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15 July 2011
Photo Friday: welcome (back) to the jungle!

Sungai Kinabatangan at sunrise
Sungai Kinabatangan at sunrise


Today's secret word, boys and girls, is "Kinabatangan!" Use it three times in a sentence. Roll it around on your tongue a bit. Trust me, it's fun.

If I seem even punchier than usual, it's because this beastly heat & humidity may have fried my brain just a tad. It's been pretty junglicious around Our Nation's Capital this week. Accordingly, today's Photo Friday is an homage to Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, where we stayed at a small lodge alongside the mighty Kinabatangan River in November 2008.


bewildered tarsier
bewildered tarsier

proboscis monkey
proboscis monkey


We spent a few days at Kinabatangan Nature Lodge viewing the jungle's moist bounty via night hikes, early morning boat rides, and midday treks through the muck and slurm with our guide Jungle Jay. (Yes, really.) In addition to monkeys-aplenty, we got to check out bizarre jungle creatures like tarsiers, monitor lizards, toucans, tiny chirping frogs, and all manner of giant bugs. Oh, and the leeches! Plenty of leeches too.


leech alert!
leech alert!


I'll let you write your own leeches-in-Washington joke (too easy), and leave you with a few lovely parting shots of the scenic Kinabatangan.


scenic Kinabatangan

Kinabantangan at sunset


For more fabulous travel snaps, check out Delicious Baby's Photo Friday blog carnival.


RELATED LINKS:
* view all Kinabatangan pics
* browse original blog posts from our Kinabatangan stay
* Nature Lodge Kinabatangan


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Posted by sonia at 12:00 AM | Link | 2 comments


10 July 2009
Photo Friday: Scubaliciousness in Semporna

this is how i feel most days at work
this is how I feel most days at work

As many people are heading off to their summer vacations, I find myself in serious need of some beach therapy. Or perhaps scuba therapy. Or both! So in honor of my inaugural participation in Delicious Baby's excellent Photo Friday, I decided to replay a few snaps from our blissful three days of wall-to-wall diving off Malaysian Borneo last November.

Semporna is an odd little town; most people come there to access Sipadan, known as Jacques Cousteau's favorite dive site and the holy grail of scuba diving. So this tiny town is crawling with sunburnt dive junkies and a dozen dive shops. But smack up against the dive culture is a conservative Muslim community. Oil and water! There's a big mosque in the center of town, and most dive shops have posted signs exhorting patrons to COVER UP when they're out and about. It's worth the awkwardness, though, as Sipadan and the other surrounding islands afford some of the best diving we've ever experienced. It's like jumping into an aquarium. Nine dives in 3 days may sound like a lot, but to us it was scuba heaven!

::: sigh :::

If you can't go to the beach, let the beach come to you!

Malaysian beachy goodness on Sipadan Island
Malaysian beachy goodness

nudibranch!
nudibranch!

the life of a divemaster does not suck
the life of a divemaster does not suck

friendly fish kid at Semporna market
friendly fish kid at Semporna market

Browse all Semporna pics

Check out more photos of other cool places at Delicious Baby!

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Posted by sonia at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments


03 December 2008
Hello Sarawak, are you ready to RAWK?

We opted to spend our time in Kuching (on the Sarawak side of Malaysian Borneo) visiting slightly touristy spots: Sarawak cultural village, two caves, and orangutans. After a few stressful travel days getting here from Sabah, we were kinda worn out and needed a few days of mellowness. Fortunately our CouchSurfing host, Barry, provided a comfy place for us to crash. And we enjoyed meeting Bruno, a fellow CSer from Paris who happened to be surfing with Barry at the same time we were there. Barry, another chef, took us to some awesome off-the-beaten path Chinese restaurants in Kuching that were definitely not listed in Lonely Planet. So despite the organized tours, we felt vindicated that our Kuching stay was sufficiently authentic.

Bidayuh men display feats of strengthtraditional Bornean saron (xylophone)Day One was spent at Sarawak Cultural Village, which reminded me of Colonial Willamsburg. Composed of several different tribal longhouses clustered at the foothills of Mount Santubong, SCV is a great way to get a sampling of Sarawak's ethnic diversity. There's a cultural performance in the welcome center -- yes, it ranks pretty high on the cheese-o-meter, but it's also a handy way to check out the beautiful fabrics and distinct dances of each of the tribes represented in the village. And then you can wander through half a dozen different longhouses to see how each tribe lives. My favorites were the Penan longhouse, where Mark practiced shooting a blowpipe, and the Orang-ulu longhouse, which featured a little dude playing "Mary Had a Little Lamb" in a fornlorn minor key on both a sape and a saron.

