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An Orangutan Encounter

and our introduction to Borneo


We caught a local mini bus to downtown Sandakan and it was a little bigger and more developed than I was expecting. Straight away it had a completely different feeling to the Philippines, it felt more Asian. Maybe this is linked to the food which you can see being cooked and eaten as you pass by the little canteen style restaurants which spill out on to the pavements. The cuisine here is much more typical of that which is enjoyed through out Asia, the Philippine diet seems much more distinct and in some ways a lot simpler.

We found a little guest house and then began to think about how we were going to fill our time here. Having only got a week to get a flavour of Borneo and also visit Brunei it was going to take a bit of planning. First things first though we were going to see the Orangutans. We'd done a bit of research and found there was a rehabilitation centre about 25km away from Sandakan and there was a bus we could catch. We had to rush a little bit because we wanted to get the next bus to be there for the afternoon feeding so we hurried to the bus stop. Once we got there we searched all the buses for the right number but the one we wanted didn't appear to be there. While looking around we noticed another western couple who seemed to be waiting. We ended up making eye contact and they wandered over to us and we soon established we all wanted to get to Sepilok the rehabilitation centre. As it appeared the bus was not coming we decided to share a taxi. After a bit of negotiation involving us walking away when the price was too high and the cabby calling us back, we clambered in and despite being tired I was really excited. Once on the way they introduced themselves as Pete and Jess from Brisbane. They were in Borneo for a holiday and had been here for about two weeks. They mentioned a place that we should go and we just generally chatted about our travels and other places they had been. They were both really friendly and it was nice to have the company.

When we got there the taxi driver threw a fit, literally, he chucked Adam's empty drink can out of the window after us when we refused to pay him more than we'd agreed. When he was gone Adam went to retrieve it and dispose of it properly. It was while we waited for the centre to open for the afternoon that our illusions of Borneo were slightly shattered. Rather naively it would seem, we had presumed that this island would be a bit of a departure from the normal travellers route. In anything I've seen or heard about Borneo it seemed to have an air of the undiscovered about it. However as we waited the number of tourists increased. Soon there was a fair few of us waiting to go in and have a magical experience.

Despite this I was still really excited and we were one of the first to make our way into the forest. They have built a raised board walk which leads you through to a clearing where there is a larger viewing area and some incorporated benches. At this point it was just Pete, Jess, us and a few others. We stared out into the trees and suddenly we saw one.
He climbed up on to the little feeding platform and looked over to us. I'm not sure how old he was but he certainly wasn't fully grown. To our surprise he was soon clambering over the little fence that separated us from the jungle beyond. One of the workers told us to step back as he could be slightly unpredictable, he didn't usually come here apparently.

I was full of kind mixed emotions, on the one hand this was clearly a wild animal, well more wild than your pet cat or dog but on the other hand he was so cute and I couldn't help but be intrigued.
We all took a few steps back and just waited to see what would happen. He seemed very intent on interacting with us, or rather with our bags as he began to approach people and try to grab on to them. The keepers had to step in and they tried to haul him away but he was having none of it and he squirmed out of their grips and even tried to bite them.
I wasn't scared though, he just seemed like a determined toddler who wanted to explore. It turned into a bit of a battle of wills and he got free a couple more times, he moved quickly along the board walks and went towards Adam at one point. Finally though they got him under control and took him away.
It sounds like it would have been a bit scary but I thought it was quite exhilarating and I never thought I'd get that close to them.

When he was gone the viewing area began to fill up with lots and lots of people. It was nice to have had the previous experience with a few rather than having to try and glimpse it above people's heads. We saw a couple more Orangutans but it did feel more like they were put up for us to see. One was eased up on to the feeding platform and it was entertaining to see her immerse her head fully in the food bucket but it felt a little more like a zoo.
Towards the end they brought out a very large male and he expertly manoeuvred his way down the narrow beam on top of the fence and then up to get some food.
Some Macaques now began to descend, trying to get in on the action but it was clear they had respect for the large Orangutan. They were very cautious and waited until he was contentedly munching before they dug in.

After an hour or so the main event seemed to be over and we made our way back to the centre to wait for the bus. It may not have been quite the wild and unique experience that I was expecting but it was still amazing to be so close to these creatures. They really are as fascinating and charming as they appear to be on television. I just wish I could have given them a cuddle!

Once back in Sandakan we went in search of food. Unfortunately mine was not very nice and I was left feeling quite sick. Back at the guest house we got an early night, it really had been a long day and we were ready for a good nights sleep. Pete and Jess had stayed at the same place the night before and had warned us that it had been very noisy with people shouting until very late. It didn't seem to bother us as we dropped off quickly, that was until about midnight when we were both woken up by people laughing and shouting. We lay there in the dark waiting for it to stop but there was no lapse in the noise, in the end I got dressed and went out to reception. It was the hotel employees making the noise and I explained it was late and we were trying to sleep. Thankfully they were respectful and were quiet from then on, we even heard them “ssshhhh-ing” people.

The next morning I was not feeling well at all, it seemed the meal the night before had done some damage. We couldn't leave which was really annoying as we had limited time. Trying to do something useful we spent the day making use of the free wifi and trying to research where to go next. It was tricky to make a decision as everything seemed to involve getting a tour, or going on a jet to some remote part of the jungle all of which sounded like it would cost a lot. After a fairly frustrating day and feeling at a little of a loss, we fell asleep. In the morning I remembered the name of the place Pete and Jess had suggested and we established we could get a bus there. It was enroute to Brunei and so slowly a plan was beginning to form.

More Soon,

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 00:53 Archived in Malaysia Tagged round_the_world

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