There were signs in front of the stairs noting we needed to take our shoes off…I was trying to film a really pretty butterfly as Bryan had already climbed the stairs. He said we were here to be picked up for our tour and started to ask if it was ok to leave the car. They looked at us quite confused. Perhaps they’d misunderstood, it seemed?

They invited us in and they sat us down for some juice as the “welcome” drink and asked us to explain our situation. We said we were getting picked up for the boat to Turtle Island and we’d be going there for the night, then coming back here the next. They began to shake their heads and said this wasn’t the right place. Whatever do you mean!?

He said we here supposed to be at the resort OFFICE- 2 hours away in Sandakan! We’d driven 2 hours out of our way to be close to the resort we were leaving from/ staying at later in the tour- only to find out we’d actually driven further away from that point. While knew we were not near the ocean here, we figured you meet up and then the van drives you to the jetty and that’s just how they did it…but the resort was different from the resort office- and we were nowhere near the boat, which was leaving in 30 minutes.

The look on Bryan’s face was so confused, helpless and worried- my jaw just dropped. How could this have happened?! To be clear, the tour company did not make a big deal out of the office being at a different location than the resort- which they really should have…especially when you put “Myne Resort” into the GPS it brings you here to the resort, NOT the office. Actually, the office didn’t even show up on the GPS at all- even typing in the exact way it was written down, when we eventually got close to it! While I do think that being technically 2 hours from the ocean might be a good indication you’re not boarding a boat there, I do think this should be spelled out a bit more. We can’t have been the first to do this?

We were astounded but really just hoped there was some way we could fix this. We asked the manager if he would be able to call and help make arrangements on our behalf since language would not be an issue for him. He seemed very jolly, relaxed and he invited us to get some coffee and eat brekky. We didn’t know what lay ahead so we indulged with 2nd brekky (and normally I cannot eat this much at all, but I guess, fearing I’d miss out on the next meal, I made room)! Rather than go make calls however he was pushing a big mop/ broom around and squeezing a floor polish onto the floor and working it in- oh so calmly. I was thinking, NO! We need to call, we need to do this…but it turned out his wife was on the phone instead and trying to figure this out for us.

What would be best is if we could just catch up to the group and meet them later on the island, taking a different boat. We watched the front desk as she made calls, hung up and then made more calls. We were pretty anxious as we waited around for nearly 2 hours! We could have been at the jetty by then!? The lady came over however and told us that we could get to the island but we’d be hiring our own private boat- and it’d be another $300 USD. Of course were a tad bummed, as this is quite a mistake to make- however, I noted that this was only a little more than we’d gotten back from the dive company, so it was not quite as hard to swallow.

Bryan was feeling really bad, but I couldn’t be mad because 1. I didn’t make the plans and 2. I probably would have made the same mistake, truthfully. I knew he would be just as bummed if we’d not gotten to do the turtle experience as well and being mad would not have helped at all- but now neither of us had anything to be disappointed about- we just had to make the drive and get our new chartered boat!

Traffic was terrible and we were behind so many slow palm oil tanker trucks; it was really painful. At least we were not racing the clock, worried another boat would leave without us since the boat was especially for us and would go nowhere until we arrived. For a while, we followed a crazy driving tour van/ bus for a bit- tried to keep up with them- but they were really crazy and we just couldn’t…so we just resigned we’d eventually get there- although probably just in time to miss lunch! Lucky us.

As we got close to Sandakan, I kept hoping the office address would come up in the GPS, but it didn’t. I typed it in exactly as they’d written it and it STILL didn’t come up. Finally, after passing some business parks, I figured out that one of the words in the address meant it was like a plaza or industrial park- so I asked the GPS to find the plaza, and it knew where that was. For some reason however, this took us off the main highway through a super windy, hilly residential area, where we were stuck behind a city bus making plenty of stops. It was an interesting look at life in a city neighborhood, but overall the effect was lost on us since we just wanted to get to the boat! It got really crazy with some serious hairpin turns…one spot even had 2 right next to each other making a Lombard St type experience and people were just crawling up and down the hill. It was crazy- and it really seemed much slower than if we’d stayed on the main road- but too late now. The office was in our grasp!

We were starting to see the city of Sandakan and it looks pretty run down- but probably more so because of the way the concrete buildings age, making them seem derelict and all around rough in appearance. There were groups of houses which looked like they were barely standing- and then a few newer buildings thrown in there…but for the most part it looks again kind of old, cold war-ish with some wood traditional wood homes on stilts. We would find out later that some of these homes are more than 100 years old- because the hard wood is so tough it will essentially last forever. So the homes were built by people’s great-grandparents and then passed down through the family. Maybe they paint it here or replace the metal roof there, but otherwise they don’t make new ones like this because the cost of wood is so high (since it’s more profitable to export to the Us, for example, where they can sell it is exotic), so people now mostly do build concrete homes- even though there are not nearly as weather proof…but they don’t have a lot of choice either.

