Picking up from day 3 which began with another early start – something of a recurring theme. There was me thinking late night drinking, relaxing and leisurely lie-ins…how wrong I was! So I'm picked up from my hotel at around 7.30am as we were heading to Batang-Ai for my 'home-stay' at a traditional longhouse. After about 45 mins to an hour, we pull into Semengoh Wildlife Centre. Like Sepilok, where we have been sending clients since the very beginning, it's an Orang-utan Sanctuary that takes in orphaned orang-utans that have been kept as pets or there mothers have been killed through hunting, deforestation etc. Here they rehabilitate them to the point that they can reintroduce them back into the wild. It is a long and arduous process that takes many years. In the beginning they are given food with the hope that over time they will adapt to living in the wild and no longer need the handouts. There are 2 feeding times, the first at 10am and the second at 3pm, and there are platforms with ropes and a viewing area built for the tourists so that they can watch them and be a camera happy as they like. Me, like all the others, could hardly take my finger off the trigger and tried to take as many photos as possible.
So we then headed off north in search of Iban territory. It was about another 4 hours till we arrived at a dam with a huge lake behind it. The next step was to cross the lake, head up river to where i would be spending the night. All of this was done on a longboat with a 50cc outboard motor hanging off the back; wobbly things that feel like they are going to capsize if you move around too much. We arrive and it's a 15 minute walk through the jungle before we get to the longhouse. Built on stilts, and housing fourteen families, it represents everything its name suggests. I was staying at the head honcho's house although he wasn't there during my stay. I dropped off my bags, said hello to the family and some of the locals who were all very intrigued by my arrival, and then Rives took me off for an hour to visit the farmlands. Their living comes from the land by growing rice and other crops and could be completely self sufficient if it came to it; each family with the own plot of land. We head back to the longhouse as it's time for dinner, something that I must admit I was a little worried about as I didn't know what to expect. I have done home stays before and you never know what you are going to get. We get back and we are greeted by a whole bunch of bare chested men around a fire, 2 pieces of bamboo cooking over it, and a barbecue with enough chicken and beef to feed a small army… well as it turns out just enough for those bare chested warriors…us! The next thing to come out is the rice wine, their version of Sake, all 40% of it and copious amounts of shots of it. Round and round we go till the bottle is finished and feeling pretty warmed up, not that we needed it. We head inside and all the locals come together and we eat on the floor of what I guess you would call the common area of the longhouse, the lobby I suppose. I find it tough being sat down on the floor but struggle on through, helped only by the steady flow of shots that seem to be coming my way. The food is really good, with a combination of the chicken and beef, wild ferns, veggies and rice, and a lovely chilli dip. We finish the food and then all sit around chatting, although only a couple speak English.
It's been a long day and i need to hit the sack. I shower, brush my teeth and they throw a mattress down and i sleep in a room with 2 other guests who are from the university in Kuching and are going to head out into the jungle for a week to research wild orang-utans. I fall asleep in seconds . I think mainly aided by the amount of rice wine in my system. By this point I would definitely fail a breathalyser!
We wake up early again, grab breakfast (scrambled eggs, rice and toast - not the most local but good all the same!) and we head back to Kuching. The same process but in reverse with a quick site visit to the Hilton Batang-Ai Longhouse Resort, the luxury version of what I did. The plan was to head straight back to Kuching but I pestered them to take me back to Semmengoh as I was determined to get some decent shots of my furry friends. It took some convincing but we decide to return and thankfully it paid off as 5 orang-utans came in for the feeding session including the local celebrity, 'Ritchie', the alpha male with fully grown face flaps. He was on the path when we were walking back for the feeding station and we weren't allowed to pass and then he moved to another feeding station. I managed to get some great shots of both Ritchie and some of his colleagues so it was definitely worth the visit. We continued back to Kuching, a quick visit to the office of Borneo Adventure to meet the staff and i was dropped off at my hotel. A quick shower, out for some food and it was time for me to crash!