The beds here were ok (single beds, however), but the pillows were pretty bad- a hard thick foam. I slept ok I guess until the craziest storm woke me up. It was pouring rain, maybe some of the strongest I have ever heard, especially amplified by the metal roof. It was definitely the loudest thunder I have encountered; it was directly overhead. What was crazier is that Bryan somehow slept through it all. I could hear him half snoring in fact- and he recalled none of it in the morning.
At home, usually, I am the one who doesn’t hear anything. After years of having foster and boarding dogs that bark and carry on- even my own, often enough- I have trained myself to sleep through just about anything, even construction work. Whether it’s Bryan doing something at home, or like when we were in Madagascar and they were sawing tile for the new pool, when I want and need to sleep, I just drown it out. Though it seems on vacation, I am the one who hears everything and he’s dead to the world! I really can’t fathom how anyone could sleep through that thunder at all, but I guess he was lucky- he said he slept fine!
Our call time for brekky was 6am and leave by 7, so I set the alarm but as usual, was up anyway. Bryan hung back for a second getting some last-minute things together as I headed over to the dining hall. The workers had some kind of funny pop music on, which was pretty terrible, but they seemed to enjoy it. I found it strange at how provocative the words were for a culture of women that must be covered up so much (and in this heat?!), but certainly, I did not begrudge them their fun.
One of the ladies on the tour came in and was kind of dancing to it and I was like “yeah it’s a party in here”- which resulted in them promptly shutting off the music. I don’t know if they thought we were making fun, which we were not- or if they were pushing the boundaries of what they were really supposed to allow (like if any guests showed up, they probably were supposed to turn it off)- but then it was very quiet and we ate our eggs and noodles in silence.
We’d brought our stuff and our key, which we dropped at the counter and made our way to the boats. Since we’d had our own boat on the way over, we didn’t know how full it might be this time but turned out the younger couple of Brits and the German family we’d come to know a little was on our boat going back. The boats had a portable set of wooden steps they pulled up to the bow or each boat to allow us to get in easily and they piled our stuff in. After donning life jackets, we were off. Just as we pulled away a bunch of rainwater poured off the roof and straight into the Brit girl’s face and a little on me- it was pretty cold but overall, harmless and she was surprised but laughed. I was glad it wasn’t me though because I was glad not to be wet for a little bit. After all the diving, snorkeling and rain, sometimes it was nice to just be dry!
We got underway and I was sad to leave so early- although the turtles are really the ONLY thing to do there. I can’t imagine most people would want to be there more than one or two nights maximum. As much as we enjoyed it, there was more to see and do and laying around is not usually in our plans very often! At least where we can’t be relaxing with some mojitos in hand.
We were heading parallel to, but (we were sitting) facing the direction of some dark clouds in the distance- and while the others were just chilling and dozing off even, Bryan pointed to what appeared to be a funnel cloud in the distance. At first, I thought maybe it was just the way the clouds looked- a lighter one in front of a dark leaving a line which appeared to be such a thing, but in watching it more, it was clearly a tornado starting! We watched it growing- getting longer and wider, extending down to the water! I don’t know officially what you’d call it but it was not a little water spout, which I have seen in the past- this was a full-blown sky-to-water tornado of significant proportion.
This is when others started to notice and point- and although I didn’t notice, Bryan said our guide seemed to be a tad concerned. It grew longer and wider and you could see where it made contact with the water and the chaos it was stirring up there. It was headed straight for a little island in the distance, which, if inhabited, was in for a surprise. It was also a tad alarming that one of the boats who had left the island with us had veered off, somewhat in that direction (perhaps for Semporna, while we headed to Sandakan?)- and we wondered what this meant for them. How fast could this thing move, and would it would head this way? It was far enough off we were not worried per se, but I can imagine it would move much faster than we pictured if it did decide to change course this way! We asked how often this happens and the guide said “often enough” which is and isn’t surprising at the same time. With the number of sudden thunderstorms and such, it wouldn’t be- but to think there are all these little fishing boats going out so far every day- and there are cyclones frequently- it seems quite a dangerous occupation and lifestyle.
