A pygmy elephant, wild orang-utans and much more ...
We spent our first day in Kota Kinabalu, Borneo resting up after our long flights from the USA. We found our way to a delightful Italian restaurant called Grazie for dinner and retired early to get some rest.
We enjoyed a really nice breakfast at the hotel, followed by an introduction to our escort guide Michael for the first portion of our trip. We departed for Kota Belud for a 30 km bike ride through the village. After finishing at a beautiful beach, we went back to the city centre for lunch at an open air restaurant. We returned to Kota Kinabalu in the mid-afternoon, and explored the local area, then packed and prepared for our early departure the next day.
Today saw us board a plane to Lahad Datu, on the southern side of Sabah. Once we arrived in the city, we first went for lunch at a local restaurant, then hopped into two vehicles for a 2 hour ride to our first jungle experience in the Danum Valley. Our lodging at the Borneo Rainforest Lodge was incredible. This area is the subject of great conservation efforts and we learned how the government and conservationists are working together to preserve the existing forest and assist with reforestation efforts for areas which have been logged. It was incredible to take a nocturnal truck ride through the ancient rainforest our first night and spot some animals.
We took an 8 km hike through some steep terrain, seeing orang-utans, birds, red leaf monkeys, centipedes and other creatures. We climbed to an observation deck well above the lodge overlooking the entire valley, which was magnificent. Suddenly, the mist rolled in, the clouds darkened, and we were donning our wet-weather gear to hike back in the rain. After about half an hour, the rain stopped and we finished our hike with blue skies. We took another 3 hour hike in the late afternoon, first through more of the jungle, then to an incredible canopy walkway through the treetops, ending with a nocturnal hike back to the lodge. Standing in the treetops of the primordial forest, listening to the birds, watching the moon rise and having a lizard slap Sandra's face and land on Casey's shoulder was indescribable. On the way back to the lodge, we actually saw a flying squirrel fly from one tree to another. It started to rain heavily during dinner and we huddled under the patio cover and dined as it poured around us. It was magical and an evening we will long remember.
We got up early to take a final walk to the canopy walkway. We drove back to Lahad Datu and transferred to another vehicle taking us to the village of Bilit and the Myne Resort. We were soon off to explore the Kinabatangan River, taking a small motorboat downriver.
We quickly spotted a pygmy elephant getting ready to swim across the river.
(Bornean joke: Where does an elephant cross the river? Anywhere it wants to!!) We have never seen this behaviour by an elephant before! Another turn on the river took us to a family of 6 elephants that shortly swam across the river as a group. Again, fantastic and unexpected! We spent almost 3 hours exploring the river, looking at macaque monkeys, proboscis monkeys, birds, monitor lizards and other river-dwelling animals.
We rose early once again this morning to explore the river by boat. This time we took a hidden tributary to a lake, where we saw a wild orang-utan in a tree by the lake, more monkeys, birds and monitor lizards. After breakfast, we went on a 2 hour hike around the property, spotting an orang-utan high in a tree, climbing an observation tower to look over the river and surrounding countryside, and crawling inside a merbau tree with a hollow trunk tall enough for 15 people to stand inside. After lunch, we went to visit the Gomantong Cave, the largest cave system in Sabah.
We spotted a mother and baby orang-utan on our walk to the cave and enjoyed watching them swing on branches between the trees.
The cave was wild, filled with bats, cockroaches and guano. The cave is famous for the swifts, birds which nest in the cave. We waited a bit to watch the bats fly out of the cave en masse for their evening activities. By this point it was raining; the thunder, lightning and rain are dramatic. There is a reason it is called a "rain" forest!
The rain continued unabated that night, with huge claps of thunder and bursts of lighting. Very dramatic and quite exciting. We awoke that morning prepared to transfer by an open motorboat from the Myne Lodge to the Abai Forest Lodge. As our bags were loaded onto the motorboat, one of the lodge employees called to us to come see a huge python which had just been discovered eating some of the chickens at the property. The snake was quite docile since it had just eaten, but we were content to stand at a railing and look at it from a distance. During our boat ride down the Kinabatangan River, we saw another elephant by the water and a crocodile sinking down in the water as our boat approached. We watched several types of egrets take flight and spotted other birds along the way as well.
The highlight of our river journey was spotting a wild adult male orang-utan eating jackfruit in a tree just next to the riverbank.
Our guide Michael told us that it was rare to spot a fully grown male orang-utan so close to the river and that it would probably be another 5 years before he would see another at such close proximity. We were so excited to see the orang-utan's behaviour in the wild and to see him from such a proximate location!
We arrived at the Abai Jungle and in the late afternoon we boarded a motorboat for a three hour tour of the river. Highlights included a fascinating experience watching a harem of silver leaf monkeys leap from tree-to-tree and a huge fight among a group of bachelor proboscis monkeys as two males tried to forcibly expel a third male monkey from their group so he could not compete for the female monkeys. The dominant monkey and his ally actually ganged up on the soon-to-be-excommunicated proboscis monkey and shoved him into the river, where he proceeded to swim (!!), climb back up on the riverbank into the trees and attempt to rejoin the group. The daring leaps of the proboscis monkeys between the branches of extremely tall trees had us cheering as if we were at a sports event! We motored back in the dark, our path lit by fireflies, whilst searching for nocturnal animals – we spotted a baby crocodile by a mangrove tree!