Thursday, August 4, 2011

Tuesday, June 14, 2011 7:21am

Dining Deck at Sepilok Bed and Breakfast; Sepilok, Malaysia
I will take a step back and recap a few things I forgot to include in earlier journals:
Don, Keith and I left Hong Kong for Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia at 3:30pm than flew to Sandakan, Malaysia (a city of nearly 500,000 people, although it looked like a town of a few thousand with a very small airport) where we caught a cab to the Sepilok B&B.
~During the flight from Hong Kong to Borneo I was glued to the window, gazing out over the ocean, dotted with green tropical islands, interlaced with shreds of pillow-topped clouds. As I stepped out of the plane I was slapped with a wall of humidity thick enough that I left a wake in the air behind me as I struggled to the terminal, soaking up the idea that I was actually on the island of BORNEO!
Our sleeping quarters at Sepilok B&B, notice the humidity in the air!
The taxi ride to Sepilok B&B was uneventful only because it was completely dark when we arrived.  Accommodations are good. Three small beds in the room, bathroom outside the door. Open air throughout to keep the air moving. Which reminds me: Last night I awoke to air so thick that I had trouble sucking it in, I had to lay with my mouth wide open to get enough air to my lungs, it is like breathing unsalted soup!

Thinking back, I remember waking up convinced I was drowning…
A young female Orangutan surprised us by climbing down out of a tree and swinging over our heads!

~Yesterday was a milestone day in my life.  When I was at the Orangutan Rehabilitation Center, I watched a feeding of free–roaming Orangs who were in the final stages of rehabilitation.  I will save the details because while I twas impressive to finally see Orangs in the wild, it still felt very zoo-like with handlers feeding from a bucket and ropes strung through the forest to act as vines for travel between trees.  The Macaque (smaller monkeys with mischievous look in their eyes, they seem to be the trouble makers of the rainforest) harassed the handlers and stole food from the Orang feeding platform. It was entertaining, but didn’t give me the experience I was hoping for in seeing Orangs in the wild for the first time.
Translation: Orang=means "man"; Utan=means "woods"; so Orangutan means= "Man of the Woods". Indigenous people believed that the Orangutan were men who had fled into the woods to live in the trees, hence their name: Orangutan!
The real epiphany came when we were leaving the reserve and an Orangutan was quietly lounging in a tree not more than 10 feet above our heads. She put on a show, swinging from limbs, hanging upside down, and leaning down close to our heads.  When she stopped and stared into my eyes, there was a real sense of a “soul” staring back at me; Sad, mischievous, thoughtful eyes. Words really escape me in describing how it felt to stare into eyes that say so much, it was such a “human” experience.
In all my experiences with animal encounters around the world, never have I had the feeling I had when this Orangutan stared into my eyes. Imagine looking into the eyes of a young child when you can tell that the child is looking back into your eyes, not just gazing around at anything that moves. We humans say so much with our eyes, but all the animals I’ve ever seen have eyes that are just looking, the Orangutan has eyes that are searching for answers.
The Sun Bear Rehabilitation Center takes in wounded, orphaned or animals that were taken in as pets. They prepare them to re-enter the wild.

Later we went to the Sun Bear Rehab Center (Sun Bears are similar to our black bears but are very small with a white patch on their chest, they have very long claws that they use to root up ants and termites in the jungle).

~A few “firsts” for me at our next stop, the Rainforest Discovery Center: 

·      We visited the “Sepilok Giant” a HUGE old growth Dipterocarp (massive rainforest looking tree, the kind that towers into the clouds and is so large a the base that you would have to hold hands with an army of people to reach around the diameter),  I have never seen a tree this big in my life!
·      To find the tree we had to find our way through the jungle, I was reminded of the movie “Romancing the Stone” where they vines try to strangle you and the mud causes you to slide down every embankment.
·      Red Giant Flying squirrels! We waited until dark watching up into the tree tops and finally a HUGE squirrel ran across a long limb at the top of an enormous tree and jumped, spread his legs out, and ‘flew’ across the forest canopy! I guess I never expected to ever see a flying squirrel in my life!
Sepilok Giant. Below are some of he critters living on this tree, which is so huge, it holds its own ecosystem!
Hold out your thumb. These jungle ants were as big as my thumb!

This millipede was a long as my outstretched hand, from thumb tip to pinky tip!

More creepy crawlies of the rainforest!

Finally we ate dinner and found our beds.
Which takes me to today. 
We took a bus from Sandakan to Sukau (a small fishing village of about 1,000 people). It was very indicative of what I would have expected a town in Borneo to look like: scattered houses, some falling to pieces, some held together by a ramshackle of wood and metal pieces, some very nicely cared for).
Our "home" while in Sukau.

Right now I am sitting on the front porch of the home of Samsudin and Hariza (his wife) in Sukau, Malaysia along the banks of the Kinabatangan River, an Amazon looking beast of water with scattered driftwood and red-brown milky water, obviously stained by the rainforest clay. Samsudin’s son, Sobrin, picked Don and I up in the family boat at the village center and shuttled us to their home. The family has no car so they rely solely on the river for transportation, as many families do. Their house is quite nice, much more so than I would have expected and it is much better kept than the homes we saw in the village center. It stands tall on stilts with a large balcony and finely turned railing and banister. The interior is bright green and yellow and all the wood is lacquered to a shine, very dark, very beautiful.  The “iron wood” that the house is built from comes from the rainforest and is prized in the states because it can withstand any weather.

Samsudin seems very nice and is patient with our lack of understanding of the Malay language.  He speaks and writes limited English but his son translates pretty well. His wife, Hariza, is cooking Don and I lunch and it smells amazing…and spicy!
Earlier today we drove from Sepilok to Sukau in a bus and I was completely surprised at the amount of forest that had been converted to Palm Plantation. From the time we left until we arrived, nearly 2 hours, we saw little along the road but palm trees. They are actually very nice trees, very robust and well trimmed, but after exploring the rainforest yesterday it is easy to see why these expansive plantations are causing problems.
The oil palm plantations stretch across much of Borneo, this is the view I that became quiet familiar during our travels.

In fact one of the main topics we were exploring in Borneo was the affect that the Palm Plantations play on the ecology of the region, including the effects the reduced rain forest plays on Orangutans and other primates.
These are harvested palm seeds in the bed of a truck. They will be crushed to extract their valuable oil.

About the Palm Trees
Unlike the palm trees I was used to before (coconut palms), these trees produce a nut about the size of a small clenched fist. In fact, it produces hundreds of them in clumps hanging from where the fronds meet the trunk.  Workers use long poles with a knife at the end to cut these bunches from the tree then collect them in large piles. They are then sold to large “refineries” that crush them to extract their oil (Palm Oil).  Palm oil is in an enormous amount of things we purchase: cosmetics, candy, food, even used as a bio-fuel for vehicles and heating.  Palm oil is a HUGE cash crop!  So one can understand while so much of the forest is plowed under to plant the trees. The problem arises when one starts to explore how the loss of native rainforest affects the entire ecosystem.  But, this is a double-edged sword to look at very carefully.  Palm oil has all but displaced the logging industry, which means that many stands of rainforest still exist, although they are scattered around the island. However, without the money generated from the sale of palm oil, it is possible that the remaining forests would be cut down for logging, but some of the money that Malaysia receives from taxes on exports is used to conserve the rainforest and conserve the Orangutan…..

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