There was also a ton of traffic- and more roundabouts with things in them- most notably a pair of shrimp- and we ended up on a divided highway kept and needed to make a u-turn to get to the “complex”. Finally, we were here- but where was the office!? We couldn’t find a single address on any of the businesses. We were looking for “Block S Lot 8B”, just driving around in circles in this really sketchy place- which is where we’re supposed to leave the car for a few days too!?

Finally, I look higher up on the buildings and see large letters painted. We are counting down and get to R- but suddenly there are no more buildings like this one and the one next to it is all closed up completely, so that’s not S! We keep going in circles- I even turned on my phone attempting to make a quick call to the office (it’ only 20 cents a minute on Tmobile)- and just kept driving around. We went to the other set of buildings which counted down as the went from the main street towards the back- and here was S, not next to any letter that it is actually near in the alphabet! Now driving around the right building to find the right “lot”- as we approach the back it seems to turn into a sketchy alley- of course, where the resort office is. Now we were frustrated, tired and just wanted to be on the boat- and now had to leave the majority of our stuff in the car in a super sketchy area…our minds were just reeling. Thankfully we had packed our small bags in advance as I suggested, so at least we were not also rifling through all our things in front of everyone watching, while they assessed what they’d take while we were gone!

We brought just what we needed (including the fins we’d stuck in the dry bag, thinking this was ALL our snorkel gear) and anything else we considered valuable. I had somehow left my Kindle which bummed me out later because Bryan had just gotten me a new one since his had broken on our Africa trip. I always clipped a light onto mine and couldn’t read without it, but he doesn’t care- so he took mine and got me a Paperwhite that is internally lit…not sure how I didn’t think to grab that, but I didn’t.

It appeared the office was upstairs- so we trudged up with our bags, but when we reached the landing there was a small sign for the resort office, but a large sign over the door (and but were confused about where the office was because the sign over the door, which created a whole storefront- but did not match the resort office’s name. I started to turn up the next set of steps, but realized it was blocked by a bench- so no one was supposed to go up further…where is this place?!

A lady was coming up the steps and I asked about the resort office, pointing to the sign and she said that was it- but it also required her to be buzzed in through a security door. They all kind of looked at each other, like “oh these clowns”, not to be rude, but that they knew who we were because we’d did it all wrong somehow. We just made a joke about it being a rough morning, which I have no idea if they really understood or not but they all smiled at least.

As we waited for our guide to return, they tried to take our credit card payment for the boat, but for some reason, it kept coming up with an error. A different girl came over to help and thankfully, after a few tries, it finally went through- because if not, that’d eaten up a lot of our cash and there would be no ATM on Turtle Island if we needed anything! We had to go to the bathroom before the 75-minute boat ride and I must say, the bathroom there was the crappiest “office” bathroom I have ever seen- and I feel bad for those girls that they use it every day! It was like a closet with a toilet in it- a scary, old, dingy toilet- as well every cleaning supply and product they’d need, but no toilet paper or hand soap of course.

One thing about the bathrooms- although in Malaysia, 99% of the bathrooms we’ve seen are western style toilets thankfully, there’s a hose in every bathroom. I assume this is a bidet kind of situation, but with the amount of water splashed everywhere and all over the floor (which is extra nice when you’re also required to be barefoot), I cannot fathom how they wash themselves without soaking their clothes?! I really wish someone could show me but then I also don’t want to see that- however, it truly must be a feat of great proportions to accomplish getting “clean” and not walking out completely drenched. There is also always a bucket, always partially full of water and a saucepan/ ladle like thing in it. What are you supposed to do with this?? We have no idea what that is for, so we don’t touch it, but not like South Africa where there are bathrooms with showers and the bucket to catch extra water from your shower to use for flushing the toilet. I wouldn’t want to catch extra water from whatever those hoses are doing- so it seems then there certainly need not be a ladle to do anything with either…is’d a bit of a mystery, which we will leave at that.

Our guide Ahmin (as I’d been told by the woman who made the calls at the resort), came in and introduced himself and said we’d be about 5 minutes to the jetty and then on the boat ride to Turtle Island. We got into the van and he asked if we had everything- which made me realize, while I’d had the fins, Bryan had packed away our masks and snorkels in the big rucksack and we didn’t have them with us. Now had to jump out and go get them- this time rifling through our stuff in plain sight, as we’d been not so keen to do, showing off everything we had in the trunk! We were definitely going to come back to an empty, broken down car, stripped of everything on in it. But as we say in our house, “at least” I remembered this and we didn’t get to the island without our equipment, only to be disappointed we couldn’t snorkel!

