Day 15- Sakau to Ranau

In the night we’d been hearing a variety of insects and more recently, frogs. One sounded just like a car alarm going off- so we called it the frog alarm. It was very persistent- and annoying like a car alarm- but eventually we fell asleep.

Of course, I woke up to this crazy, loud screeching as the boars were apparently fighting on the walkway down below our chalet! It was SO loud- and Bryan slept through it all!? I cannot fathom how as it was actually a tiny bit concerning really…but lucky him.

We both woke up the next morning with our stomachs feeling a bit off which was not good. Not only would we be in the car a lot, but we’d be flying shortly and I it got worse, not better, we’d be in for a fun 30+ hour trip home! We both took some Immodium and hoped for the best.

Packing everything up is always so hard because it seems like even when you use things, get rid of them- and really didn’t even buy anything new- nothing ever fits as well as it did on the way there. We struggled to fit everything back into our bags to make it all down to the van in one trip.

We got to brekky, but neither of us were super hungry and just had some toast and a little bit of eggs. We didn’t even go for the noodles for fear anything in the least bit might set us off. We were taking a few pics and having our coffee when one of the Aussie ladies asked if we wanted her to take a picture of us. In talking to her more she explained why they were there: following the path of the Sandakan Death March. We had never heard of this, although I remembered seeing a few signs about it on the way here…but in WW2, the Japanese collected up some Australians and, in the heat, without food and water, marched them for hours, either to or from Sandakan (2 hours away). All of the people on the bus were family of those that had died and they were commemorating the event. It is not something I think most American’s are familiar with but like the concentration camps for Japanese families, the US now looks back on with shame, such is this event for Australians. I guess the government had not done enough (anything?) to help them and this was a great source of anger for the people. I will look into this more at some point, but I was surprised- and saddened- to hear this…however, thought it was really great that they could all come and honor their families in this way. There was a historian Annette, Silvers, who had been documenting it and written some books about it and she was here on the trip too, guiding these families. It was really interesting and terribly sad, especially as we’d thought they were just a bunch of retirees having fun (minus the guy who got eaten by leeches).

They’d just come back from their morning boat cruise and they were lucky to see an orang, relatively close up, however they were insanely jealous when they heard we’d seen elephants, let alone so many. They were taking off at 9am and us too- we figured we’d probably be behind their bus for a while- especially as they were headed to Ranau later, where we would be…although with our stop at Gomantong Caves, they’d have a major head start.

The caves are very interesting and I didn’t even know this was going to be on the tour, so I was kind of excited. We love caves! It was only about 15 minutes up the road too, so we didn’t have far to go before we arrived. In the parking lot, we were approached by some friendly dogs and our guide gave us more of the passion fruit biscuits to feed them with. There were four and they seemed a family- mom, clearly in charge. At first, I was hand feeding them but they were a tad snappy (not aggressive but how much practice being gentle could they really have?); I didn’t want to get scratched and then have to worry about rabies either, so I tossed the cookies to them. There was a ranger who came out and whistled for the dogs to move on after a few minutes so we just hoped we’d get to feed them more later.

I will admit I knew nothing about bird’s nest soup other than vaguely. I pictured a twiggy, feather filled broth that couldn’t be real, so I thought it was just a name they called a kind of soup…although on some level too, I knew that it was real…but here’s where I finally it got got it- and threw up in my mouth a bit: the nests are from swallows (hundreds of feet up on the cave/ cliff walls)…and the nests are literally made of bird spit.

Here’s where, if you didn’t know about this already, you will certainly think about vomiting too. Thankfully they had a diorama of the nests and birds- what they look like and how it all works so we could see close up, because you cannot at all see the nests from ground level at all.

It turns out, the ones that are just spit (and no feathers) are the highest in value 5,000RM/ kilo. That’s almost $1500 USD. CRAZY. The next type are ones that are spit and some feathers (less than 50%). The feathers detract from their value so they cost less. Then there’s even more feather to spit ratio, which is least valuable. You think? Who the f wants to eat feathers?! WHY is this a thing, I just kept thinking?! Why did some emperor way back when decide that it was “elite” to have people climb and grab spitty bird nests to cook into soup? I will never understand- but the emperor was Chinese (insert joke here). It really does seem however, very little is considered inedible to them!

I was still trying not to vomit as I looked at the displays showing how they used to have ladders made of bamboo, but bamboo is heavy and also now harder to find- so have now switched to aluminum. I was still trying to understand all this and why it’s such a crazy, big production…until we walked back and saw the cave.

