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Allan and Heather Bantick's

Borneo Adventure

April 2006


Here is the tale of our amazing journey through Sarawak and Sabah, the two Malaysian regions in northern Borneo.  The story has been fun to write and I hope you enjoy it.

Sun 9th April
1130 Set off from home in the car and drove to Mum's in Dundee. Took Mum to Maeve's in Edinburgh.

Mon 10th April
1100 flew from Edinburgh to Heathrow where I got run over by a bloke with a baggage trolley but no real damage to me or the trolley. The flight left Heathrow on time at 2200 and arrived on time at Kuala Lumpur at 0500 - a fourteen hour flight. We met up there with Alister and Jamie from the Aberdeen area and noticed with some dismay how young and fit they looked - hoping the rest of the group were a bit older and knackered like us.

Tues 11th April
0850 the flight to Kuching left KL on time and arrived on schedule at 1035 where we were met by our guide Peter Baboh.

Peter Baboh - our guide

By this time we had met up with a few others of the group and later at the hotel the whole group assembled. They were - Heather and I, Alister and Jamie from Aberdeen, Alan Mills from Glasgow, Julia from London, Ken from the lost city of Leicester, David and Gill from London, James from London and Linden from Sydney, Australia.

Weds 12th April
0645 up and about, breakfast at 0730 and out for a city walk at 0900. We learned that Kuching means Cat, after the wildcats that used to be common here. The local statues reflect this - in particular a statue of two large cats and seven small ones.

The Kuching Cats

Typical Kuching street scene

The large cats represents the two halves of Kuching separated by the Sarawak River and the small ones represent the seven tribes in Sarawak. The government in Kuching are trying not to knock everything down to build anew, but are trying to keep all their old buildings so they are planning carefully how they want their city to look in the future - unlike some new Malaysian cities.

We visited a Chinese temple where they did not mind at all us taking pictures, although we felt rather awkward doing so. The temple is used by both Bhudist, Chinese and Thai people all mixed up. The joss sticks they use as some kind of communication and the size indicates how strong the message is so small ones are for local messages and large ones are for long distance. They also use and burn paper money along with the joss sticks which both get consumed in the fire. This was quite a small temple for a city this size but because it is surrounded by busy roads they cannot expand it. It is beside the river, which is significant because the river depicts life flowing on.

Chinese temple

The Sarawak River, Kuching

We came across bread fruits growing beside the street. When it is young it is used as a vegetable but when it is ripe is used as jack fruit like sweets. Next came a hotel in which the Sultan of Brunei has a share. Inside it is the only Havannah Club in Asia where they sell Havannah cigars. At the opening they had a cigar for sale at 16,000 Ringits - about £2,500. There then came a cotton tree that was planted to commemorate Sarawak's independence from Malaysia in 1963 but the tree was clearly older than that so perhaps it was planted when Sarawak first became an independent country and 1963 was the date when they joined forces to become part of Malaysia.
Totem poles were used to remember the old kings. The king was first buried and left to rot away and then the bones were dug up and placed in a bowl-shaped hollow at the top of the totem pole and covered with a big stone. A hole was then dug in the ground and a human sacrifice placed in the bottom of the hole and then the foot of the totem pole inserted in the hole and packed tight with soil and stones. The one we saw was over 200 years old and the correct name for such a pole is a Klirieng. At this point our guide Peter told us his grandfather was a head hunter. Knowing that we thought we would sleep with one eye open, although Peter assured us the only heads he hunted now were chicken heads.
At the museum I got into a dispute over the identity of a badger which the caption and the members of staff insisted was an otter but I was certain it was a ferret badger. They would not allow me to photograph it for checking when I got home and I now regret not ignoring them and sneaking a picture anyway when they were not looking.
Next came the wet market which was in two parts - the vegetable market and the fish market.

Working hard ...................... the fish market

From there we walked back along the Sarawak River to a commercial area where were able to change some money. The rate was 6.3 Malaysian Ringits (RM) to the pound. We then had lunch in a local food hall and got our first proper taste of the type of food that would be on our plates at virtually every meal for the next eighteen days. We also found out how cheap it was to eat out - Bea and I both had a large plate full of rice plus two types of meat and two types of veg, plus a can of coke for less than £1 each. Amazing.
We then returned to Peter's office, where we had earlier left our main luggage, to repack as we were to travel light for the next two days in Bako National Park, leaving everything we did not need in the office. Forty minutes on a bus followed by twenty minutes on a boat took us to Bako National Park where we booked into our chalet. Bea and I slept for most of the bus ride so cannot tell you much about it.

The spectacular Bako coast

Duck !

At Bako it was noticeable that although we were well removed from the city there was not much in the way of bird life.
Our chalet was very basic. It had a fan but did little more than to re-circulate the hot air. Locking the door was a bit technical but we were told to make sure we did so because the long-tailed macaques were talented thieves and would steal anything.
At 1600 we set off for a two hour walk and at last saw an interesting bird - a white collared king fisher.

Hard going through the jungle

Our first proboscis monkey

We the found a honey fly nest where the flies make a nest on the trunk of a tree and it is this that the honey bear goes looking for. Locals use the nest as a kind of glue, for example to repair holes in fishing boats. They heat up the honey and pour it into the hole where it sets.

Honey fly nest

It was very slow going along the jungle track and took us an hour to walk just one kilometre.
1830 was dinner time. The meal was rice and fish and chicken and veg and egg, followed by cans of coke and the whole lot came to less than £3 for the two of us. While we were eating along came some wild boars, soon after which there was a beautiful sunset.
2000 A briefing. Peter the guide was a great one for briefings, which is a really good thing but he quite often started before everyone was assembled so there was confusion at times and not everyone was up to speed with the plan.

Not a very good night's sleep - a combination of jet lag and heat and humidity no doubt.

Thurs 13th April.
Up at 0630 and into the shower, which was a powerful jet of cold water that pinned you against the wall when you first turned it on. We went to breakfast at 0800 where macaque monkeys tried to steal our food, but one of the staff chased them off with a catapult.

Long tailed macaque

Wild pig

0930 we set off on a walk. We came across a troupe of silver leaf monkeys with young and stopped to take pictures before climbing steeply up through the jungle onto a plateau.

The group setting off

Heavy rain started as soon as we reached the plateau and we became very wet very quickly. Peter told us about when he acted as a local guide when the BBC were up there to make a film about pitcher plants. We even got to see the actually plant that features in the programme - sadly rather dead now. Apparently they fitted tiny cameras inside the plant to record the sequences and they were there for twenty days but only got about three minutes of film. Peter was very interested in plants and could tell us the names of most of what we saw. Some of the plants have significant medicinal value including one that has been involved in a treatment for Aids and another is a form of gin-seng.

The rain got even heavier as we trudged across the plateau to a view-point and eventually down to the shore at a beach. There were some boats at the beach so after a paddle or swim a few of us paid the boatman for a ride along the coast back to the chalets rather than having to walk all the way back through the jungle.1300 back at the chalet. We spread our gear out in the vain hope of drying it and spent the rest of the afternoon chilling out.

Jet lagged out

1700 We set off on another walk to find a particular snake that had turned up near the chalets.It was called a green pit viper and if it bites you have only six minutes to live.

Green pit viper

We took lots of photographs from a respectful distance and lived to tell the tale. We then visited the education centre where unfortunately some of the identity labels had been removed from the exhibits so we would have to guess a bit about the Latin names for things such as the wild pigs that live at Bako.

Dinner cost about £2 (12 RM) for the two of us - ridiculously cheap. During dinner Bea got bitten twice quite badly by a large insect, causing two large holes in her leg which would trouble her for the rest of the trip.

1930 briefing and then a night walk.

Scary night walk

The first thing we saw was a mouse deer and then a flying lemur, which Linden had real trouble pronouncing. The lemur had a baby with it. Further on we came to a pool with a catfish in it which James tried to leap over, not appreciating how big the pool was so he got a bit wet. Further on there was a brown gecko with bright stripes. Altogether we were out for more than an hour in pitch darkness and our wind-up torches worked remarkably well.

