A Travellerspoint blog

Squeals, Wheels and spinning meals

Kuala Lumpur revisited...

overcast 30 °C

29th January 2011

Decided to do a complete circuit of the hop on hop off bus route today to make sure we had seen everything and also to book our train tickets to Penang, our next destination in Malaysia. Having visited the Planetarium yesterday there was only the local arts and crafts centre left to visit. Jumping off the bus at KL Sentral, we found the ticket office and booked our first class seats on the train to Penang for the 31st January. After taking a little stroll around the huge station and finding the platform we would need, we waited an age for the next bus to appear and hopped back on until we came to the crafts centre, a good two hours later! We hadn’t realised just how long the route actually was.

The grey KL skyline

The grey KL skyline

KL Independence Square

KL Independence Square

We got off the bus and, as we were eating at the revolving restaurant at the KL Tower at 8pm, thought it would be a good idea to eat sooner rather than later so that we wouldn't spoil what we hoped was going to be quite a feast! The food hall in the craft centre did not look at all appetizing so we walked the short walk to a nearby shopping mall to grab a snack and a coffee before returning to the craft centre, which turned out to be a bit of a disappointment to be honest, and didn’t have a great deal to offer. There were a few small outbuildings downstairs where a small number of artists were making and displaying their wares, some of which were quite beautiful to look at. We started chatting to an artist who came from Borneo who was painting flowers on silk, and he offered us “good price” for one of his works, but we politely declined. As we left his hut it started to rain and we dived from studio to studio, dodging the downpour, but soon got bored and left there after about an hour, opting to walk through the shopping centre on our way back to the hotel, stopping in various clothes shops for Jen! A huge troupe of drummers dressed in bright yellow silk shirts was performing on the lower level, just by the entrance and we stopped and watched them for a while. They were absolutely brilliant and perfectly in time. As it was Chinese New Year, and the Year of the Rabbit, the entrance to the mall was adorned with bright red Chinese lanterns, fake cherry blossom and some huge rabbit statues, while just inside the entrance was a huge yellow dragon watching over a number of drums representing things like health, happiness and prosperity. You could go and beat any particular drum that you wanted to in the hope of receiving that particular fortune. It all looked wonderful in an over-the-top kitsch kind of way!

Cherry Blossom and Chinese Lanterns adorn the streets of Kuala Lumpur

Cherry Blossom and Chinese Lanterns adorn the streets of Kuala Lumpur

A Chinese Rabbit welcomes us to the Pavilion Mall

A Chinese Rabbit welcomes us to the Pavilion Mall

A Dragon watches over the drums of Peace, Health and Prosperity

A Dragon watches over the drums of Peace, Health and Prosperity

The entrance to the Pavilion Mall, decked out with Chinese Lanterns

The entrance to the Pavilion Mall, decked out with Chinese Lanterns

On the lower ground was a gallery area where a small number of artists were working on portraits using different media that included, amongst other things, marble, silk and paper. The one that caught our eye was a guy who was sculpting a couple sitting in front of him out of modelling clay! His samples included Obama, Bush, and Michael Jackson amongst others. We thought they were brilliant and we couldn’t make up our minds whether or not to get one made, as a memento. Price was the deciding factor,so we started the walk back to the hotel! It was dark when we left the mall, and we stopped to take a few snaps of the entrance and the beautiful fountain at the front which was a series of cups stacked on top of one another that changed colour every few seconds.

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The multi-coloured fountain outside the Pavilion Mall

The multi-coloured fountain outside the Pavilion Mall

Time was getting on so we went back to our room, got showered and changed and walked to the KL Tower. The rain started to fall once more and we were quite wet by the time we got there, Jen feeling particularly annoyed because she had spent so long straightening her hair and, within five minutes, it had completely frizzed up! A free shuttle bus takes visitors up the hill to the tower, and Stew eyed the F1 Simulator that anyone having a meal in the restaurant or visiting the viewing floor could have a go on. We went to the counter to let them know we had arrived, and were soon zooming up in the superfast elevator to the restaurant 335 metres above us. Once shown to our table right next to the massive windows, we marvelled at the incredible view. Stew put his camera bag down not realising he had placed it on a part of the restaurant that didn’t revolve and within a few minutes it was a few yards behind him! A waitress told him and he went to retrieve it! The meal itself was a buffet affair with a huge variety of dishes, all beautifully cooked and we ordered our drinks before tucking in with gusto! There were different food stations spaced evenly around the huge restaurant that were on a stationary platform and they either got further away or nearer to you depending on what you wanted to eat! It takes an hour for the restaurant to make one complete revolution giving guests ample opportunity to take in the breathtaking panorama while enjoying their fabulous meal. Setting the video camera to on, we left it on the edge of the table to record the fantastic view over the lit up city below. There was live music playing, too, but we felt it would have been better if the pianist had stuck to only playing the piano instead of singing too, as he clearly couldn’t! He even had people going up and asking for requests. Stew had a request for him, but Jen wouldn’t let him ask for it in fear of being thrown out of the restaurant as it had nothing to do with music...! Our meal was delicious, however, and we made a few extra trips when it came to dessert as there was plenty to choose from. We both ate way too much but thoroughly enjoyed the meal and the experience, but not the bill! Stew’s small can of Tiger beer was £8...! We left there quite contented and decided not to bother waiting for the shuttle bus to take us down the hill. Stew had missed the opportunity to use the F1 simulator, as it was shut, so we walked down the hill instead, taking some shots of the tower on our way back home.

View from the KL Tower revolving Restaurant

View from the KL Tower revolving Restaurant

Stew with Dessert part 3 !!

Stew with Dessert part 3 !!

