Elephant time!

Warning: this post may induce squealing and proclamations of “Aw!! Elephants!!”

For my Asian Elephant experience, I chose not to ride the elephants, but to go visit them in a preserve that’s dedicated to providing a safe haven for elephants that have suffered from exceptionally hard lives: Elephant Nature Park.

Elephants play an interesting role in Thai culture. They are the national symbol of Thailand, and have long been used in religious ceremonies and art, for transportation and logging, and most recently for tourism. Logging was made illegal in Thailand in the late 80s, meaning that those mahouts (handlers, companions and owners) with elephants once involved in logging were placed in the desperate situation of needing to care for these massive animals, which eat 300 kilos of fruit and veggies per day, without a job. There were extremely limited options: illegal logging on the Burmese border; breeding camps; trekking camps for tourists to ride the elephants; and begging in city streets with your elephant.

So the elephants definitely get the short end of the stick here. Working elephants are considered domestic animals and have no protections despite being a part of a seriously endangered species; it is the sole responsibility of the mahout to care for the animal. Many cities have made begging illegal, but in others, elephants are exposed to car pollution and occasionally hit by cars, the stress and noise of a big city, and malnutrition. Logging and trekking can lead to serious injury, and mothers barely get time off when they give birth; offspring must follow their mothers through the days work without breaks to be fed. Occasionally there will be a lucky break, and the ENP will be able to buy the suffering elephant.

I was with a group of 9 visiting the park on a sunny, beautiful morning. We first got to breakfast with the elephants. That is, elephants wandered over to the visitor building, and we got to feed them watermelon, pumpkin and bananas. The elephant I fed was named Lucky.

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She was purchased from a circus earlier this year, and is blind in both eyes from the bright spotlights used there. Because she can’t see, you have to guide her trunk to the food, placing the fruit into the space just behind the trunk opening. Lucky then curls her trunk around the fruit and inserts it in her mouth, crushing it with a juicy smack. You will be coated in elephant trunk drippings.

We walked all over the park, meeting some of the 30 elephants living there. They are given fairly free range, but are accompanied by mahouts (walking beside, and none use a bull hook or even a stick) to help avoid any issues. We came upon Mintra and her 9-day old calf, Yindee, hanging out with auntie in a shady shed. While we fed mom some juicy fruit, baby had breakfast too.

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This is Mintra’s first calf. She’s suffered from hip problems likely from being hit by a car, and is nervous about nursing due to an old chest injury. When the little one startled, we caught a glimpse of protective maternal instinct: immediately, auntie and mom shielded baby between them. The scare didn’t last long, and soon the little fuzzy guy was out to play again.

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Look at that smiling face!!

Elephants are social creatures, and the park has many family groups and friend pairs that have formed. We met Dani and Lucky at breakfast; the family group of Malai Tong (a land mine victim), Dok Ngern and her 5 mo calf Dok Mai, and Sri Nuan swimming in the river;

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and Tilly and Jokia making their way down to the river bank for a bath.

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Tilly on the right, and Jokia

Jokia’s story is one of the most heart-wrenching in the park: she is blind in both eyes from mahout mistreatment. She was a logging elephant, and miscarried while working at nearly full term of pregnancy, and Jokia never had the chance to check to see if the baby survived. She became depressed, and when she wouldn’t get up to work, her mahout shot a slingshot into her eye to force her. At another time, she became angry at the mahout and swung her trunk to hit him. He in turn blinded her other eye with a bull hook- a blind elephant is more docile, and swings can be avoided. Jokia was eventually sold to the ENP.

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She looks so sad, but she has a good home here, and great elephant friends

I got to spend several minutes just talking to her and rubbing her trunk and jaw to scratch itches as she leaned into my hand in pleasure. When I went to move away, she followed and pressed her trunk to my hand again. It was the best part of the day, being in intimate contact with this wonderful lady and getting to provide some small comfort.

Bath time was a lot of fun- splashing water all over the elephants (and each other!) while they trumpeted in the river. Lucky was our customer again, and while she doesn’t like to be touched (remnant of treatment in the circus), she does enjoy a good bath!

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Banana snack during bath time

Immediately afterwards, the elephants cover themselves with dirt again as a natural sunscreen and bug repellant- so much for the clean feeling!

We just spent the afternoon watching life on the preserve: family groups eating together, including 10 mo male Navaan;

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It’s hard to tell who mom is, the family is so close knit

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some feisty elephant behavior;

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one more chance to feed them.

