Time to go and find some animals in the wild. I’d heard that cruising along the Kinabatangan river was a great way to do it and the Sepilok jungle resort offered a 2 day/2 night package to Bilit. It’s a bit harder and more time consuming to get around in Borneo generally and as the tour was a reasonable price I thought it would be an easier option. After my strange dorm people at Sepilok I was relieved to see 2 Australians and 1 Brit, all women already on the list.We set off in the minibus for the 2 hour journey to Bilit. I seem to have acquired the skill of falling asleep on buses – all I need is a new car seat!! I woke up at the half way point and started talking to the two Scottish women (Laura & Carol, we’d picked up from an adjacent resort on departure) sitting next to me.We arrived at Bilit (population 200) and were taken to a jetty where we boarded a boat and were taken down river to a lodge all on it’s own. Some how I managed to get a room to myself even though I’d paid to share. After a cup of coffee we were taken on our first river cruise. Laura and Carol were taken on a separate boat and I joined Barbara, Sylvia and Gill (the Aussies & Brits) with 2 other German couples.
As soon as we left the shore we had to spot trees twitching. Nearly immediately we found some long tailed macque monkeys. I now understand where the phrase cheeky monkey comes from. We carried on downstream and saw two boats stopped on the other side of the river. In fact the river was a lot wider than we’d all expected. We motored over (yes the motor does make some of the animals hide) and were told the word – orangutan, by the watching boats. Ok, just to be clear,this is not an every day occurrence and we were so lucky but up in the tree, although we had to look closely as they were pretty well hidden was not one orangutan but two. Yes just like in normal life, the man was sitting in the tree eating and the woman was below making the bed, or in this case the nest. They can make up to 4 a day. They didn’t really move they were just sitting there and of course incredibly aware of our presence. It was great to watch her pick leaves and move them around. I have achieved my goal of seeing orangutans in the wild – hurray !!
We carried on downstream and more twitching. This time it was the Proboscis monkey. Otherwise known as the long nosed monkey. These are much larger than the cheeky macques so rather than jump from tree to tree they need to swing branches and use it as a pole vault to travel. They also stay in two groups – 1) the harem group which contains one male and several females and the 2) the bachelor party – all the males who hang around and try and mate with the females when the other male isn’t looking or one takes over the harem group completely. Does this sound familiar ? We also saw several Hornbills and Egrets but it was so difficult to take photos without everything moving away in time. We arrived back at the lodge just as the sun was setting, it was such beautiful scenery.
Dinner time..just before dinner one of the guides Nelson suddenly produced a 7ft long reticulated python from a sack. This proceeded to literally pooh itself pants over the floor (it was scared). It had such beautiful markings. Nelson is well known in the village for being the snake man. Villagers used to try and kill them as the snakes tend to go after their chickens but Nelson encourages them to bring them to him so he can check they’re okay and then he releases them back in to the jungle on the other side of the river (not sure how well this works as they can swim) but it seems to keep the villagers happy. What I have noticed is although you read that a lot of people aren’t educated in conservation here certainly in a lot of the places I’ve been they do seem very aware. Increasingly people who did jobs to destroy the environment are now working to conserve it. They even have a phrase – “Take only photographs, leave only footprints, kill only time”. Barbara used to keep snakes so she was happy to hold it while it was wrapping itself around Nelson’s ankle and trying to strangle him. I even stroked it myself – well I don’t get to meet many 7ft pythons !!
Okay, now it’s time for dinner. The snake’s back in his cage and we only have two bats circling over head eating the mosquitoes and one rat in the rafters. This does tend to squeak a lot so the guides at the lodge call him puppy. I think they’d prefer that. Dinner was great, beef curry, chicken curry , tofu and cabbage and after dinner it was time for a night jungle walk.
The lodge offered leech socks and wellington boots for hire. I put on my waterproof, baseball cap, gaitors, socks and a long sleeve top. I looked like I was going to the antarctic rather than the jungle but it was all in aid of protecting myself from leeches. (I blame it on Tara in KK as she told me she’d got a couple in her pants area and I really was going to do anything possible to avoid that). The guides and my fellow tourists laughed at me but did I get any leeches over the 2 days – no !! I have since found out to avoid leeches never walk 2nd or 3rd in a line of people. Apparently the 1st person wakes them up and then they hook on to the next people. I was sweating but no more than anyone else.