Our guide had warned us that the boardwalk would be slippery and there’ be some cockroaches? He also said it would smell. As we walked on the wooden boardwalk, I saw nothing of the sort and did not find it slippery, but appreciated the warning. We came out of the woods into a clearing where there’s a large (very run down) building- where the birds’ nest getters stay while they are working. The guide also pointed up the cliffside where there were 2 other houses that people climb up to and stay in for a week at a time, guarding the caves. Apparently, there is another way to get to them that is not down the boardwalk from which we came, so they have to guard them…from people crazy enough to climb hundreds of feet and take birds’ nests…this is still just so bizarre.

I turned my gaze to what was directly in front of us and saw the opening to the cave; it is absolutely huge: 90 meters in height! Considering the Statue of Liberty is just under 93m and could nearly fit inside, perhaps this gives some kind of better perspective. I have never seen such a thing and was in awe. As we approached on the walkway, we could smell it- a strong ammonia and musty smell.

As we walked into the opening, it became clear what the guide meant: the walkways was absolutely a skating rink of bat and bird feces and cockroaches were running everywhere. The railing was just as covered and there’s NO way you’d touch it- and there were plenty of signs showing that you could fall (90 degrees), which I kept thinking would be one of the worst things I could ever think of happening.

It was pretty dank and no breeze moved through so this made the whole thing a tad overwhelming but we were still fascinated and amazed. This was not a bad experience at all for us- just crazy. Apparently, the guide really hates going in there- which if he’d told us before, we’d not have had him go in. Also, we saw some people (including our young Brit couple friends from Turtle Island) come out with hard hats on- which afterward we wondered, where did they get to go that we didn’t- and was it because our guide just didn’t like it?

The birds were swooping overhead (quite high up) and bats screeching. There were occasional rats running around as well- and, on the walls,, you could see large groups of roaches just hanging out. It seems crazy to think that people would eat these nests at all, especially after seeing how dirty it is in the cave! I can’t fathom still, how this is desirable. But I can understand more now why this is a really dangerous job- but why for the price the nests fetch, they’d consider this…but it’s still just so bizarre.

We were really lucky because while we were staring up at the top, trying to gauge the true height, someone looked over the edge and yelled hello to us! It was a worked who was up at their post, calling to someone from below that they needed supplies. A guy was walking along the boardwalk with a couple grocery bags in his hands- which included some food for the guys who stay up top and climb in to get the nests. There was a big rope in the middle of the cave and a burlap sack attached. The guy rigged the bags into the sack and they yelled back and forth for a minute, until the guy up top started pulling it up, hand over fist. We got to watch the whole thing and even filmed a little, though are sure it will be impossible to get the full gravity of the immense size overall.

It was a really cool experience overall and I do wish we could have explored more, although I would not at all got “down and dirty” or crawl or anything through passageways as we have in other caves. The people who had hard hats on were not dirty, just sweaty so now we wondered even more where they went. The guide had kind of moved through quickly as we were lingering to take pictures and he was blowing his nose repeatedly. There was a set of bathrooms, with water spigots outside and he was rinsing his hands and then shoes. He suggested (and I am certainly would have insisted had we refused) we wash our shoes- as his van was in pristine condition. I can’t imagine how bad it would be to track this back there, gross! So much crap came off my shoes and I still didn’t feel like they were clean!

As we were walking back, Bryan said he’d seen a spider in the bathroom- a big one- which was the first I’d heard of the whole trip; I’d not seen a single one! He said it was really big and he thought about putting his hand near it to show perspective, but he said too it was so big and scary he actually thought it might be venomous and he decided against. As a result, the picture certainly doesn’t illustrate the size, but that’s ok by me! It is vivid enough for me haha.

As we walked back, I was wishing we’d see the one other kind of monkey we were hoping, but hadn’t gotten to see: the red leaf monkey. They were really petite and cute, much like the silver leaf, but a pretty penny red color. There had been a picture of them near the dioramas of the birds’ nests, indicating they were indeed in the area, so I kept looking for the trees to move or hear something, but the 5 minute walk back to the van yielded nothing.

We fed the dogs a few more biscuits and got into that van. Then I saw something move in the trees out of the corner of my eye. It was small, not a macaque- and I just held my breath thinking maybe it’s a red leaf! I told Bryan and our guide that I saw something…and I think it might be a red leaf? The guide called out to another who was sitting on a bench near the action and he indicated indeed, it was!

