We headed to Borneo, purely because we had time to spare. It wasn’t really planned and to be honest we rushed it. A visit from Harry’s parent’s was imminent and in the time between their arrival and our country hopping, it turned out we could do more than we initially had planned.
So we escaped the chaos of KL and headed to the prosperity of Borneo. Largely famous for its nature, diving, jungle and foremost it’s population of Orangutan’s.
Our first stop in Borneo was Kota Kinabalu. We headed here for one reason only, Mount Kinabalu. Harry and I were yearning to climb a mountain and we had heard that this was a mountain within our reach. We arrived in KK a little cold, until now weather had been hot, hot, hot and now it was time to fish out the moth eaten jumper and a little too tight fitting jeans. We stayed in a a log cabin set into a backdrop of trees, high above sea level. It was a climb up and once we finally arrived, we saw what all the fuss was about.
From a quaint little window in our quaint little room, we gazed over mountains and rolling landscape, it was a beautiful setting and in the distance Mount Kinabalu, towered over us, clouds ruffling around her peak. We dined that even with fellow backpackers, sharing stories and reminiscing of past adventures, tomorrow we would head to our mountain.
As usual nothing ever goes to plan. We headed to the national park, which was grand! We wondered amongst sky scraping trees and followed streams deep into the park, so deep infact that after a strenuous three hours we found ourselves at base camp. We hovered at the gate hoping that we would meet a tour guide, another trekker or even another human being? After shivering a while in the unfamiliar cooling temperatures, finally some fellow trekkers arrived accompanied by their guide. They were a little deflated and not heroic in their 4,095m accomplishment. Wearily they talked with us a while, honest in their portrayal of the two day summit. Despite their lack of enthusiasm, me and my fellow traveler were still keen to take on Kinabalu’s steps. But in the heart of Asia, where you can barter for just about anything, on that day and at that moment, there was no bartering to be done. No deal was made and Harry and I, tight backpackers we may be, were not prepared to pay the price on Mount Kinabalu’s peak.
We enjoyed our time in KK even if we hadn’t accomplished what we set to do. We packed our bags and waited for our connecting coach, whilst we waited we were accompanied by a couple of stray dogs. If I haven’t already mentioned, the issue of plentiful stray dogs in Asia cannot be ignored and whilst it is an obvious hinderance to the common local and tourist, I actually am very fond of the occasional stray doggys, a self confessed puppy fan. So whether it be your ratty, undernourished pup or your more popular, British pedigree chum, I’m a sucker for both and while we waited for our pickup, our two stray fury friends endured in a display of public frolicking. Frolicking soon turned into an unsettling show of doggy harassment and one aggressively pinned the other down, the poor pup yelped for help. Over and over it escaped the paws of the rapist dog and we cheered in her escape but despite it’s efforts the poor bitch lost her battle and in that moment, much to our despair, two stray dogs made another litter of stray dogs, right in the prosperity of Kinabulu’s streets.
Boarding our coach I questioned if my puppy love remained the same but there was not much time to reflect on traumatic events, we had a date with an Orangutan. Orangutans, if you didn’t already know are classified as an endangered species. Native to Indonesia and Malaysia, Orangutans for years have been exploited in the Indonesian black market for entertainment, sold to a twisted audience for an insufferable exsistence. A bitter reality but in some parts of the world, Borneo being one, there are sanctuaries that protect our primate friends and when in Borneo it would be rude not to book a date with our monkey friends.
We visited the Sepilok Sanctuary, with a guarantee of seeing their residents. I’m not sure what we expected, more likely just a glimpse of these rare creatures from afar but it was quite the opposite. Almost immediately we caught our first sighting, unfortunately we were not the only tourists to spot it and the poor monkey was bombarded with sloppy tourists, itching for the perfect selfie. He was gone in a blink of an eye and I, annoyed and impatient.
We kept walking and followed a path that took you further into the sanctuary. In the distance, not too far was an Orangutan, an Orangutan on a Backapacker! He cradled himself around the guys chest and whilst he tussled the guys hair, he repeatedly tried to remove the guys belt, sneakily reaching into his back pocket in search of his phone. The guy called out to me for help, so I ran to the backpacker in need! On arrival into the sanctuary we were specifically told, not to touch the monkeys but how could you resist when one throws himself at you. It was a problem but as I arrived at the scene I suddenly understood what these creatures were all about. His hands were much the same as ours, operating in every way that a humans hands would, his curiosity was like a child’s, a child who knew he was being naughty , his facial expressions were timeless, this monkey wasn’t silly, there was wisdom back there and as I came ever closer his attention was drawn to me for a second, until a park ranger appeared shewing the monkey away. He jumped from the guy and clung to a tree dashing to the safety of the higher branches our gaze followed him, taking us to an audience of cowering Orangutans. There were three gazing down at us, it seemed like they were laughing at the park ranger, as if it was some game; Orangutan 1, Park Ranger 0.
We continued our stroll through the park and saw plentiful nature on the way. The highlight of our walk was our tour guide, an Orangutan infact and an excellent tour guide he was. Unbeknown to him as we strolled through the sanctuary following our primate friend, we were actually here to see him and not so interested in his home.
The crowd gathered behind him in complete ore of him. It striked me then and there, that we of course are a descendant of the monkey and no science lesson on evolution could prepare you for quite how human these animals are. His stroll, his curiosity, his stares, man this was a walking talking fury human! It would have seemed almost normal if this Orangutan turned around and conversed with us, naming trees and pointing out wildlife just as any tour guide would.
Harry wasn’t as overwhelmed as me, perhaps I’m a nature geek or just a big monkey fan. But for me, on that day in the heart of Sepilok sanctuary, I fell in love with the Orangutan, our brothers, ancestors and the most fascinating creature I have ever seen.