Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Day 158: Kinabatangan

It was a very comfortable, mostly empty 3 hour bus ride to Kinabatangan (Craig loved to repeat the name, getting it wrong almost every time. The correct pronunciation, with pauses between syllables and speeding up as you progress, is Ki-na-ba-tan-gan). We arrived in the small town on the river and loaded our things into a long metal boat while the last few threatening rain drops danced on the saturated earth around us. The effect that crossing the river had on our surroundings was surprising. The town vanished into the forest and mist, while if it wasn't for the dock sticking out into the river you would not have noticed the bungalows stacked neatly in rows along boardwalks peaking out through the trees.

The eight of us that arrived together would be a group for the next 3 days, as we sat through a brief orientation on the schedule of our jungle adventures we were handed welcome drinks before being given 20 mintues to settle in, freshen up, and be back on the boat to go down river. The hot afternoon sun was beautifully contrasted by the wind on our faces as we whizzed along the gentle river. It did not take long before our boatman/guide Arshad cut the engine abruptly, grabbing his binoculars as we drifted closer to shore. Craig spotted a hornbill in a nearby tree, maybe that was what he was looking at. The motor started up again with jolt as the boat spun around and crept up stream slowly, Arshad piloting while looking through the binoculars, 7 of us silently waiting for directions as to where to look while Craig took pictures of a hornbill. 

For a moment there was complete silence as the engine shutoff again before Arshad spoke. 'Orangutan.' Pointing high up and into the distance we could see the large ginger form moving up the tree trunk. While a lot further and less active than our experience in Sepilok, it was wonderful to see an Orangutan in the wild, no feeding necessary. The sighting was also relaxing as it lifted a weight from the rest of our river cruises.

We enjoyed a combination of enjoying the fresh air and beauty of our surroundings, and scanning for signs of life in the ungulating cacophony of verdant forest that hungrily nibbled at the edges of the river. And there was not any shortage of life in Kinabatangan. On the first cruise we saw three species of hornbills, three species of monkey, the aforementioned orangutan, a snake, another monitor lizard, eagles, and kingfishers. The monkeys were the highlights as the large families (except for the Silver Langour) actively jumped between branches in the tree they had designated to be their home for the night. We even saw the goofy looking, often aroused, Proboscis Monkey endemic to Borneo. We were all hoping to see it so our joy of spotting them turned to worry as we quickly continued on our way with assurances from Arshad that we would see them again and with a better view/closer.

Somehow Diane looks heroic while...
Craig looks like a 3 year old
that was allowed to dress
Another amazing buffet dinner awaited us upon our return, clearly Diane was not only classing up our lives but also our accommodation. Following dinner there was to be a night hike, due to the rain that afternoon and the amount of rain over the last few months, wellingtons were necessary as the mud was at time a foot deep. Craig discovered shortly after finishing his dinner, and nearly stepping on a snake, that the lodge did not have rubber boots larger than a size 10 (43), but with the help of Diane they were able to fashion 'boots' for him out of plastic bags and packing tape. After another 20 minutes of leech proofing it was off into the forest with the thin wavering beam of our headlamps illuminating the path before us. There were many animals that we could have seen, or more accurately, could have seen us, but we didn't see any of the primates or cats that are sometimes spotted. We did see interesting insects, birds, bats, and frogs? Craig missed a few things being at the back of the group helping the couple that insisted they didn't need to bring their own flashlights. It was a very interesting and the boots Diane made him kept Craig clean and dry so he was happy... even after he found the leech on his chest.

Falling asleep to the gentle hum of the fan, little did Craig know that the leech he had befriended that evening was but a baby compared to what awaited him in the morning...

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