Fri 14th April.
Up at 0630 after another bad night - we have come to the conclusion it is mostly jet lag and will pass. We started the day with a short walk during which Peter told us a bit more about the local trees and plants. There was a rattan tree which is used for furniture and can grow to 180 metres in height although the tallest recorded in Borneo was 150 metres. We also saw a snake skin fruit palm whose seeds are spread far and wide by birds. Next came the iron-wood tree whose wood is so tough it makes very good planks for the many walk-ways that are built across marshy areas in Borneo. Another tree, related to the iron-wood tree but whose name I don't know, is used for making the stilts for houses that are built over water. They reckon these pilings can survive over a hundred years even when buried in mud. The jack fruit tree has bark that is made into coats and hats, the sandpaper tree has leaves so rough they were used for smoothing and polishing wooden items such as blow pipes and one of the mangrove trees has latex that is made into sugar.

At 12 noon we waded out to the boats and said our goodbyes to Bako - a beautiful park within easy reach of Kuching and a marvellous introduction to Borneo's wild places. Pity we were not well enough recovered from our journey to fully appreciate it.

We were back at Peter's office in Kuching just after 1300 where there ensued another re-packing session in which we were to reduce our main item of hold luggage to 10 kilos for the journey in the light aircraft from Kuching to Mukah. Evidently any bag too large would be off-loaded if the aircraft was too heavy to take off, so the trick was to smuggle most of your luggage containing all your essential items into the cabin with you, or secretly lob it into the hold once you arrived at the aircraft. It would have been helpful if we had known in advance about this complicated manoeuvre so that everybody would have brought extra bags. Young James had not done so but I had an extra rucksack so it was donated to him - permanently, as things turned out.We then went for a walk to the city centre to buy some lunch unsupervised (very brave) and ended up buying a new watch for Bea.

Having packed our bags back at the office Bea and I discussed how we felt about things so far. Sadly we were both having trouble with hips and I also had painful knees after some of the walking at Bako so we decided there and then that we would not attempt to climb Mount Kinabalu later in the trip. Instead we would try to hire a local guide to help us look for Everrett's ferret badger while the rest of the group were on the mountain. We informed Peter of this and he promised to arrange an extra night in the hotel for us and to find us a suitable guide.1500 we left for Kuching airport where they weighed everything including ourselves - I think we all felt slightly daft stepping up onto the scales with the luggage. I wondered just how small this aircraft was and it turned out to be a Twin Otter which carries nineteen people.

Our Twin Otter

The flight to Mukah took an hour and covered something like 170 kilometres. At first there were thunder storms in the area so the pilot steered around the biggest of the clouds. We then flew over vast tracts of jungle and many rivers and I really enjoyed the flight but Bea was not so sure.

Vast areas of jungle and rivers

We received a right Royal welcome at Mukah by Dianne Rose - an energetic lady who seemed to be in the thick of everything in this place. She took us to the longhouse called Lamin Dana which would be our base for the next two days.

The Lamin Dana longhouse

A cicada in the longhouse

Our visit happened to coincide with a festival that Dianne had re-awakened. The festival was supposed to celebrate the end of the monsoon season but you cannot really celebrate anything at the end of the monsoon because there is no food so the summer would make more sense. However, the summer is very busy for everyone so for convenience sake the festival has landed in April.

So, after dinner we went down to the shore and joined in with the celebrations. There were hundreds of people, lots of stalls and shops and displays with singing and dancing in an arena and on a stage. It was all very colourful and we were made to feel most welcome.

Bea at the Mukah festival

All the local villages were represented at the festival and they all had tents which would be judged and the winners presumably got prizes. We wandered around all evening and when it was time to go back to the longhouse we could not find Linden. Eventually we discovered he had earlier got a lift back to the longhouse on his own.

Sat 15th April
Up at 0600, and out at 0700 for the start of the ceremony. The ceremony has its roots in Hinduism, with some Moslem touches, and involves a great big totem made of wicker or raffia or some such material and resembles a corn dolly and it represents offerings of food for the Gods. As already mentioned, in the olden days they would sacrifice a slave by putting him in a hole and dropping the totem in the hole and the bones of the recently dead king would be placed in the bowl at the top of the totem. This would keep away evil spirits. All along the river there used to be slaves - house slaves and village slaves - but slavery was abolished in 1864 or thereabouts so the practise of sacrificing them has ceased.

On this occasion the ceremony consisted of a small flotilla of boats, with the leading boat carrying the very spectacular totem, travelling along the river to the sea and then coming ashore for a ceremonial breakfast. The lead boat also had some musicians on board who played traditional music to add the right flavour. Our boat followed the lead boat and it was quite a privilege for us.

On arrival at the beach we overshot somewhat and had to go back a bit to the right place, at which we came ashore for breakfast. Not for the first time we had here a great mixture of cultures - in this case a ceremony with its ancient roots being conducted using old long-boats with modern outboard engines and the crews playing traditional music while communicating with mobile phones. We had already noted that the human structures along the banks consisted of rows of mostly quite old houses, behind which were palm trees and a forest of modern telephone masts. It was all slightly bizarre.

The clash of cultures

On the beach Dianne assured us we would be healthier, happier and wealthier as a result of the ceremony because the evil spirits could not touch us now. She told us we must finish all the food we had brought with us today and if there should be any left-overs they would be given to the Gods by being placed around the totem, which by now had been erected at the edge of the beach and surrounded with candles. Dianne explained that the dividing line between the human world and the spirit world was very thin and in this ceremony both sides of the line breakfasted together. There were no table manners to get in the way of the enjoyment and we were invited just to grab the food and eat it from our hands. Dianne told us that everything is in season at different times of the year, particularly the plentiful supply of food that comes from the sea. She encouraged us to sample as many different sorts of food as we could while we were here, especially the sago worms which she assured us tasted like chicken.

The swinging local lads

The girls get their blow in

We then walked along the beach to the main festival area that we had first visited the previous evening. There were a number of activities under way when we got there including a blow-pipe competition and rope swings. The rope swings were quite spectacular and looked extremely dangerous and we heard that officialdom was considering banning them in the future. The swings consisted of huge tripods, each with a rope suspended from the centre. Boys took turns to leap from a sloping grandstand to swing on the rope, and as the rope swung back again another boy would leap on until a whole bunch of boys had been assembled on the swinging rope. The tripods were of different sizes for boys of different ages and our James had to have a go of course, although I think he did not quite graduate to the largest swing.

Richard and Judy - Sarawak style

Dancing for the cameras

In the main festival area the local TV station had set up a studio and there was a kind of Richard and Judy programme under way. In the main arena Bea found her way to the front and was in a great position among the press people to photograph the dancing. Speaking of the press - the TV, radio and newspaper reporters were quick to notice that we were tourists and came to interview and photograph quite a few of us because among the hundreds (thousands?) of people there we were virtually the only non-Malaysians. Seeing all this going on, or perhaps seeing us as simply different and a curiosity, some of the locals wanted to have their pictures taken with us. The result was that over the next few days some of our group appeared in pictures in the papers and also on TV.

The main celebrities at the festival were the First Minister of Sarawak and his entourage which included his wife, the Deputy First Minister, the Tourism Minister and one of the forestry officials. Bea and I bent the ear of the forestry man about all the palm oil trees, the Tourism Minister encouraged us to contact him if we had any problems and the First Minister seemed quite interested in our visit. He clearly knew our host Dianne Rose and told us what an enterprising woman she is.

All the people at the stalls seemed
to be having a great time

Our Alan got pampered
at the foot massage parlo

At this point some old guy produced some of the fabled sago worms for us to try. Bea had a go and declared them quite nice. You simply held the worm by the head and bit the rest off into your mouth. I chickened out - pardon the pun.

The sago worm - it tastes like chicken

Speaking of sago - it is a tree with many uses and plays an important part in the local economy. One of its components has great relevance to modern times because it is a major ingredient in biodegradable plastic - so in future when you get a biodegradable shopping bag it might be thanks to the sago tree.

Sago logs waiting to be processed

The fronds of the sago are made into curtains and baskets, the branches are good for blinds, the centre of the tree is where the sago worm grows and as mentioned already it is used for the plastics industry. There are other uses which I forget.

We spent the rest of the morning wandering around buying stuff and talking to people. The other Alan even got a foot massage.

Back at the longhouse we examined Bea's bites. She has always been prone to being bitten but this trip had been particularly uncomfortable and the wounds inflicted by the large insect at Bako turned into large blisters that refused to heal despite being treated with antiseptic wipes and Germolene.