We pretty watched for about 20 minutes or so, and I made a comment it looked like it might be weakening. It started to get thinner and lighter in color- then it seemed to just slowly suck back up into the sky and disappeared. That is definitely something I have never seen before and don’t expect I will any time soon either- and I certainly don’t want to be any closer than that if I do!
Other than that, the boat ride was uneventful. We saw more of the huts over the water- and we went a different way around this large rock island- where on the previous trip we’d seen the side where the boats all anchor offshore. This was the “wild” side of it- a large rocky cliff and a deserted beach (and you could still see some litter on it) and a little cabin/ camp which seemed to be unused at the moment. When we got back to the city, we landed at a different dock- close to some old ragged looking fishing boats- and near the coast guard center. Our van was waiting for us there and our guide got into the driver’s side as whoever it was that had driven there, moved over. We needed to stop by the office again where our car was parked to get the rest of our stuff for the next few days, which our guide said was no problem at all. It was basically on the way, so we just held our breath for what would be left of our car or our belongings!
We pulled into the business park and turned the corner to the office- where our car appeared untouched! It was hotter than anything you could possibly imagine when we opened it, but everything was also inside it when we opened the trunk. I feel this is really a testament to the people and community because had this been Seattle, the car would have been broken into (in many neighborhoods)- and here we were in a foreign, 2nd world (?) country where it would seem even more likely people would be even more opportunistic…
I feel the people here are, in general, pretty proud and want to create a safe and welcoming environment for tourists, knowing this will benefit them more. As well, they just seem like a very nice, happy culture in general. They definitely don’t seem to have the disdain for tourism we’ve seen in some places we’ve been- where people seem to overall feel tourism is exploitative rather than economically beneficial…I suppose there is a fine line- and I can see it both ways. Anyway, we have come to realize as well in these parts, that if there’s a disdain for any kind of tourists, it’s overwhelmingly the Chinese- not the “dumb Americans”.
Naturally, I mean nothing by this (and have nothing against people of any culture, so this coming observation is meant to be just that, an observation), but we have heard so many complain about the Chinese tourists. They are not liked at all.
It doesn’t matter if they are other tourists, guides, or locals- everyone has a comment, joke or complaint about them. This is not a racist thing either, rather a cultural one. The Chinese, in general, seem not to be respectful of others’ societal norms- and therefore seem to cause chaos and frustration to the people we’ve talked to. At the moment, I actually feel a bit unsafe writing about this as I sit in a Chinese airport having just been detained…so I will leave this topic for the moment to continue and will come back to it later when I feel I have the 1st Amendment fully behind me.
We grabbed all our stuff from the car- and thankfully the trash we’d left, wasn’t too stinky, but we grabbed it this time to throw away later. We were in for an approximate 30-minute drive to Sepilok, the orangutan rehab center- one of only 5 in the world. We did not tell our guide we’d been here before because it didn’t matter- not only did we not want to hurt his feelings or put him off, but we wanted to see it again, just as enthusiastically and knew it’d be different this time either way. We were going for the early feeding this time as well- so in all we were thrilled just to have another chance to see orangs at all!
When we got there, I explained to our guide (and I will explain shortly why I keep calling him that and not by his name), that I was going to try to meet our contact, Lauren from OA UK, and see if there wasn’t something more she could tell us- or better yet, show us- about this place. He seemed a bit confused and maybe a tad sad, but I figured if he got to see something he’d not normally, he’d be pretty excited too so he’d get over it if so!
He went to get our tickets (which were included in our tour)- and collected our camera fee from us and got those tickets as well. We had to take our shoes off to go into the exhibition hall, which was full of REALLY old displays and fading pictures- but like the turtle thing was prohibitive, they requested no photos be taken of these antiquated displays. I didn’t feel like I was missing too much by not being allowed to do so, but there were pics of the baby orangs that were ridiculous I would have liked to have just had them to look at. There were some facts, figures and interesting things I would have taken a picture of to remember…but what we do remember is that orangs only eat plants (and occasionally some insects) and they can live to be about 35 or so in the wild; 50 or so in captivity. The babies stay with the moms for about 5-6 years- although I can’t remember if this includes when they have a new, younger baby or not, but I think so. I remember the travel writer lady from the dive trip saying one of the juvenile kids was jealous of the mom with the younger baby- although it could have been just jealous of the mom paying the baby mind, not that it was his or her mom…some kids just want attention, after all, even orangs!
