Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Bako and Gunung Gading National Parks

It is so humid here in Kuching. It is currently the "less wet" season but we still seem to get rain most days, it is always humid and they have the biggest ditches for water drainage that I've ever seen. I don't know anyone that has disliked Kuching that I've asked. It's actually a really nice city because it is quite clean and very relaxed. They have a really nice waterfront walk and a handful of well preserved historical buildings from the Brooke's (White Raja) era.
The problem was that we made it down to Kuching so quickly that we actually had a full week to kill before our next flight out. Jake solved this problem by changing his flight to Jakarta and flying out 2 days later. We'll meet up with him again when we finally get there. We opted to go visit some more national parks.
Our first was Bako NP which had been recommended to us by a number of other travellers. It is a small park at the tip of a peninsula, but happens to be the best place to see the rare Proboscis monkey that lives only in Borneo. So with that in mind we booked 2 nights in the park hostel and head over on the bus. The bus to Bako doesn't take you all the way though and you have to get a little motorboat to bring you around the peninsula and to the park HQ. Timing is an important part of this since the area has a tide of several feet and the boats can not get out of the village at the low points. In fact, we just barely made it and were skipping along the bottom for a lot of the ride before getting dumped on the beach a couple hundred meters from the shore.
The accommodation was not nearly as nice as it was at the Niah caves but Bako is actually a lot older and starting to get run down. There's about 30 km of hiking trails in the park but the most interesting things are close to the HQ so we didn't go too far. We hiked about 8km the first day. Of course it was too hot and humid for comfort and we were constantly walking on roots, so even though the trails are well marked, you spend most of the time looking at your feet I think. The most impressive thing about the park is it's plant diversity and the most interesting that we saw on the hike (to me) were the carnivorous Pitcher plants. They look like little pitchers with some fluid inside which attracts insects and then digests them after they fall in. Yum yum.
The remaining days we took the smarter approach and sat in one of the shelters over the tidal flats and watched the animals come to us. We saw ~20 Proboscis monkeys and of course the ever-present Macaques along with other random small wildlife. Mission accomplished.
The day after we got back from Bako, we hooked up with a couple also couchsurfing with the same host as us, and decided to visit not only the Sunday market but also make a trip out to Gunung Gading NP to see the Rafflesia flower there. It is the world's largest flower but is a parasitic plant that lives off the roots of a particular tree and after an incubation of 8-9 months, produces a large red flower that can measure as much as 3 feet across! The problem is that the flower lasts for only 6-7 days before disintegrating so there are no guarantees that one will be seen. So people usually call the park to see if there is one in bloom and then go out. We heard that there was one in bloom but it would be the last day that it would be worth seeing so we really had to go on that day.
We started the morning with a quick whirl through the Sunday market in Kuching. It was surprisingly nice. Clean, organized and without the horrible smells usually associated with all the fish on offer there. We actually enjoyed the wide range of fish on sale (including rays and horseshoe crabs) and the fruit and veg also looked really fresh and appetizing.
From there we tried to walk to the bus station and began what turned out to be a very "adventurous" day. We missed the bus by literally no minutes, because we watched it drive away without us. We're just not used to things actually running on time anymore. There were five of us so taking a taxi was out because they actually have a law here that says they can only take 4. Sometimes things are just not chaotic enough....
We really wanted to do the whole trip out as a day trip but it was at least an hour to get to the park and had only 4 buses a day. The remaining 2 would not allow us to get there and back in a day so while brainstorming ideas, Mark, the other CS guy, met a local guy who was eager to please and convinced us we could still make it there and back. So we jumped on a different bus to the halfway point and then found that no, there were no more buses from there. On to Plan D, hitchhike! We had picked up a Spanish girl too and somehow the 7 of us (thanks to the tireless efforts of our local "guide") managed to hitch, by taking a series of pickup trucks, to the park. There we learned that even if we had wanted, the park was full so we could not stay.
We saw the flower. I'd always wanted to see the Rafflesia and although this one was starting to wilt around the edges, it was still impressive. To add to the bizarreness of the whole life-cycle of the Rafflesia, it is pollinated by the carrion fly and to attract it, smells of rotting flesh. Or so they say. It definitely did stink if you got close enough but fortunately for me I don't have much experience with the smell of rotting flesh so can't say for sure :)
Then with all that was going wrong with our day, our dinner orders were wrong, all return transport options fell through and the cheapest hotel in the nearby town of Lundu was shut down. Grrrr...
We're all seasoned travellers though and made the most of it with plenty of jokes. Only Frankie our local guide was really stressed by the whole thing. I know it doesn't sound that bad here but it would've been a great day for making a documentary titled "Why you should take the package tour", haha. In the end we had to stay at the expensive hotel and catch the morning bus back to Kuching.
Tonight we are off to Jakarta, Indonesia for a few weeks.
Ammon

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