Now we were really ready to go and thanked our guide for his patience. He was extremely friendly, chill and just kept saying not to worry. It was a quick, 5-minute ride to the jetty (which was also unremarkably marked and would have been easy to miss had we been meeting there)- and they ushered us onto a boat, much like the kind we’d been using around Mabul, but this one had cushions (yay)! And, surprisingly, it wasn’t raining! The motor wouldn’t start at first, which worried us a tad- and the captain struggled with it long enough someone else became concerned and climbed aboard to check it out, just as it roared to life. Hopefully, it would stay that way!

The ride was nice- we got to see the city a bit and could see that much of the city extended out with huts over water like we’d seen on Mabul. This seems to be the way to go for most of the locals. My suspicion is that they can avoid taxes or need to own property this way, but we never did find out why this is so prevalent. There was still a lot of trash in the water, even as we got relatively far out- a water bottle here and there; a Styrofoam food container…one bird was even surfing on something floating, which despite the disheartening nature of the situation, looked comical as he just rode the waves behind the boat.

At one point the captain stopped the engines, which surprised us and worried me that they wouldn’t start again- as something was caught in one of the propellers. Seriously, we did not need one more setback! Hopefully, this would not leave us stranded and still unable to make Turtle Island!? The captain moved to the back and fiddled with something and then went back up front and started the engines again. Thankfully, they started up right away- and whatever had gotten tangled was removed from the prop- so now, for reals, we were off again…hopefully, this was really it.

The ride seemed pretty long, but the boat was covered so we could stay out of the sun, which is my usual issue with boats, as I often feel like I am just frying and I can’t get away. I have even gotten really sick (sunstroke) before from getting too much sun on a boat. The breeze was warm and there was shade, so I was fine an enjoyed watching the islands we passed and the different kinds of boats we saw too. The fishing boats are kind of interesting, brightly colored and seem somewhat antique, while still being current, equipped rigs. One of the islands we passed was small, enough to have a good sized private beach and just one house on it. We theorized who was lucky enough to have that house…but it turns out that it’s one of the other islands where the turtles land, and it’s a ranger station, much like where we were going.

We were approaching a relatively small island and there was no dock- but I was a little surprised when the captain beached the boat! We jumped out onto the sand as the guide announced we’d just barely made lunch so that we should go in and get that out of the way and after he’d show us to our room and orient us with the day’s activities. We were so thrilled to get a real meal- 3rd brekky now, as it was eggs and toast again…but no complaints here! Surprisingly, I was hungry already anyway and ate as much as I could- knowing 630p would be a while yet.

Our guide walked us to our room, which was in a building the furthest back on the complex as possible, of course. It wasn’t that far really, but because of the heat and we were tired from the crazy morning that it seemed further than I had hoped to walk. At first, I did not realize Ahmin would be staying here with us, but he said he’d see us at 630 to check out the exhibition hall and see a movie about the turtle hatchery- and then wait for the ranger to call “turtle time” so we could see them. He’d said it could be early or late when the turtles first started to show up- and once they waited till 2am for turtles to show?! Considering we had been going to bed around 8pm, this was going to be a feat if the turtles wanted to be rock stars for us tonight; we were crossing our fingers for an early show! But until then, we had a few hours now to relax, go to the beach and do whatever- so he left and we got ready to go snorkeling.

We walked about 5 minutes to the beach, which was pretty and seemed relatively secluded. You could see other islands but still it seemed remote- and it wasn’t totally covered in litter, though there was some. There was also shade, which I rejoiced about since this is another issue I have about the beach. Some I have gone to and there’s no shade unless you like ¼ mile back from the water- and we don’t usually travel with beach umbrellas (and they often blow away), so I am usually baking and covered in a towel just to keep the sun off and wishing the day would be over…however, if there’s shade, then I can be there all day.

Bryan was practically running to get to the water, which is funny because we had pretty much been in the water for days, and he was still so excited like he hadn’t seen the beach in ages. We sat down in the surf to put our fins on, but both our faces hurt from wearing masks so much! Our jaws were really tired from clamping on the mouthpieces of the regulator too, so it was a bit painful, but we really wanted to see what was here. You could see some coral formations just looking into the water, but we weren’t sure what we’d find.

There was a pretty strong current, so we decided to swim against it first and then float back- but we didn’t make it very far. With it being as strong as it was, I got tired pretty quickly and didn’t want to go out too far- because although this was a roped off area, if you were being carried by the current while watching the fish and suddenly you realized you had missed the rope, you’d just keep going- and never be able to swim hard enough against it to catch it again. My imagination is often too vivid, but it doesn’t help that my mother really scared me about the ocean when I was younger.

