Friday, June 29, 2012
Seemingly just after we fell asleep, we got a wake up call at 5:00am, and we changed into our "orangutan watching" garb. We'd unpacked almost nothing, so all we really had to do to get ready was put on long pants and shoes. The drive back to the airport was an uneventful as the night before, although there was at least some light so we got a better idea of what the city looked like. We got checked in and then hung out with everyone else in McDonalds - the only place open so early.
It was a very short flight to Sandakan, which resembled the sleepy frontier town that we had imagined for Borneo. We met our guide Yahya, and then waited about 15 minutes for another plane to land that had other guests going to the same place as us. The new people, a German couple Arendt and Janna, plus us and Yahya, got on a big bus and drove 30 minutes to the Sepilok Orangutan Reserve. On the drive over, Yahya gave us probably the worst sales pitch ever, talking about some of the "troublesome" orangutans and macaques at the reserve, including stories of monkey rape. Oh, and that we should expect to see nothing.
As it turned out, it was good for tempering expectations, but the delivery left a little (actually a lot) to be desired. We saw a lone orangutan, Mariko, which we suppose is good. The whole point of Sepilok is to slowly adapt the apes to living on their own in the wild (Sepilok backs up to a forest reserve), so if no orangutans are coming to feeding time, that means they're getting their own food elsewhere. That's the sales pitch Yahya should have used. It was interesting to see Mariko use her feet to carry fruit around. We also watched a group of macaques, who was trying to get at the fruit as well.
When we left Sepilok, we had some more people with us, and the large group of us drove back the way we came, going to a jetty on the coast. The sky was gray and hazy - we weren't sure if it was rain coming or some sort of smog. We got into a smallish powerboat that started off traveling through the ocean, but then headed into the mouth of the Kinabatangan River, going upstream. We saw a bunch of Proscobis monkeys (the ones with the giant noses) in the trees along the riverbank, and also a couple of big crocodiles.
We ate lunch at Abai Lodge, which we got the impression was affiliated with the place we were headed. When we got back in the boat, it was just us and the German couple (along with Yahya). Just after getting started upstream, we saw some good stuff - a 10-11 foot crocodile and a mom and baby orangutan way up in a tree. Later on the boat ride we saw another, smaller (although still big) crocodile. We got to our lodge (Kinabatangan River Lodge) around 3:30, and had an air-conditioned room waiting for us. Crystal kept trying to get Justin's attention as we were entering the room and dropping off the bags. Once the porters dropped everything off, Justin saw why - there was a big hornbill right outside our room, just hanging out in a small tree, eating some of the fruit. We had seen these from afar before, but like with toucans, every time one came close it was there for just a fleeting moment.
Later in the afternoon, we headed out on a river cruise - this time in a smaller, quiter boat - and traveled up and down some of the small tributaries near the hotel. We saw lots of proboscis monkeys, who seemed to be out for their afternoon exercise, and also a fair amount of long-tailed macquaques. There was also a water monitor lizard and a kingfisher. These were nice, but we wanted to see pygmy elephants. Before the trip began, we knew pygmy elephants were in Borneo, but we considered our chances of seeing them about zero. But then Yahya told us that he had seen some the day before, and just before we started our river cruise, one of the other hotel guests indicated they had seen elephants the day before as well. So now we wanted to see them, but it was not to be on this day.
Back at the hotel, we got dressed up in our sarongs, which as far as we could tell was a quasi-requirement. We chatted with a Swedish couple (who saw the pygmy elephants the day before), some Britons, and the Germans who were on the boat with us. There was lots of talk about the Euro 2012 soccer tournament, where the Germans had just lost to Italy the night before. For dinner, we all mixed and matched foods, since there were a couple people who didn't eat seafood and another who was vegetarian. Since we hadn't gotten much sleep the night before, we were very tired, so went to bed immediately after dinner.