It was time for the video presentation, which I could tell immediately, was presented by Lauren, the chick I was supposed to talk to. I also recognized her as someone I had seen sitting at the OA UK desk the last time we were here too- not putting it together at the time it was her! This left me with a pang of disappointment because she was alone that day and it was slow, which seemed a missed op for sure. Today it was really busy and we’d surely not get that much time with her, especially if her job was to watch the info desk again and get people to adopt orangs and make donations…
As we walked into the video show, we saw the Brit couple from the Turtle Island Tour and they sat with us. The video was great and very compelling- as it was recent and very professionally done (as I’d noted before), sponsored at least in part by that British celeb. It featured the woman that started OA UK, which is NOT the owner/ operator of this facility; they are just an org that supports the efforts. Sepilok itself is a government-run operation, basically like a national park. OA UK raises fund for the specific needs of the orangs and brings increased awareness, worldwide, to their plight and support the efforts of the local government.
The video also showed how hands-on they have to be with the babies initially- as much as human babies- but by the time they reach the outdoor nursery, there’s a lot of tough love involved. For example, they need to encourage the babies not to walk on the ground, but rather stay in the trees, because the ground is where predators and germs/ bacteria are (which I did not realize). They also showed one orang who was having a fit because it was raining and she didn’t like it and wanted it to stop- but they couldn’t let her in or comfort her as she had to realize this is what life as a real orang is like and she’d have to adjust. It was a very touching moment and good for people to see how they are working hard to acclimate the animals to live independently in this area with as little human support as possible.
After the video concluded, I asked the Brit girl if she’d heard of OA UK before and she said yes. She also said she was glad that- despite the downside for us- they seemed to have tightened up the rules significantly about letting people touch and hang with the babies. Apparently, some family/ friends of hers came 10-15+ years before and had pictures of them holding the babies- but over time they came to realize that as we share 94.6% DNA with orangs (and they are our 3rd closest relatives in the animal world), that the orangs are susceptible to the same diseases as people- and contact with them in this way was detrimental. Of course, I was glad for this too, as this is how it should be, but there was a pang of jealousy as I wished I’d been here 10 years ago too when they didn’t know any better!? I was tearing up at the thought of just being NEAR a baby orang, let alone holding one. With Lauren being here, MAYBE there’d be a small chance we could see the nursery…maybe!
After the movie let out, I found Lauren at the info desk and introduced myself. It became clear quickly that she has very little authority (darn it all!) and was basically a liaison but not authorized to necessarily work with the orangs- and certainly would not be able to allow us behind the scenes- which wasn’t terribly surprising despite my holding out hope. She seemed genuinely enthusiastic that we rescued animals and loved the name, Motley Zoo- she seemed like we would have been friends or colleagues under different circumstances. She also noted she was sad her term there (3 months) was coming to an end in a couple weeks. I can imagine while difficult to uproot and go half-way around the world for a temporary volunteer position, that it’d be extra hard to leave such a place once you arrived and got to know the orangs especially!
It was nearing the feeding time so we said we’d talk to her later and went out to the platform. There were about 3 times as many people here as the last time and the platform viewing area was pretty full, but we found some spots where we could shoot some good pics. Two big males came and hung out for quite a bit and an apparently pregnant female hung out over the roof of the structure right near us and I got some really cute pics of her hanging over the edge that I will send to OA UK. We’d brought the good telephoto lens for our Sony A6300 (which is a mirrorless one, like a DSLR but smaller) and this was great. I shot a million pics and had the action/ continuous setting on so it snapped a couple pics each time, which would be the best way to capture the movement and expressions best. I took a few vids too, but mostly focused on the telephoto. It is however really heavy and I was working up a sweat just holding it up (and because it was 1000% humidity and 90+ degrees)! We probably spent about 45 minutes here this time- but had to leave soon for the 2 hours to Sakau and the Myne Resort again, where we’d stay the next few days.