We walked in to the jungle, it did feel a bit scary and my torch was next to useless (must get a new one). We were as quiet as possible and immediately came across a sleeping kingfisher. Then we came across a couple of tiger leeches. Yes, there is more than one kind and these are a reddish orange colour. The guide ran his finger just in front of them and they were following it as if hypnotised, ready to attach – disgusting (I hate them).We also found various insects and a tree frog and some more birds but no wild cats. You had to keep watching the ground for fire ants as they’d hurt. At one point we all turned off our torches and stood in silence so we could really hear the jungle. It was pretty special. The hour was over so back to the lodge. Laura had a leech…..
We were pretty tired but went back to the restaurant area for a cup of tea. This soon turned in to beer as it turned out to be both Gill and one of the guide’s (Alloy) birthday. The guitar was brought out and I have to say we were pretty hopeless at remembering words to songs but it was a good laugh. The Malaysians can certainly drink quickly. At least we taught them “one man went to mow”. It was such a laugh and all the girls and the locals were a good crack. Time for bed so I borrowed an alarm clock as it was already 1.30am and we had to be up in 4 hours. Alloy seemed to be getting a bit friendly so Gill escorted me to my room – thx xx
I woke up just before the alarm and knocked the girls awake. After a quick coffee we set off for the morning cruise. This involved a lot more bird life although we saw a great monitor lizard sunbathing on a tree. Laura and Carol had joined us this time (picture below). Again we saw loads of macques running along the banks. We got back in time for breakfast and then I decided to have a short nap, although it was so noisy I only got a few minutes.
Next it was time to hit the boat once more and get dropped off up stream so we could go trekking to Oxbow lake through the jungle. As soon as we got to the bank we could see elephant dung, they were about a week old so it was extremely unlikely we’d see them , such a shame. We got to the lake and had lunch. Gill, Laura and Carol decided they’d like to go in a rowing boat so Alloy took them. I declined the boat didn’t look that healthy, the oars were more like sticks and the lake was extremely brown. They didn’t get very far after going in circles the water started coming in and they started to sink. They managed to get back to the side in time .We then threw the remains of the rice and some bread in to the water. I have no idea what fish were there but they acted like piranha’s devouring the food and there were millions of them. Again, I was glad not to have gone in the boat. Time to trek back. Barbara’s turn to get a leech. When we got back Sylvia also found a leech on her thigh. How they can get so high up your clothes I don’t know. Although this one had just kept trying to get a grip and almost circled her whole leg – gross. I think I saw the world’s largest mosquito on the way back, glad he didn’t go for me although so many others have. We didn’t see too much although there was a mouse deer which ran off immediately.
When we got back we were able to plant a tree and do our bit for conservation (picture attached). I picked a rambutan tree as I thought that both the animals and humans could benefit – so if anyone goes please look for the signpost “the sally gap year, UK 28.08.07”. I think I put mine far enough in the forest that it should make it but you never know. The posts unfortunately look a bit like burial plots when you first see them in the dark.
Time for our last cruise and lots more people had arrived. I think we’d been extremely lucky the night before. Lots of loud Italians (Santorini girls you know what I mean), funnily enough the Malaysians said Italians were their least favourite to deal with. We went back to the Orangutan tree but they’d moved on. They should have been within 500m but if they were inland we wouldn’t have seen them. We did see some gorgeous silver langurs which could really leap across branches. The girls also thought they saw some fresh water crocodiles but they’d moved to quickly for me and finally we saw a mangrove snake although he looks bigger in my picture than he actually was.
Time to go for dinner although the water was incredibly still on the way back – it looked beautiful. I think I could have done this for a few more days without being bored. The python came out to see the new guests. Nelson put him under his age and he managed to get through a hole in the wall and had to be recaptured from the toilet. Luckily no one was on it at the time. Time for bed and the Italians in the next room had a huge spider in their room so had to have it sprayed. Alloy was the fumigator so he also did the hallway. He then knocked on my room so I had to decide if I would rather take a chance on the spider appearing or let Alloy into my room, the spider won and I’m not fond of them !! I tucked my mosquito net in a quickly as possible and slept like a baby.
After breakfast it was time to leave I would really recommend the Bilit adventure lodge it’s been a real highlight. The wildlife is amazing and even if you didn’t see anything it would still be fun. All of the guides (even Alloy) are wonderful and it really it good value. Also the girls were great fun too…time to go back to Kota Kinabalu.
Transport count :
Plane = 7, Bus = 22, Train =2, Boat = 7, Sunglasses = 5, Mosquito Repellant = 7