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The family group with 10 mo old Navaan

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Little 5 mo old Dok Mai gets some watermelon from her mahout

I found I didn’t really need to climb on their backs to have an experience with these creatures that I will never forget.

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Saying hello to Mae Perm, the park’s 90-year-old grandma!

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I canoe, can you?

It’s not often you call up a tour company, which you’d located 5 minutes before on TripAdvisor, and get to talk to the person who started the industry in Thailand; better yet, he decides that he needs to get out of the office and he’ll come on your trip himself. Such was the case with John Gray Sea Canoe in Phuket- John “Caveman” Gray, so nicknamed because he has relentlessly explored many of the sea caves found in the islands of Phang Nga Bay and started the first kayaking ecotour group here, agreed to take me out on an overnight kayaking trip! John is a big guy with a ponytail and a white Santa beard, age 68 with arthritis in his thumbs from paddling and picking up ~9000 trash bags of floating litter, and knees suffering from a life time of rugby enthusiasm, but that doesn’t stop him for an instant.

We started on the Hong Starlight trip out of Phuket, on a large boat stocked with inflatable kayaks shared between 2 tourists and 1 paddling guide; John and I were ferried by Tiger into the hongs. A hong is the name for a hollowed out limestone island only accessible by a sea cave. Yup, Phang Nga Bay has some pretty amazing geology.
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The islands that scatter the bay were once limestone ridge lines, up thrust by tectonic movement. Rain gradually eroded these giants from the top down- pools of slightly acidic rain water dissolved the limestone, slowly hollowing out the hongs and separating the ridge into island chains.
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The ocean simultaneously helped to carve sea caves, and on numerous islands, these provide a passage inside.
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The guides have to be on top of things timing-wise to access the sea caves- too high a tide means the cave is blocked, while too low can mean not enough water to paddle through.

We visited Diamond hong first, named for a stalactite structure inside that sparkled with calcite crystals. We had to lay down on the kayak floor to get under the cave roof, but the cave then opens to an amazing, isolated pool surrounded by great limestone cliffs. Jungle grows up the 500 ft walls of the hong, and mangroves with great aerial roots scatter the lagoon. A family of crab-eating macaques (monkeys) was perched in the trees, watching the visitors. While this species can swim, there are likely species that were isolated here by rising oceans, creating a lost world. But instead of dinosaurs, you see monitor lizards – close enough! We also saw egrets, Brahminy kites, and mud skippers (crazy fish with lungs that live in shallow mangrove swamps).
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Brahminy kite

The tour took us to two other hong systems that night, and fed us a wonderful Thai dinner. We learned a bit about Thai culture, making our own krathongs- beautiful Buddist traditional offerings made from banana tree trunk slices decorated with palm leaves, flowers, candles and incense.
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After an incredible sunset, we floated into Bat Cave hong (yes, there were bats all over the high cave ceilings!), lit our krathongs and set them afloat in the lagoon, with wishes for health and happiness. We paddled back through the cave accompanied only by the light of blue bioluminescent dinoflagellates (algae!)- a pretty magnificent sight!
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Sunset outside the Bat Cave hong

Since I would be staying to paddle with John and the guides the next day too, we were dropped off on a beach on one of the islands, where nice big REI tents and a campfire awaited us. I got to chat with John late into the night, hearing some of his life adventures (boogie boarding at Black’s beach in San Diego and almost getting hit by a tire someone rolled off the cliffs above; planning ecotourism throughout Hawaii and Southeast Asia, winning the Smithsonian Environmental Award for his work; showing the princess of Thailand some of the beauty of the bay, and her subsequent action to prevent the building of an oil refinery in it). John told me that when he started kayaking into hongs, he was asked WHY he wanted to go paddle around these islands and explore the caves, no one knows what’s in there. John said, “Exactly.”
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Round these parts, he’s known as Ling Yai, Thai for Big Monkey

John took me to two of his favorite hongs the next day: Talin and Hong Yai. We had to take a fast longtail boat to get to these, but there was not another soul around. I led the way into the cave marking the Hong Yai entrance, and grinned for the rest of the trip!
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Entrance to Hong Yai, before we even see the cave

What a place! This hong extends through the heart of the island for about 2km of purely still, lush jungle solitude- broken only by three bright yellow kayaks and the soft splash of paddles. We snuck up on a family of dusky langurs (more monkeys!) – the best sighting John has had of these, they just sat in the trees and watched us float below. I really hope some of my pics come out, I just can’t do it justice.

