Travels with myself – 2 Borneo

The other day I saw an item on the TV which said that being creative was good for the mood. People were out on the cliff tops somewhere sketcing and painting but, as I’m nowhere near any clifftops and am just about able to hold a pencil in my hand again, that won’t be an option for me for a while. However, I think I can be creative by picking up my story again. I’m dictating rather than typing which throws up some weird interpretations of my voice and causes me to have to go back and correct lots of mistakes but I can’t leave my holiday halfway through so here goes :–

10th June 2005 – This was the day I came for!
My alarms worked (I’d set more than one to be on the safe side) and I was up at 4:00am. I arrived at reception to find that there were only three of us on this trip. We were handed a breakfast box each and off we went. Our flight from Kota Kinabalu took off at 7:00am and we arrived at Sandakan less than an hour later. Then the Sepilok Centre was another half an hour’s drive.

Borneo 21.jpg
My ticket to enter Sepilok!

(https://www.orangutan-appeal.org.uk/about-us/sepilok-orangutan-rehabilitation-centre)

We watched a film about the rescue and rehabilitation work of the Sepilok Centre which was very moving and frankly distressing, as it is human greed and demand for products like palm oil which is exploiting both the local people and the wildlife which lives in the dwindling forests.

The orangutans we were hoping to see have graduated out of the nursery (where they cared for all the time) into the nearby forest but they aren’t yet quite independent and so food is provided twice a day at the feeding platform.

It was just a short walk along a wooden walkway to the feeding platform. When we arrived there were already two orangutans waiting and playing together, rolling about in a ball. More and more arrived before the rangers came out with bananas and sugar cane (sometimes they bring milk). You could see the trees moving in the distance and the ropes which hung between them would begin to vibrate and then you’d see the orangs swinging along hand over hand. For an hour or more they came and went and fed, played, rested. I counted 10 individuals altogether. Some were youngsters obviously staying close to the feeding platform for most of the day but others looked much more adult; some of them even beginning to get the flanges which grow on the side of the faces of adult males. Some of them carried off their sugarcane and the bunches of bananas into the forest, dangling upside down or holding the food by their feet. It was wonderful to watch and I used my time videoing the activity, which accounts for my lack of still photos, most of which are not so good anyway.

After an hour or so most of the food was eaten and we were feeling very hot and sweaty so our group decided to leave and walked back for a final look at the exhibition centre. This is what I’d come to Borneo to see. I’ve been longing to see these relatives of ours since I was a small child and so it was just one of the most magical days not just of the holiday but of my life.

Then, in a complete change of scenery and ambience we were taken to lunch at the “English Tea House and Restaurant”. The menu included fish and chips, roast fillet of beef and bread and butter pudding. Tea followed in fine china cups. Apparently this was a government building in pre independence days. There was a magnificent view of Sandakan Bay and its offshore islands.

After lunch we were taken on a tour of the city; first to a village built on stilts in the sea, then in another twist an Anglican church, which has a new set of stained glass windows, then a Buddhist temple and finally we ended the day in a more sombre mood, visiting the Australian memorial park. This park commemorates the Australian POWs who were held in a camp here before being marched across Borneo. Of over 1000 who passed through here, there were only 6 who survived the war. The flight back over miles and miles of wasteland where there should have been forest was also food for thought.

Nevertheless the day was absolutely worthwhile.

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