We stopped to say goodbye to Lauren, but fortunately for the animals, she was busy helping people sign up as sponsors, so we just said a quick goodbye and she gave use each organ pins, which was nice. We also stopped at the gift shop and bought a $5 picture of one of the babies to support. Perhaps in the future, we will consider sponsoring a baby orang, but in truth, we don’t have a lot of savings because of my years of volunteering full-time for Motley Zoo and it has kind of caught up to us. While we do go on vacations such as this, we really don’t have a ton of money and we have reached an age where you start to think much harder about what kind of savings you have for retirement. While we’re not going to be destitute, we take this seriously and it’s been a little bit of stress on me recently. I do feel however, I have spent many years advocating for animals; I do sometimes need to let others do their part and not always feel I have to act myself. It’s hard because I always think “I can do that”…but the reality is, sometimes I really can’t or shouldn’t even if I want to.
I was pretty tired on the drive and had a hard time staying awake. Thankfully, we had the whole van to ourselves and Bryan moved to a back row so I laid down which was nice. The guide’s phone rang and he explained that we’d be picking up someone else- a girl who worked at the resort that was coming from a town about an hour back down the road. I wondered if she did this each week because that’s hard-core if so- and it turns out yes. She comes and stays at the resort, then goes back home for a few days and repeats- as do many of the people who work such jobs, just like in Madagascar. It’s a rough life to be away from friends and family- especially for those with kids- but it’s one of the best ways to make a living (working in tourism) and it’s a coveted job in most areas we have seen. I woke up enough to say hi to her, but quickly fell asleep again until we arrived…just in time for lunch!
The managers said hello again and we thanked them for being so helpful with our tour/ travel plan mix up. They seated us at “our” table which we’d use for the majority of the next couple days- and got us some filtered water as we explained we were vegetarian. Another guide was hanging out at the next table waiting for his two guests and started talking to us. He appeared Indian and spoke very excellent British English but turned out he was born and raise there and had been a guide for 30+ years. He reminded me of Crocodile Dundee (which we called him from then on).
In talking more and asking where we were from he was stunned to hear we’d come specifically all the way from the US to vacation here- something he’d said he’d never heard before. He said there aren’t usually many Americans either way, but when there are, they are usually working somewhere in Asia and just taking a little jaunt over to Borneo for a break- NOT a huge trek for less than 14 days of vacation. He said that at least 4-5 times, how shocked he was- and that he totally respected the immense effort and undertaking it was to do so. I admitted that most people where we lived really didn’t know a thing about Borneo- neither what or where it was! He agreed it’s just not a huge destination for many, especially considering the distance. I explained that I’d wanted to come since I was in 3rd grade and he thought that was pretty funny too. The guy also told us the day before there’d been 30 or more Chinese tourists here- and noted our good fortune (in more ways than one)- but now we were the only ones beside his 2 guests.
It was about then our food came out. At first, the kid serving it started to bring us some chicken wings, which we said no thanks, but yes to the veggies- and the guide kind of scolded him in Malay and took him aside to enforced the fact that we must not be given animals to eat! The rice came out in the shape of a bowl- with some things sprinkled on it. My first thought was that this was little bits of dried fish- and Bryan asked me what it was. I didn’t want to tell him that, but then I actually thought maybe it was fried onions, like the kind you’d make a green bean casserole with at the holidays- so that’s what I said. I waffled in my mind for a minute, but honestly, I am pretty sure it was some dried fish pieces, especially after seeing the markets later in KK…but we try not to mention such things to each other because there’s not a lot we can do about it and it would only ruin what possible enjoyment we might have of it. There was such a small amount anyway and knowing Bryan, he probably avoided it for the most part anyway…we would be fine, especially if we did not think about it much!
This does not mean we’re not true to being vegetarians by any means- as I have been for nearly 25 years…but sometimes you have to just hope for the best and not ruin your meal worrying about whether there might be some chicken fat from the grill on your veggies, or what the broth in the veg soup really is. I am certain we had some kind of animal thing somewhere in our food, but as long as it’s not flesh, we will survive.