And Talin was its equal. This klong (not a hong, because it wasn’t separated by a cave; more of a canal) wove deep into the cliffs, each turn hiding a new secluded pool…I was just blown away.

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Longtail boat with Talin limestone island in the background

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We returned to Phuket late that afternoon, exhausted and sunburnt and exhilarated.

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I sunburnt my lips- not so good when all the food is spicy!

To have had the original explorer of some of these places as my own personal guide, and to get to see areas most tourists (heck, most Thais!) don’t know exist was just thrilling! I haven’t written this post before now because I couldn’t get it into words. But I hope you get a small sense of Phang Nga Bay from these pics, and should you ever get the chance to paddle with Ling Yai- don’t miss it!

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Give us more from Singapore!

I have to append my last post a bit, and not leave you all thinking that Singapore is all about food (it has an equal devotion to SHOPPING!!).

One of my days took me to the Singapore Botanic Gardens and the National Orchid Garden. You haven’t seen orchids til you see them here! They grow naturally in the trees in this climate (they are a type of epiphyte, a plant that grows on another tree with no effect on the host), so cultivating beautiful varieties uses the natural heat and humidity to great effect. I understand perfectly now why an orchid gifted to me is a dead orchid- San Diego was not a humid environment, and I am a terrible tree host 😉 Anyway, this garden has magnificent stands of orchids in every color, arranged in gorgeous displays of color, size and style. I’m sorry I don’t have iPhone photos to share 😦

But even more impressive than the orchids was Gardens by the Bay.

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The Bay South Garden

This garden, out on the outer edge of the marina reservoir with the impressive Marina Bay Sands resort, blew me away!!

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Marina Bay Sands

They have ‘super trees’ as a eye catching lure: 25-50 m metal structures covered in plants, working to not only produce oxygen but to collect rain water for irrigation, supply solar power and serve as air intake and exhaust for the giant bio domes, the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest.

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A super tree forest

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Me on the Skywalk, 22m up in the super trees, with the Cloud Forest Dome behind

The Flower Dome featured buds and trees from 6 of 7 continents (not air conditioned enough to simulate Antarctica)- they do have eucalyptus, Mediterranean olive trees and baobabs. But the shining star for me was the Cloud Forest. Inside this dome was a 7 level mountain with a jutting waterfall and a climate like a tropical cloud rainforest (3300-9800ft elevation) of Costa Rica or Mount Kinabalu in Borneo, including the cool ethereal mists.

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The mountain has aerial walkways at the top and a middle level, offering some crazy views and maybe a little vertigo…

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The mountain itself was an array of bromeliads and rain forest flora, including pitcher plants and Venus fly traps.

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115ft waterfall

It had a geology display in the center about the formation of crystals and stalagmites, and the secret garden on the ground floor featuring New Zealand plants. It was missing the fauna, but still- a cloud forest in a snow globe, in Singapore, is very cool!

Last thing I want to mention so you know the uniqueness of Singapore. They have THIS as a mascot:

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The Merlion!

Sepilok Nature Preserve

I have had the most amazing two days in the Sepilok nature preserve just outside of Sandakan.

Sepilok is a major tourist draw for the orangutan rehabilitation center there, where orphaned apes are retrained to survive in the wild. The apes here are considered semi-wild, meaning that they have the 4300 hectare preserve to roam, but the center does set out food for them twice a day to supplement their foraging…and visitors can come watch them eat. My first trip to the viewing platform (about 30ft from the feeding platform, which has ropes leading to it from several directions out of the forest) I got to see 5 young orangutans come to feast.

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A male orangutan will stay with its mother for ~6 years, and a female until she is a teen, learning about child care and helping to raise siblings. This is reported to be the longest childhood in the animal kingdom (after humans, of course). Here are the five orangutans swinging away after the meal- the acrobatics they perform and the positions they hang in are ridiculous!

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Long- and pig-tailed macaques show up afterwards to finish the fruit.

The afternoon feeding was even better: 8 orangutans! Two were the larger males at the the center, and you could tell their dominance by the way some of the other apes fled to wait up a safe and distant rope as soon as these two appeared.

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They were in command of the platform, and got the choice watermelon. At the end of the feeding, the human workers brought out a bucket with what looked like milk, and poured it into a large tray for the apes to share. One lucky ape asked for and received the bucket to drink from, sticking his head in deep with his rump in the air. A jealous buddy took the bucket next, trying to pour the last remaining drops into his mouth. All the apes hung around for an hour in the trees surrounding the viewing platform, and we got to see some playing and wrestling while hanging upside down.