The KL Tower at night

The KL Tower at night

26th January 2011

Got up and showered before asking Nora, our host, to organise a taxi for us to take us the short distance to the airport to catch our 10:20am flight back to Kuala Lumpur. We were at Kota Kinabalu airport by 8am and had to wait, once again, for the check-in desk to open. We fully expected to be hit for excess baggage again, and so it was! AirAsia’s baggage policy is only 15kg unless you pay a premium for 20kg when booking your ticket. Another 30RM down the drain, we went through to the tiny departure gate and took a seat. We were literally surrounded by a shop...! It contained the tackiest souvenirs you can imagine – one in particular catching Stew’s eye. It was a coconut fibre Proboscis Monkey that was quite simply hideous, with sharp, jagged teeth and looked like a Proboscis zombie! The whole shop was full of rubbish but whiled away a few minutes for us both. Needing coffee, Stew went to the small kiosk at the back of the departure gate and ordered a latte, a custard donut and a chocolate chip muffin. Settling down to tuck into our breakfast, we were both in for a little surprise... The chocolate chip muffin turned out to be blueberry, and the custard donut oozed a bright green, slimy liquid when Stew bit into it! it was almost pure sugar, and the latte was the strongest we’d ever had! It was pretty awful! We had a go at connecting to the internet just as the flight was called and we had to quickly put the laptop away and join the queue to board the plane. During the flight we discussed how to get back to our hotel and decided to save some money by travelling to KL Sentral using the Skybus, a bus connection between the airport and the KL Sentral train station. It takes a little longer, but is a fraction of the cost of a taxi. So, once back on the ground and fully laden once more, we went in search of the Skybus ticket office and, tickets in hand, climbed aboard. It actually turned out to be a pleasant ride back, but we still had to get from KL Sentral back to the Bukit Bintang area we stayed in before. We hadn’t actually booked anywhere to stay yet, but were heading back to the Hotel Rae in the hope that they would have a room for us. Making our way to the street through the station, we found the taxi kiosk, purchased our coupon and waited in line for our cab that soon came along. Once inside and a way up the road, our large, black, African driver started telling us that the ticket did not include the use of his boot and it would be an extra 2RM for luggage! We thought that was ridiculous, and, although a very small amount of money (around 40 pence!) it was the principle of the matter and we flatly refused to pay him anything. He got a little testy and Stew got more and more annoyed and a heated row ensued, the driver finally backing down saying he didn’t care and why were we making such a fuss about it?!! It went very quiet in the car and he started driving like an idiot, squealing his wheels, driving across central reservations and cutting people up left right and centre. We couldn’t wait to get out, and luckily the journey wasn’t that long. We steered him to the correct road and retrieved our luggage from his boot, without any help from him, and just walked away. Jen ran into the hotel to find out room availability and thankfully we were in luck. We thought we would splash out a bit this time and get a room with a window in it! The room was just as small, but the natural light made a huge difference. We got settled in and relaxed on the bed, watching some TV for a while, before deciding we were both a bit peckish and went in search of something good to eat. Rather than turning right at the end of the road as we usually did, we thought we’d try the other way just in case there were any restaurants in that direction. We stumbled upon an entire street of restaurants and bars as well as a shorter route to the KL Tower! We opted for a classy looking Italian restaurant and sat outside in the warm evening air. The food was good although a little on the pricey side, but it was nice watching the city come alive as the evening wore on, watching the bars and restaurants fill up and the noise levels rise. As Jen was still sniffling away we thought it would be better to head back to our room so she could rest rather than walk anywhere else tonight.

Posted by StewnJen 21:08 Archived in Malaysia Comments (1)

Leaving Borneo..

The travelling show hits the road again

overcast 28 °C

25th January 2011

Our early morning bird walk alarm jolted us out of our much needed slumber, but not quite enough for us to get out of bed! We both still felt washed out from the day before, and Jen wasn’t her normal self yet, so we both agreed to give our last mini adventure a miss and take advantage of a relaxing morning at the Lodge. Stew went and gave Lister, our guide, the sad news and we took our time getting ready for our last breakfast at this amazing place. It was a beautiful morning so we took our cameras to breakfast with us just in case we happened upon something wonderful and, walking along the boardwalk, we looked in on our praying mantis friend in his light house, but he was nowhere to be seen. Maybe he’d got lucky the night before... ! A beautiful, big, blue Dragonfly showed itself in all its glory by landing on the boardwalk balustrade right next to us and posed perfectly for our cameras, and we managed to fire off a few shots of him before he took off with a loud, low hum.

A blue tailed dragonfly pays us a visit at breakfast

A blue tailed dragonfly pays us a visit at breakfast

Breakfast was especially delicious today as it was our last one, and we were in absolutely no hurry whatsoever! We sat as close to the veranda as possible, right in front of a couple of huge bushes with bright red flowers and watched as the biggest, most beautiful butterflies we had ever seen danced around them, flitting from one to another to feed. It was too good a photo opportunity to miss, so Stew went crazy with the camera for a while before returning to the table to refill his own belly with the wonderful breakfast on offer. There was so much to choose from, and so much of it too that we rather over indulged and waddled back to our room to pack as we were being picked up at 1pm for our long journey to Lahad Datu airport for our 5pm flight back to Kota Kinabalu.

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A couple of colourful butterflies tuck in to their breakfast

A couple of colourful butterflies tuck in to their breakfast

All packed and raring to stay, we went back to the lounge area to avail ourselves of the free WiFi again. Sadly it still wasn’t working so, while Stew banged in some blog hours, Jen spied an illusive black squirrel and went running off, camera in hand, to snap the slippery beggar! Soon, the smell of the impending lunch was wafting through the air, and, although sorely tempted, our bellies were still too full of breakfast and so we decided to skip it.

Jen finally tracks down the illusive Black Squirrel

Jen finally tracks down the illusive Black Squirrel

An even scarier Praying Mantis pays us a visit! Jen declined to pick this one up though!!

An even scarier Praying Mantis pays us a visit! Jen declined to pick this one up though!!


Much to our disappointment, our ride arrived on time and Stew had to prise Jen’s fingers off the balustrade to get her into the car! Saying our goodbyes to all, we climbed inside our Jeep along with the couple we went on our canopy walk with. The lady was very talkative and happened to be in the same line of work as Stew so had plenty to talk about and, although the journey was long, it seemed to pass quite quickly and we arrived at Lahad Datu airport at around 15:30. It must be the smallest airport we have ever visited! The cafe, check-in desk and departure gate was the same room and the single runway and stand were completely devoid of planes! We sat there for an age and were called to the departure gate at around 16:30, despite the lack of a plane, and we walked the twenty yards to the gate! Finally, somewhat late, our Turbo Prop plane landed and we were soon comfortably aboard the small plane and in the air on our way back to Kota Kinabalu. We were given an in-flight meal of a bottle of water and a small cake (which is more than you get on EasyJet or Ryanair!) and enjoyed the hour long flight. Once back on terra firma we grabbed our luggage, bade farewell to our fellow passengers, purchased our taxi coupon and were soon back at Lavender Lodge. Deciding not to bother with dinner as neither of us really felt like eating, we retrieved our stored luggage and sorted our backpacks out before hitting the internet, while demolishing the remaining biscuits we had left here from our previous visit. Jen didn’t feel very well at all and the both of us felt weary from travelling so we called it a night and went to bed, setting the alarm for 7am for our flight back to Kuala Lumpur.

Posted by StewnJen 21:47 Archived in Malaysia Comments (3)

Strolling past the Beeches, looking out for leeches...

...in the Danum Valley Rainforest

sunny 32 °C

24th January 2011

The phone nearly flew across the room when the annoying alarm noise sounded at 5am and it felt as though we had only just crawled into bed! Nonetheless we dragged our weary bodies out, although Jen was feeling quite unwell this morning. We quickly got dressed, making sure to wear long-sleeved tops to keep the biting bugs at bay as much as possible. We didn’t know what to expect this morning or where we were going as we were unable to find our guide last night, so went in search of information and coffee. We got to the lounge area just before 6am and a very nice member of the bar staff, with the very Bornean name of David, made us a fresh cup of life-giving coffee before we went down to the lobby to find Lister, our guide. Sure enough, he was there and told us we would be off to the canopy walk in search of early morning birds and beasts. Again we were told we wouldn’t be needing the famed leech socks on this walk as we wouldn’t actually be going into the jungle itself but walking across a long rope bridge high up in the canopy of the rainforest. We were joined by one other couple and set off on the short walk to the bridge at around 6:30am. It was a lovely, bright morning and the early morning sun was twinkling through the trees while we crunched along the muddy, gritty path, jumping the puddles and navigating our way round the thick, sticky mud until we came to the few wooden steps that signalled the start of the canopy walk. Standing at the beginning of the bridge, it was an impressive sight and definitely was not for the faint hearted. High in the trees, it stretched out in front of us for what seemed like miles. In fact the bridge stretches for a total of 300 metres with varying lengths of the bridge interrupted by an octagonal viewing platform before the next span starts again at a different level.

