Monday, February 13, 2017

#26 - Tuesday, 14 February 2017 | Kuching, Sarawak, Borneo

It is a rainy and heavily overcast morning here in Kuching. Last night torrential downpours forced our group to return from dinner in taxis. Of course, that is to be expected during the rainy season in the rainforest.

Yesterday nine of our fourteen person group went to Taman Negara Bako (Bako National Park), home to about 150 endangered proboscis monkeys, bearded pigs and beautiful pitvipers. The 10 1/2 square mile park sits on the Borneo coast in Sarawak where the Kuching and Bako rivers empty into the South China Sea. The park can only be reached by boat. Starting from the jetty of Bako Terminal, we took two boats to beach on the Muara Tebas peninsula in knee deep silty water and walk across the grey-brown beach into the jungle. Two boats were necessary because of the high tide and big waves. Our group boarded one larger boat for a ten minute ride and then we met smaller boats at the halfway point and changed ship, as it were, in the rocking waters off the mangrove coast. Fortunately me and my camera gear were not swallowed up by the flowing estuarine abyss.

Our guide for the day was one of the two guides who had brought us to Semenggoh the previous day to look for orangutans. That day was a success and our morning in the sanctuary was followed by an early afternoon at the Annah Rais Longhouse. We toured the traditional Sarawak community of two tribal longhouses where rice and tapioca and ginger were laid out on mats to dry in the sun baking the bamboo floors. Annah Rais is also a homestay for the adventurous who want to spend the night in a tribal setting. However, I have only passing interest in “culture” and we will now return to Bako.

As we waited to begin our walk I milled about the grounds and saw my first bearded pig grazing in the field. These large porcine have amazing bristles covering the bottom of their heads. The male I photographed seemed completely unbothered by my presence as he rooted about the undergrowth. The trail we took through the rainforest was anything but a walk in the park. However, even those of our group who thought they might not be able to continue as path passed out of the mangrove flats and the tree root formed trail climbed and descended with precarious footholds made it one hour to where the jungle opened into another beach along the South China Sea. We caught glimpses of the rare proboscis monkeys high in the trees seeking the leaves that make up their diet. Once we arrived on the beach we were greeted by amazing rock formations and the moody skies above the churning waters. Long-tailed macaques were perched on the rocks of the beach and I photographed a mother with an infant with the skies as a backdrop. As ours and other groups took a break on the sands, I decided I’d rather make the return hike alone and set off back into the jungle. Again I saw proboscis monkeys from a distance, but they had too much cover and were too far away to photograph. Once I arrived back at the mangrove flats near the trailhead, where nice platforms form paths above the mudskippers and crabs, I sat on a bench and waited for everyone else to join me.

We had lunch in the cafeteria and our guide came and got me to “show me something”. I had told him that I sought pit vipers and spiders and was sure he had spied one of the beautiful green Wagler’s tree vipers that I had hoped to see or at the very least an orb weaver spider. Just behind the restaurant perched a couple feet above the ground was a gorgeous snake and I set about getting photographs. After lunch we walked about the area and were treated to a group of five or six proboscis high in the trees. Even with my longest lens they were out of reach, and my photographs are likely to be useless, but I was very much living in the moment as I watched these amazing “big nosed” monkeys chewing on leaves and leaping to neighboring trees. I thought about the people you see at concerts who spend the whole time filming it for social media instead of really immersing themselves in the experience. I love sharing my adventures, but photography seemed so unnecessary when I could just watch an endangered species I never expected to see in nature. As I stood straining my eyes towards the canopy I almost didn’t notice the large shape passing right in front of me. I looked down and saw 250 pounds or so of bearded pig strolling by as if with no care in the world.

Last night I had planned to get a traditional hand-tapped Iban tribal tattoo from Mark’s friend Ernesto who operates his Borneo Headhunters Tattoo Studio here in Kuching. I had really wanted to do it just for another life experience, but once I found out how much it would cost it made me reconsider the entire notion. The truth is that I am not a fan of tribal tattoos, even if this would be a true Iban tribal design and not the faux tribal that Caucasians walk around wearing. On top of that I had no idea where I would put it with my arms and lower legs already covered. I had thought to put it on the front of a thigh, but my quad muscles were strained and burning from the day’s trail ascents. I decided to cancel and I am so glad that the very sore thighs I have today aren’t even more sore from having a little Bornean dude hammering a needle into my flesh for four hours.

After taxis spared us from a drenching post-dinner, our group sat on the LimeTree hotel rooftop and had our nightcaps. A couple of bottles of tuak (traditional rice wine) had been purchased at the longhouse and shots were passed around. I had shared a few jugs of Tiger lager during dinner and my nightcap was a lime mojito. So beer, rum and tuak were combined to make me wake before 3 a.m. with a splitting headache. I was so exhausted, but I was agitated by something and, as I laid in bed thinking, I became increasingly restless. The pain medicine took effect and my eyes were heavy, but my mind was racing and sleep became more and more elusive. So here I sit at breakfast alone typing this. I intend to hang the “do not disturb” sign on my door and have officially cancelled this day. I had already told Mark that I planned to keep to myself mostly today. I am used to being alone and being part of a group of 14 that likes to do everything together is not in today’s plans. I have work to do on my laptop, and now I am in need of a few more hours rest.

All the best, M

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