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The next day, I called up the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center and asked if I could come visit, mentioning a friend of mine from Lewis and Clark and the Australia trip, Jocelyn Stokes. Jocelyn has been working with the BSBCC and helping their efforts (in fact she’s coming back to Borneo later this month to spend a year researching bears!), and got me interested in the facility. This center isn’t open to the public yet, but are fundraising to get their facilities open ( you can help them out at sunbears.wildlifedirect.org) They were very friendly and kindly offered to give me a view as a friend of a volunteer.

Gloria, a BSBCC member and fellow biologist who did her masters on bird population survival in secondary rainforests before joining the sun bear movement, met me to take me into the private facility. Before she arrived, I saw my first wild rhinocerous hornbill fly through the forest and perch on a tree. They are huge! I knew then it was going to be a great day, and I hadn’t even seen bears yet! Some of the pics I’ll share are from the BSBCC Facebook
page.

The BSBCC currently cares for 28 bears, many of which were rescued from lives as illegally kept pets. They are working with the bears to rehabilitate them back into semi-wild forest living, developing natural behaviors including foraging and digging, climbing and nesting. We walked up to the viewing platform overlooking a portion of the forest in which the sub-adults (2-3 years) start to independently explore. Right there, standing on her back legs looking up at us was a sunbear! These smallest of bears have a distinctive yellow U on their chests- like a fingerprint, these are different for each individual. She showed off her tree climbing skills for us, scrambling nimbly up the trunk to tear off bark with her long curved claws, then sliding down as easily as a fireman down a pole.

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She was soon joined by two other females, snuffling about on the forest floor, and they were provided with a lunch of fruits, thrown and scattered in the forest to encourage foraging. As we stood and watched, no fewer than 6 sub-adults (5 females and 1 male) wandered by! Gloria explained that some of the bears show excellent progress and rerelease potential, but some have been too exposed to human life and are too trusting of people to go back to the wild.

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One subadult we saw had been the pet of a little girl, allowed into bed and cuddled. I can understand why you want to just pick one up and cuddle it (they are so fluffy), but mostly I’m in disbelief that people try to keep wild animals as pets. In the forest next to the sub-adults, a mature male bear also made an appearance.

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Sadly, he is not a candidate for release as he spent too long with humans and doesn’t know how to climb, but it offered a chance to see a full grown bear. After foraging for dinner, all the young bears ascended into trees for a nap. There was play fighting as four youngsters tried to be in the same tree, with the bear in the middle trapped with no place to go, up or down. Eventually, with much growling and barking, they worked out their proper positions.

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It was awesome to get to see these creatures, and learn about the efforts to save them from the dangers of deforestation and human desire to own them. Gloria and the other BSBCC members taught me a lot.

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The efforts of the BSBCC and the Sepilok Orangutan Rehab Center made me think about the double edged sword of tourism in a place like Malaysia. It provides a great chance for education and lets people see and become interested in an animal that they otherwise wouldn’t get to, and contributes money to the cause of preservation and conservation of biodiversity (money to combat the big money involved in palm oil plantation farming leading to deforestation). But with an influx of tourism comes a rise in animal exploitation for money. Anything that can make a buck. Some places are for profit, not for animal preservation – I felt that way about Jong’s Crocodile Farm in Kuching (I didn’t go to it because of that). And the advertising for these preserves is relentless, parking lots packed with tour buses. Even the Sepilok Orangutan center charges for bringing a camera. What’s the best way to educate but not treat the animals as a cash cow? I think the groups in Sepilok are trying, by limiting exposure of the animals, and using the large natural forest preserve to keep the semi-wild behavior. And the folks I met certainly care about their mission.

But a related challenge is involving the locals in preservation efforts- the money from tourism comes largely from outside Malaysia. Gloria told me that many locals don’t know there are laws prohibiting hunting and keeping of bears and orangutans- a goal of the center is local education on why species should be protected. But looking around, jobs and money are probably pretty scarce and largely in service or industry- tour bus driver or maybe guide, food services and hospitality, small shop owner, mechanic, palm oil farmer. A good crop of palm oil would bring the most money, and with it security and ability to feed your family. Survival of the sun bears is probably far from your mind.

I don’t have an answer. I’m not trying to survive and raise a family in Malaysia, I am privileged to be here on a vacation. For my part, I tried to put my money behind the responsible conservation groups. But other options are cheaper, and that’s a huge deciding factor for many visitors. I cannot just think, “Well, I saw sun bears- cross that off the list and never think about it again. So what if they are fated to extinction- I got my satisfaction.” I want the opportunity to continue to exist for others, or even better, the chance for an encounter in the wild forests of Borneo.