The long, magnificent canopy walk in Danum Valley

The long, magnificent canopy walk in Danum Valley

A misty morning start on our canopy walk

A misty morning start on our canopy walk

One of the lookout platforms along the canopy walk

One of the lookout platforms along the canopy walk

The canopy walk stretched for 300m

The canopy walk stretched for 300m

The stream way below us from the canopy walk

The stream way below us from the canopy walk

Stepping onto it was a sensation in itself, as the whole structure wobbled with each step and the ground below looked a long way down! We inched our way to the first lookout platform and studied the trees around us. A thin mist veiled the top of the tallest trees and the calls of the birds were surprisingly few and far between. We were both a little disappointed with this, but were still enjoying the wonderful view from this unique vantage point. Unable to see any form of wildlife we carried on to the next viewing point where we stood and watched a fast flowing stream far below us, watching the brown waters turn white as they swirled around rocks and tree trunks. It really was stunning, but still the shy inhabitants of the rainforest refused to make an appearance. We finished the rest of the walk with our guide giving us the lowdown on various tree species and some of the incumbent fauna in the area before stepping back onto firm ground and walking the path back to the lodge. Again treading through the mushy mud and missing the puddles we started the trek back up hill and happened across the truck that had taken us on our ill-fated night time safari last night. We were shocked at the state it was in! Quite clearly elephants had charged it and left their indelible mark! The padded seat cushions had been speared by tusks and ripped to pieces, the metal frame on which they were bolted to the chassis had been peeled back like paper, while the thick, solid steel mud guards had been folded back like they were made of cardboard! Dents galore decorated the side of it and the whole truck had been pushed into the foliage! Thank God we were not in it at the time. Our guide last night was right to be cautious of following the elephants too closely! We carried on towards home once again, the thought of breakfast quickening our pace, took some photos at the base of the stream we had been watching from the canopy and walked into the lobby area a short while later. After giving our boots and shoes a hose down and a scrub we were informed about our next adventure, sprinted upstairs and sat down to a wonderful breakfast. We ate our fill, and more, while looking out over the wonderful grounds and to the river, watching birds and butterflies of all colours flying around us while we ate. Even some of the insects here were the size of small birds! We barely had enough time for our food to settle in our bellies before we were donning our freshly cleaned boots and, for the first time, our leech socks! We were off on a real jungle trek to the Viewpoint, an hour and a half away through thick jungle but along a well trodden path. We were told the climb would be fairly arduous as it was mostly uphill so were a little worried about our fitness levels. Jen still wasn’t feeling too great but we rather hoped that the heat and exercise might sweat some of the cold out of her! We were joined by a young man and we had a new guide with us as the couple from this morning’s trek had decided they would rather do something different and our original guide accompanied them. We were handed a walking stick each to help us get a better purchase on some of the more slippery areas and, fully kitted up and looking like a couple of badly dressed Morris Dancers, we set off at a leisurely pace, our guide immediately pointing out trees, shrubs and flowers, filling our addled brains with names and information! We entered the jungle for real this time, and were soon shown our first leech! It is a clever, sly beast and sits on a leaf and waits for the host to brush past and attaches itself to the skin. It then makes its way to the best vein it can avail itself of and starts burrowing into the skin and then injects the victim with an anticoagulant to start the steady flow of blood before drinking its fill. Our guide pointed this out by sticking his finger close to the leech and as soon as it felt the warmth it stretched itself out as far as it could, desperately trying to latch on to the finger! It grew to about 4 centimetres in length. The leaf it sits and waits on has a long tip and it is this tip that it emulates so that the host cannot see it! As soon as Jen saw this little display, she was immediately paranoid and, despite the extremely sticky heat, the rain mac came out and went on, along with the hood just in case they fell from the trees above her! From that moment, all 3 of us were constantly checking our clothes for leeches, with our guide being pretty blasé about the whole thing! As we moved deeper into the jungle, the canopy closed overhead, the light dimmed and the heat increased. We were sweating profusely and in no time at all Jen’s face was strawberry red under her hood, but she refused to remove it! The chatter from our guide was almost constant and he was so informative that the walk was not only fun and beautiful but interesting too. We followed the path through the mud and reached our first stop off point – the ancient burial site of a now extinct local tribe. We knew we had arrived because the first thing one sees is a skull and some bones marking the spot. We climbed some steps that have been erected at the site and were shown the burial chambers of the dead which were holes dug into the rock face.

Skull and bones at the ancient burial site in the Danum Valley rainforest

Skull and bones at the ancient burial site in the Danum Valley rainforest

A burial chamber cut into the rock face

A burial chamber cut into the rock face

There was even the remains of a one hundred year old coffin made out of iron wood, an extremely hard wood, plentiful in the rainforest. Most wooden constructions are made from it here. Nearby there was a hunter’s blowpipe still in good condition for its age. We spent a little while there before continuing our trek to the viewpoint which was still some way away and it was all uphill from here! We were soaked to the skin and more than a little tired but were really enjoying the walk and the company. Our guide pointed out a Red Monkey in the distance, something it took us both a while to see (these guides have amazing eyesight!) and every now and then we’d hear the call of “leech” as one of us found one of the disgusting things on our clothes or on our boots, immediately despatching it by rolling it up and flicking it off! We spotted a flying lizard, numerous other lizards and a spider that looked like a small, white flower!

A Red Monkey hanging about in the rainforest

A Red Monkey hanging about in the rainforest

Is it a weed? Is it a flower? No, its a spider!!

Is it a weed? Is it a flower? No, its a spider!!

An iguana clings on to a tree in the rainforest, Danum Valley

An iguana clings on to a tree in the rainforest, Danum Valley

We were exhausted and soaked through by the time we reached the Viewpoint and what a view it was! We looked down on the valley and could see the whole lodge spread out below us sitting in the middle of mile after mile of nothing but trees. Our guide suddenly pointed to something somewhere in the distance. We all looked but couldn’t see anything. He uttered the word orang-utan and we all strained our eyes to see where he was pointing. He passed us the binoculars and we still couldn’t see it! After a little while of searching we found it – our first wild orang-utan! It was miles away, climbing up and down a tree and how our guide saw it in the first place was a complete mystery. He could see with the naked eye what we couldn’t even see with binoculars! The binoculars were passed around in turn so that we could all get a glimpse of the orang-utan as he lazed and played in the huge tree, albeit from a very long distance away! We sat and rested for a while, giving Jen the opportunity to remove her rain mac for a time, and to take a much needed drink of water as well as to give herself a complete inspection just in case a slippery leech had found its way in somewhere!