As early as I can remember she would tell me sternly how scary the ocean can be and how even a wave knee high can flip you over. She’s right of course and talking from experience- especially as my cousin almost drown once when we’d taken him to the beach. We’d driven the motorhome (from NY) to Assateague Island (where there are wild horses). I had been playing in the sand- I even remember my bathing suit was navy blue and had little white seagulls embroidered on it. I remember the day- but not how close my cousin came to drowning.

There can be a pretty strong undertow and though my mom had tried to explain this, you know how kids can be- especially boys- and my cousin went out further than he should have and began to struggle and almost drowned. I believe I had been sent back to the motor home to take a nap and therefore missed out on all the action- otherwise I would for sure remember as I have an uncanny memory for things even from my very early ages.

Either way, since that point, I’d not only not been to the ocean much at all, living in upstate NY, but when I did go, I was somewhat scared. Of course when I decided to start surfing my mom just about flipped as though I told her I was going to start juggling chainsaws in the circus- and she begged me not to surf…but I really wanted to, especially as snowboarding was something I could only do part of the year- I needed something for the warmer months!

Surfing is why I met Bryan, so it’s a good thing I did pursue it, but the night after I’d met him, I was going surfing for the second time. There’s an option at Westport to go to the cove, or the main beach (or The Groins, which I have never surfed at, especially after I heard once there was a shark there). I had come upon the cover first, so went down and started in. The waves were super crazy, jacking up really high and then crashing right onto the beach, without any of the spreading out onto the sand kind of lapping they typically do. I got on my board and was trying to surf, instantly knocked off. At one point I was just standing there and a not even very big wave hit me- and suddenly I was somersaulting over and over: in water up to my knees. My mom’s words echoed out and I stood up, my friend laughing at how many times he saw my head then my feet, then my head…

Of course, after that I still went into the water- and really, waves I had no business being in. I also got stuck in a riptide once with my friend who actually is kind of a daredevil and he was freaking out and getting scared, while I was trying to keep things calm and us making our way back to shore. Naturally, all of these times I just pictured myself dying doing something my mom had told me was dangerous and I shouldn’t…but I am still here!

Needless to say, I am a tiny bit more cautious now and I was keen to stay toward the shore here- especially as the snorkeling wasn’t all that fantastic. I mean getting sucked out to see for some amazing reef would be one thing, but this? Not worth it 😉 The corals were ok, but certainly nothing spectacular, especially compared to our dives! There were a lot of fish, but nothing unusual or large, though we did see a lot of clams, which are actually really pretty inside- and some kinds of soft coral that looked like apple peels if you peeled the entire apple in one, long ribbon. It was also pretty shallow- less than 5-7 feet or so- and the water temperature fluctuated quite a bit. There would be really hot pockets that made the visibility low because it rippled like the horizon in a desert- and then some cold. It was odd how there were so many quick changes, but this is probably one of the reasons why the current was strong- it was kind of like a washing machine of temperatures. Either way, we probably should have just gotten out and walked up the beach float back, but I knew I wasn’t going to be too long in the water as my face and mouth were hurting enough, I was ready to just relax on the beach instead.

I laid there for a while, trying to rest, but these little flies kept landing on me- especially my inner thighs (pervs!) which was super annoying and kept waking me up. I never did get much of a rest because of it- and they didn’t seem to be bothering Bryan?! He joked I was his bug repellent (the usual)- lucky me! Shortly he decided he’d go back out again, even though his face was hurting too- but when there’s a beach, Bryan’s in the water. He should have been born a fish! It is actually strange because he never knew his died (who died when he was 3), but his dad was an oceanographer and worked for the EPA, often out to sea. It is as though this is truly in Bryan’s genes- especially as the rest of his siblings aren’t particularly into the water…even his favorite color, orange, was also his dads…

I laid down again, trying to fall asleep, but the flies were persistent- so I just figured I’d watch where Bryan was. I spent a good 5 minutes looking back and forth along the water and I could NOT find him. I saw the guy near us who had gone out because I could see his fluorescent yellow fins…but no Bryan. It actually got to the point where I was starting to worry and kept looking back at the “lifeguards” who were not paying attention and really were probably only there because they had nothing to do and not because this was a busy beach and that was really their job…but suddenly, I saw flashes of his extremely white ankles flashing in and out of the water as he kicked along! Our fins are black with a whitish/ gray color; his rash guard gray and black too- then our snorkels are clear, so there is absolutely no way to see us when we’re far away…just Bryan’s glowing white ankles! Even as I watched him, I would lose sight of him and then have to struggle to find him again- which made me think, maybe we need to get some really bright fins and snorkels- or put some colored tape on the end of the snorkel so someone could see us if we were in distress? Something so simple could be what saves our life one day…and it’s a little weird how often I say that.