Lamin Dana longhouse was very special and in common with a number of the wooden floored buildings that we encountered you were not allowed in with shoes on - they had to be left by the entrance. Bea loved it. Our bedrooms were upstairs and there were bathroom facilities both upstairs and downstairs which were adequate but not terribly reliable and were shared between the sexes in a slightly strange fashion, but we all coped. Lunch was rice (of course) and omelettes and small fish plus various vegetables. Some items were quite heavily spiced but there was orange juice on the tables to wash it all down and Tiger beer at the bar for those with that special thirst.

In the afternoon we went for a boat ride up river through the village and back again. Dianne did not recommend that we swim in this river and I thought I had spotted the reason as we passed lots of little outhouses built out over the water, but this theory was exploded when we heard that although they used to be toilets each house now had a septic tank. Apparently in years gone by the local sago trees were processed on a small scale by individual families so the little outhouses were pressed into use for processing the sago. Nowadays the processing is done in factories so the little private outhouses have fallen into disuse.

There were houses both sides of the river and it all looked quite squalid and poverty stricken - a bit reminiscent of Africa, particularly because some of the houses had thatched roofs and some had corrugated iron roofs with the same problems of choice - that is, corrugated iron lasts much longer than thatch but is much noisier in the frequent heavy rains. Some of the houses along the river were so dilapidated as to be on the verge of falling down, yet most were equipped with satellite dishes. Dianne told us that with the recent increase in prosperity many of the old houses would be replaced with new ones and sure enough we could already pick out a few new ones with well kept gardens among the old. All the same the area looked quite depressed to us.

On the return cruise we turned up a side stream to see a totem pole that had been erected among houses many years previously. At one time there were plans to have it moved to a museum, but some of the locals were worried that the spirits would be angry. Nevertheless the work began, but they had great difficulty moving the totem and then one of the workers died quite suddenly so the job was hurriedly abandoned and the totem is still there.

After the boat trip we all set off for a walk around the village. The group very soon split into two with the fast ones racing ahead and the rest of us smelling the flowers along the way. Bea found a lovely yellow flower called Compolium and we also discovered a type of grass called touch-me-not grass or shy-grass because it flinches away from you if you touch it. Linden and I tried to take pictures in the fading light and we got left further and further behind and altogether took well over an hour to cover no more than two miles. We got back to Lamin Dana just after dark and were at once dispatched to get freshened up for dinner, after which there would be a ceilidh performance from the local youngsters.

Dinner was rice (!) with chicken and fish and stuffed aubergines with slices of pineapple to follow. The fresh pineapple we ate in Borneo was quite delicious compared with the tinned varieties we get in the UK.
Next came the promised performance from the children. Dianne explained beforehand about the many dancers and musicians that had been trained here and that were now performing in public all over the district and beyond. This evening would be the first public outing for the children concerned so we were most honoured.

The children danced and their band played and it was altogether a charming performance, at the end of which the children would receive certificates to mark the attainment of this level. As guests we were invited to present the certificates and as the oldest member of the group I was pushed to the front to do the business - a singular honour.

The children then taught us one of their dances and we got our own back by teaching them the Slosh. After that I played Flower of Scotland on one of their musical instruments - a set of tuned bells in a rack - which was received with a resounding yawn and we all went to bed.

Sunday 16th April
Up at 0630 as usual, breakfast at eight and then we set off down the river again to a market in the local town and then back to pack our bags again. Just before breakfast I spotted a monitor lizard in the river beside the longhouse - our first monitor of the trip.

By 0930 we were in the Glory Shopping Centre in Mukah where Linden asked if the sign over the front of a building was the name of the town. Peter patiently explained the sign said "Public Toilet"

The market was very good with loads of stuff for sale, although as our trip progressed we realised that the merchandise was much the same everywhere. I came close to buying a new watch but the strap was the wrong size and could not be altered so I had to abandon the idea.

Back on the boat we continued towards the sea and landed on the other bank where we had a short walk. The standard of housing here was better than in the villages upstream, partly because the fishermen who lived here got better pay than the sago workers.

So far we had not seen a great deal of wildlife but along this stretch were water hen, common sandpiper, swift, egret and quite a large monitor lizard. House sparrows very similar to our own were the most common bird everywhere.

Dry dock and capstan

The Mukah waterfront

We came across a very basic dry dock well away from the river comprising a grassy hollow into which boats were dragged by means of a thick cable and a hand capstan. Four men operate the capstan and it must take a lot of effort to bring a large boat into the dock - perhaps they use rollers to help it over the rough ground and across the road.

The boat then took us back to Lamin Dana for lunch and on the way we saw a night heron and another monitor lizard sitting on a log.

As we were getting dressed James said "Somebody's socks are in my boots" then someone said to Alister "Where are your boots" and Alister looked around and said "They're on James' feet". Sure enough, James had put the wrong boots on.

As we left Lamin Dana (, telephone 084 871543) we promised to keep in touch with Dianne and maybe send her some pictures.

The tiny but beautifully kept
airport at Mukah

One of the equally beautiful locals

The next leg of our journey was from Mukah to Miri. At the tiny Mukah airport we saw the local carousel in operation where they lob the cases off the aircraft onto a trolley, drag the trolley to the airport building and throw the cases through a window to the waiting passengers inside. Simple and highly efficient.

The Mukah baggage system

On the subject of luggage we had so far not come across any item of clothing or equipment that we should have brought with us and didn't. We could have managed without our fleeces given that we were not doing the mountain and Bea says the same goes for the waterproofs, although I am not convinced about that. A light poncho would be good but certainly the over-trousers were not necessary.

Leave your blowpipes at home

Our second Twin Otter

The plane was another Twin Otter (or possibly the same one as last time). We left soon after 1600 and the plane was nearly full with one or two spare seats depending how you counted the babies on board. The flight took exactly one hour to cover the 149 nautical miles from Mukah to Miri at any average speed of 130 knots - you work it out.

We got to the Dynasty Hotel in Miri at 1800 and we had an hour to get freshened up while watching Chelsea beat Bolton 2-0 on TV. Down in the lobby we found copies of the daily newspapers, both in English and in Chinese, in which there were pictures of some of our group at the Mukah Festival. We tried to get copies of the papers for people to take home with them.

Fame at last - some of our group in the Chinese papers

We set off for dinner in a Chinese restaurant where we ordered a banquet for twelve. Peter chose the food - a mixture of fish, chicken, prawns, rice, pork, mixed veg - all the usual suspects.

Dinner at Miri

Gill gets chopstick-fed
by Dave

Alister (right) about to
blow it

The tiger beer came in packs of three cans at 10 Ringits per pack, that's about 50p per can. Today was Alister's 25th birthday today so Peter organised a cake. At 2230 we left the restaurant and some of us went back to the hotel while others headed off in search of a nightclub to celebrate with Alister. As we left the restaurant somebody noticed all the rats running around on the awnings above the tables - I'd rather not have known, thank you. It was a wonderful evening and almost the first time we had had the chance to sit down properly as a group and get to know each other. People chatted about their kids and how everybody travels these days such that parents are buying their offspring Malaria tablets and airline tickets for birthdays and Christmas instead of the usual hankies and socks. There is always a risk on these trips that the group might not get on well, but we were really lucky and everybody muddled along nicely.

Food in Sarawak continued to be very cheap and in general we would pay about £1 for dinner and this often included a bottle or can of coke. In some places it was even cheaper, although later in the trip, in Sabah, prices would be a little higher but still incredibly cheap by UK standards.

Mon 17th April
Up at 0700 after a chilly night - we should have turned the air conditioning off before bed. The young lads did not get in until 4am so they were a little quiet at breakfast.

The Dynasty Hotel in Miri

Miri - a green and pleasant city

We got away at 0900 heading for Tenyok Rimba, via Long Bedian village, in a convoy of four 4-wheel-drive pickup trucks. We were warned the journey would take five, six or even seven hours, mostly on mud roads. As we drove through Miri we saw lots of sea-horse statues and signs, so Miri must be the sea-horse town. All of the big towns have such a symbol - Kuching is the cat, Mukah was the shrimp town and elsewhere we saw the marlin, turtle and prawn used.

After about half an hour we pulled over for petrol just before abandoning tarmac roads for the next few days. To get petrol you hand your money and keys to the attendant and he gets on with it.

Our convoy of 4WD pickup trucks

One of several dodgy bridges

Tarmac continued in a patchy fashion for a little while but then it was just mud and in low-lying boggy areas we passed lorries buried up to their axles with the driver and his companion lying back with their feet out of the windows while waiting for rescue.

