6 May 2010

Far from France

It’s been a long time between posts! And while it’s not an excuse, the reality is that I have been on the move a bit lately ……

I initially had a week in Australia visiting my son before he heads off to Brisbane to live. And was fortunate enough to depart Europe 24 hours before the ash cloud closed down the airports!

I was so lucky – had I been caught up in that, I would have missed the trip to Borneo that I have just returned from. We (me and an old friend Sylvia, from Perth) have been planning this for a long time and it was all booked up and paid for, so it would have been a real shame.

As it was, we were luckier than a lot of unfortunate people whose plans have been ruined …. So I count myself very lucky in that respect.

Being back in Australia was lovely – catching up with family and friends. The first weekend there was a lot happening – the Red Bull Races were being held on the Swan River, so managed to get down for a bit of a look at that.

The day before, on a practice run, a Brazilian flyer had crashed into the water, miraculously surviving without injury, and only being kept in hospital overnight for observation.

And the Sunday, Paul was motorbike racing out at Barbargello race track at Wanneroo, so went out to lend my support there. Heart in mouth the whole time, but as Paul says, at least it’s all in a controlled environment, and if you’re going to come off a motorbike at high speed, there’s the place to do it.

And we did see an accident - one of the guys spun out on the corner at great speed and walked away from it without injury. And that was all before Paul’s race!

Borneo is a fascinating country – we visited the northern part of Sabah (Malaysian Borneo) and spent half the time in the east, in Sandakan and three days at a Rainforest Lodge doing river trips up and down the Kinabatangan River and a jungle walk.

We visited the Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre which is dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of orphaned baby orang-utans. Sadly, their natural rainforest habitat has decreased over the years due to the huge increase of palm oil plantations – though there are reserves that have been set aside.

Unfortunately my camera had somehow reverted to a very basic setting and the photos and video clip I took are all very low resolution. A real shame, because I got a great video of a baby orang utan that had apparently made a break from its keeper and ended up in a seating area near the entrance of the reserve. I’m including the video clip anyway as it’s amusing. He swung around the rafters for a while, and then pulled down one of the hanging pot plants onto the table, and then proceeded to try to clean it up, wiping all the spilled dirt off the table! Like a naughty child … the expression was priceless. And then his keeper came and took him away – and the chastened look on his face had to be seen! Sadly at that stage I’d stopped the video ….

We saw lots of wildlife on our early morning and early evening boat trips up and down the river – the bizarre-looking proboscis monkeys (only found in Borneo), several other monkey varieties, monitor lizards, a couple of large crocodiles - one was five metres – (but no photos – too quick into the water), and countless bird varieties, including the large hornbills. A twitcher’s paradise, and while I’m not one, it was really fascinating. No wild elephants or wild orang utangs, although we saw several of their sleeping nests they build in the trees.

There was a two hour rain forest walk, and this is where we had to wear leech socks and yellow gum boots – a picture of sartorial elegance. I came through it leech-free, Sylvia picked up two and a third was cut off at the pass crawling up her boot! There’s just something about leeches ………

A day in Sandakan town, and a trip out to the Australian War Memorial. By being in the rainforest for a few days, we’d missed the Anzac Day (25th April) dawn service there. I hadn’t realised when I was booking the trip, so that was a bit of a shame to have missed it by a day. I hadn’t really known of the significance of Sandakan/Borneo and Australians in WWII. While I knew of the death marches in Borneo, I didn’t realise the numbers of casualties of British, NZ, Australians and local people who died in the camps and marches.

The service is well attended each year by Australians who visit, and this year was the 65th anniversary, and was widely promoted by the Australian government.

And then a short flight to Kota Kinabalu on the west coast for the rest of the stay. I think my days of spending time in the tropics are done – the equatorial / tropical weather was oppressive – and drinking cold beer just wasn’t enough to make me change my mind!

At the risk of turning this into a long and rambling account of a holiday (!), let me just say that a good time was had (despite the leeches, the heat and the sandfly bites that have now turned ghastly). So I’ll just put up a few more photos/captions below.

The amazing night food markets at Kota Kinabalu
Fishing boats - Kota Kinabalu harbour
Sylvia, holding dinner - Seafood Restaurant, Sandakan
Stilt houses, Sandakan
Kinabatangan River, dusk
Swastika (lucky symbol) at Bhuddist temple, Sandakan
Proboscus monkey, Kinabatangan River

'See no evil ......'
Palm oil seeds
Gomantong Caves - one of the caves used for birds nest (swifts) harvesting used in soup. We were lucky enough to visit during the twice-yearly harvesting. The cave is home to many creatures - bats, millions of cockroaches, and lots of other creepy things. The smell is something else. But to see the harvesters climbing up spindly ladders to great heights in the cave is pretty amazing.

Because the birds nests are such a valuable commodity (a tender system is used to grant licences), guards must sleep in the cave each night. And this is where they sleep - doesn't even bear thinking about. The roof over the hammocks is a definite necessity. Let me say that I now know what it's like to be shat on from a great height ....

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