I watched Bryan for a while now, totally kicking and swimming, thinking he was going somewhere, but he was totally staying in place. It became funny when I wondered how long he’d looked at the same rock or coral and not realized he’d not moved? I guess although he was stationary, the current was dragging him slightly sideways, giving him a fresh view despite! Eventually, he came back in and laid down for a while too…and I should note, no flies bothered him even still!

I tried to guess how long it had been- I am usually pretty good at estimating time- and by my account, it was around 4, so we thought maybe we’d go back, shower and then walk around a bit more before the 630 meeting with our guide. Our room was pretty cold- which we don’t like it too cold- so I turned the temp up a bit- though I discovered later this turned it off, which was no good either. The shower was just another little box on the wall with a hose and sprayer, no stall, like the last place. It is really weird that it just doesn’t seem necessary to have a shower stall of some sort or a designated area, though I had experienced this before in Germany at one of the hotels. The entire bathroom was basically one plastic mold of a sink, toilet and shelving- like a shower surround would be, but instead, the entire bathroom. Here it’s just everything is made of tile and there’s a drain in every floor- usually for the bidet sprayer deal, and in this instance, for the shower too. One thing: you need to remember to check if you should move the toilet paper though before showering because that could be a really gross mess! The water was warm at least- certainly not hot- but since it was so hot outside, this was just fine.

We decided to walk around a bit, so went over to the turtle hatchery section where the lot is fenced off with a normal “cyclone” fence- and then a smaller- holed, green mesh fencing is shaped into a cylinder and shoved into the ground, cordoning off each clutch of eggs. Each cylinder is marked with the date the eggs were “planted” there, which number group it is for the year (they were up to 903 clutches at that point). It was then we noticed some of the cylinders had lids on them, others didn’t- and some of the ones with the lids, were literally boiling with baby turtles who’d hatched and were struggling to get out!

We ran to the side of the fence closest to them (which still wasn’t very close as they were nearer the middle of the field)- to get a closer look. In front of us, in the very first row, we also found one unlidded cylinder with ONE lone baby turtle freaking out, trying to get somewhere. We were worried that he (as this was the mostly male section) might be forgotten, so we made a note to find a ranger later and tell them not to forget this little rebel.

We watched the turtles boil for a bit and then went around the other side where we found another lone turtle was running around OUTSIDE of the cylinders, as he’d escaped! We could not figure out how that’d be possible, but it turns out sometimes when hatching they dig sideways through the sand and then up- so he’d escaped the clutch by doing this…however, it seemed horrible as he was flailing wildly and trying to get through the outer fencing, which was also just big enough for him to get his head stuck in! Then he’d back up, flip over and turn himself right again and repeat. The poor thing was going to be too tired to make his journey tonight if this continued.

At one point he went to where the fence is low and just roped off with a single chain- which the rangers unhook and step into the yard (rather than there being a gate). The baby, Stan (the man), as I named him, was trying and trying to get out just inches from us, but we could do nothing. At one point he flipped onto his back and just stopped moving- for long enough we all thought he’d died. I just about lost my mind and I reached in and righted him…and we waited. Thankfully he began moving again, which prompted a collective sigh of relief (by now a crowd had grown). One of the guides (or someone with some experience) saw us watching and stressing so he put the baby into one of the open cylinders so he was contained and we’d stop worrying quite as much…poor Stan- it was going to be a long few hours until his release.

Along the length of the outer fence we’d seen some s-shaped trails and I wondered what it was. Considering the komodo dragons were predators to the turtles I thought maybe they’d eradicated them from the island- and didn’t think that’s what it was at first…but sure enough, we saw a huge lizard when we walked back to the beach. His or her trail had the tiny bird looking prints of its feet and the sweeping s shape all the way from the water to where it was. This was a big one- had to be at least 4-5 feet long and we saw another couple watching it too as it slunk off into the underbrush- of course, before I could snap its picture. We walked along further and saw another couple looking at one- this one I was able to get a pic of…man, they are really big! This is why the hatchery portion is double fenced (and lidded to prevent birds taking off with the babies), but I would have thought the lizards could dig and get inside. I guess this works well enough since no one seemed worried and they probably do know what they are doing. I kind of wonder if they dug the fence down into the sand a bit too and flanged it out, so even if they tired, they couldn’t burrow in…let’s just say if this were my turtle hatchery, that’s exactly what I’d do 😉

By now it was time to meet our guide to check out the exhibition hall upstairs. It’s kind of like a museum with information about the island and the turtle conservation operation. He explained how the evening’s events would go- from viewing the items in the hall to the video (“at 7pm sharp”) and then how we’d wait for the rangers to call “turtle time”. It was awesome as he described turtle time, acting out the scenes with gestures (like the turtle digging the hole and such). This guy is so nice and really it was fun and endearing; we totally appreciated his enthusiasm. We lucked out on getting a really great guide- especially for the whole tour, not just one part. He also spoke English very well and had been a guide for 24 years- so he had a lot he could tell us.