The lodge as seen from the Viewpoint high in the rainforest

The lodge as seen from the Viewpoint high in the rainforest

The lodge nestles in a small clearing in the rainforest

The lodge nestles in a small clearing in the rainforest

At this point, after a discussion between our guide and our fellow traveller, we were given the option of the long or short route down to the waterfall, the longer route adding around an hour to the climb down. As we were enjoying ourselves so much, apart from the dreaded leeches, we opted for the longer route and, grabbing our stuff, with Jen immediately putting her dripping wet rain mac back on, we set off once more. This part of the walk wasn’t so clear cut as the first as the path became less obvious and we had to use our walking sticks more often to clear the way, Jen having devised a game of leech golf where, upon spotting one sitting on the end of a leaf she clubbed it as far into the forest as she could! It wasn’t long before the inevitable happened and she found one up her sleeve! Jumping around everywhere as though something was about to explode from her insides, the guide came over and calmly pulled it off her before it managed to get a proper hold. That was the worst thing that could have happened because from that moment on, leeches were supposedly getting in everywhere!
Some of the paths we trod took us through small streams and down slippery slopes which became quite tricky to negotiate at times, with us having to climb rocks and jump over obstacles here and there. It was very hard work but great fun and we were absolutely drenched in sweat. Eventually we came to the waterfall where, to our surprise and relief, a couple of workers from the lodge had prepared a light lunch for us, laying on ice cold drinks and fruit, sandwiches and cakes. They had even brought down some chairs and towels for us to use if we wanted to take a cooling swim in the crystal waters. We drank thirstily as our guide cut up fresh mango, dragonfruit and pineapple for us and we tucked into the delicious sandwiches and cakes. And then, the highlight came when our guide suggested we remove our shoes and socks and wade a little way into the cool waters to receive our free foot spa treatment! We wondered what he was talking about but did it anyway. To our amazement loads of fish suddenly appeared and started nibbling on the skin of our feet and toes! They were like cleaner fish, and were feeding on the dead skin on our feet! It was excruciatingly ticklish and not particularly pleasant it must be said, but good fun. Jen lasted about 5 seconds before squealing and running out of the water! Stew stood there for about 15 minutes, eventually getting a chair from Jen so he could just sit and let them eat him alive! It was a really nice break and we dried ourselves, put our muddy socks and boots back on (after thoroughly checking them over for leeches!), thanked the guys for a lovely lunch and returned to the jungle to continue our trek back to the lodge.

The "fish spa" waterfall in the rainforest!

The "fish spa" waterfall in the rainforest!

Carefully crossing the stream and climbing back up the muddy slopes we traipsed on until we came out from the cover of the trees and found ourselves back on the main path to the lodge where our guide told us that, as we were so late back and had missed lunch, a special one had been prepared for us! We were still full from the sandwiches, cakes and fresh fruit we had just eaten down by the waterfall and had assumed that had been lunch! Apparently our guide had radioed ahead to tell them we would be late and they said they would cook for us when we returned! Once back, we quickly washed our boots and checked each other over thoroughly for any signs of leech activity and went up to lunch. We were served with five different courses of food! Although absolutely delicious, we seriously struggled with the sheer quantity of food put in front of us but did the best we could! What made it even more difficult was knowing that in less than an hour we would be embarking on a deeper trek into the jungle, off the beaten path, in search of wild orang-utans! All we actually wanted to do was to take a nice hot shower as we were both still wet through, but time did not afford us any such luxury. We just about had time to run back to our room and change into fresh shirts before we were back down in the lobby strapping our leech socks and boots back on our weary, aching (but amazingly soft!) feet. As we started off, our fellow trekker told us that he had returned to his room after lunch and found he had been “leeched” on his backside, and he couldn’t stem the flow of blood! He turned round and his trousers were red where the blood was still soaking through the material! He wasn’t sure whether or not there was still one attached to him! Our paranoia levels increased tenfold and we were checking for leeches before we had even reached the jungle!

The easy bit of the trek...

The easy bit of the trek...

Our guide received a message on his walkie-talkie from a fellow guide telling him that he had just seen an orang-utan and that there was a small herd of elephants close by too. It was great news about the orang-utan but not so good about the elephants because, although it would be great to see them, they would more than likely get very aggressive towards us as they had some young with them. The two guides kept in contact with each other, passing on up to date information on the whereabouts of the orangs and the elephants as we left the path and started beating our way through the bushes and trees towards the area where the orangs were. Jen was not at all happy with this as pushing our way through trees and bushes meant that leeches would be more prevalent. She wasn’t feeling too well as it was, but this latest development was making her feel much worse! The smile disappeared from her face, the hood was pulled tighter around her face and she was constantly checking her feet and legs for leeches. One thing she hadn’t anticipated, though, was the leeches using her walking stick as a means to get to her hands and she very soon tired of holding them and handed them to Stew to carry for her! She really was not a happy bunny as she struggled to keep up with the pace set by our guide, with Stew hanging back with her to make sure she didn’t get lost. Every now and then we would hear the whoosh of the walkie-talkie and the jabbering conversation between the two guides. After almost an hour of fighting our way through the thick undergrowth and bushes, we spotted the other guide who beckoned us over. Our guide gestured to us to be quiet and we made our way over to join him, Jen more interested in looking at the floor of the jungle than in the canopy above! Looking up we saw a large orang moving slowly from tree to tree. We only caught a fleeting look at him as he was soon engulfed by leaves and branches but just seeing him so close was magical! Once he’d left the scene we were all ready to vacate the premises and return to the lodge! We ended up, though, on a long rope bridge across a river, and stayed there for a while because the herd of elephants had returned to the area and our guide was being extra cautious, making sure we stayed safe, and nowhere was safer than on the rope bridge! Danger averted we entered the rainforest cover once more and made our way back towards the lodge. The three of us couldn’t get back quick enough! We were hot, thirsty and absolutely drenched with the exertion of pushing our way through the jungle. At one point our guide must have had about ten leeches on him in one go and just seemed to be pulling them off himself almost non-stop, which did nothing to allay Jen of her fears of being “leeched” before we’d finished the trek back, and Stew caught one just picking a prime spot on his wrist and flicked it off just in time! The second we entered the lobby, we sat down and pulled our shoes off, being sure to inspect them thoroughly and carefully and, sure enough, found some of the slippery beggars hiding! Making sure we pulled them off and re-checking our entire bodies, we were satisfied that we had got them all. We started to use the brushes and hoses to clean our shoes thoroughly and noticed a number of the horrible beasties waiting on top of the taps ready for some poor, unsuspecting hand to reach down and turn the tap on! Shoes all cleaned we dragged our tired, soaked, bedraggled bodies up the stairs, through the lounge and along the boardwalk back to our room, stripped off the second we entered and turned on the hot shower. It felt so good letting the hot water cascade over our aching muscles and we felt a whole lot better coming out of there than when we went in! We dressed in some clean clothes and made a coffee while waiting for dinner to be served. Our boots were soaking wet from the cleaning we had just given them and should really have left them outside the room, but knew that if they went missing, we would be in a spot of bother! So we kept them in the room in the hope that they would dry sufficiently for the morning. We had an evening safari to get ready for, but Jen had had enough for the day and just could not face going out again! Stew went to find Lister to tell him we wouldn’t be taking part in the evening bird watch. We both headed up for an early dinner so that we could get a decent night’s sleep and another wonderfully prepared feast was enjoyed by us all. We bumped into our trekking buddy, (whose name we never asked!) and asked him if the leech damage was ok. He said it had finally stopped bleeding and the offending creature had disappeared, but that the wound was quite deep and painful.
Hunger and thirst slaked, we drifted back to our room, stopping to say hello to our friendly praying mantis that had made his home on one of the boardwalk lights, obviously awaiting a moth or other insect attracted by the light. He was a brilliant green and quite handsome in an extremely ugly kind of way!

What you looking at?!!

What you looking at?!!