Mud, mud......................

.........glorious mud

At one point we too had to stop while our driver locked the front wheel hubs to put us in total four wheel drive to avoid the same fate as the lorries and to get us up some of the steep and slippery hills.

Manually locked hubs

Our pick up truck

During this journey we saw vast forests of oil palm trees that provide lots of work for locals and immigrants (legal and otherwise) who work for just 8 Ringits per day - about £1.25. These workers live in villages in the plantations. Such forests are not good for wildlife and we saw very little during the journey apart from a couple of squirrels on the road.

Palm oil trees are of massive economic importance to Malaysia but their spread is a real threat to the natural jungles of the region. Each palm oil tree becomes productive after about 4 or 5 years when it produces fruit and it will continue to do so usefully for about fifteen years, at which point it is cut down and they plant a new one in its place. The old tree is then chopped up and placed around the new one as natural fertiliser as it decays. The leaves of the palm oil tree are processed for animal feeds and the bark is used for charcoal. But it is the clusters of fruit that make the big money because they are refined into various oil products which they hope will eventually make the whole of Malaysia self sufficient in oil - particularly diesel oil. Kuala Lumpur is already approaching this point

At 1300 we reached a mighty river with a ferry but we had to wait for a while because one of our vehicles was missing and Peter was unable to raise them on the mobile. They eventually arrived having broken down. A hydraulic pipe had broken but they had spotted a likely looking yard full of old cars and sure enough the man there rummaged around and found a bit of hose that looked about right and in no time our friends were back on the road.

After crossing the river we stopped for lunch at a village called Lang Lama, meaning long life. The river is called the Baram River and it goes all the way to Miri where had just come from. We could have come by river boat but it takes seven hours and costs a fortune in diesel fuel. We had a look in the shops and then set off for the village of Long Bedian where we would have a walk before completing the journey to Tenyok Rimba. We passed a quarry where certain birds whose nests were in great demand used to live, but the quarrying drove the birds away. The nests are very popular for birds nest soup and are very expensive to buy so the birds became endangered, but the government has banned the collection of the nests in the National Parks so the birds survive in those places. In other words the National Parks are doing a proper job.

The people in the village of Long Bedian are mostly farmers or they help out at the logging camps. The village has a small clinic and a church and a primary school but the secondary children have to go down to the main village. The name of the village is taken from the tree from which most of their buildings are made. The fruit is called the Durian fruit or 'Smelly Fruit'. As we embarked on a tour of the village the school was let out for the day and the rejoicing of the children was just like children after school anywhere in the world.

School's out

In the middle of the village was a symbolic tower with a clock at the top and a motto "Peji Peju Pejoh" which translated means "Together we develop ourselves for the future". Evidently the locals had resisted being integrated into a community from 1946 to 1996 at which point the government started to help them and they learned how to live as a community.

Peji Peju Pejoh

The electricity in the village is provided by a diesel generator and they pay for the fuel by charging everybody so much per light bulb, so much per fridge, so much per television and so forth - so the more you use the more you contribute towards the diesel oil.

The clinic

A longhouse

The church

Pickup trucks are the preferred means of
transport. Note the satellite dish

We met some of the people at their Longhouse where ladies with heavily tattooed arms sat under a wall adorned with satellite dish - yet another example of the clash of cultures so common in the developing world. As with everywhere we went the people were very friendly, wishing to shake your hand and be photographed with you.

The local people were really friendly

The Long Bedian clinic has its own generator because the main generator only operates in the evening. The clinic is mostly for minor ailments and injuries and anyone with more serious problems has to be taken to Lang Lama or even to Miri if they are really bad. Again we were told that you can get from Long Bedian all the way to Miri by boat but it takes many hours and costs 800 Ringits in diesel, whereas the same journey by road takes a fraction of the time and only costs about 140 Ringits, with the result that these days local people try to buy four wheel drive pickup trucks rather than boats.

One of the plants they grow locally is Tapioca which is used to make puddings as we know it but also the leaves are fried as a vegetable. Speaking of food, we had dinner while we were in the village and to our amazement in this remote village the restaurant had Sky TV.

At 1845 we said our goodbyes and began the last leg of the journey to Tenyok Rimba which is a lodge halfway up a mountain and which would be our base for the next two days - more or less cut off from the known universe.

1900 we arrived at Tenyok Rimba in the dark, deep in the jungle. Our chalet was very nice with its own facilities, although the water did not always work, but we settled in before heading along wooden walkways to the communal building.

Our chalet from the inside...

...and from the outside


The wooden walkways

The common room

The area is generally quite marshy so there were wooden walkways and bridges everywhere connecting all the buildings. The staircases along the walkways took a bit of getting used to because the size and angle of the steps were not consistent so concentration was required, especially at night, which was not always easy after a few Tiger beers. Peter showed us some films that first evening and gave us one his, by now, famous briefings.

The insect life at night here is unbelievable, particularly the huge rhinoceros beetles crashing into light fittings and walls as they fly around the place making a lot of noise when their solid armour plating collides with equally solid objects. Just as impressive are the local grasshoppers that I swear measure six inches long and which make a raucous noise like something from a horror movie.

Rhinosceros beetle

Ants pounce on a grain of rice

A millipede

One bonus of this place is the ladies on the staff are happy to do some laundry for a very reasonable fee so we handed in a modest pile.

We wandered off to bed just after 2300 having been told that the electricity generator is only on from about "6 to 1130pm" we were told. I (and some of the others) misinterpreted that to mean 6am to 1130pm and planned to get lots of batteries recharged while we were out walking next day. Wrong - it was only on in the evenings.

Tues 18th April
Up at 0700 to a beautiful morning. I had a sore throat which thankfully did not really develop into anything.

We set off for a jungle walk at 0930 and soon came across the remnants of a hut built by the Penan Nomads who wander the jungles, staying for a few days in each place until the wildlife goes away and then moving on to a fresh place.

Nomad hut

The nomads eat a variety of insects, animals and plants on their travels. They catch animals with spears or by shooting them with poisoned darts from their blow pipes. The poison comes from the sap of a certain tree which they boil up and dip their darts into and then let them dry before going hunting. These nomads still wander the forests and are permitted by the government to hunt even though hunting is generally illegal in many places. There are about 12,000 of these nomads in Borneo, of which about 3,000 live in the Tenyok area, although it is impossible to know for sure how many there are. They are very shy and simply melt away into the jungle if they hear people coming. The government gives the nomads the choice of continuing to live wild in the traditional way or of being resettled into communities where they will be provided with a longhouse, a school, a church, a clinic and where they will be taught agriculture.

When loggers first came to this area the local people objected and someone with a very English-sounding name taught them how to sabotage the machines. So soldiers came in and arrested the culprits so that the logging could go ahead

Soon after leaving the lodge and entering the jungle we were given some plant material to chew which if you eat it when drinking alcohol you will not get drunk. Seems to me to defeat the object. Also, if you poison yourself this stuff will cure you. The forest is full of remedies for all sorts of ailments as well as things that'll do you no good at all - such as biting insects, poisonous snakes and leeches which attached themselves to both Dave and Julia during the walk. At mid morning our guide chopped down a liana vine and we all had a drink of the water that it contained, just like you read about in books.

Chilling out under the waterfall

We took a break at Nawan Waterfall where most of us had a swim in the cold water before heading back along a different set of paths to the lodge for lunch. On the way Bea acquired her first leech which was swiftly dealt with by a squirt of neat Deet.

Over lunch we learned more about the lodge. Tenyok Rimba is not actually a National Park but it is a protected area of a different sort and trees must not be felled there so the wood for building new chalets has to be brought in from elsewhere. As for hunting - only the nomadic tribesmen are allowed to hunt here, so even areas without full National Park status receive a good measure of protection from being exploited - Scottish Executive please note. We asked about mammals and were told there are wild cats that catch squirrels and mice and voles, but there are very few mammals at Tenyok Rimba due to the nomadic hunters who are good at catching animals. Those that are not caught sense danger when the hunters are in the area and they move away.

1245 we went to lunch. It was very very hot and really reminded us we were only a few degrees from the equator. We chilled out for the afternoon, or as near as that was possible, before heading down to the river to find the salt lick rock where the local butterflies gather.

Crossing the river to the salt lick

Butterflies savouring the salt

Most of us waded across the river carrying our cameras high and hoping not to lose balance but our guides helped and there were no disasters. There were plenty of butterflies to see - all the same species called Rajah Brook. After lots of photos we carried on down the river and crossed back and forth as necessary to avoid awkward sections of bank before heading along a track back to the lodge.

