The last 2 days have been pretty action packed! On wednesday John met us at the rest house at about half 9 and we took the hour and a half bus journey to the Gomanong caves made famous by the harvest of the birds nests to make birds nest soup. The hour and a half drive was pretty sobering, it became shockingly evident just how much of this beautiful country has been converted to oil palm plantations. At most points throughout the journey all we could see was oil palms for miles with the occasional pocket of rainforest. Although the oil palm plantations may look more aestetically pleasing than clear-felled land I had to remind myself that ultimately its just as bad because nothing can live in the plantations with the exception of rats and wild dogs.
When we arrived at Gomanong a short boardwalk through the forest brought us to the cave mouth. It was fairly well lit and you could see the rickety ladders that are used to climb to the top of the cave and harvest the birds nest - rather them than me thats all I can say! We walked along a boardwalk inside the cave as the bat droppings are so deep, at one point we walked on top of a huge mound of bat crap (following in the footsteps of Sir Dave) absolutely seething with cockroaches, it wasn't really recogniseable as poo as it had been so well decomposed but I can't even begin to imagine how deep it was! We walked around the outside of the cave and saw thousands of swiftlets flitting in and out and looked up and saw the great wooly horseshoe bats hanging from the roof of the cave, we saw one poor baby bat close to the floor of the cave that had evidently been separated I could only hope that it would be found by its mother, which isn't too far fetched when you think that a mother and baby bat can recognise each others' calls out of a group of thousands. We also saw huge swarms of cockroaches and even a scutigerid (long-legged cave scorpion) which was one of the most awesomely creepy things I've ever seen! Outside the cave we found a green agamnid lizard which was beautiful! On the walk back to the bus through the forest we came across some red leaf monkeys which were amazing to watch!
Another half hour or so in the bus and we arrived at the Kinabatangan, we sat around and played cards for a while waiting for the boats to arrive at half 3. The river cruise was awesome! The scenery was stunning and we saw wild Proboscis monkeys, a wild pig with 2 piglets, a kingfisher, several cattle egrets and some huge birds in flight that I can only assume were storks. Another of the groups even glimpsed a baby crocodile sliding into the water!
On the way back the guy driving the boat got a call, said something in Malay to John and we sped of, I had a hunch we might be seeing elephants and 15 minutes later my speculations proved right! There was a cluster of tourist boats around the bank watching the elephants and although we didn't have a great view we could see them browsing on the grass and even at a distance see how much smaller they are than African or Asian elephants. When the tourists left John leapt off the boat and beckoned us to follow, when we got onto the shore we could see the group of 5 pygmy elephants perfectly, they completely ignored us and seemed not perturbed by our presence in the slightest despite having a tiny baby with them! I don't know how long we stayed and watched them for but it was incredible, at one point we were crouched in the bushes just 5 metres from the group, which I must be honest made me a bit uncomfortable - they may be pygmy elephants but I still wouldn't want to get into a fight with one! When they eventually left the clearing we were all on a total high, my hands didn't stop shaking for about half an hour! It really was a(nother) totally incredible day!
On Thursday Charmaine, Georgie, Annabel went to the Proboscis moneky sanctuary at Labuk bay. The drive was another interesting experience, it was only 23km away but took about an hour as in some places the roads were still being built! At one point a digger had to actually come and flatten out the road so Abdul could drive the van over it! We got to the sanctuary which is just 100m from the sea (although you would never have guessed it as the forest is so thick) and spoke to the gentleman that ran the place (he had kindly let us in free as we were with the Sabah Wildlife Department which I felt quite guilty about!). He told us that the monkeys ate only the young leaves of the mangrove trees but they fed them on a diet of unsweetened pancakes and cucumber (which Annabel and I sampled!). We also learnt that in addition to being used for sexual selection and communication (the male signals when he is 'in the mood' bu wiggling his nose and if the female is 'in the mood' she will reciprocate) the proboscis monkeys huge noses were used as snorkels!
At about half 11 the rangers called the 3 family groups over to the 3 different feeding platforms (calling 'Aaaay' which sounds like the honking noise the males make). They may seem comical to look at with their huge noses and giant stomachs (they need the huge gut to properly digest all the mangrove leaves) and the males permanant erections(!) but they are incredibly agile leaping huge distances between trees. After the feeding one of the rangers took us down the old board walk through the mangroves which was now closed to tourists, again our travellers t-shirts came in useful!
On the way back we stopped off at mile 16 for some lunch, which was delicious and only RM5 (less than a pound!).
At about 4 o'clock the others arrived back from mile 4 and a group of us took the 20 minute walk to the rainforest discovery centre (where we had found Ellen the released Orang-Utan earlier in the week) where we walked around the botanical gardens and then did the canopy walk - a walk at about 25m high through the rainforest canopy - one of the only places in the rainforest where you can watch the sun set!
In the evening Alice, Selina, Katie and I went to the jungle resort for some drinks with Julie and the film crew, then we came back and had some drinks with the rest of the group and the rangers, it was yet another very funny night! Everyone except Annabel and I have gone either to the Sabah hotel or to Sandakan but me and Annabel are going to go back to the outdoor nursery today to see our Orang-Utan friends again! I miss Austin and all the others so much!