Back in the comfort and safety of our room Jen immediately hit the sack while Stew broke out the laptop, deciding to hit the internet in the lounge and check on some emails. Jen suddenly said “Oh my God” and stared up at the ceiling. There, making its steady way across the wood was an orange and black leech! It had obviously been in our shoes or on our leech socks and we had missed it. The horrible beast was directly over Jen’s head and she was out of that bed in a flash! Stew grabbed a towel and knocked it from the ceiling and onto the bed, grabbed a tissue and wrapped the creature in it before flushing it down the toilet! That wasn’t good news for Jen as she was now paranoid that an entire army of the things was in the bedroom, and would not turn off the lights! Stew’s internet attempt was thwarted as the internet connection was down, so we both gave up and gave in to the sleep we both desperately needed in readiness for our final adventure here tomorrow morning at 8am.

Posted by StewnJen 17:50 Archived in Malaysia Comments (2)

That sure is a load of crap!

..in the Gomantong Caves

rain 32 °C

23rd January 2011

The sound of heavy rain against the big back window of our lovely room woke us before the alarm, but we weren’t due to leave until 8:30am, so had a little lie in! We were both quite sorry to be leaving here so soon, but were already looking forward to our jungle treks in Lahad Datu at the Borneo Rainforest Lodge. But before that, we had one last excursion to enjoy. We were off to see the Gomontong Caves, made famous by David Attenborough in one of his many TV programmes. It is where millions of small birds and bats live together under one (actually two!) roof and the lasting image of his programme was when the two million bats all left the cave together – it was as though hell had opened and released a black fog!
All packed up and raring to go we walked under umbrella cover down to the restaurant for breakfast. Although still warm it was a dismal day and we watched the guests returning from their early morning safaris looking like drowned river rats, including the German couple we had met the previous evening. That’ll teach ‘em to see everything in one day!! After breakfast we collected our bags and met Wan at the jetty and loaded our luggage and ourselves into the wet, open boat for the short river journey to a waiting minibus that would take us to the caves. Still holding the umbrella and wearing our rain macs, we set off in the pouring rain, holding the umbrella tightly and pointing it in front of us, shielding the both of us from the onslaught! Thankfully it was a very short crossing and we were soon in the safety of the minibus. Buckled up and iPods on, we began the hour and a half long journey to the caves, with Wan nodding off in the front seat.
Arriving at Gomantong Caves, we were told that it was going to be quite muddy in places on the 10 minutes or so walk through a small forest, and that we should be careful along the boardwalk path down to the caves themselves. Wan also asked Jen if she was ok with bugs... So, with our trusty guide Wan in the lead, and not really knowing what to expect, we started our mini-trek down to the caves. These caves are famous for the making of Yan Wo or, more commonly, Birds’ Nest Soup as it is here that the nests are collected in their thousands. One would assume that all birds’ nests were made of twigs, leaves and grasses. Who on earth would want to make a soup out of that?! But these birds’ nests are completely different. They are constructed from the saliva and feathers of swiftlets and are extremely valuable things! They are harvested twice in a year and the collectors must hold a special license in order to collect them. Penalties on those who don’t hold a valid license are quite harsh. A kilo of nests (which is approximately 15 nests) can fetch anything from $2000 to $10000 depending on which type of nest is being sold – white or black. The black nests are cheaper because they require much cleaning before consumption due to the feather, insect and twig content. The white ones, however, are almost pure and so are the most coveted and, therefore, the most expensive.
The walk to the caves was ok, and not too muddy, and we followed the trail until it opened out into a large area of grass on which were built a number of bamboo huts on stilts. These housed the men who watched over the caves to keep poachers at bay, and also housed the ladders and other equipment used to harvest the nests. Walking past these huts we saw the massive, yawning entrance of the first cave, the only cave accessible by ordinary folk, which housed the black nests. Wan suggested we put our hats on as crap from more than two million bats and birds would be difficult to dodge! The only thing we had of any use were our rain macs so, despite the intense heat in the cave, we donned them just in case! The first thing we noticed was the incredible noise of the millions of birds and bats flying around high above us. The next thing Stew noticed was the pungent smell. It was a sharp, rich smell mixed with the odour of dampness, while all Jen could notice was the huge numbers of cockroaches everywhere! No wonder Wan asked her if she was ok with bugs! A huge hole in the roof 90m high above our heads projected a wide shaft of brilliant sunlight down to the floor, affording a little light into the interior. A boardwalk path had been erected around the edge of the cave, allowing the visitor to walk around the whole thing in one circuit. As we ventured further in, we pulled up our hoods and listened as Wan showed us where the nests were and explained how they are harvested. They just looked like small, black smudges on the cave ceiling and walls. Apparently the harvesters used to use small bamboo rope ladders to climb up the cave walls and it was a dangerous business, but now they use ones made from aluminium. As you need a license to harvest the nests here, some restaurants and businesses have devised their own way of harvesting them by creating artificial caves in warehouses and allowing and encouraging the swiftlets to nest there! The harvesting is always performed just before the eggs are laid, allowing enough time for the birds to build another nest, and again after the nests have been abandoned when the young have fledged.
Wan showed us some of the other inhabitants of the caves and pointed his green laser pointer on the cave wall to highlight a huge, long-legged centipede – a real big creepie crawlie, along with some very large spiders and something we have never seen before anywhere – an albino cockroach! It was pure white and just as ugly as it’s brown and black cousins! At that moment Wan received a gift from above that thudded on his shoulder, leaving an indelible green mark, sparking girlie giggles from Jen! As we slowly edged along the boards, trying (but not always succeeding!) to avoid crunching the slower cockroaches under our shoes, Wan left the wooden path and, wearing his wellies, walked onto the thick, black carpet of guano to show us just how thick it was. He started sinking in it and told us it was about 6 feet deep throughout the entire cave floor. That’s a lot of shit! Jen politely declined Wan’s kind offer of joining him on the shit carpet! As we edged nearer the shaft of sunlight, we could see what looked like falling rain amid a fine mist. It was the guano falling from above in amazing quantities! Wan kicked off the top layer of guano and underneath were hundreds of cockroaches – they just love it here! The pair of us were almost constantly looking down to see what was in front of us, not just to stop us treading on the ‘roaches but to make sure they weren’t going up our trousers! As we completed the circuit we were both pretty happy to be out and in the fresh air, quickly removing our rain macs not only because we were soaked through with sweat, but to make sure the slippery beggars hadn’t found a way in!

Inside the noisy Gomantong Caves

Inside the noisy Gomantong Caves

A brilliant light shaft illuminates the inside of the Gomantong Caves

A brilliant light shaft illuminates the inside of the Gomantong Caves

The black specks are valuable birds' nests!

The black specks are valuable birds' nests!