On the way back Bea and I were just bemoaning the lack of visible wildlife when the guide pointed out a set of porcupine footprints.

Porcupine prints

A lizard climbing up my leg

We then found more prints that did not look the same to us but Peter at first said they were the same animal and then wondered if they might be a bear cat. Soon afterwards Bea and Peter heard a gibbon.

Peter said he was quite pessimistic about the future for this place and he reckoned in thirty years time a small town would have grown up in this place.

All afternoon we could hear thunder rumbling in the hills around the lodge and the air felt heavy and charged so we expected a downpour at any moment, but it did not happen.

We assembled in the common room for drinks before dinner. The choice of alcoholic drink is rather limited away from the city and is mostly restricted to cans or bottles of Tiger beer or some other such lager. Wine and spirits are only available in the city and are quite expensive.

A typical meal - rice, fish, chicken and veg

Help yourself


After dinner our local guide gave us a dance demonstration and then he showed us how to use a blowpipe.

Balloons were pinned to the wall and we all had a go and I managed to burst one with my first dart. Julia did the same and then others also scored after a little practise - especially James who become quite expert. It occurred to me that if we total beginners could hit balloons after such a short time this must be a very accurate weapon and it is no wonder the locals, who are brought up to this, can hunt effectively with the blowpipe.

Later Bea did some checking up on the squirrels we had seen so far and they included borneo black-banded squirrel (calascurus orestes) and Lowes squirrel (sunascurus lowi).

Weds 19th April
Breakfast was rice and noodles and some kind of doughy pastry made into dumplings plus sausages and scrambled egg - very nice too. We left Tenyok Rimba at 0845 in our 4WD pickup trucks with the prospect of a two hour drive through forest tracks to a river at Kuala Melinau where we would meet the boats that would take us to Mulu.

We boarded the long boats just before 1100 and spent a very uncomfortable 2 hours squatting on low thwarts without back-rests under a hot sun until a heavy rain shower near the end cooled us all down a bit. Those of the party who did not cover up got slightly sunburned and even Bea and I who had cowered under towels incurred sunburn on the backs of our hands. Towards the end of the trip we developed a new technique of sitting sideways on opposite ends of our thwart so that our backs got a little support from the boat's gunwale.

After lunch we went to our room in which the toilet did not work so while we were out the staff would fix it or give as another room. The rain got quite heavy as we set off but we pressed on because there was the hope of seeing millions of bats leaving the caves that we were heading for.

The walk was 3 kilometres along a plank walk to an observatory and then a short stroll to the entrance to two caves.

Inside Lang Cave

The first was Lang Cave which is full of amazing stalactites and stalagmites, tastefully illuminated. These structures were still in the process of forming and we were instructed not to touch any of them or try to hack bits off for souvenirs and we were also asked to keep the noise down so as not to upset the wildlife - bats and rats and squirmy things that like such damp, dark places. There were well built wooden walk-ways inside the cave to make it accessible to most abilities.

The entrances to Deer Cave

Outside it was still raining as we walked the short distance to Deer Cave, so-called because deer used to be attracted to it to lick its salt deposits and to shelter in it. It is reputed to be the largest cave in the world, being over 2 kilometres long and never less than 90 metres high. Millions of bats inhabit the cave and their guano lies everywhere, including on the handrails of the plank walkways so Peter advised us to keep our hands to ourselves. We saw lots of footprints in the sea of guano - evidence of the rats that feed on baby bats and other creatures that don't survive.

Deep inside Deer cave

The hole through which the bats
leave Deer Cave

Having explored as deep into the cave as we could we retreated through the streams and along the path to the observatory from where we could look back at the outside of the cave. The bats usually stream out of a hole in the cave wall each dusk to feed but they only do so in decent weather.

The observation area at Deer Cave

The previous day had been rainy so we were hopeful the bats would perform for us that evening but the rain persisted and the bats stayed home. Even so it was a marvellous experience to have visited the famous caves, although Linden declared "the caves in Hungary were much better - better lit so you could take photos."

It was a rather wet and bedraggled group that squelched its way back to the centre in search of food, drink and some dry clothes, arriving there in the dark at 1915.

Bea - Soggy and tired but still smiling

Our toilet was still not working but I fixed it by the simple device of lengthening the string that was holding the flushing mechanism together !

At this point in the expedition we were tired and wet and half our gear was wet with little prospect of drying it out. But were we downhearted? Actually yes, but not for long. It had been a difficult day with that awful boat ride and then quite a few hours on our feet, walking about six miles, much of it in heavy rain, so I think we were entitled to a lapse of enthusiasm.

Peter's briefing for the next day told us of another boat ride, a visit to the village of a now settled Pennan tribe, a look at some more caves and then by boat to a small airport from where we would fly to Kota Kinabalu.

We had a lousy night. Alister and James next door had their tap explode on them so they had to grope around outside in the dark to find a stop cock, which they did - enterprising lads - I woke up too cold and had to put clothes on and then a barking lizard started up outside our window (it was so loud I thought it was in the room) and then Alister, who heard us moving about, came and told us what had happened in case we had been to the loo and wondered why there was no water.

Thursday 20th April
Next morning we went to use our sink and discovered it was not connected properly to the drains and when you pulled the plug the water went all over your feet. For somewhere that has world heritage status the accommodation at this particular lodge is pretty crummy. A letter to Explore suggesting they look at alternative lodges in future might be in order.

Our accommodation at Mulu

Before leaving everyone had to pack their main luggage and put it in our chalet where someone would hopefully collect it and transport it to the local airport by road while we went visiting a village and some caves by longboat.

We left Mulu at 0833 and our first stop was a Pennan Nomad settlement which was a village constructed by the government for this group of nomads who had decided to abandon their roving lifestyle and settle down.

The Nomad Village

Things did not go smoothly for this group and the longhouse built for them did meet with their approval so they burned it down The same fate befell the second longhouse but the third one survived and most of the nomads now live in it. However, some of the older members were still unhappy so they built little shacks for themselves in the woods behind the longhouse. One of the main advantages of settling down for the nomads is the school provided by the government which will allow their children to join modern society and prosper. A church has also been provided.

The Church

We visited their craft market where the women are learning about commerce and how to use tourism to improve their lives. We noticed that some of the older women serving at the stalls still had the elongated ear that tradition used to demand.

The nomad craft market

We made some purchases and returned to the boat which then took us to the next set of caves.

All the caves were beautifully presented and protected by very clear-cut rules which were printed and displayed at the entrances. Each group must use an accredited guide and must behave in a particular way.

The stairs, lighting, handrails and walkways were well maintained and made for ease of access which in itself kept visitors from straying away from the prescribed routes. It was a marvellous example of how to protect a superlative place while making it accessible to the public. This place qualified for world heritage status by satisfying all four criteria (you actually only need to satisfy one to qualify) and I would recommend a visit here to anyone.

The first cave this morning was Wind Cave, with its stalactites and stalagmites, and then it was back to the boats, along the river and a climb up 200 steps and then down about 100 more into Clearwater Cave which contains one of the longest underground rivers in the world.

What goes down................

...............must come up.

After walking as far as we could we started back and then off into a branch cave called the Grand Old Lady which involved going up and down more steps before finally clambering up to the entrance and down the 200 steps to where our boat was waiting.

It was only a short boat ride to the tiny airport where it was very, very hot and where we were reunited with our main luggage that had thankfully made it unscathed to the airport by road.

Boarding our Fokker 50 at Mulu

Mulu airport is actually in the national park and is a very neat and tidy place. From here our flight in a Fokker 50 aircraft - which is a good bit larger than the Twin Otters of recent days - would take us out of Sarawak, over Brunei and continue eastwards to the city of Kota Kinabalu, which is in Sabah province. Our flight took off right on time at 1330 and within an hour we had landed and were through immigration and had changed some money. As we got out of the aircraft it was pouring with rain and the airline staff were waiting at the foot of the steps to hand us each an umbrella - a lovely gesture.