Other than the almost chicken, we had a variety of stir-fried veggies which were good- about 3 different plates full, which was a bit too much for us! We could really only eat 2 plates- and we told our guide this because we didn’t want the food to go to waste. He said the guides and workers would eat it or take home, so I don’t think he said anything about us not needing quite so much. We just took a little off the serving plates and left what we couldn’t eat otherwise- which we are sure didn’t get wasted. Barely able to move at that point, we had about an hour until our next event: a jungle walk- so we took the op to go back to the room and lay down for a bit as we were both still pretty tired.
Our room was all the way at the end of the resort, up a bunch of stairs- which is not a huge deal but when it’s hot, humid and you’re tired, any exertion immediately takes a toll and you’re covered in sweat by the time you arrive. Thankfully we didn’t have to carry our bags up, which was awesome, but the trudge still seemed hard work! The room was nice, mostly stained/ sealed wood. It was a bit 70’s/ 80’s perhaps, although maybe not that old even, it just kind of had that classic honey-colored wood of that time. It was clean and nice, relatively modern. The hotels seem to get an A for materials, maybe a B- or C for craftsmanship, especially regarding tile, but eh. That’s just the DIYer’s in us noticing! It was a nice room and we would be very happy there- especially as it had AC.
Bryan had the keys, so I had not seen them- so when I saw the room had the same feature as the TD Mutiara, where you must put the card in the slot to use the electric, I asked him for it. He said they didn’t give him anything. Naturally, I figured he knew what he was talking about and thought maybe they forgot to give us something, so I called the desk. She noted it was, um attached to the key ring. I looked at Bryan and asked for the keys- where sure enough there was a metal card, kind of like a dog tag, which fit perfectly in the slot! I will admit, I was a tiny bit annoyed that he made me call downstairs and look dumb rather than just looking at the keys to figure it out- before saying we had nothing of the sort! But whatever, we had it figured out and I just wanted to get the air on and turn down the humidity! It did have window screens though, which was nice…although I was not sure how much I trusted them either.
I laid down for a nap and Bryan puttered around but also succumbed to napping, which he hardly ever does- when it started pouring rain and thundering. I wasn’t sure we’d have a walk if this would keep up, but the rain really did seem to come and go quickly. However, our 1030 meeting time came and I was a bit relieved it was still raining because I was still ridiculously tired. I called down to the desk and told them that we were supposed to meet our guide Ahmin for a walk but that it was raining and we’d stay here. I confirmed instead we’d meet for our 4pm river cruise later. She said she’d relay the message and I went back to sleep for another couple hours!
Bryan told me later that he actually felt sick and that’s why he’d laid down- headache, achey and stuffy and was worried he was getting sick, but felt a lot better after napping- as did I. We freshened up and went to the restaurant to meet for the river cruise.
We were served some snacks of the colored, layered gelatinous thing we’d had previously at the beach resort outside of KK- but this one had more layers. I think it’s made with tapioca or plant pectin, but perhaps gelatin, so I was surprised Bryan ate it since he is a real stickler about gelatin- whereas I will bend sometimes for gummi things and marshmallows. I will say though, Trader Joe’s marshmallows without gelatin are FAR better than any regular marshmallow and you should try them if you get a chance! Anyway, I usually like such things and he doesn’t- but he enjoyed it and we agreed it was just tapioca or pectin for the record.
We went down to the dock to get in our boat and we were the only ones there again! This was great, basically a private tour for the cost of a group one- you would never hear us complain about this. As we pulled away from the dock, Bryan videoed me making a commentary about what we’d be doing and hopefully what we’d see. “we expected maybe to see some crocs, birds, and monkeys- but we hoped we’d see orangs or maybe even elephants if we were lucky”! Almost as soon as he stopped filming and we turned around, we were staring at a mom and baby orang high in the trees! Holy cow, what a lucky sighting! They were very visible but not for a picture- especially as we’d not brought the long lens.
To be fair Bryan asked me if I wanted to bring it and I am usually reluctant because then you can’t do wide angle scenery shots which I like and can be so important…especially when you realize later, even zoomed into the max, the animal pics are never that impressive as in your mind. They end up being small parts of a large frame and you can’t get them to be more significant even when zooming and cropping- so I often turn down the lens- but the pictures really are better and I need to remember that we should just bring it at least! Here it could have made a bit of a difference? Although that’s still probably me being hopeful.
