Thursday, April 6, 2006

Kota Kinabalu 06-12-2005

Well that was seriously annoying, I was halfway through writing an email when it vanished of the face of the net so I'll have to start over.
So, where was I?
OK, we're back in KK again and planning on heading off to Brunei tommorow via Pulau Labuan, an island off to the south.
We got back to Sandakan yesterday afternoon after 2 nights and 3 days in the real jungle on the lower Kinabantangan River (try saying that 10 times quickly ). It's supposed to be one of the best places in SEA to see wildlife and after our visit I can attest that it is. Our camp was situated on one of the many ox-bow lakes in the area, we reached it by boat via heavily forested channels from the main river. We were staying in little wooden huts on stilts connects by boardwalks over the mud. The LP book calls the place 'sparten' which personally I think is stretching it a bit. We had a damp mattress on the floor of the hut and a mosquito net. The windows and doors were covered with wire netting, this time we were the ones on the cages while the animals were outside. There were a couple of squat toilets and we washed with buckets of river water (brown with sediment, nice) and scoops.
The river was high when we got there so the boat dropped us off practically at the front door, we saw photos of the river reaching the roofs of the huts from a flood about 2 years ago, amazing (they dont call it rainforest to sound romantic). There were wild bearded pigs rooting around under the huts, 2m monitor lizards wandered past periodically, long tailed macaques danced in the trees overhead (and were liable to steal anything not guarded under lock and key), bats swooped through the kitchen/dining area at night catching insects buzzing around the fluros and a rat nibbled the edge of Dylan's T-shirt while we slept (he wasn't wearing it at the time).
The wildlife spotting started as soon as we were on the boat on the way to camp, our boatman pointed out birds (kingfishers, beautiful), monitors and proboscis monkeys in the trees overhead. That night we saw a civit by the bathroom (like a cat with a pointed face, it was just beautiful, grey with dark spots), it just sat there while we looked at it. We went out of the boat that night, birds cant fly at night (except for owls etc) as they can't see so we just putted up to them and took dozens of photos while they sat there on their branch, I'm still amazed at how our guide Remy even spotted the first kingfisher, a little brightly coloured bird that could sit in the palm of the hand and he saw it wizzing past in a boat 30m away in the dark? It was eerie on the lake at night, so very very dark with the stars overhead and strange noises in the gloom. The forest is never quiet, insects, lizards, owls and frogs at night and birds, animals and yet more insects during the day. We were out on the boat again the next morning, the river was shrouded in mist which hung around for afew hours. The atmosphere was just incredible, hard to describe. That morning we saw more proboscis monkeys, this time leaping out of the trees and belly-flopping into the water with an almightly splash before paddling to the next tree. The guide said they do that when the trees are too far apart to reach just by jumping although I suspect they do it just for fun. We went for walks in the forest (more monkeys, enormous insects, spiders, millipedes that smell like amaretto). At night we put on gumboots (and it was practically an adventure just to find a matching pair that weren't full of water) and slopped through a marsh behind the camp where we saw dozens upon dozens of pretty frogs, a simply massive scorpion which Remy had climbing all over his arms) and a highlight for Dylan, a taranatula with a body the size of a golfball (because we all know how much Dylan LOVES spiders ). I took lots of photos. On the last evening there was a reticulated python on the egde of the camp, it's body was thicker than my arm (like, a LOT thicker) and it was about 4 m long, gorgeous. They can really get speed up when they want to! For some reason it wasn't scary at all (except for Remy, the man perfectly happy to let a 15cm scorpion crawl all over him but was holding the torch with shaking hands from 8 meters away).
What else? Squirrels, mice, rats, butterflies galore, crocodiles (not small ones either), a turtle, fish with wings. We totally blew the budget and it was totally worth it. I could go on, tell you about the cool guides we had (other than Remy), the nice people we met, the siestas in the hammocks in the afternoon, the fab food, the way the boys in particular tripped over the benches everytime they went past (the legs stuck out), the football games in the clearing, the way the river went down so much in the space of a day we had to walk a kilometer downstream to a different boat landing, monkeys with coke cans and mosquito bites but I wouldn't want to bore you all. We had a wonderful time on the Kinabantan all in all although the shower and A/C back in Sandakan was greatly appreciated. We went back to KK via a stopover for a couple of hours at Mount Kinabalu (the highest mountain between Mt Everest and Papua New Guinea) to wander around the botanic gardens there. I took lots of photos of Nepenthes and orchids which probably no-one finds interesting apart from me. It was a soggy garden, very forested and cool that high up and a nice change from the hot humid low lands.
Lots of people climb the mountain as it's 'easy' as far as mountains go but I took one look at it and thought bugger that! I suffer on a flight of stairs that's a bit long. I had an encounter with a leech somewhere along the way, a stealth attack that I didn't notice until D saw blood smeared all over the back of my leg. The leech was gone, thank god otherwise I may have just had a heart attack on the spot. It didnt hurt at all though, I guess you can say that for it at least!

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