We stayed the night at the Beverley Hotel - a beautiful place and a great contrast to the accommodation we had used in recent days. We had to leave a deposit with the hotel reception to cover incidentals such as phone calls and the mini bar if we used them but other than that we were soon in our rooms enjoying the comforts. Bea and I then set off shopping. We walked to a department store some distance away and bought new memory cards for both cameras as those we had bought with us were getting rather full. We also asked around for a book store that might stock a copy of the Mammals of Borneo book our guide Peter was using and were lucky enough to find the 2005 updated version of exactly the right book . The walk had taken us quite a long way from the hotel so we got a taxi back. I then had a sleep while Bea sorted some of her gear out.

Kota Kinabalu - the marlin city

Bea admiring the artistic wiring

At the 1900 briefing we met the new members of our group, Christine from the USA, Jan and Matthew, and Pat and John. We had not been forewarned of these additions to the group which was a pity because by now the group dynamics were established and had we known there were still new people to come there would have been a natural space reserved for them in our perceptions. As it was we had to hurriedly adjust to these new people and I think we did as good a job as was possible in the circumstances. They were all very nice and easy to get along with.

We went out together to a sea food restaurant for dinner that evening where we had a great mixture of dishes to dip into including sate beef, lemon chicken, prawns, rice, fried rice and a whole grouper for us to share between us, followed by water melon, papaya and pineapple.


Expert chopstick operator

Most of the now expanded group


This sign caught our attention as we left

Back at the hotel I had a hot bath to ease away the fatigue and aches and pains.

Fri 21st April
I had been feeling a bit off colour the last day or two but felt much better this morning, despite not having the best of nights. We did not make a good job of adjusting the temperature in our room and got rather too cold for comfort.

A welcome touch of luxury at the
Beverley Hotel

Turtles in their ornamental pool
underneath the staircase

At 0720 the Indonesian Embassy opposite the hotel start their early morning staff step class with music and exercises outside the building. We took some video of this extraordinary spectacle. Surprisingly it was all done in English.

We were already finding Sabah very different from Sarawak. Sabah was more modern, more cosmopolitan and more tourist orientated than Sarawak. Sabah had a great mixture of Malays, Philipinos, Indonesians, Chinese and a host of other nationalities, many of them illegal immigrants, living side by side.

Speaking of illegal immigrants, the problem ahs become so acute in Malaysia that the government has had to take stern measures. Every year hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants cross borders into Malaysia. Many are caught and transported back to their own country but most of those cross back into Malaysia within a day or two. To discourage this behaviour Malaysia has passed a new law that says illegal immigrants will receive three lashes of the rattan cane before being deported and this has reduced repeat offences by about thirty percent. Evidently to be beaten is an unbearable humiliation to many of these people and they would not dare to risk it happening again.

The journey to the Kinabalu National Park was undertaken in a very comfortable air conditioned bus. We tried taking pictures as we went of the vast expanses of forested hills but our cameras could not do justice to the scale of the landscape.

We stopped in the late morning at a village which had become more or less solely devoted to craft shops here we did a bit of shopping. It soon became evident that most of the shops carried pretty much the same merchandise and I'm afraid I lost interest. It was very hot again and I was glad to get back into the cool bus. For some time we had been gaining glimpses of Mount Kinabalu - the main focus of our visit to this district. It seemed very high and a long way off and there was some guarded conversation on the subject as we travelled towards it. I confess I was feeling self conscious about our decision not to attempt the climb because although it made obvious sense not to go, given the state of our knees and hips, it just didn't seem right turning down the chance of a big hill after having spent so much of my career climbing hills.

Our first glimpse of Mount Kinabalu

The swift nest on our balcony

We arrived at our hotel, the Fairy Garden Resort, at midday - a pretty place where the rooms were quite basic but clean and comfortable enough. The hotel was just outside the Kinabalu National Park and lay three thousand feet above sea level so was much cooler than anywhere else we had been so far in Borneo. We had a balcony outside our room and for a moment we wondered why it had a shallow box on the floor with newspaper in it, but on looking up we saw the swift nest tucked in under the ceiling. There was a bird on the nest - probably still on eggs. We soon discovered similar boxes along the corridors of the hotel and learned that the doors at the ends of the corridors were left open to allow the swifts to come and go.

After lunch we travelled to nearby Poring where there were hot springs and a plank walk through the forest canopy. At this point it began to rain and it seemed that was the general pattern here in the shadow of the great mountain - rain in the afternoon.

Prevosts squirrel (we think)

More rules and regulations

We learned that the word Poring means bamboo in the local language and there was an exhibition of bamboo at that place. There were several tourist busses in the car park and again we were struck by the contrast between the touristy Sabah and the more natural Sarawak. Soon after we entered Poring we saw a squirrel and on referring to our new book it was probably a Prevost's Squirrel, but if that turns out to be extremely rare, or extinct, we'll not make an issue of it.

We passed on the bamboo exhibition and went straight for the plank walk which involved climbing up the side of a steepish gully to a place where the plank walk had been constructed across the gully. We had to pay to take our cameras on this excursion and that was a trick we had to get used to in Sabah. The narrow planks were set high in the trees between retaining walls of wire and netting so we were quite safe but all the same the whole contraption swayed alarmingly which was unnerving to some of the group.

Linden walking the plank - we were advised "Don't look down!"

Peering over the sides one could look down between the trees to the forest floor a long way below and suddenly the supporting wires of the walkway did not look as thick as they had before.

After crossing the three swinging walkways unscathed we went to the hot springs where I soaked my legs in the mineral hot tubs and then Bea and most of the rest of the group had a swim in the pool.

The hot springs

The cool pool

Peter then took everyone except me (miserable old sod that I am) to see a giant flower where a young lad had been positioned by the landowner to guard the flower and collect money.

Visiting the big flower

The big flower

Guardian of the Big Flower

One at a time please

Meanwhile, I had a prowl around the local market and took some photos of the local internet cafe and massage parlour.

Back at the hotel we had dinner and Peter gave us a briefing on the next day which was the BIG DAY of the trip - the climb up Mount Kinabalu. It transpired that not everyone had all the clothing and equipment necessary for the climb so Bea and I donated some of our things that we would not need such as gloves, hats, trousers and walking poles. Linden decided that, like us, he was not up to the climb and we offered to spend the day with him wandering around the park at low level. After the briefing we went to pay our dinner bills and the system was so inefficient that it took over an hour to process us all.

Saturday 22nd April
A beautiful morning. We left the hotel quite early and made our way to the Kinabalu park where the requisite permits and guides were acquired before we boarded the bus that would take us to the start of the climb at six thousand feet above sea level.

The start of the climb up Mount Kinabalu

Staff of the park took lots of photos at the start and our friends set off p the track at 0943. The park authority have a very thorough system of registering everyone who sets off up the mountain so that at the end of every day they know exactly who is left on the mountain overnight and who is supposed to be looking after them. Before leaving with the group Peter found a guide to help us try and find a Kinabalu badger that night and we agreed a fee and a time to rendezvous.

Having seen the others off, the bus driver brought Bea and Linden and I back to the main park area where we walked around the mountain garden for half an hour. We then found some marked jungle trails that we wandered along and on the way met some Malaysian people wearing Scotland shirts. We never did really find out what that was all about.

The mountain gardens

Back at the park headquarters we visited the conservation centre where there were glass cases similar to the cases in Kuching museum, but no badgers. We asked the guy at the desk about the Kinabalu badger and he said he thought his boss had a specimen in the office but it was the weekend and he could not get into the office until Monday - but of course by Monday we would be many miles away at Sepilok. How frustrating!

It took the three of us half and hour to walk back to the hotel, during which time Bea adopted one of the local dogs. She claimed it was the other way round but........

Strolling back to the hotel we found signs to an Australian War Memorial

We had lemon chicken and rice for lunch after which Bea carried on with her laundry, drying things with the hair-drier, while I had a sleep. Heavy rain woke me up at which I helped with the drying and nearly wrecked Bea's hair-drier in the process - I let it get too hot inside one of the boots and the plastic moulding started to melt, then the overheating trip switched off. I was not popular.

Speaking of rain - my twenty-five-year-old Gortex jacket had got wet earlier in the week and had not been dried out so it now stunk to high heaven. With a heavy heart I decided it had to go so it got stuffed in a bin liner and committed to the rubbish bin. As a temporary measure I bought a thin plastic poncho.

The guide, James, picked us up at the hotel at 1700 and we drove back to Kinabalu park where we were to spend the evening wandering the trails looking for the Kinabalu badger. The guide was not especially expert at badgers but knew of the animal and told us that locally it was called the pudzoo. I have tried to find the Malay word for badger in several online dictionaries but so far no luck.