Some of the more creepy inhabitants of the Gomantong Caves

Some of the more creepy inhabitants of the Gomantong Caves

We started making our way back to the jungle walk and happened across a small family of macaques. These, however, were not the playful, timid, long-tailed macaques, but the aggressive, feisty pig-tailed macaques and Wan told us not to go anywhere near them as they will attack if they feel threatened. Needless to say we kept a watchful eye on them but they retreated slowly back into the forest and we made our way back to the forest path and the safety of the minibus, making sure to wipe our shoes of any remaining guano and cockroach parts before setting foot in the van! Not that we felt that much like it but Wan mentioned we would be stopping off for an early lunch at around 11:30am – about an hour from now. We hoped we had got rid of the memory of the smell and the thought of cockroaches enough to eat by then! We plugged our iPods back in and sat back for the hour long journey, wondering what sort of restaurant and lunch we were likely to get this time!
It was slightly better, but the meal wasn’t of great quality it must be said! We ended up in what looked like a poor relation to an outdated Wimpy, but with polite staff! We opted for some soup and chicken fried rice washed down with a Coke. On the way out we bought a pack of cards and walked out into the rain, running to the minibus just up the road. The office was only 5 minutes away and we were soon saying goodbye to Wan, and thanking him for his guidance over the last couple of days before being handed over to a quiet, unsmiling bloke who would be driving us to the Borneo Rainforest Lodge in the Danum Valley, about 3 hours away. After signing an agreement saying we wouldn’t sue the lodge if either of us died unless we could prove it was their fault, we were packed into the back of a 4x4 and were on our way in the relentless, heavy rain. The one thing that stood out as we watched the scenery out the windows was the sheer enormity of palm oil plantations. Acre after acre after acre of palm trees made up the outlook. We were shocked at the amount of jungle that had been completely flattened to make way for these plantations. We also witnessed some areas in the process of being cleared, with only charred tree stumps and blackened grass and shrubs left in the vast area. There were some very colourful homes, too, ranging from the classy to the ones that hurt your eyes to look at! Organised in rows, they would start off pink then next door would be green and the house after that brown. None of them matched! We passed a real mix of wealth from quite classy places to down and out slums. The traffic was quite kind to us and we only seemed to hit one busy part of town due to a long area of roadworks. On the first leg of our journey the roads were in good condition with few pot holes and mainly laid with tarmac. That changed after about two hours when we turned off the main road and landed on the moon! It was like we were driving on a different planet - the tarmac disappeared and had been replaced by a muddy, bumpy road with deep, wide craters. The scenery also changed from busy town to bright green forest. The further we drove the higher the trees seemed to be and the rockier the road became. As we got closer to the lodge the road got steeper and the 4x4 struggled on more than one occasion to make it through the slippery mud as the rain was still lashing down. On the way up the hill we passed a controlled and licensed logging mill, where the trees that are felled are replaced by saplings in other areas of the jungle. We also passed a few buildings that were related in some form or other to the lodge we would be staying in. One of the buildings was a research facility where biologists and other scientists could stay while studying the many different species of flora and fauna that abound in the rainforest. This facility is apparently open to a small number of tourists looking for cheap, no-frills accommodation close to the jungle. Another complex we passed was a forest nursery where trees and shrubs are grown as part of a reforestation project. With only a few minutes of our journey left, our driver slowed the 4x4 right down as a small herd of samba deer were crossing the track ahead of us. They were quite large and really cute, with huge brown eyes and shiny little black noses. We waited while they all crossed the road and watched them for a short while before continuing the remaining distance to the lodge. When we pulled up close to the lodge we both grew big smiles on our faces and they pretty much stayed fixed on until we came to leave! The place looked just wonderful. The reception area was downstairs with a small shop, large meeting room and an area to clean your boots. No shoes were allowed past this point – it was bare foot only! Walking up the stairs we came to the lobby, bar and restaurant area that was quite stunning, all dark wood and open plan. Huge spiral wooden lights lit the centre of the bar area. All around were large sofas with big coffee tables in front of them. There was also a raised Japanese-style seating area with low tables and large, brightly coloured cushions scattered around them. It was visually stunning. The restaurant area looked out over the gardens and to the river beyond. There wasn’t a single pane of glass anywhere – it was completely open plan. Quite simply beautiful! After the usual formalities, we were shown to our room – a large chalet off a long boardwalk. It was a beautiful room with two double beds side by side, a balcony that looked onto the forest, and a big bathroom with a walk-in shower.

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The beautiful Borneo Rainforest Lodge in Danum Valley

The beautiful Borneo Rainforest Lodge in Danum Valley

It was such a classy place and we immediately felt very comfortable there. We walked back to the lounge area and grabbed a free coffee each and sat with the laptop for a while waiting to meet our guide who was to give us a short slideshow presentation at 6pm about the lodge and the rainforest in which it resides. We didn’t realise the time and were almost late for the show but needn’t have worried as it was just us and one other guest in the audience. Our guide introduced himself and, in quite difficult to understand English, he rattled through the presentation. To be perfectly honest, we wished we had missed it altogether! It was quite boring unfortunately and was twenty minutes of our lives we wouldn’t get back! At the end of the slideshow he told us our first excursion would be a night time safari at 8:30pm which we were immediately looking forward to! Dinner was about to be served so we went back upstairs and were shown to a table. It was just gorgeous and the staff were so polite and helpful. They just couldn’t do enough for you. Once again it was a buffet style dinner with a very wide variety of dishes available. The food was absolutely delicious and we made pigs of ourselves on the first night before waddling back to our room to grab cameras and rain macs, just in case, and headed downstairs to join the waiting throng of people. Everyone piled into an open backed truck with bench seats along both sides, so that those on one side of the truck faced those on the other, and waited for our guide. His seat was on top of the cab, in the middle, to which was fixed a huge spotlight. It reminded us of Jaws, where Quint sat in his fishing seat on his boat! All aboard and our driver pulled away into the night, and the huge beam was switched on, scanning the trees and bushes for signs of life. The first things we noticed were fireflies, their glowing forms lighting the leaves as they darted around the bushes and trees. It wasn’t long before the spotlight picked up some glowing eyes just ahead of us, and the truck slowed to a crawl. The eyes belonged to a small group of Samba Deer who were grazing on the cool, damp grasses along the sides of the muddy track.

The bright eyes of a shy Samba Deer pierce the night

The bright eyes of a shy Samba Deer pierce the night

We watched and photographed them for a little while before we were on the move again, the spotlight sweeping the track before us and attracting hundreds of bugs and moths in the process! The truck started to slow once more, and the guide aimed the beam down low in order not to scare the two Pygmy Elephants that were crossing our path! He couldn’t aim the powerful searchlight directly at them as this would more than likely have made them charge the truck, and was more than conscious of the fact that there could be many more lurking in the bushes nearby and they were more than capable of turning the truck (and us) into pulp! We watched them retreating up the road before setting off. We got a little way further up the track and stopped once again as the elephants were still there, our guide becoming a little nervous and telling us it would be prudent to turn round and head in the opposite direction and out of any potential dangers posed by the herd. Our driver turned the truck round and we were retracing our steps once again, soon coming to a complete halt as another truck ahead of us was stuck in the mud and was being pulled up the hill by a large 4x4 and a towrope. We all sat there wondering if we were going to become elephant shoes or mosquito food! About 10 minutes later, our driver took a run at the hill and we were soon sliding from side to side and coming to a complete stop while the wheels continued to spin, the smell of burning rubber filling our nostrils. He attempted the climb three times before making the call to the lodge for help! It was a good fifteen minutes before two 4x4 vehicles came to rescue us, but they were just picking the guests up and not even attempting to rescue the stricken truck. We jumped off the truck and into the sticky mud underfoot and climbed into the nicely carpeted jeeps taking us back to the lodge. Once back we used the boot cleaners to rid our shoes of the sloshy mud and went back to our room, disappointed with the evenings events. We decided to attempt a skype session with Jen’s parents so grabbed the laptop and headed back to the lounge area. We set the laptop up and grabbed a couple of coffees before we were joined on the Japanese styled table area by a huge, bright green, magnificent Praying Mantis! Jen completely shocked Stew by picking it up and showing it to her Mum and Dad on the laptop camera! Being the last ones in the lounge, and the staff clearing up around us, we said our goodbyes to Jen’s parents and went back to our room. We suddenly realised that neither of us knew what the itinerary was for the morning, so Stew returned to the lounge to look for our guide but to no avail. One of the bar staff suggested we meet at the lobby at 6am as that was the usual starting time for the jungle treks. As Jen was feeling unwell, her cold getting worse, we set the alarm for 5am and went to sleep.

