Sunday, March 01, 2009


We flew from the Philippines to Sabah, a state of Malaysia in north eastern Borneo. We were picked up by a Japanese guy that was going to host us in the capital city of Kota Kinabalu. There were some immediately obvious changes when we first arrived. For one thing we are back to driving on the left side of the road again. It's been just long enough that that is probably going to be really screwy for a while. Another change is that we are back in the Muslim world and a lot of girls are once again wearing headscarves. I'd say maybe half the girls are wearing them but people have told me that here in Sabah it is significantly more liberal than in other parts of Malaysia. We will see. The street food is good and if you like Indian (which mom does not) then there is lots to choose from.
So far Sabah has not been the Borneo that you expect to see. Borneo is supposed to be jungle wildlife and headhunters in a lot of people's imagination but both the cities of Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan have been very modern, organized and clean (they had to be completely rebuilt after WWII so that might have something to do with it). In fact, it's a little strange (and kind of annoying actually) having to look for a bus stop to catch the bus. We are so used to just flagging them down anywhere.
From Kota Kinabalu we made a trip out to the east coast of Sabah to Sandakan. Sandakan itself doesn't have a lot going for it that is very interesting to the casual tourist. Historically it was the site of an infamous Japanese prisoner camp with lots of death marches and very few survivors. The bus ride out to Sandakan passes by Mt. Kinabalu, the tallest mountain between Papua New Guinea and the Himalayas. We're going to skip the climb this time around. It's too much like the Mt. Cameroon route for our tastes. There is some jungle out there in the hills but a lot of the land is now used for palm oil plantations. It actually looks a lot like Cote d'Ivoire (at least as I imagine it before the civil war). The real nature is a lot further away and quite expensive to do because it has to be by tour. Also in the area are the caves where people collect the nests to make the famous bird's nest soup.
The real reason anyone goes to Sandakan is to visit the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (SORC). We were there today. There aren't many orangutan centers in the world since orangutans are found only on Borneo and Sumatra (Indonesia). They are 96% related to us and are the largest animal to spend their lives entirely in trees. Ok, you know what an orangutan looks like so I won't go into it. Anyway, the jury is still out on which is cuter, the orangutan or the chimp. Baby orangutans are really cute in that "I look like an old man that just stuck my finger in the socket" kind of way. The SORC is pretty touristy as it is the best known of all places to see orangutans. They have 2 daily feeding times that we are allowed to visit and about 100 people showed up when we went. The orangutans are being rehabilitated to the wild so aren't really supposed to have much contact with people anymore and the feedings are just to supplement their diets as they learn to adjust to the wild once more. A few showed up to feed briefly and we could see them from quite close although from a wooden viewing platform. When the orangutans are finished the macaques come in to clean up. They are the common obnoxious monkeys found all over Asia and are fun to watch as they goof off.
There are a few walking trails in the area but the ground is total mud at the moment so nobody can use them. It would've been nice to get out and see a little more of the jungle as it is quite nice here. Apparently there are more species of trees in Borneo than in all of Africa combined! We didn't see any other wildlife other than a pair of hornbills. The disappointing aspect of the visit is that they really limit you to what you can do and see in the park. You are not allowed to hang out at the viewing platform for all that long and although they have lots of babies and juveniles in rehab buildings somewhere nearby, you can't visit them. You are limited to the 2 feeding times only and they are over so quickly that it almost isn't worth the price of admission (wow, am I greedy or what?).
We are leaving Sandakan tomorrow to go back to Kota Kinabalu where we will meet up with Jake, who will be travelling with us for the next couple of months if all goes well.


At 2:23 PM , Blogger The Bear said...

"next couple of months" ??? HAve you changed your mind and decided to go to south america after all?
I thought all the rain and mud was to prepare you to go back to Vancouver. Will you be there by June? or next fall? The way the ecomomy is tanking I don't think it will much matter where you go, it will be a bit tougher.
Anyways, the photo's were great, and the Balut looked as gross as it sounded, shared that one for shock value with the nurses.

Take care of yourselves, and come home someday.
Love and Bear hugs
THe Bear


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