Of course, as he talked my eyes were getting bigger and my heart was going to explode at the thought of getting to hold a baby turtle and put it in the water myself. I asked him if there was any way we could hold them, but he said no- which did not surprise. This of course, used to be possible years ago- but not anymore. He described how it used to work: each person would be handed a baby and they had to cup both hands around it. The turtles would be flopping and flipping in their hands as they walked towards the water- and inevitably, someone would drop the baby and it would get stepped on, causing everyone to get upset. While I get this could be a problem, I was of course, sad about it. Bryan said that we are super protective about the puppies we have at Motley Zoo events and that we won’t let people hold them- but I corrected him to note that we do indeed, if they are sitting- because a few times, even volunteers have dropped and injured the animals in the past…which made me realize: we should just sit to hold the turtles too. Problem solved! My solution is for everyone to kneel in the sand near the water and they get handed their baby and then all they have to do is lean over, the babies are a few inches from the sand and they can’t get hurt. Perfect solution…if only we could convince them of that this evening!

The guide pointed us to a giant turtle skeleton on display and told us a bit about them- as well pointed us to a display with some images of a ship that had been stopped and had hundreds of dead turtles on board- bound for China or other parts of Asia where turtles and their eggs are still routinely sold and eaten, despite their endangered status. It was horrible to see and thankfully the entire ship’s crew was put in prison for a few months- but you know this is just one ship, one story…and how many don’t they catch? He also said that fisherman bomb the schools of fish with a homemade dynamite, stunning and killing them all- as well as turtles. I had no idea people did this and it seems very cruel…Bryan reminded me that Crocodile Dundee it did in the movie too, to which I said, “well then, he’s a jerk as well”!

We saw some other shells and pictures too, including a picture of the rafflesia flower, unique to Borneo. It’s a giant flower, about a foot wide, which takes nearly a year to bloom and smells like rotting corpses. It certainly sounded like something to see and our guide mentioned there were some near Ranau, back in the town we stayed at where we had the view of Mt. Kinabalu (and home to the lettuce roundabout)! We would be heading back that way, but it seemed at breakneck speed, since according to our schedule we had to leave Sandakan at the end of this 3-day tour and be back in KK the same night!? This was going to be a near-impossible feat without stopping to pee, let alone for a detour to see a flower…so we put it out of our minds.

Now it was time for the video. It was very old and washed out- maybe from the early 90’s at best. While it did convey the plight of the turtles and was informational, it was far from the compelling video we would see at Sepilok (done by the Orangutan Appeal UK- the place I’d mentioned before that I’d sent some grant information to). We learned a lot- like that sea turtles escaped the cataclysm that wiped out the dinosaurs somehow, which I did not know; I think I just assumed they’d come later. I wonder if this is the same for crocs as I know they are pretty unchanged and long-lived throughout history? The types of turtles that visit the 3 islands (that collectively work to conserve them, we were on Selingan Island) are green and hawksbill. The greens are primarily vegetarians though will eat jellyfish- and why plastic bags can be especially dangerous for them since they look like jellies when floating in the water- while hawksbills are more carnivorous eating mostly invertebrates and have the bird-like beak to peck around and grab such creatures.

There is little known about the years that pass between turtle release and becoming juveniles- which seems hard to imagine. This time frame can literally be up to 15 years before they show up to mate and lay eggs…how can they basically disappear? On Blue Planet 2 which we watched recently, some were seen (or maybe they suspect) hiding out under floating debris- a log or something that has grown algae or has kelp around it; or in most cases lately, garbage. Small islands of floating garbage. Perhaps this is the only time where litter in the water might actually be useful, though still not appropriate and horrible, as surely there are enough floating trees and other such things for them to live with too! Perhaps the saddest was that they even showed turtles who had been trapped in fishing line and nets and died because they drowned- or those hit by propellers of boats. It was hard to see them all cut up, but I think necessary to show people what does happen because of careless humans- and to make an impression…but it made me sad- and I do have trouble not seeing that in my mind a little too clearly.