How do you balance preservation and survival in a country where the two major contributors to GDP and the livelihood of the people (tourism and oil) are in such conflict? How do we save the earth we need for the future while so many struggle to survive in the now?

Scuba diving in Borneo (!!!!)

It was a dark and stormy day on the Sulu Sea off the northeast coast of Borneo, and Lankayan Island was being dowsed in wind-driven rain.

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Out at the edge of the reef, the deeper sea was whipped to white caps. I thought maybe it would die down as the day progressed, and there was a hint of lessening in the clouds, but there was no way I was going to pass on this diving! Besides, when you’re going to be UNDER the ocean, water from the sky doesn’t really matter, right?

The rough seas made getting to and from the dive sites pretty miserable- crashing from the top of one wave into the trough of the next, with swells 4-6ft, and wind spraying the saltwater right into your face. As soon as the boat secures to the anchored buoy, everyone scrambles for their gear (quick aircheck! quick bcd inflation!) then falls backward off the boat and grabs the line. Ready? Descend! Faster you can get below the surface, the better. And getting back onto the boat was tough (getting out is easy- just fall!), as the boat pitched on the sea. The diving was still the best I’ve seen…though I know for a fact that the same conditions in San Diego would cancel your dive.

I went on two dives at Lankayan on Sunday (a total of three at the island, including Saturday’s orientation dive), and the volume of fish and creatures as well as the diversity is astounding! I saw numerous lionfishes with their quilled fins displayed, two black tipped reef sharks, a handful of eels, a very large lobster hidden in a coral crevasse, spotted and striped shrimp, stingrays and half a dozen different species of nudibranchs!

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And the fish!!!! The fish were so plentiful and colorful, I really didn’t know where to look. Here, dozens of tiny electric blue fish flitting through a staghorn coral; there, a pair of anemone fish (like Nemo!) guarded their home. Red checkerboard fish with enormous dark eyes were quick to scoot under the protection of an overhang, while boxfish and two pufferfishes bobbed along (they do look pretty vacuous and yet jolly), and wrasse and parrotfish wove their way through the coral forest (and it was a forest- healthy and colorful, with numerous slow-growing varieties like giant brain coral). When I could pull my attention from the reef, schools of bigger fish with bright yellow tails were passing (not tuna, but maybe some amberjack?). Some I recognized from the Birch Aquarium- damselfish, moorish idols, butterflyfish- and some like the batfish or the devil scorpionfish, camouflaged and immobile on a rock, I hadn’t seen before.

I am a huge fan of seaslugs or nudibranchs (nudis for short), thanks to the fantastic array of colors and shapes they come in (there seems to be a nudi craze amongst divers recently- maybe just because they move slowly and are easy and rewarding to photograph). I can see no real reason for the crazy diversity- I don’t believe that these slugs are poisonous, and color does attract predation. Maybe it’s for mate attraction, and maybe they just taste like slimy salt jelly and no one wants to eat them, so they can look as pretty as they’d like? The tumblr wtfevolution is pretty good at speculating why the heck creatures look as they do… Anyway, for this, I’ve scoured Google for pictures to match the memory (turns out nudipixel.net is not a naughty site!)

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My first, probably Chromodoris leopardus

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Phyllidia varicosa

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Chromodoris kuniei

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These two are similar looking, Chelidonura varians and Chromodoris annae

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Phyllidiella nigra

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Phyllidia coelestis

Some of them look very similar, so maybe I only saw half as many species, but there were so many slugs out there!

The nicest thing after the dives was returning to my private chalet for a lovely warm shower 🙂

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Chalet number 7, with a patio to the sea (taken in The sunshine of the day before).

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No beautiful sunset tonight, but this island is a pretty special and magical place to be!

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(Reception and dining hall are straight down the board walk; dive center and jetty to the right)

Welcome to the Jungle!

I’ve gone on a couple jungle treks now, and an orangutan adventure. Bako national park was first, a quick boat ride down the crocodile-infested Santubong River to a beach landing on the shore of the South China Sea, accompanied by a guide and two Danes from the resort. Sculpted sandstone cliffs rose all around the beach, draped in vines and tall precariously growing jungle.

