It was a bit of a shock arriving at the bus stop by the river in Kota Kinabatangan as there was no sign of habitation let alone some sort of hotel. We all peered around, the bus left, and we seven shouldered our bags, shrugged and made as if to move off. But where? There was a shout from the river and we all stepped carefully down the ramp to the dock to embark in a boat which then shot off into the stream. An unconventional start to the adventure. Up the ramp on the other side and we had arrived at the Nature Lodge Kinabatangan, beside the river with the same name. Oh my oh my, this was Borneo as one would imagine it, ha, there wasn’t even Internet access so it was digital detox time, even for a few days.
After the sunset river cruise on the second day our guide, Aljun, came running down the boardwalk outside the huts crying ‘Guys, guys, come and see this’, so we did and high in the canopy right over my hut there was an orang utang nest. We had spent two days looking along the river bank for orangs and although we saw more wonders than I could have imagined, there were no orangs. There it was right above us, we gaggled around staring up and could see movement, hairy movement and it was all quite thrilling. Dinner and the others went off on a night hike, I had a couple of beers, read my book and went to bed in readiness for the 5.00am start on the boat. 4.00am – Bang Bang Bang on my door, Bang Bang Bang on my roof, the hut shook as something made its way along the boardwalk. Shall we say I was anxious, I mean these animals are taller than I am, they have seven times the strength of the average human, they are huge and hairy, it wasn’t as if I was going to invite him in for tea! What to do, what to do? I quaked somewhat, nervously peered out of the window, saw my neighbors door open a fraction and saw them peer out flashlights in hand, then it closed again. I kept thinking of that scene in Close Encounters. The banging stopped, ok, good, he’s gone back up to his nest to sleep but the night was shot, no more sleeping for me, so got ready for the day and crept out half an hour later looking around in the dark thinking am I doing the right thing. All was well however and I made it unscathed to the coffee/tea area soon to be joined by the others. It was a great relief to hear that Louise and Rooney, my neighbors, were as anxious as I, downright terrified might be more apt. Out onto the river for the sunrise, back for breakfast, sat down and Aljun comes racing in ‘Guys, guys, Orang Utang!”. Plates and tea abandoned we all ran along the boardwalk and there he was, high in the canopy, swinging along from branch to branch, brachiationing (?), making the most tremendous noise and he was huge, gargantuan, enormous and extremely hairy. So glad I didn’t invite him in for tea.
After returning to the breakfast table, throwing things into our bags and gathering on the dock our jungle trip ended, but what an end, what an end.
The Nature Lodge is a quite well organized operation, they have a bus which picks people up every day at the airport at about noon and then goes around the adjoining town, Sandakan, then Sepilok and anywhere else nearby arriving at the Lodge at about three thirty. Guests are then there, as a group for three days and two nights. The group before us was larger, fourteen I think, the group after us was twelve maybe, we were only seven. A lovely Chinese couple, I asked the wife her name “call me Flower, my husband is Mountain”, ok, easy. There were Rooney and Louise who both live and work in Shanghai, a Swiss doctor, and Julia, yes, another one, who was actually Yulia, from Poland and is a lecturer at a Chinese University. So actually everyone lived in China except two of us. Odd that. By the end we had bonded rather well, much ribaldry, teasing and laughs.
The day started at 5.00am with the sunrise boat ride and our guide, the eagle eyed Aljun, would help us into the boat, well, mostly me, and we would streak off either up or down stream until he spotted something, throttle back the powerful outboard motor and either point, or shout excitedly. The sights we saw were worthy of a BBC documentary. A fish eagle catching a fish, Kingfishers which were extremely shy, big lizards from the Komodo Dragon family, Probiscus and many other species of monkey, Crocodiles, extraordinary Hornbills, snake birds. To say that the riverbanks teemed with life would be an understatement, in fact we all got a bit blasé about monkeys, there were just so many of them playing in the trees that we all stopped taking photos of them. Photos were in fact a bit of a challenge, I was tempted just to sit back and enjoy the spectacle but sometimes it was just too special and the memory had to be captured but either I’m not quick enough or the wildlife was too quick and of course, the leaves were a problem!
Concluding, let me say this, if you know me at all the experience of high speed motor boats, on a muddy river in Borneo, at sunrise, the jungle on the banks shrouded with early morning fog, the bow wave occasionally spraying me, pink scarf streaming behind was beyond happiness.
It was truly, truly amazing .