Friday, September 23, 2011

Back to Nature for a Night

I was in for a long evening, heading on a tour bus to see proboscis monkeys and fireflies, two hours back towards Sarawak in southwestern wetlands of Sabah.

I'd booked the trip yesterday after talking to several travel agents long enough to realize that they were all trying to book me onto the same trip with Only in Borneo Tours. I checked out their web site, then went to their office and asked for the online booking discount. They were fine with that.

Yesterday had been kind of a wash-out. I'd spent some time arguing with the front desk at my hotel. They'd given me a single room that included wifi, knowing full well that the wifi didn't reach the single rooms. I went up the ladder through four people until a woman made a call, and I was moved to a slightly larger room with an actual signal.

And then I got lost. In my room. I mean I had another one of those moments where I had to struggle to remember where I was. Not just what city, but what country and what part of the world. For a brief second, I thought "I'm near Bangkok, right?"

Sort of.

I'd spent the evening at Kota Kinabalu night market. It was a market. At night.

Obviously, I needed this trip out into Sabah. I was starting to lose it.

The bus tour group included included two Dutch travelers, two Italians, a Chinese single female backpacker (first I've ever seen, and I told her that), one Japanese man, two Thai, a Japanese couple, and me.

We drove the 130 kilometers to Garama Village on the Garama River, then all walked 700 meters down a boardwalk through the wetlands. This took us to the Only in Borneo base camp, where we were stuffed with sticky rice, fried bananas, and coffee, and rented binoculars for our boat journey.

Base camp kittens also ate the fried bananas. That seemed so wrong. Maybe they alleviate hairballs or something.

Our guide, a Malaysian naturalist named DJ, led us onto a small motorboat, driven by a local student. We put on our flotation vests—the water was about a foot deep and I think I'd be more afraid of crocodiles, but it's probably a regulation.

We motored down a small channel and out onto the Garama River.

"A monkey!"

We all got excited and snapped photos...but it was a regular monkey—a macaque—with a plain old monkey nose. He looked like a nice-enough monkey, but this wasn't the monkey we'd come to see.

When the boatman pulled up under a branch and DJ himself pulled out his SLR, I knew we were seeing something rare. It was a snake—a black snake with yellow rings—clinging to a branch. These are rarely spotted during excursions and even if DJ hadn't told us, we would have known this was unusual by his excited clicking away with his camera.

After a few minutes of invading the snake's privacy, we continued on, as DJ regaled us with tales of eating lizards with curry with his grandfather when he was a small boy. His church forbade that now, or at least that was my confused understanding of the story he told us.

Why would a church forbid eating lizard with curry? I think I must have missed something.

We had partial-view seats for the proboscis monkeys in the end, spotting plenty but never with a full frontal view. They really weren't as ugly as their reputations would make them out to be.

As the sun fell, we headed back to the OIB base camp for dinner before looking at fireflies (we called them lightning-bugs where I grew up) and heading back to KK.

And against the pink and orange sunset, water buffalo frolicked in the river, heading home after a long and busy day of eating grass.

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