Fairy CaveDay Two took us to the nearby Wind and Fairy Caves, which may not be as extraordinary as World Heritage-ranking Gunung Mulu, but have the benefit of being easily-reachable via daytrip from Kuching. Wind Cave, the smaller of the two, hosts lots of bats and swiftlets. Swiftlet nests, made from bird spit and random detritus, are used to make the infamous Chinese soup (and other dubious delicacies). Fairy cave features an enormous cavern, views across the border into Indonesian Borneo, and some mildly strenuous climbs into some limestone nooks and crannies.

welcome to Kuching, cat city!We also spent some time exploring Kuching, the Cat City. (Ten points if you can read the name Kuching and not automatically shout out "Ka-CHING!" which is what most people have done when we've told them about this part of the trip.) Nobody seems entirely sure why Kuching is called the Cat City, but the result is that there are myriad kitschy cat statues all over town. Fantastic Chinese restaurants as well, whether of the sit-down or street stall variety.

orangutans on second viewing platformRanger SmithWe couldn't leave Borneo without seeing some orangutans, aka the "Wild Man of Borneo." There are two major orangutan rehab centers in Borneo... and no, neither of them remotely resemble the Betty Ford Clinic. We missed seeing Sepilok, which is near Sandakan in Sabah. So we wanted to make sure we visited Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, just outside Kuching. There are two main viewing platforms where orangutans gather to be fed by the Malaysian equivalent of Ranger Smith. Personally I found the ranger's splendid mullet almost as fascinating as the antics of the orangutans he was feeding. Even though it was a sanitized environment, it was still pretty cool to see these fascinating creatures at close range.


RECOMMENDED:
Sarawak Cultural Village
Pantai Damai, Santubong
Sarawak, Malaysia

Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre
Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia

Posted by sonia at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments


30 November 2008
Emerging from the jungle

We spent our Thanksgiving in the Bornean jungle on the banks of the river Kinabatangan. After two days of mucking around in mud up to our knees, with ants in our pants, amidst many monkeys, we're pretty happy to return to (relative) civilization here in Kota Kinabalu. Yesterday we spent the day on a 10-hour bus ride from Sandakan to KK. The scenery was amazing, but as you can imagine it was a long journey. Today we're catching a flight to Sarawak state, the other half of Malaysian Borneo, to couchsurf in Kuching for the last few days of our trip.

At the moment, we're pretty glad to *not* be in Bangkok or Mumbai! Things are pretty mellow in Malaysia (fingers crossed) and we wish safe passage to our fellow travelers in these troubled areas.

Posted by sonia at 10:00 AM | Link | 2 comments
28 November 2008
Schadenfreude in the jungle
a most unusual "Black Friday," indeed

Sungai Kinabatangan at sunriseWe got up early -- really, REALLY early -- for a morning river cruise. While it was moderately pleasant to be skimming along the river in the misty morning, we didn't really see a whole lot. In exchange for getting up at 5am? Sorry, not thick enough.

this plant could either kill you, or cure cancerAfter brekkie, the day's main event: a 3-hour hike to Oxbow Lake. We donned the abominable boots, slathered on the sunscreen and skeeter cream, and filled up the water bottle. We were mostly in the shade of the forest, but it was still beastly hot and ridiculously humid. Our fearless leader, Jungle Jay, spent a lot of time explaining which plants were poisonous and which were medicinal. We even tasted a few. Yvonne, who turned out to be quite the diva, gave him a hard time at every turn, grumbling about having to taste random plants and complaining about the heat. Mark and I marveled that she would have signed up for two solid days of this... shouldn't she be off in some spa somewhere getting a mud wrap, as opposed to slogging through mud up to her ankles?

Yvonne hits a minor snagWell, as it turned out, she got a bit more mud than she'd bargained for. In one hilarious moment of jungle schadenfreude -- I'm so totally going to hell in a handbasket -- we were crossing a particularly moist meadow. Somehow Jay and the Swedes managed to lithely skirt the huge puddle in the middle, but Yvonne got herself completely stuck. Knee-deep in the muck, she stood mewling and making faces and calling out for *someone* to help rescue her. I was the closest person, but I couldn't resist snapping as many pics as possible. Meanwhile Jay doubled back and pulled her out, but not before she nearly lost a boot to the mire. She was pretty annoyed at me. It was totally worth it.

proboscis monkeyWe made it to Oxbow Lake and back in time for another tastier-than-expected lunch, and then a free afternoon to rinse off the mud and chillax a bit. And then -bam!- another river cruise at 4pm. No rest for the wicked. For the first ten minutes or so, we saw nothing. Despair! Would this be a completely critterless day? But then we were rewarded. First a huge cluster of proboscis monkeys, and then a group of long-tail macaques. Up close and personal! Kickass. It was great fun to watch them do their monkey thang: swinging, chattering, grooming each other. Good stuff. And a nice alternative to a day when our compatriots back home were swarming the malls for Black Friday bargains.