I’m afraid I don’t have iPhone pics of the critters we saw in Bako: wild pigs, mangrove swamps full of brilliant blue crabs and mudskippers, tree crabs and alarmingly large spiders. A few highlights, tho, were two Ranger Pit Vipers (lime green tree snakes with jewel blue stripes marking the female), a sleeping flying lemur (like a flying squirrel these night dwellers glide from tree to tree on wing-like skin flaps), and monkeys!
The largest monkeys, the Proboscis monkeys (called that for the large bulbous nose on a male), were leaping and crashing thru the trees in the jungle, snacking on new leaves.

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Our guide called them Dutch monkeys- the name in Iban language roughly translates as such- something about Dutch explorers having large noses that they stuck into the natives business.
The silver leaf monkeys came down for their leaf feast to within a meter of where we stood! The troupe had 9-10 members, including two mothers and their babies. The babies were younger than 6 months, distinguished by their bright orange fur. The moms were none too gentle with them, manhandling them every which way. But can you get cuter than teensy baby monkeys!? Not much!

One thing that really struck me about the jungle was the perfume of the forest. I’d expected decay of leaf matter, and it’s there. But there was also the deep scent of earth, the rich woody smell of mushrooms, the musk and amber incense of several types of trees that are actually used for the incense found in churches, and light floral whiffs from unseen flowers. Pretty amazing combo!

I trekked the next day on Mount Santubong, in search of the hornbill that’s the symbol of Sarawak. I could hear them squawking and croaking , and crashing around in the canopy- but no sighting. I heard all kinds of song birds- the jungle is noisy with different calls and cicadas that sound like dental drills. This songbird is a greater racket-tailed Drongo (thanks, Google!).

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I saw flying stick insects and countless butterflies and moths in yellows, oranges and iridescent blue.

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Lizards darted everywhere- skinks, little green ones that ran on their back legs, bouncy red brown ones.

And there were some crazy varieties of mushrooms! There’s a fungus among us…and it might outnumber us…

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Malaysians don’t seem to believe in switchbacks- to go up a mountain, you just go straight up. Sometimes they put in ropes to help you out.

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I did better at the ropes than the British man I ran into- he took one look at the down ropes and opted for sliding down on his butt instead.

At a waterfall I met two little frogs that got into a territorial battle with some fearsome back leg waving.

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The hike did have its downs- like when I slipped off a wet root and landed on a thick branch. Good thing I was wearing my long pants (a lesson from Australia and its heat-seeking leaches)- not a tear in the fabric, but it certainly stopped a worse injury.

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The bruise is now an oval the size of my hand, and it’s a good thing I like the color purple, since it will be with me for a while.

I finally saw my hornbill on Friday, but it’s not quite as majestic when it’s not free in the forest.

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Last adventure to this long post: orangutans! I went to the Semenggoh Natural Preserve, a 180 hectare preserve home to 27 apes (which seems fairly crowded, but it’s what space the government had).
I saw 4 apes having a morning snack. This one ate her way thru two bunches of bananas, a couple papaya, a pineapple.

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As she was munching, I suddenly saw a tiny arm flail- she was carrying a baby! She did an excellent job of protecting him (found out later it was a 3-week old boy) from the view of the observers, but we caught glimpses (in the crook of her arm).

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At the end of her meal, which she ate hanging by one arm, she climbed up a provided set up ropes to the canopy and swung away into the forest. They look pretty awkward on land, but up there, they are quite graceful.

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So the jungles of Borneo: hot, sweaty (I was soaked through), painful- totally worth it!!

Selamat datang!

Hello! I made it safely Sunday morning to the Malaysian city of Kuching, on the island of Borneo. Let me give you a rundown – Borneo by my numbers!

One full moon rise over Mount Santubong.

Somehow I warranted two large adjoining rooms, each with a spacious balcony overlooking the Pacific and the jungle, and three beds (2 queens, currently being used as closet space, and a king) – I need four or five friends to share this with!

Number of times I ate a noodle dish between leaving LA on Friday and arriving Sunday: six

There are seven peoples that live around Kuching: the Bidayuh, Iban, Penan, Orang Ulu, Melanau, Malay and Chinese. At the Sarawak Cultural Center, I saw traditional dances, long houses, and I tried my hand (or mouth) at the blow dart gun. I’m pretty good…

Eight geckos have been running around my patios and walls (and many more all over!), eating my mosquitos. These little guys, called chicha locally, make little chirps and are good luck, but I can’t help thinking, “What do you call a fried gecko?” Chicharones!

Nine has become my bedtime here, so I can get up early for jungle trekking (proboscis monkeys!). I’ll write more on that next time….
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