|Our week in Sabah (Borneo) was great - hot, sticky, wet and very busy, but great. Based ourselves in Kota Kinabalu, the capital. Essentially Borneo seems to be one giant hilly jungle with towns on the coast and little villages scattered inland. There is a big tourist trade running people out to the many islands for snorkeling but we simply ran out of time. Lovely to be able to eat as much noodle soup and rice dishes as we want with hundreds of street stalls and slightly manky eateries.
Funny how you forget the little annoyances of Asia though, but bought back fairly quickly when we decided to go to a gong festival (you know, the round metal musical instrument) held at the northern tip of the island, about 2.5 hours away. Established there was a bus at 1pm after actually going to the bus station the day before and confirming with several "officials" as we'd got so many conflicting stories. Checked out of the hotel, tottered to the bus station with our heavy backpacks, hot and sweating like pigs. Waited, waited, waited. Meantime inundated by taxi drivers telling us there was no 1pm bus. Of course we knew better - it's an old trick to make you use the taxi. At 1.45 finally had to admit the bloody bus was not coming, so to much laughing and waving from the cabbies, had to slink off and find another hotel. Absolute waste of a day. Hum....
Spent several days in Sandakan on the east coast via a fantastic 7 hour bus ride over the mountains. Spectacular scenery, particularly glimpses of Mt Kinabalu (over 4,000m) with dozens of waterfalls, thick steamy jungle, acres of palm oil plantations, tiny villages. Just out of Sandakan is Sipilok with it's orangutan sanctuary which of course we visited. The usual visitor highlight is the feeding, about 2 doz macaque monkeys and 6 orangutans turned up. Was great to watch but rather controlled, as of course it has to be. Peter and I, along with another couple then waited for the crowds to leave, hoping to see the animals in a slightly more natural setting. After half an hour a ranger moved us on. As we walked out through the gate, there sat Toby, a 10yo orangutan with a reportedly bad attitude, swinging on it rather menacingly. The ranger then told us to walk quickly past, which we did, getting very close as he eyed us off. Great stuff! Got some great shots too. Evidently Toby is "a very naughty boy" and can't be introduced back into the wild just yet. Must admit he had a very tough boy expression!
Also went to Sandakan Memorial Park, the site of a WWII POW camp where 2,600 English and Australia prisoners were held under appalling conditions. The RSL recently became involved, along with the Sabah government, in building a memorial to these poor men. Can you imagine, only 6 Australians survived and that's because they escaped prior to the famous "death marches" where all the prisoners died. Dreadful. Oddly enough, Bob Carr visited the day after us, laying a wreath.
Another highlight was a boat trip on the Kinabatangan River to see the probiscus monkeys. Only saw a couple very high up in the trees but lucky to even see that. They are most peculiar looking animals - the dominant male has a huge wide pendulous nose, a big round belly and is, evidently (we couldn't see that far), permanently aroused!! Reportedly a real tiger, taking on three or more females at a time. Unfortunately the trip was marred by 3 very young howling American kids, their parents unable or unwilling to control them, kicking seat backs, squealing and crying the whole time. Wanted to suggest they'd make good crocodile bait but restrained myself.
Borneo needs much more time than we allowed. Would like to explore Kalimantan and Brunei as well as the rest of Sabah. On our to-do list.