We got out of the car with the cams and went over to the tree where they were, which was very close to us! It couldn’t have been any easier to view them actually. There were 2 babies who were being so ridiculously cute- and they were really curious about us! They’d jump a little closer and force the faces out as far as they could, watching us. Then they’d start playing, which involved holding a branch over their head and then bouncing their legs making the bottom branch shake and they’d ride it like they were surfing. Did I mention how ridiculously cute they were??

We got some pretty good pics with the telephoto and stayed another 15-20 minutes shooting. The lens had a cover on the end which helps shield the sun from it which Bryan had taken off since we were in the shade. When we got back into the car however, we could not find this cover! He looked everywhere, but as he’s a terrible looker in most instances I got out to help- as did the guide.

I was having trouble finding it either, but I moved over a little further than we’d actually been and I saw it underneath the boardwalk: he must have put it on the railing or ground and in our shooting either shook the boardwalk enough to knock it off, or just bumped into it- so now it was on the ground about 10 feet below the boardwalk. One of the guides offered to get it, but it wasn’t in a terribly precipitous or difficult spot so Bryan climbed over the railing and grabbed it. That wouldn’t have been a terribly expensive piece, maybe $30+ but would have been annoying not to find, so gladly we did!

Now we were ready to go- making the near 2 hour trek back to the city of Sandakan and our car…where we’d get lunch at an “authentic” restaurant- then pick up and turn around to go back the other way another 4 hours to Ranau and our friendly landmark, the lettuce roundabout. Thank goodness we did not need to go all the way back to KK!

Our guide had been telling us about some US money he had that had been passed down through his family over the years. His grandparents had run a general store and somehow came across some coins and bills they’d saved. He kept saying a $1,000 and $5,000 bill from the late 20’s and early 30’s. We did not believe him, simply thinking he misunderstood and meant $100 and $500…but he kept talking about it. He also showed us some silver dollars from the 1870’s which he was hoping we maybe knew something about. He was over the moon when I told him I’d recently sold my grandfather’s coin collection and made a little bit of money. He was hoping we knew about these items he had. Of course we didn’t, but we told him we’d find out.

When we got to the restaurant, called “Chicken and Rice”, he knew we would need items that did not have meat in them. He specifically requested veggie soup only- and the special “pancakes”, traditional to the area, called roti. How we wish we’d known about roti before!?

Roti is a bit like naan, a doughy soft bread served warm. Rather than in an oven however, this is cooked on a big griddle, like a crepe. The person starts out with a small ball of dough, which they start kneading and flicking their wrist to spread it out wider and wider. It gets nearly paper thin and then they throw it on the griddle. Ours had an egg broken into the middle and then wrapped up inside. We watched it cook and indeed this stuff was delicious…I could live on it! They served it with some Indian curry spiced sauces like you’d get at an Indian restaurant for poppadum. While watching it cook, a little boy was watching us and hanging out very close, seemingly interested in us. I asked if he wanted to take a picture with us but he shook his head and went to hide. Sorry dude! I thought he might have enjoyed it, but no worries- we don’t have to be friends, you can just stare instead!

We ate this and waited for our soup. They served us our sodas with cups of ice and straws. Always straws- there’s just too much plastic use here…Bryan was adamant about not tempting fate with the ice, in case it wasn’t filtered, but I decided that I was more interested in ice-cold soda than worrying about my stomach (to be clear I was fine). I also was thrilled to find a new Fanta, strawberry- which is always a good discovery. We were thrilled to have found pineapple in Africa…it’s interesting to see the different flavors we don’t have at home.

When the soup came, it was indeed all veggies- but did have some sprinkles of the dried fish-or-onions we’d had on our rice- and we’re pretty sure it was chicken broth, considering the name of the place! We both knew this, though said nothing to each other. It was a lot like pho and had an egg dropped in it. It was delicious, but overall there was so much food we could barely have eaten it in 2 full meals! They seemed surprised when we asked to take it home with us, but they obliged. This was dinner, baby! We’d be eating dinner! *performs a little dance*

While we were eating our guide went back to his house which was quite nearby to get the money he’d been talking about. When he came back we went to the van and laid it out to view and take pictures. It was so crazy because there really was a $1,000 and $5,000 bill?! We’d never heard of such a thing- so perhaps this may indeed add up to something later!? He kept saying we’d split it 50/50 and live the good life, which made us laugh. For his sake I do indeed hope there is some value in this collection*- I just inquired with the same store I sold my collection to…we will see!