Posted by StewnJen 16:50 Archived in Malaysia Comments (3)

Borneo - Sukau Day Two

Safari so goodie!!

sunny 28 °C

22nd January 2011

Yet another early morning, and awoken to the wonderful sound of Borneo Gibbons and hornbills calling in the small part of the jungle in which the Lodge is situated. The sounds were amazing and so incredibly loud! Luckily we had to be up early anyway as we had a sunrise safari cruise along the river to enjoy at 6:00am. Tea, coffee and toast had been arranged for us at 5:30am to line our stomachs in readiness for our trip, but enjoyed the coffee more than the toast at that time of the morning! We met Wan down on the jetty just before 6am and were soon underway, heading into the mist veiling the jungle and waters of the Kinabatangan River. It was still and warm and a clear sky would soon be introducing the morning sun. We both felt it was a little too early to be on the lake, it being shrouded in a wispy white mist because it was nearly impossible to spot any wildlife. We could hear plenty of birds calling and chattering, but could only catch the odd silhouette as it either rested in a tree or flew over our heads. The mist was so thick, in fact, that our cameras resting on our laps were coated in a dew, along with our bags, in no time at all.

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Our misty morning safari along the Kinabatangan

Our misty morning safari along the Kinabatangan

Maybe we were just unlucky that day! Nevertheless we cruised along the river, with the cool, damp air refreshing us as we powered along, the boat engine drowning out any other noise as Wan gave it the whole nine yards! Again the debris in the water was a concern but didn’t cause us any problems. Wan suddenly pulled the boat over to the other side and the opposite bank dissolved into view through the mist. He had spotted some Oriental Pied Hornbills resting high in a tree – how he could see them we don’t know! We couldn’t see the tree let alone any birds in it! The motor fell silent and we drifted in on the current as Wan deployed the silent electric motor, and we both studied the huge birds above our heads. They are magnificent things with an amazing, booming call. Again the mist spoiled our view slightly, but not too much. It was just so incredible to see them hopping around in their tree.

Two Oriental Pied Hornbills silhouetted against the mist

Two Oriental Pied Hornbills silhouetted against the mist

Wan started the engine and we were off again, keeping a close eye on the tree tops. It wasn’t long before we stopped once more. This time he’d spotted a Helmeted Hornbill that had obviously had a spot of bother recently, as the entire top half of its bill was missing! Wan said he’d never seen this before but he thought it was probably due to a fight with another hornbill. It didn’t look too distressed with its injury though, and was quite happily picking the fruits from the branches, so it obviously had just enough of the top of its bill remaining with which to grab food. Wan said it was terrible, and extremely rare, to see such a beautiful bird with such a bad injury. He said we would try to revisit this spot on the return journey to see if we could get some better photos as the mist would have lifted by then.

A Helmeted Hornbill with the top of his bill missing

A Helmeted Hornbill with the top of his bill missing

We manoeuvred back into the flow of the river and roared off again, Wan telling us about the eight different species of Hornbill to be found in the Sabah region, the hardest to spot being the white-crowned Hornbill, so we set him yet another target to reach before the end of our visit! If we kept on like this, he was going to keep his mouth shut for the rest of the day! We began heading for a small oxbow lake off the main stem of the river, just as the mist started rising and the morning sun started breaking through the haze, casting an eerie but beautiful silver glow across the waters.

The morning sun tries to break through the mist

The morning sun tries to break through the mist

We left the river flow and Wan gently eased the boat though a small gap in the trees and we cruised through the neck of the oxbow lake and into the large body of still, platinum coloured waters. Engine off and electric motor on, Wan just let us listen to the life surrounding the oxbow lake. An oxbow lake is created when a river meanders away from its normal path through erosion and corrosion of the river banks, and, over time, the meander becomes very curved – like an oxbow – until the two sides of the river at the neck of the meander join, flooding the resulting curved area and forming the lake. Aussies call this a Billabong!
Drifting through the water, we studied the trees all around us for signs of life but didn’t see too much of great interest. The sun was beginning to turn the leaves to gold and the air around us hummed with insects as the warmth began to take over from the cooling mist. The boat stopped at the edge of a large expanse of reeds and weeds and our guide told us of the excellent fishing stocks in the lake and that the villagers in the surrounding areas were allowed to catch as many of the fish as they wanted but only at certain times of the year. This enabled the stocks to replenish and prevented over-fishing. The villagers also got together at various times to clear the lake of the weeds and reeds to stop the fish from going elsewhere to breed, so it really was a two way system that could only benefit the villagers. We sat there for some time, asking Wan questions about the lodge and how it came to be. He said it was originally a large area of untouched, pristine jungle and because more and more of the jungle was being cleared for agricultural reasons and for the planting of palm trees for the production of palm oil, Malaysia’s biggest export product, the rainforests were disappearing at an alarming rate. A professor got involved and managed to save some of the area and have it protected by building a lodge on it and keeping the rest of the land as jungle. He managed to save only 26% of the original area of jungle. The rest has been completely cleared of trees. The lodge is very eco friendly too, with absolutely nothing but clean water being drained into the river. Any unclean waste is gathered and sent to Sukau for disposal or recycling. They generate their own electricity via generators and solar panels, and all water is from harvested rainwater. They are completely self sufficient which makes it all the more impressive.
The air around us was very warm by now, and the sun was truly up, bathing everything in a wonderful warm, golden glow. The waters were completely still, save for a few water boatmen skitting across the surface, and the birds and creatures of the jungle were all wide awake and announcing themselves to the world. It was a wonderful few minutes of our lives sitting there in a boat, just watching and listening to everything, watching insects either fighting or courting, small, swift-like birds zooming low across the heads of the reeds and weeds, chasing one another in flight. We studied the trees hard once again, but didn’t see anything moving. Even the leaves on the trees were still with no breeze on which to move. We could have sat there for ages but Wan broke the silence when he asked us if we were good to go. The thought of breakfast made the decision easier for us and we were underway in no time, Wan keeping the engine chugging gently through the lake waters until we reached the main stem before powering us once again towards the Lodge. We passed some large white egrets and more darting swifts on the way back, but unfortunately the half-billed Hornbill was nowhere to be seen. Mooring up at the jetty, the smell of breakfast drifted down to us and we gladly climbed the steps into the restaurant, picked our table and tucked in to a hearty buffet breakfast. It was just what we needed and we filled ourselves to full in readiness for our next mini-adventure. We were to meet Wan at the Lodge’s own Hornbill Boardwalk, a 1500 feet long walkway through the forest where, if you’re lucky (and extremely quiet!) , you can get up close and personal with a variety of wildlife. We returned to our room to check out our photos and to change our sweaty clothes into something less dirty and went to find Wan who was already waiting for us at the boardwalk entrance.