After an hour walking, with the light almost gone, we spotted a ground squirrel and then a small rodent ran off the path. At this point we took out our wind-up torches to more easily pick our way across the uneven, root-strewn surface and up and down slippery slopes. The trail rose gradually and it was quite cool in the evening mountain air and as the night got darker the jungle noises got louder and it was all a bit scary, especially when quite large bats swooped at us out of the shadows. I am quite sure without James our guide we would have got lost.

The trail took us along and through many streams so we got very wet again but eventually we began to descend back towards the main park area which we reached at 2000. James ran off to fetch the car to save us climbing back up to the park entrance - I think he saw how tired we were. We had spent almost three hours wandering around in the jungle, about half of that time in total darkness, and although we did not see our badger, or much else either, it had been a marvellous experience.

Experiencing night time in the jungle - exciting but no badger

We got back to the hotel at 2015 and paid James 100 ringits (£16) including a tip. He seemed very pleased, yet to us it was bargain. James was quite apologetic at not finding us our badger but we really didn't mind - we had enjoyed our jungle night walk immensely, seen a few mammals and, upon inspecting ourselves later, discovered we had acquired an impressive collection of leeches. Bea had one, James had three and I had five.

We showered and then went to bed.

Sunday 23rd April
We had a long lie in this morning until 0730 - yes, I know, but everything is relative. After breakfast we paid our hotel bill which came to 121 ringits (less than £20) for yesterdays lunch, the room for the night and breakfast this morning. Crazy prices.

The cooler and fresher atmosphere of the mountain environment had me feeling better than at any time in the trip so far and I felt like exploring while Bea had some more sleep. So I spent the morning capturing this place, its views, its birds and its insects in photos and bits of video.

There was a stunning variety of large insects at Kinabalu

The Fairy Garden Resort and the landscape behind it

There are more birds here than in some of the places we had visited. As well as the resident swifts there were house sparrows and humming birds which we later learned are called honey suckers.

We then waited for our friends to arrive back from their overnight mountain adventure, which they duly did at 1300. All thirteen made it to the overnight hut, albeit in some cases with difficulty and nine of them made it to the summit of Kinabalu at dawn this morning. The descent was rough on all of them and it was a tired and sore bunch that staggered off the bus into the hotel and they would be feeling the effects for some days to come. Reflecting on our decision not to go on the mountain I think Bea and I drew some comfort from the evidence of how hard it had been for them, even the youngsters. On the way down Alan and Ken had taken care of Chris who was really struggling after being a victim of altitude sickness above the overnight hut.

We had kept the keys to our room and linden's room so that our friends could get showered and changed before the next phase of our journey which got under way just after 1500.

Our destination this afternoon was the orang utan rehabilitation centre at Sepilok and it would take about 5 hours in the bus. The journey was quite hair-raising at times as our driver overtook vehicles in what seemed to us dangerous places, but then the general standard of driving wasn't all that great. However, at times he definitely used the size of the bus to intimidate small cars. The bus, although quite comfortable, was not in the best of shape compared with UK buses. It was better than African buses and probably better than Costa Rican buses but all the same it displayed some strange behaviour, for example the no-smoking sign lit up every time the driver put his foot on the brake.

We arrived at Sepilok in the mid evening and after a meal we settled into our rooms - or tried to. We got unlucky again and our room looked totally unprepared - the TV was on, there was an open bottle of water on the bedside table, there was an open newspaper on the table, someone had apparently just jumped out of the bed and the place was untidy. Peter switched rooms with us and sorted it all out and they handed us an explanation that I did not entirely buy because when we arrived the gate-keeper was a suspiciously long time in getting to the gate, which he did at the run. I reckon he had been using our room to amuse himself and then fallen asleep, only to be woken by our driver blasting on the horn to let us in, so he had abandoned the room in a panic. Not to worry.

Having left the mountains and descended back to near sea level we were now back into a hot and humid climate so we were very glad of the air conditioning system in the room that night.

Monday 24th April
Up at 0700 and off for a short local walk. Sepilok is a beautiful spot with lots of gardens containing ornamental plants and tree, but as with other places there was a surprising shortage of bird and animal life. However, a couple of the lads saw a black hornbill and I saw a honey sucker and some sort of sun bird.

After a continental breakfast of tea and coffee with toast and jam we set off at 0900 to see the orang utans. The rehab centre is a bit of a tourist trap, albeit in a good cause, so we did not mind too much paying 10 ringits per camera and 20 ringits per video camera that we took into the place.

It was very busy and the car park was full of buses, minibuses and cars with groups of people milling about in the shops and cafe and the exhibition centre.

Just before we headed into the jungle we had to hand in our water bottles as a precaution against the monkeys and apes attacking us and trying to steal them. Maybe it was the heat but I was beginning to find the place irritating with all its rules and regulations and charges for this and that but the feeling did not last as we began to appreciate the good work that is being done here.

The centre is run by the Sabah Wildlife Department on behalf of the Malaysian government. There is also a UK charity here who sell their stuff in the centre and over eighty per cent of the money they raise goes directly to the orang utan project and the staff are all volunteers who have to pay for the privilege of being here. I looked into this further when we got back to the UK and I can tell you it isn't cheap.

There were lots of reptiles in evidence at Sepilok

There was a ten minute plank walk to get to the orang utan feeding station and soon after we got there two of the staff arrived on a platform among the trees and laid out bunches of bananas and dishes of milk. Orang utans then began arriving, swinging along the ropes that had been strung through the trees for them. There were six animals - a mixture of adults and youngsters - who came to the platform for food and a drink before taking their selected bananas to a favourite place to eat them. Some stayed within sight but some moved away into the jungle.

"What's that strange looking
creature over there ????"

"Is she referring to me???"

We took lots of pictures and some video and Bea bought some tee shirts and changed some money before we headed back to the accommodation for lunch and to pack our belongings because they needed to prepare our rooms for the next lot of visitors. At this point the heavy rain began.

In the afternoon we had a second session at the orang utan feeding station that was actually better than in the morning because there were not so many people around.

At 1530 we left in our bus for the next phase of our journey - two nights in a riverside lodge at Sukau. The drive took over two hours, most of it through endless miles of palm oil plantations and half of it along dusty dirt roads carrying lorries loaded with palm oil fruit going to, or young palm oil trees going coming from, the processing factories, two of which we passed along the way.

We got to Sukau at 1800. It was a lovely place on the banks of the biggest river in Sabah. Our accommodation comprised a row of chalets beside a larger building which housed the restaurant - an arrangement which we were getting quite used to by now.

At this point we learned that James was trying to get an interview with the Deputy First Minister of Sarawak because when our group was shown on television after our visit to Mukah there was a caption on the screen that said something like "Tourism must not spoil our culture" which was a total misrepresentation of the scale of the thing - we were just eleven tourists at a festival with thousands of Malaysians. Trust the media to make something out of nothing. Anyhow, the internet was not working so James had phoned his mum and dictated an email for her to send to the Sarawak government and he would phone her in a couple of days time to see if there had been a reply. What an enterprising lad.

In our chalet we had been provided with midge coils - something that I had always associated with camping in Scotland and did not expect to find them in use halfway across the world. There was even a large decorative china fish ornament with a gaping mouth specially designed to hold the coil after it had been lit so obviously the use of these coils is widespread.

The meal that night was a buffet of the usual things - rice with various meats and vegetables plus fruit to follow and of course............

The programme for next day was to begin with a very early boat ride on the river and in the ox-bow lakes so we all headed for bed quite early.

Tues 25th April
Up at 0530 and away at 0630 for a three hour boat ride to find birds and animals along the river and in the ox-bow lakes. The boat was quite comfortable compared with the ones at Mulu, mostly because there was more leg room and there were backs to the seats.

Small crocodile



Mangrove snake

There were other boats out too and we all saw quite a lot of stuff, including a night heron, swifts, a small crocodile, an oriental pied hornbill, some long-tailed macaques, a number of cattle egrets, a python curled up high in a tree, a bright blue fly catcher, a couple quite large birds of prey that looked like buzzards, a mangrove snake, a storm stork, some oriental darters that looked like cormorants, a silver leaf monkey and to cap it all we saw an osprey.

Monitor lizard

The leech hunt

Just before we turned round to sail back most of the group went ashore into the muddy forest to see some of the local leeches. Bea and I declined this excursion on the grounds we had already seen leeches up close and personal.