*5/15:as of this moment, it is anticipate to actually be quite valuable, so we are going to help him pursue this!

This is also when we discovered our guide’s name is Patrick- not Ahmin! We had been discussing schools, religion and such on the drive and he mentioned he was Catholic. He said his name was Patrick, which made me pause. I said, “are you called by anything else (meaning Ahmin)?” and he said no. His name was Patrick THOMAS!? I felt so bad and was laughing at the same time- no wonder the one time I tried to call him from across the room and called him Ahmin, he pointed to himself and said “me?”. I didn’t tell him that we were under the impression he was named something else- especially as sometimes he called me Gina or Jenny. I figured we were even haha. But yeah, we felt so dumb, but would never have expected in a million years he would have such a simple name- and share our last one!

Now it was time for us to part ways. We were sad because this meant our trip was over and we were indeed sad to say goodbye to Patrick. He was really nice, but we hoped we’d be able to contact him later with some good news about his collection! We piled all our stuff back in the car and said our goodbyes and got on our way. Four hours to Ranau- and then we’d stay at the same hotel we did the second night here- the one overlooking Mt. Kinabalu.

The drive was pretty much the same, as we’d been this way before. We were coming up on the Labuk Monkey place and we had debated whether we’d have time to, or should, stop- especially as it was right in between the feeding times. We had asked Patrick about it- whether it was “legit” or not. He explained it and said it was a nice place- although we are not sure he totally understood what we meant by legit. It was clearly however, a similar thing to Sepilok, where the monkeys come if they want and they are not caged- so this is “legit” enough to us that our money would not be being used to keep animals captive in undesirable conditions.

We made the turn off toward the place when it started pouring rain. It is a fact that most animals will not come out when its raining so then we started to get a little disappointed- especially as this place was not just a tiny bit off the main road…it was way the heck back there- and the GPS stopped registering. It seemed we were driving forever- and then started making turns, so I had to really pay attention to when we turned or we might go the wrong way on the way out, thereby really extending our trip back to KK.

Thankfully it did stop raining. This gave us some hope- but suddenly, we were driving through palm oil plantations. Where was this place? How could there be a legit jungle and wild monkeys here? We made the last turn into the place- the front gate of a plantation! There was a ticket booth though, with someone working it so Bryan went and got tickets. It wasn’t cheap though, about $30USD. This was worth some consideration- not the $4 at the hot springs- but Bryan seemed into it and I wanted to try…we just hoped we saw something!

Especially as it was getting later I was a little antsy- and there were many more turns and km to go until we got to their first feeding platform. It did not seem there was any more than one other car there besides someone who probably worked there…so again, we doubted. We went through another ticket booth- this time just showing our tickets- and into a building’s second level. They had a little “snack shop” but otherwise the place was dead. When we went outside we didn’t know what to expect…

But there were 5 proboscis monkeys sitting on a platform only about 15 feet away, chomping on some bananas and grooming each other. They are even more hideous up close- I cannot express this enough. They are really just SO ugly, but man are they funny!

Thes because every single one of them had a bright pink pole between their very crudely spread legs. Some were looking down at them, but all of them were very proudly showing them off! There were some young ones who were play fighting, which was pretty funny as they made such vicious faces at each other- then they’d freeze and sit still…then jump back up after a few minutes of calm. There was one older monkey who was policing these teenagers and he’d open his mouth and make a surprised ooooh face, which is their “mean” face at the youngin’s- or he’d honk at them, which would prompt them all to honk. He was really on top of the policing even following the wild ones up onto some kind of ventilation unit and then to the roof.

Suddenly we heard a splash and some of them were jumping off the platform and a dead tree, into a pool- they really liked to swim, as those two who bravely forged the river! They ran up and down and played king of the hill with the tree, knocking each other off. Other older ones just sat around with their hard-ons just snoozing. One looked so much like Donald Trump I was trying not to laugh. Their hair is kind of flattened and cow licked just like trump’s toupee mop and the nose- then the faces they make- and their desire to just stare at their junk…it really just seemed too funny. I took a picture of him posing just marveling at himself. If we could just zoom it in a bit more, it would make THE BEST meme…

We were totally entertained by these crazy guys and it was already well worth the stop- both in time and cost. I went toward the end of a walkway and sat down on a bench to watch the ones playing in the yard- when suddenly one of the ones on the roof, jumped down onto the railing just a few feet from me! I wasn’t scared, he was far enough away and didn’t seem threatening. He seemed curious and he watched me as I glanced away and would catch his eye again. He spread his legs quite wide which had me in stitches, trying not to make noise because it was just too funny. Bryan was taking pictures as well as a Japanese guy who had been shooting them. He began shooting me and this monkey interacting. At one point I posed just like the monkey was doing, but mostly all I could do was laugh- especially as one had come along the roof overhead and his tail was dangling just above me.