We continued down river and saw a baby croc about 4 feet long- then a big one of at least 10 feet! It was wagging its tail and then would slowly sink under, it’s eyeballs last to go. He or she surfaced and went under a few times- the entire time, only maybe 20 feet away, if that. We saw lots of birds including 2 kinds of Kingfisher, the larger being a really bright blue and yellow which is really pretty. Also, hornbills- 3 varieties- which are kind of like toucans, with big bills. One even has a rhinoceros horn on top as well, which we saw one flying the next day, but not close or fast enough to get a pic.
And to satisfy Bryan, we saw lots of monkeys- especially the main/ expected types. The most common are macaques, which we saw the pig-tailed variety at the sun bear place (that sneered at me)- and there were also long tails which have more of a normal monkey shape and size. The pig-tails are a bit more like baboons, including that they can be a bit more aggressive than other monkeys.
The other type we really liked were called silver leaf monkeys, who are a silvery gray color and have a fun triangle shaped head with a mohawk. We also realized that they look a lot like Bryan with the ridiculous beard he’d grown and they are indeed his spirit animal. He even has a touch of vitiligo on his face which makes his eyes slightly lighter than the rest of his skin- and the monkeys have this kind of “mask” too. Really, a dead ringer- of which Bryan was none too disappointed to hear!
The last is the proboscis monkey which is unique to Borneo. You may not know what their name is but chances are you have seen them because frankly, they are hideous with huge long flabby noses, that quite literally look like penises dangling from their faces. They honestly could not be any uglier if you ask me! We looked through binocs and took some pics, which actually turned out to be pretty good for “wild” sightings.
Our boat also came across other boats- including the young Brit couple from Turtle Island and Sepilok, to which we waved and laughed that we keep running into them- although we were a tad surprised no one we’d been touring with was at our resort with us either. It was a bit more expensive than a “backpacker’s” rate, however, it was far from extravagant either. This slight difference seemed an extra good deal when their boat was chock full of people and we were just the two of us.
One thing we were surprised- and dismayed- to see was that some palm oil plantations came right up to the river. Before we were even told this was definitely against the rules, we felt it was wrong. Apparently, they are supposed to leave 50-100m of untouched forest along the riverbanks to account for animals passing through- and to avoid the disruption to the view when on the river…but a few of the plantation owners didn’t care and cut everything down, straight to the water. We saw later that some even fenced their plantations in- thereby really cutting off the animals’ paths, which seemed far worse than just the violation to start and really it was maddening.
Apparently, plenty of other people thought this too and tried to make complaints and take action against them but it turned out the owners were either owned in or people friends with those high up in government- so basically they gave everyone the finger and nothing happened at all. Figures. It irked me every time I saw this- and there were more than a few occasions where all we should have seen was pristine river bank and instead we were staring at palms. I guess if payback is a bitch (although not really the worker’s fault), one of the plantation workers was fishing on the riverbank and got eaten by a croc. They put up a big sign warning people from then on- and of course, someone new was fishing a few meters down from that. Yep, some people just can’t be helped…although what’s perhaps worse, is that in Tony’s book, he’d jumped into the river! Without even thinking about it, he just jumped in. He got a bunch of leeches on him to show for it- but somehow didn’t get eaten, which really is shocking considering locals seem to often enough!
We made it back as the sun was setting which made a beautiful view of the water and we got a few pics of it and our camp light up. It was dinner time, this time consisted of tofu and veggies + rice- all delicious, no complaints…even a little bit of a spice cake for dessert, which was the first dessert we’d had that was sweets and not just fruit.
Croc Dundee was there with his guests and he showed us some pics of their tour the day before where they’d seen elephants!!! He said they had to go way downriver though…however, our guide came over just after and told us we had the option to hire a boat and do this very thing!? It was 400RM for the both- basically $100. Bryan initially seemed reluctant whereas I was gung-ho- so we asked if we could decide shortly. It turned out we’d have until lunch tomorrow to decide- but I was decided! What was there to think about?! After asking Croc Dundee if it was worth it; his emphatic yes and seeing the looks on his guests’ faces- I was even more convinced…