We got back to base at 0930 for a late breakfast, after which we chilled out until lunch time at 1300. Chicken, egg, chips, rice, vegetables and fruit were on offer, all washed down with tiger beer or juice. At this point the thunder started up and we really thought we were in for it but the storm did not develop.

The river provides a convenient route for transporting all kinds of goods, whether they are small boats carrying local merchandise or palm oil lorries being ferried by the great tug-driven ferries.

At 1600 we returned to the boats for an early evening voyage. This time we branched off the main river into a small, narrow creek, where we found a troupe of proboscis monkeys settling down for the night high in the trees.

Late afternoon cruise up the creek

Proboscis monkeys settling
down for the night

At the same place we saw a blue eared kingfisher. A little further along Peter spotted the nest of an orang utan so it was brilliant to know they were still living wild in this part of the jungle and not just in or near the rehab centre at Sepilok. At this point the rain got started which prevented me from taking very much in the way of photographs, which was a pity because we had a troupe of macaques, another kingfisher, some partridges and a monitor lizard at close quarters. On the way back to base we found some more proboscis monkeys so they are clearly thriving here.

At dinner Peter presented John and Pat with a cake - it was their 25th wedding anniversary, after which we returned to the boats for a two hour voyage in the dark. Again we saw lots of wildlife - 2 big pythons, a yellow banded mangrove snake, two or three blue-eared kingfishers, a babbler, a stork-billed kingfisher, a night heron and two large owls.

An owl

A python

Blue eared kingfisher

Another kingfisher

One slightly disappointing aspect of this trip was the way in which the boat took us too close to the sleeping birds, causing them to wake up and fly away in the total darkness. People keen on photographing the birds all had zoom lenses and did not need to be so close so I am sure the experience would have been just as good with a little more restraint on the part of the boatmen. It could all have been explained as responsible wildlife watching and everyone would have understood.

Back at our chalet we went straight to bed because we had been forewarned of another early start in the morning. As we settled down Bea and I both admitted to being slightly weary of living out of a suitcase (or rucksack). It was a marvellous trip but we were getting pretty tired and we were more than ready for a day or so of just lounging around - which was just what the next and final phase of the adventure promised to be, but did not entirely deliver due mostly to our reluctance to pass up the chance to try something new or fun-looking.

Weds 26th April
Up at 0500 to a beautiful morning and on the road at 0700. I was feeling rough again but Bea and I both think the malaria tablets have a lot to do with it. They are called Doxycycline and we'll add them to the list of tablets-to-be-avoided, along with Larium.

We reversed much of the two-and-a-half-hour journey of two days ago but instead of turning into Sepilok we continued to Sandakan where we would catch a plane back to Kota Kinabalu. During the drive I slept for more than an hour and awoke feeling much better.

At Sandakan we spent a little time at the war memorial gardens and read about the terrible atrocities suffered by the British and Australian troops at the hands of the Japanese during WW2 including forced marches that killed thousands of troops. It was very upsetting and I was glad to get away from there.

Machines at Sandakan

At Sandakan airport at 1050 we checked our main luggage in and Bea did yet more souvenir shopping. Our flight was on another Fokker 50 and it was over-booked so they cancelled Peter's ticket. He pointed out that we could not be sent on without him so they would have to unload us all, at which they spoke nicely to the pilot. As it turned out Peter knew the pilot so they fixed up a jump-seat between the pilot and co-pilot and Peter's ticket was reinstated.

We got to Kota Kinabalu at 1235 and boarded some minibuses that would take us to the coast. We arrived at the jetty at 1605 and loaded ourselves and luggage onto a pair of high speed boats for the half hour trip to Pulau Tiga (Island Number Four) which has become known to TV addicts as Survivor Island after the TV programme that was staged there.

The speed-boat trip to Survivor Island

At 1700 we had a welcome drink and a briefing before heading for our chalet. Once again the resort comprised individual chalets around a central building which housed the restaurant and bar. Options for tomorrow included snorkelling, a walk to the mud volcano, long treks around the island, a boat trip which would include some snorkelling and lessons in scuba diving. Bea and I liked the sound of local snorkelling in the morning and a walk to the mud volcano in the afternoon. So much for a day of lounging around!

Evening on Survivor Island

The island was beautiful and so, tired and dishevelled as we were, we all had an hour in the sea before sunset. Dinner was a quiet affair with the usual types of food and drink on offer and people soon toddled off to their chalets for an early night.

Thurs 27th April
After a good night's sleep we awoke on Survivor Island to a beautiful day and with long-tailed macaques running around all over our roof.

The beach area

The chalet was built on stilts in the manner of many houses in Borneo but may not have been built of the sturdiest materials because every time we walked around it swayed alarmingly. After breakfast we went and hired snorkelling gear at 30 ringits (less than £5) per head and we could keep it all day and as long as we needed it next day also.

We snorkelled for two and a half hours. We saw lots of fish over the reef near the shore, then Bea found a turtle, then we found a deeper bit and did some deeper diving and we were so absorbed with what we were doing we lost all track of time. The result - our backs got quite badly burned and we suffered the consequences for at least a week. Silly people - we've both been in hot countries before and it was a very basic mistake to make. We should have limited our time or worn tee shirts or both, but we didn't so that was that.

Lunch was followed by the promised walk to the mud volcano. The previous evening we had all agreed to meet at 1500 for this excursion but only the original group turned up - the new members did other things and some of them had been to the volcano in the morning. Pity - we really had tried to include them in everything.

So we all removed our wedding rings and watches and other loose impediments because we were warned there was a real risk of losing them in the slippery mud. Linden had no intention of going into the mud so he came along as camera man, so I showed him how to use my camera and he did really well with it.

It took about half an hour to walk to the volcano and on the way we saw a group nof quite large monitor lizards behind the staff quarters.

We wore just sandals and swimwear because there was nowhere to wash the mud off near the volcano and so we would all have to slip and slide our way back to the beach to wash in the sea afterwards. There were two natural 'baths' at the volcano and James was first in.

We all soon followed and the Crack was really good as we lay there relaxing in the cool grey mud. Linden took some pictures and then we all stumbled and slid our way back to the sea where we washed the worst of the mud off in the prescribed area of beach. They did not allow muddy people to wash at the beach near the reef because in time the mud would coat the reef and smother it. It was not all that easy to get rid of all the mud and so people were secretly removing bits of their cozzies to get mud out of awkward regions. Furthermore when I came to put my swim shorts in the laundry the next week the pockets were still half full of mud.



Dinner and drinks were followed by yet another early night at 2100.

Fri 28th April
We did not have the best of nights last night due to some extent to our sore backs but we cannot complain - self inflicted. We had hoped to snorkel again this morning but our sore backs made that impossible - mine had even started to blister which was not good news and shows the extent of our stupidity. So we had a lazy morning, packed, paid our bills and returned the snorkelling gear.

Survivor Island is a lovely place and even though we were quite active here the tropical island air about the place helped us unwind from the efforts and stresses of the previous 18 days.

1400 we set sail for the mainland again across a windy, lumpy sea so it was quite a bouncy ride. We then returned by minibus to Kota Kinabalu, dropping James off at the airport on the way to sort out his tickets.

We spent another night in the luxury of the Beverley Hotel and then went out for our final dinner of the trip. Alister spoke on behalf of the group to thank our guide Peter for his efforts and presented him with an envelope full of money.

Sat 29th April
Today we travelled home. We got up at 0430 and were at the airport before 0700, straight through with no problems, the flight left on time at 0750 and arrived at KL at exactly the scheduled 1015. At KL we bought a JVC video camera which left us a bit short of time to repack our hand luggage and in the confusion I thought I had left my Canon camera in the departure lounge because after we had settled in our seats in the plane I could not find it. The staff let me return to the departure lounge but there was no sign of the camera, so I mourned its loss throughout the 13 hour flight to Heathrow. When we landed the camera turned up underneath the seat of the guy sitting next to us. How he never noticed kicking it all the way to the UK I'll never understand - however, I was delighted to get it back.

We arrived Heathrow on time, changed our money and then caught our flight to Edinburgh where in-laws Pat and Maeve very kindly collected us and put us up for the night. We had intended to drive home that night but we were so tired after being on the go for more than 24 hours since leaving Borneo it was quite out of the question.

Sun 30th April
Left Edinburgh at 1000 and got home 1300.

End of expedition.


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