Although the video did a lot to explain the whole mission and reason for the need to conserve these animals, I really hope someone with some funding and videography skills will donate a new movie to them. I will see if I can’t find some grants for them in regard to this- or even write Ellen Degeneres’ new foundation to ask for such a small, simple thing be done. At the very least, maybe some celebrity might come along for this tour and take it upon themselves to do- as happened for the Orangutan Appeal UK’s. I can’t remember the name of the tv celeb, but he visited the orangutan center with a show and became an ambassador, adopted one of the babies and made sure they got a new video made- which was so new, it included one of the current day orangutan juveniles that was still living there…the video was probably less than 6 months old and was very compelling and motivating; many people made donations after seeing it. Turtle Island needs this as well.

Now, time for dinner which was stir fried veggies, rice and noodles- pretty much the usual, but again it was good and no complaints! Then a lot of waiting. This wait for the first turtle to land and start laying eggs could be as early as 30 minutes after dark, or HOURS, which made Bryan’s and my eyes get big just thinking about. I was actually a little worried I’d not make it if they took too long- especially as we only had hard “park benches” to hang out on- or sit inside at the dinner table. If you went all the way back to your room, you’d never hear the call for the event in time, because basically once the first turtle lands, the instant some eggs start popping out, you have to run to her before she’s done!

It was then I realized that this place could use some hammocks! How cool- and inexpensive- would it be to just have some hammocks hanging for people to chill in and rest, especially if the turtles are being rock stars that night? That’s definitely a way to improve this place even more…and solar power. It turned out the entire island is run on a generator, which has to be ridiculously expensive and not very efficient or eco-friendly, considering. I was also a little sad that we got a new bottle of water at every meal- while we certainly appreciate and need filtered water, it is really plastic bottles we saw most floating as litter on the surface…and in giving them to us, were not supporting the overall effort to reduce the use of plastic, which is so devastating to the animals they are protecting. I am certainly not criticizing or complaining, just thinking the same way I always do; one of the reasons Motley Zoo exists I suppose…there are just ways that the whole system could be tightened up and streamlined for maximum efficiency and conservation, which is of course what benefits the animals and our planet most!

While we were waiting we noticed a ranger head toward the hatchery area who was collecting the babies that had hatched! It was a bit funny because he was using the same kind of basket you use at the grocery store and it was boiling with babies, so much so you could hear them and it sounded like rain. We tried to tell him about the one lone baby in the pen nearby and he said he didn’t understand English, but I was pointing, so he saw too and grabbed the baby. I told him “one more” and pointed and ran around to the other side to show him. He begrudgingly followed and grabbed that baby too.

While I get this is his job, he seemed a tad annoyed with me, although not rude. I can understand this, like we’re not telling him to do his job- but we feared he might miss the ones that were not where the others were. It would be easy to miss them and unless someone REALLY checks all the little clutches, it would be easy to miss a loner- and you know how people are! They become complacent at their jobs and don’t do things the way they should sometimes- but you can never do this when your job is to work with animals. A really tragic example being what happened to our poor dog, Zelda (@ZeldasJourney on Facebook)- who died because someone just couldn’t be bothered to follow the proper protocol and took a stupid shortcut.

Anyway, it should be recognized that while this is his job, we paid a lot of money to come and witness this- and HELP in a way we feel is necessary (and within the bounds)- so certainly pointing out a lone turtle should not be annoying! Maybe it was more so that he didn’t understand English and was embarrassed…it’s not a big deal either way and I certainly wasn’t miffed…just something I noticed.

Thankfully, beyond the lone baby turtles rescue, we didn’t have to wait too much longer for turtle time! It was about 923 or so when the ranger came running yelling “turtle time, turtle time”! I got as close behind him and ran as fast as I could (in flip-flops through sand, wearing a long, maxi dress) and ended up one of the first there- and sat down low so others could see too. The ranger had pinned her legs back with stakes so that as she laid the eggs she wasn’t also trying to bury them and they were plopping out into the hole (this wasn’t hurting her). When laying eggs, t turtles go a bit into a trance, where nothing seems to bother them, including lights and sounds- I bet a few human moms wish childbirth was like that!? The turtle also makes a wheezing sound when the eggs come out- I can’t remember if it was just before they dropped or after, but it was like she was expelling air and sighing when she did it.

I started my phone recording right away- as did Bryan- until shortly into it, they noted that “no recording would be allowed”, just photos with no flash (they had a spotlight shining on the event). Bryan and I quickly turned off the vids, but this would not stop me later as mine was my iPhone- quiet and easy to hide the fact I was recording, whereas our camera makes a doorbell type noise when recording starts and stops. While I will only use the video for personal purposes- especially out of respect for the organization and their efforts- I think honestly, people sharing the videos of this would entice people to go there more, not deter them from it- which I suspect was the point.