 

Posted by sonia at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments
27 November 2008
You know where you are? You're in the jungle, baby!
Thanksgiving in Kinabatangan

We spent our Thanksgiving in a slightly non-traditional way. After rising early to catch the only bus out of Semporna, and enjoying an uneventful 4.5-hour bus ride through eastern Borneo, we got dumped off at the side of the road next to the Medan Selera Coffeehouse in Bukit Garam. This was the appointed rendezvous spot where the good folks at Nature Lodge Kinabatangan had promised to pick us up. One problem: this might have been the former location of said coffee shop, but it was clearly closed due to construction. And none of the locals hanging around the disheveled strip mall had any idea what we were talking about. So we hung out at the one open restaurant across the street and hoped for the best. Along the way, we picked up a trio of confused-looking Swedes, who'd just gotten off the bus from Kota Kinabalu and had received the same enigmatic instructions from the lodge. Happily, misery (aka confusion plus stultifying heat) loves company. It's always better to be lost with someone else!

Fortunately, the Nature Lodge folks did eventually happen along, and whisked us away for an hourlong journey to the lodge that included off-roading over a bumpy dirt path and then a quick boat ride across the mighty Kinabatangan river. And, finally, we'd arrived!

Nature Lodge Kinabatangan, main buildingKinabatangan posseNature Lodge Kinabatangan is a pleasant, rustic cluster of buildings along the banks of the river. There's a main lodge that houses the kitchen and open-air dining room, a dorm cabin, shared toilets, and several smaller cabins sprinkled throughout the property. The staff are friendly (like almost all Malays, if you don't count cabbies) and energetic. We'd signed up for the two-day package, which turned out to be a highly-structured series of morning boat rides, midday hikes, and a night walk or two. Normally such precise agendas are not the way we prefer to experience a place, but trekking with professional guides seemed like the best option for wildlife-spotting. So, after a quick moment to freshen up and dump our bags, we trooped back to the boat dock for our first guided boat ride. Our crew consisted of "Jungle Jay," our sprightly and knowledgeable guide; Carolina, Josefin, and Emma, the three jovial 20something Swedes; a sardonic German woman named Yvonne; and a pungent Czech dude called something like Hamze or Janze. (I never did quite catch his name. He'd been traveling for the better part of two years and clearly relished hanging out with wildlife much more than conversation with other people.) We piled into the boat and set off down the mighty, muddy Sungai Kinabatangan.

look, some brown blobs in a tree!cruisin' the KinabatanganAt first we didn't see anything besides a few other resorts, tastefully set back from the shoreline. But eventually long-tailed macaques and proboscis monkeys availed themselves. Many brown-blob-in-a-tree photos were snapped. Jay proved adept at spotting hornbills and other birds, as well as monkeys and the occasional lizard along the river banks. I have to admit, after three days of diving in the world's most stunning aquarium, and seeing all manner of sea creatures at arm's length, it was a bit anticlimactic to have to pull out a pair of binoculars to see the jungle wildlife. We'd clearly been spoiled.

bewildered tarsierAfter another quick break and a surprisingly tasty dinner of fresh fish, it was time for the night hike. We donned some nasty rubber boots -- the jungle equivalent of bowling shoes, bleccch -- and our best long pants/long sleeves garb to discourage leeches. Bug spray, check. Flashlights, check. OK, let's go see some nightlife! Mostly we saw some bigass bugs -- scorpions, enormous grasshoppers, a shaggy caterpillar -- but we also lucked into a tarsier spotting. Feet like a frog, 180-degree turning head like an owl, giant creepy eyes like a space alien, tarsiers are funky little nocturnal primates. They jump between trees to catch bugs and sometimes even birds. We were fortunate enough to surprise one with a high-powered flashlight and it stayed in one place long enough for everyone to snap some great photos. And then, in a flash, it bounced away without touching the ground once. Freaky-deaky.

suited up to trudge through the slurmNo leeches spotted on this trip, despite everyone's paranoia. Really, the most disturbing part of the night hike was the hideous slurping sucking sound our boots made in the ever-present jungle slurm. Lovely. The fact that we couldn't see much made it even worse. Plus it was hot and mercilessly humid. By the end of the hourlong hike, we were well ready for bed. 'Twas an interesting alternative to overeating turkey and carbs with some inane football game in the background, I tell ya what. Happy Thanksgiving!

 

RECOMMENDED:
Nature Lodge Kinabatangan
Sabah, Malaysian Borneo
(book through Nasalis Larvatus Tours)

Posted by sonia at 12:00 AM | Link | 2 comments
24 November 2008
Knick-knack, PADI-whack
scuba time, and the living is easy
Apa khabar from Semporna, Sabah, on Malaysian Borneo! We're here for a few days to bask in total scubaliciousness and dive at some of the world's top sites. We also decided to go ahead and get our Advanced certifications while we're here (what better place to do it?) which is a fairly simple thing since we've already got our basic Open Water certifications. So far we've done one day of diving (three dives) and it's been absolute heaven. Stay tuned, more to come...
Posted by sonia at 8:55 PM | Link | 0 comments