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Down by the boardwalk...

Down by the boardwalk...

The boardwalk itself was a beautifully threadbare, covered construction that blended perfectly with its surroundings, the colour of the wooden planks having deteriorated over time and gaining the patina of moss and age. Being roofed it enabled guests to wander along it in any kind of weather and at almost any time of the day – a really clever use of the surrounding jungle. We ambled slowly along while Wan explained the medicinal, cooking and hunting uses for some of the trees and plants while all the time all three of us kept our eyes peeled for any signs of wildlife. We carried on a little further until the boardwalk seemed to disappear into the ground. We thought that the boardwalk had just decayed and collapsed into the mud but in fact it had been deliberately lowered here as this was an elephant migration point! Imagine standing there while a herd of pygmy elephants crossed your path. Unfortunately we weren’t lucky enough to have that happen to us. We crossed the path looking left and right in vain hope of seeing the back end of a retreating elephant, and carried on our slow but fascinating walk spotting some huge and vividly coloured butterflies, bright red dragonflies and way, way too many mosquitoes for our liking. With chirping and chattering all around us we would have expected to see far more birds than we did but they are surprisingly good at concealing themselves in the dense foliage.The boardwalk branched off here and there leading to viewing platforms with benches, allowing the visitor to observe the wildlife with only the trees for cover. It was a wonderful walk and before we knew it we had completed the entire loop and were back at the starting point. Wan left us here and told us we were free to wander the boardwalk anytime and that he would meet us on the jetty at 4pm for our late afternoon boat safari. Although lunch was almost upon us we decided to restart the loop and do it again. A huge red dragonfly caught Stew’s eye as it landed on a leaf close by but below the level of the boardwalk and, determined to get the perfect photograph, he leaned over a little too far and his sunglasses were soon in the thick, sticky mud below, well out of arms reach. Jen went in search of a long stick, but came back with Wan who kindly retrieved them!

Brilliant blue bug

Brilliant blue bug

An elusive bird makes a guest appearance!

An elusive bird makes a guest appearance!

The beautiful dragonfly almost cost Stew his shades!

The beautiful dragonfly almost cost Stew his shades!

One of the many large, colourful butterflies in the jungle

One of the many large, colourful butterflies in the jungle

The chitter chatter of birds and the buzzing of crickets was interrupted briefly by the gong sounding for lunch, so, ravenous as we were, made our way to the restaurant to enjoy another feast before revisiting our room and sorting our photos and clothes and enjoying a light siesta before rejoining Wan in the boat at 4pm for our final cruise up the Kinabatangan. Once again we were taken down a quiet tributary and the first thing we noticed was a number of thick ropes spanning the width of the stream to allow the Orang-utans to cross from one side to the other as they cannot swim unlike the Macaques and the Proboscis monkeys who are strong swimmers!

The tributary we entered on our afternoon safari

The tributary we entered on our afternoon safari

Never seen a monkey swim! We constantly reminded Wan that he only had an hour and a half in which to spot a crocodile (preferably a large, ferocious one!) and an Orang-utan and he promised to do his best to come up with the goods! We drifted downstream, scanning every tree top for signs of primates and were soon being steered to the bank where a small family of Macaques were playing and feeding. One mother was tending a very small baby who was almost black in colour, whereas the other monkeys were a light grey, and it never left her side. We watched one juvenile playing in a large bush, and it was almost as though he was playing peek-a-boo with us as his head kept disappearing and popping up somewhere new!

Hide the cards boys, we've been spotted..

Hide the cards boys, we've been spotted..

Hmmm... Can I eat that?!

Hmmm... Can I eat that?!

A baby Macaque hangs on for dear life while Mum looks the other way!

A baby Macaque hangs on for dear life while Mum looks the other way!

I'll hide, you start counting!

I'll hide, you start counting!

We watched them for a short while, taking some snaps of them and then carried on up the stream before spying a gorgeous brightly coloured Kingfisher on the opposite bank, close to the water’s surface. Knowing we wouldn’t have long before it noticed us and flew off, we snapped a couple of shots from afar before it left its perch and swooped low across the water and found a new resting place as far from us as it could!

A colourful Kinabatangan Kingfisher!

A colourful Kinabatangan Kingfisher!

Carrying on further upstream some brilliant white egrets flew past us before nestling in some trees opposite, and then we heard Wan say “there” and point upwards as he spied a large primate in the trees above us. We couldn’t see anything for a while and then spotted three dark, silhouetted figures high in the trees. They were female Proboscis monkeys just sitting and enjoying the evening sunshine, and as we moved further on, more and more came into view, some lower down enabling us to see their cute faces with their turned up noses and big round bellies! We sat here for some time watching them, with smiles on our faces until the branches rustled loudly, shook violently and, at long last, a large male with a whopper of a nose gracefully climbed into view. He was magnificent, and much larger than the female. He sat in the tree royally surveying all around him and Wan suddenly came out with an absolute gem of a fact. He leant forward and quietly whispered to us “Did you know that the males have a 24-hour erection”?! We nearly fell off the boat as we giggled like little kids at this, and Jen immediately grabbed the binoculars to see if Wan was right! Stew decided he must have been a Proboscis Monkey in his teens in that case..! Apparently Proboscis Monkeys, like Macaques, sleep by the water’s edge to keep away from potential predators. We sat watching them for ages and they did absolutely nothing but sit and eat and sit some more but we didn’t care because they were just so beautiful to look at!

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A large male Proboscis Monkey contemplates life, the universe and..... his big fat belly!

A large male Proboscis Monkey contemplates life, the universe and..... his big fat belly!

female_proboscis_2.jpg
The much prettier female Proboscis Monkey

The much prettier female Proboscis Monkey

Our time was up, the sun was beginning to sink and the cloud was rolling in. We slowly made our way back down the estuary passing a large boat with a crew of filmmakers on board, making a documentary of sorts. We entered the main stream once again and motored back along the river for the last time and back to the lodge. Once back we took a much needed shower and put on our shiny skirts once again for dinner. We edited the photos we had taken through the day until the crash of the gong signalled dinner time and we walked down to the restaurant under a blanket of starlight and sat with a German couple who had arrived that day. We chatted about our stay so far and they told us that on their way to the lodge they had spotted the big four in a matter of minutes! We made a mental note to tease Wan about this when we saw him in the morning! Once again the food was delicious and plentiful and we ate our fill before retreating to our room to pack our things as we would be travelling to the Borneo Rainforest Lodge in Lahad Datu in the morning. We couldn’t believe our visit here was already over. It had just been a wonderful place to stay. Because the night sky was so bright with stars Stew just had to take his camera and tripod out to take some shots. He went out and onto the grass square outside the room and his ankles were an immediate magnet for all manna of insects. Trying to ignore them he set the tripod up and felt something hit his head. There was a tree above so didn’t think much of it. Only when he moved his hand into the dim light of the nearby oil lamps did he spot a long black line along his thumb... his first encounter with a leech! Quickly rolling it up and flicking it off, he retreated into the safety of the room and packed his stuff away instead! All ready to go for the morning, we went to bed very contented but sad to be leaving this wonderful place.

The sun starts to set and the clouds roll in as we bid farewell to the Kinabatangan River

The sun starts to set and the clouds roll in as we bid farewell to the Kinabatangan River

Posted by StewnJen 18:55 Archived in Malaysia Comments (1)

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