Bryan agreed as well: when people see this stuff for real, not in a documentary and realize they too could do this and have their own video, it makes the situation attainable- and could motivate someone to go and do it too. Especially when they’d have their own video to show for it. I noticed as well in some other locations, they don’t even want you to take pictures of the informational panels or displays in the exhibitions (for example, at Sepilok)- which is how many people take home facts and figures and “remember” things by. At Sepilok for example, there was a picture of a creature in the forest that I thought was interesting and wanted to remember what it was called so I could look it up (it was not even orangutan related), but as I could not take pictures, now I cannot remember it…and therefore my interest and desire to investigate further on it- maybe to even come back again to see it- has died, since I have no way to keep the moment alive. I think they are missing the point on this aspect completely.

The ranger yelled for everyone to switch places so those in the back could get up front- which they did a few times. I ended up in front again, although either way, I could see well the entire time- and by then she’d stopped laying and they had to then do a measuring and inspection of her. She was about 4-5 feet in length but I can’t remember the official measurements. They measured the shell width and length, checked her shell’s condition and flippers for barnacles, which can later become cancerous tumors which can kill them. She looked healthy and clean! They also checked her flipper tag which indicated she’d been there before- 6 years ago- to lay eggs! If she’d not had a tag they would have attached one to each front flipper- they do two because they had found in the past one might corrode and/ or fall off, but the chances of this happening to both was slimmer.

Then they allowed us to go to the sides, near her head as she rested and started to fill in the hole where the eggs would have been. They allowed us to get “selfies” with her- not getting too close…only when the ranger was saying we could do this, it sounded so much like he was saying we could do “smoothies” with her. I am actually pretty sure it took most people a few times of him saying it before people understood! One couple wanted to do one together and the guy walked a little too close to the hole and it caved in a little towards her face, but did not ultimately disturb her. Bryan and I just looked at each other because this is the reason people like us can’t hand release the babies ourselves anymore! People just can’t be trusted…but WE could! Sigh.

I also saw in the distance, there were a few big baskets of babies the ranger was carrying off in another direction, which horrified me that he might release some without us- or accidentally release them ALL and we’d not get to see any?! The latter was unlikely, but of course I feared missing any little bit!

After the laying, we had to leave her so she could rest and build a dummy nest too- to confuse predators as to the location of the real eggs. They ushered us back to the hatchery area where they’d counted the eggs (98) and we were going to “plant” them. They showed the bucket of eggs- which look basically like ping pong balls, only they are soft and leathery (though we did not get to touch them). The hole was already dug and the ranger started putting the eggs inside. The temperature determines their sex- as little as 4.5 degrees difference; males result where it’s a tad cooler and females, warmer. They showed us the marker they would use with the day’s date and the clutch number, 904. Then he put the green fence around the hole and started filling it in by using the marker to scrape the edges of the hole, allowing the sand to fall softly on the eggs- softer and more evenly than if you’d scooped handfuls in yourself. Once there was a nice layer, then he started scooping with his hand and alternately, gently shook the fencing cylinder to make it all pack down a bit more- and lastly, placed the marker. That was that- our little group of eggs would hatch in about 50-60 days from now!

We waited a bit more as they called us to do the release of the babies!! As I suspected, the ranger had released most of them- like 3 full baskets of babies?! Now there was just “handful” in comparison, in our basket. We started toward the beach, but this time we were at the end of the line- the part we wanted to see the most and be really close to?! Even Bryan commented how it sucked we’d found ourselves at the back…but almost as soon as we got to the planned spot, the ranger turned around. The group was on the move again, the line turning around- now Bryan and I at the front of the group! We’d had to move because there was another mom who’d landed to lay eggs where he’d planned on releasing the babies- so we had to find another spot.

We headed the way we’d come in, where the boat beached. When we got to near the water, the ranger drew a line in the sand, with two ends pointing toward the water (like a soccer goal shape). We all had to stand behind this line, and he’d dump the bucket in front of us to release the babies. The only “help” we could offer was to use one finger to redirect the babies if they went toward us instead of the water. Tragically, none needed my help at all- but a few people were able to turn some around. At this point anyway, I was more focused on capturing the moment and watching it all.

I definitely recorded this part, because this was the best part: all the little babies flopping around trying to get to the water! There ended up being maybe 30 babies at most- and considering we found out the next morning that 450 babies were released that night in total, the ranger definitely did a lot of baby releasing behind our backs! However, again, we can’t complain since we got to see the real deal either way- stuff you normally just see on tv. It was very moving and exciting and I just couldn’t believe we got to see it- especially after our quite uncertain morning of adventure.

Now it was time for bed for sure as it was almost 10pm- WAY past our usual bedtime! It was hard to sleep though as we were hopped up on adrenaline and it took a while for that to wear off…baby turtles! BABY TURTLES!! Baaaaabeeee turtlezzzzzzzzzzzzz!

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