Eventually the monkey turned away and I scooted back to where everyone else was. This is when the dumbass arrived.

I won’t say what nationality he was, but he immediately went toward the monkey and started getting really close. The monkey turned his back because he was clearly uncomfortable and the guy kept pushing and pressing for closer and closer selfies. We were filming because we though for sure this jerkoff’s glasses were going to get ripped off at the very least- maybe he’d get beat up at the worst…but we couldn’t wait for this jerk to get even a small taste of what he had coming to him.

But the monkey didn’t do anything. He did turn to him a few times and made the mean face and honked, but this guy just wouldn’t leave him alone! He was not going to be happy until they were touching- which I think he actually did. We just kept uttering what a jerk he was and that we wished he’d learn a lesson…but nothing ever happened. They were touching arms in the last selfie before I guess he’d done enough and then lost interest…but we were disgusted. I wanted to slap him…but it was time for us to move on.

By then we’d been there so long that it was the next feeding time, so they started getting the food ready- but we’d already seen the show so didn’t need to stay. I saw a squirrel bouncing around ao took some “Squirrels of the World” shots and we headed out. The route within the plantation was a loop, so we were going to drive out a different way than we’d come in. Almost as soon as we pulled out we saw a big lizard walking down a path and it slipped into the gulley to bathe. We stopped the car so I could get a pic, but the instant it saw me it shot straight up out of the water and flew like 6 feet and started waddling away- then stopped and looked back at me. I apologized for startling it and told him to go back to his bath.

Just a few meters up the road was a proboscis just hanging out too, so we said hi to him as well. Then we saw something…I couldn’t identify what it was! It looked like a hippo butt, or maybe a rhino…but we were not in Africa!? I kept saying, what is it and even Bryan couldn’t figure it out…and then it turned it’s head: it was a cow. It was gray and aged looking, like a rhino would be and it was really fat, stout and round- but it had some horns and was dragging a rope grazing. Some egrets were eating next to it, which made a cool pics, except most of them scattered when we stopped to take the shot. How funny- but really, we’d not seen many cows at all. This was a weird looking one- but clearly, we could see now, just a cow!

The drive was relatively uneventful, however as time went on and we got more tired, it became more and more painful. There was a lot of traffic and so many trucks and palm oil tankers, it was really taxing. It was starting to get dark and we were both just wishing we were in bed. When we got to Ranau, we knew we were almost there. The hotel was actually on the far side- but the flower and the Pouring Hot Springs, which we decided we’d stop at were on the nearer side. Did we try to find something beforehand or just stick with what we knew? We had anticipated the distance being a little bit less, so by the time we had passed 2 hotels (one looked pretty nice) we were regretting the choice to stick with the one we knew. We were also so concerned we’d miss that tricky little dirt road and be going back and forth again…

We got closer, closer, closer…but the person in front of us was making us insane. They should not have been driving. Literally, EVERY time a car would come at them, they would slam on their brakes and nearly drive off the road. Then they’d start getting a little bit of speed again (though I swear bryan rarely touched the accelerator) and then someone would approach oncoming and they’d do it again. They actually drove off the road once, catching their tire on the lip of the shoulder, nearly crashing. I have no idea why they were out, especially after dark if they sucked this bad at staying on the road, but it was horrible. We also could not seem to pass them as the road became really windy and the oncoming traffic was pretty steady. We drove about 40 minutes at the most painful pace and wanted to cry.

Finally, we saw our dirt road and took it. The drive was slow and painful for the next 3km as we climbed up and up to the resort. When we arrived we were so relieved- but also surprised to see many cars in the parking lot and a lot of things going on- including the dining hall nearly full!? Apparently, this place is not the dead resort it seemed to be on our way down, which was interesting. We hoped they had a room now because of it!?

They didn’t have the same one available, though gave us another second floor one so we could have a view. We were so tired we could barely make sense and we just trudged our way upstairs to the room and sat down to eat dinner and collapse. I felt dirty but could not bring myself to shower and I just laid down on the bed and crashed.

I don’t think I even heard Bryan get into bed although it was only a few minutes later!

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