We were picked up in a 4X4 from Sandakan harbour-front at 12pm on the 26th of October. A couple from London were also picked up there and we chatted for the 2.5 hour drive to the Kinabatangan Forest Reserve. The Kinabatangan is apparently the only forested flood plain left in South East Asia and is home to a large number of indigenous species of mammals, birds, reptiles and insects.
Our camp, the Senbil Jungle B&B was a simple collection of wooden shacks with no running water, the bare minimum amount of electricity and no mod cons. It exactly fitted its jungle setting and budget price.
After meeting the other people staying there - 3 Canadians including one who’d spent the last 24hrs as the solitary guest - and sitting about for a while we went on our first excursion: an afternoon cruise down the River Kinabatangan. Every so often we’d stop along the river to look at wildlife that our guides had spotted. We’d soon seen macaques (cheeky tree dwelling monkeys) and the famous proboscis monkeys (big droopy noses and bloated bellies) lolling about in trees and a few more crossing a rope ‘monkey’ bridge connecting their habitats.
We joined another boat that was filled with tourists all staring at the river bank. We soon saw the objects of their attention. A couple of pygmy elephants were just about visible in the long grass 10 metres from the riverbank. They weren’t really close enough for a good photo but we felt quite excited at seeing such a rare sight. Little did we know what was in store the next day! Returning to the camp just after dusk, we ate dinner and then donned our leech socks and welly boots. It was time for the night walk. With slight trepidation, we turned our torches on, covered ourselves in bug spray and trudged into the surrounding rainforest. It had rained a couple of days earlier so the path was a mudbath at points and our guides had no qualms about leading us straight through the deepest parts. We got to see a number of brightly coloured birds asleep on branches, a squirrel nesting in the trunk of a tree and a couple of people ( not I) got a glimpse of a wildcat. I managed to rid myself of one leech which was crawling up my welly and after an hour or so of trekking we made it back to camp. Everyone was shattered and given the early starts to come we all headed off to bed before 11pm.
I woke up absolutely shattered at 5:10am on the 27th with no idea how good a day it was to become. At 5:30am I got the first text from Mum saying that my big sister Joanna had given birth to my second nephew. Young Jamie William Ruston was born on the 26th of October and I was glad to hear that both baby and mother were doing well. Filled with happy uncle-y thoughts I boarded the boat for our morning cruise down the river. Amazingly, I had an acceptable mobile signal and was able to download a picture message of the new arrival as we motored up stream. 10 minutes later we were watching a couple of wild orangutans climbing about in the trees. As with most of the animals we saw, the view was from afar (20-30 metres) and difficult to photograph using a camera with a broken zoom. Still, they were impressive to watch. Other highlights were a white headed eagle and a rhinoceros hornbill which is a bird that has a rhino-like horn.
After breakfast we went on a2 hour jungle trek which was alright. Given the time of day there were no animals to see but it was fun traipsing along jungle paths . Not long after getting back to camp the local macaque monkeys came to see what the could steal. A few dozen of them invaded the camp and monkeyed about feeding on bread the staff had thrown for them. There were a number of females with babies and we spent a good hour watching them. After lunch and a quick nap we went off on today’s evening river cruise. I regaled an english guy on our boat with stories of seeing the pair of elephants the day before and that they generally see them here once or twice a month if lucky. 5 minutes we rounded the corner and found 10 other boats of tourist staring at the river bank. Their cameras were all clicking away in the direction of over 30 elephants feeding by the water side! The elephants stayed for about an hour and were right up at the bank in short grass giving us a tremendous view of these Borneo Elephants. The rest of the cruise and the night walk were the same as those from the day before. Still fun but shadowed slightly by the elephants. I did manage to have a beer to wet the baby’s head in the evening while watching Anaconda (set in Borneo) with the rest of the guests and staff.
Our final excursion on the camp was the morning cruise the next day. It was very misty and the only spots of interest were some birds and a crocodile that stuck its head out of the water a few times near the boat. We were picked up after breakfast which was the same meal as ever other one we had there (tasty, filling but repetitive) and driven back to Sandakan. That two hour drive was followed by a two hour wait for a bus back to Kota Kinabalu and a six hour journey. We arrived at the out of town bus station - our third of KK, why can’t they have a bus station in town? - an hour after the last minibus traansfer had stopped. This left us with no choice but to get a taxi and we were joined by another backpacker looking to get into town. We asked a Borneon couple in a passing car how to get in to town and they said they’d give us a lift all 7km to our hostels. The three of us crowded into the back of their Renault Clio sized car with our backpacks on our knees. Arriving at the hostel we thanked them profusely and waved them goodbye. Malaysians are great!
Our previous hostel only had expensive rooms left so we stayed in Xplorer Hostel where the australian owner only informed us that the internet was broken after we’d paid, even though I’d asked beforehand. Dinner was at our favourite street stall where dishes are large, meaty, beautifully presented and garnished even though its only 70p for seafood mee noodles.
Tomorrow we leave Borneo & Malaysia and head to Singapore. Borneo was an amazing experience and there is still so much to do there that I’ll have to return at some stage, maybe for a long holiday. It seems to cater well for more affluent tourists than backpackers and has such a lot to see. If I didn’t have a flight booked out of here tomorrow I’d easily spend another feww weeks here. But I do, so I can’t.