7th October 2017 to 11th October 2017
Kinabatangan, Lahad Datu, Danum Valley
On our final morning in Kinabatangan, we opted for an additional boat safari. We had been so close to an orangutan sighting the previous morning based on the freshness of the nests, that it seemed a no-brainer to have another attempt.
As it panned out, we didn’t manage to find one, but did manage to track down a Bornean Gibbon based on its distinctive call. Add to that some sea eagles, hornbills and a baby crocodile and all in all it was a very worthwhile additional excursion.
After breakfast at the camp, we began our journey to our next stop, Lahad Datu. A boat and two different buses got us to our comfortable and basic guesthouse in Lahad Datu. After two hot and sticky nights in the jungle, the AC and warm(ish) shower made it as good as a 5 star hotel!
Lahad Datu offered very little as a destination in its own right, but does offer a route into Danum Valley. Unfortunately, the shuttle bus to Danum Valley Field Centre (DVFC), wouldn’t be leaving for two days. Although as luck would have it, we were both fairly keen for a couple of restful days after an action packed time on the Kinabatangan. There was plenty of tasty food close to where we were staying and we had a comfortable bed. It wasn’t the most exciting couple of days, but there are worse places to recharge the batteries ahead of the next excursion.
It also gave us time to consider the next stage of the trip, in Central America. Something that had seemed a million miles away not so long ago, but all of a sudden was only a few weeks away. The search is on for somewhere interesting (and ideally cheap) on the Baja California peninsula, with a decent language school, in which we can base ourselves for a few weeks.
Back to the current trip, it was soon time to take the minibus shuttle from the DVFC office to the field centre itself. The journey in was very fruitful. Even before we had arrived at the centre, we had met some of the residents of the rainforest of Danum Valley. Macaques (of both pig and long tailed varieties), bearded pigs, sambur deer and electric blue kingfishers all made appearance in the last 20 minutes of the journey as we neared the field centre.
Up by our accommodation, we met even more of the local inhabitants. A huge bearded pig strolled confidently outside the dormitory, whilst two maroon langurs sat high up in the canopy in the distance. We even met some people! As it happened, they were the same people who would be on our night safari later that evening.
Even the walk to dinner was a wildlifespotting opportunity! Frogs, sambur deer and bearded pigs all made an appearance en route to a tasty dinner in the dining hall.
It was a far more successful night safari than the one we went on in Kinabatangan. Though it was very much a case of feast or famine. Initially, we were treated to a great view of a small toothed palm civet feeding in the tree at eye level, quickly followed by an equally good view of a large tree frog. Another type of civet, the malay civet, then ran across the road in front of the jeep.
Then came the famine. For the next hour or so, we made to do with a couple of fireflies and a pair of eyes that supposedly belonged to a giant red flying squirrel, but were so far away that they could have belonged to anything! The lack of wildlife did give us an opportunity to appreciate the sky. Without light pollution, the stars were stunning. Even the Milky Way was visible. The night sky set against the faint silhouette of the jungle canopy is a sight I will not quickly forget.
As we looped back towards camp, another feast. The guides spotted a rhinoceros hornbill, posing perfectly side on, so that we could fully appreciate its massive beak. Then came more giant flying squirrels (slightly closer this time), another malay civet and a tiny mouse deer. A very successful haul as far as I was concerned and a wonderful finish to our first evening in Danum Valley.
It was an early start the next morning, as we rose before the sun, so that we could watch it rise over the rainforest. The drive to the observation tower from which we would watch the sun rise was yet another opportunity to see wildlife as we encountered deer and a common civet along the way.
From the top of the wooden observation tower, we saw first light break over the rainforest. A blanket of fluffy cloud sat on top of the canopy, with only the trees on a few pieces of high ground poking out above the cloud. The rainforest (much like New York) never sleeps, there had been a cacophony of sounds the entire night. However, sun rise was something of a changing of the guards. The night shift went to bed and on came the day shift as gibbons and birds called out across the jungle.
The rising sun burnt off the early morning mist and we were better able to appreciate the full spectrum of colours over the rainforest. It was still only around 6am. We still had the entire day ahead of us in which to explore some of the rainforest spread out in front of us. It promised to be a good day…
Back at the centre, we had caught word of an orangutan mother and baby nesting near the dining hall, so went to see if we could catch a glimpse. Unfortunately, we were too early to see them. They had the good sense to still be a sleep at this hour!
We intended to go back for another try after breakfast, but basically forgot. This proved to be a pretty stupid thing to do, as those that did go were apparently treated to quite the show, as mother and baby swung off through the jungle. Hopefully we would not live to regret this too much, but at this stage, we were pretty gutted to have missed out.
After breakfast, we went on a guided trek along the rhino pool trail. Named seemingly at random, as there is no record of anyone ever seeing a rhino along it! It was a stunning trek through the pristine rainforest, with some interesting new people to chat to. Wildlife sightings were few and far between, with some huge gold ants and a giant millipede the highlight.
The most abundant species were the ever present leeches. I must have flicked around 30 leeches off my body over the course of the trek. Luckily, we had all come prepared, with leech socks, trousers and long sleeves. As such, we were mostly removing leeches from clothes rather than skin. Inexplicably, we then all decided it was a good idea to take all of this gear off to go for a swim in a picturesque swimming hole. It was a refreshing swim and a beautiful spot to rest after the hike out, but unsurprisingly we were over run with leeches!
After lunch, Kim and I went on a self-guided trek around the trails near the centre. It was another brilliant walk, improved further by a troop of 6-7 maroon langurs that came crashing through the jungle right above our heads, before staring us up and down while they worked out whether we were a threat or not. They obviously concluded that we weren’t as they stopped for a few minutes, seemingly posing for photos as they waited.
Shortly after our monkey encounter, we were treated to a proper rainforest downpour. Seemingly out of nowhere, the heavens opened, the footpaths that we had been walking on were suddenly flowing like rivers. To top it all off, we were also a little lost. Not a catastrophic lost, we knew roughly where we were and where we wanted to go, but finding the right path was proving a little tricky! Eventually, we found the trail that we were supposed to be on, but not before we had been absolutely soaked through.
We went back to the hostel to shower and change into something dry. We were also due a sit down after a busy day. There was no shortage of people to chat to around the hostel, including a group of Malaysian Aeronautical Engineers who were in the rainforest to work on some helicopters.
“How are you enjoying the jungle?” They asked.
“It’s been great so far, but no Orangutan yet unfortunately.” I replied.
“What!? We have only been here a few minutes and we just saw one.” They scoffed.
It transpired that there was an orangutan that was almost visible from where we having the conversation! Thanking them for the tip, we hurried down to get a better view. Some people down there lent us their binoculars and we were getting our first glimpse of a fully wild orangutan as it bedded down for the night. It was only an arm for now, but we knew where it was, so the next morning we had an excellent chance of a better sighting.
We opted not to do another activity that evening. So many wildlife sightings had occurred around the centre that it seemed almost counter productive to go out and about when so much wildlife would come to us if we stayed where we were. Indeed that decision seemed to be vindicated when a civet ran through the dining hall at dinner. We spent a relaxing evening playing cards with some people that we had met on our guided trek earlier that day.
The next morning we returned to the orangutan nest with high hopes for seeing something more than an arm! As we arrived, it woke up, spending the next half an hour looking distinctly unimpressed at being awake. It was sat up at least, so we could make out it’s face and it would occasionally stretch its arms up with a yawn. It looked unbelievably human.
From here, we had a long day of travelling and waiting about in Lahad Datu ahead of us, but what a perfect way to finish our time in the rainforests of Sabah.