Sarawak, Borneo: a land of paradoxes

Borneo – the land of hornbills, head-hunters, orang-utans and ‘where adventure lives’ according to many travel brochures: it could also be called the land of paradoxes.

Lots of cats … Kuching waterfront.

For instance, Kuching, capital of Sarawak, East Malaysia, means cat, but the city was not named after a cat; it has a Sunday market that’s open on Saturday (and other days) and an India Street that has very few Indian shops.

Easy to love, this walkable city has a racial mix of about 23% Malay, 25% Chinese and 49% Dayaks, the collective name for the indigenous tribes, Sarawak epitomises the tourism tagline: Malaysia, truly Asia.

Walking down Bishopgate Street to Carpenter Street I talk to a Chinese man whose family have been ‘special makers of fancy coffins’ for three generations; across the road a man’s making cake tins on the footpath; around the corner Malay women are making their famous Kek Lapis, an intricate, colourful layer cake, and alongside my waterfront accommodation, a heavily, traditionally-tattooed Iban woman, creates delicious vegetarian meals to order.

Sarawak Laksa has local pepper in it!

Like all travellers in this national geographic showpiece, I want to see the endangered orang-utan. Just out of the city, at the Semenggoh Centre, about 70 people attend the twice-daily feeding. Free to range throughout this 300-hectare (740-acre) greenbelt there is no guarantee they will come to the feeding stations. We’re also warned to obey the staff as they have no control over their charges and photos show injured workers as proof!

Sarawak .. music and orang-utans for me next month!

At the feeding station a mother and week-old baby appear: despite being told to keep quiet, it’s hard to ooh and aah quietly! They’re delightful, the mother uses all four limbs interchangeably and sometimes it’s hard to tell if it’s her feet or hands she’s hanging from. She eats numerous ‘hotel-bananas’ as the little lady-finger bananas are called by locals as ‘all hotels serve them’, and a ripple of muted laughter spreads through the camera-clicking tourists when the baby tries to take one. A radio message comes for the ranger – Richie, the huge dominant male has made one of his rare appearances at the other feeding station and one by one we return down the track to where he is feeding.

He is huge! This ‘man-of-the-jungle’ has large cheek-flaps showing he is the king of this jungle and apparently he has already dispatched one pretender to the throne. A young male also arrives for a hand-out but keeps well away from Richie. As he crosses the rope that allows them to travel high above us, he stops to stare down at us, hanging mid-air like a kid on a school jungle gym. I have to laugh; he looks as though he is showing off to us, his DNA relatives, who are not so agile. Continuing on he shimmies down a vine and rope beside the small bridge we have just crossed and is given fruit. Richie just continues eating, a solid lump of muscle sitting on his man-made wooden picnic table.

Richie

Two young women are warned to come back from the end of the viewing platform ‘until Richie leaves’ – I wouldn’t want to be in his way. He walks upright; with each step, his long hair sways just like a shampoo commercial. He stops and stares, or maybe glares, and I send a message of hope that the heart of Borneo will always be secure for him, and with one more stop and stare he strides off without a backward glance

He knows he’s safe from us physically but most travellers here are well aware of his need of our protection and, despite international concerns, it seems Sarawak is working to secure the orang-utans future, not an easy task.

Like some TV adverts say ‘but wait, there’s more’ in this fabulous area of East Malaysia: add a kayak trip from one Bidayuh village to the next; spend time at an Iban longhouse and of course, eat the delicious local food and explore the many excellent, free, museums. The three-day Rainforest World Music Festival  (10-12 July 2020– set in the Cultural Village at Damai – is a must-attend for great local and international performers. I’ve been a few times and just love it!

Rafly … everyone’s favourite at one Rainforest World Music Festival

 

Mathew – a virtuoso on the sape

Also unique to this 3rd-largest island in the world, Borneo is the Proboscis monkeys. With a long straight pale tail, they leap clumsily from tree to tree and eating young shoots of indigestible foliage which breaks down in their two stomachs. Male vanity and the need to dominate means their nose can grow to such a pendulous length they have to hold it up to eat! Other males, lower in rank, have almost human or Pinocchio shaped noses and hang out in male groups until it grows bigger and they have the chance to challenge the leader and become the head of the harem. They are easy to see at the wonderful Bako National Park.

proboscis monkey – even more endangered than the orangutan!

Borneo conjures up images of exotic adventures, an eccentric history, a White Rajah, wild animals, mystery and romance: my first travels there delivered, and I (the Kiwitravelwriter) soon returned to the land of head-hunters for even more exploring!

Borneo adventures: Orang utans

Hope to visit this Sarawak sanctuary again in July

Kiwi Travel Writer talks food, travel, and tips

It’s time for me to blog about my Borneo adventures in Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei so these orangutan are here to announce them: Food, endangered animals, music, orchids and cats, will be the first few topics covered. I will mostly write them in my travel chronological time fame, starting in Kuching and finishing in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah – a trip that took me 8 weeks.

Mum and baby .. Mum Annuar and baby ..

Only about 24 ks from Kuching, Sarawak, the Semenggoh Reserve is a must-visit place. Home to semi-wild orangutans, it was created many years ago for the rehabilitation of orphaned or rescued animals. They no longer do any ‘rehab’ work here but provide food daily for those who want, or need it. I believe they are only given bananas (largely) so they get bored and not rely on the ‘hand-outs’ but learn to eat the food in the forest.

Naturally as…

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Bachelor Boys at Orana Park. The world’s largest primates, gorillas

Orana Wildlife Park is New Zealand’s only open range zoo and as soon as I arrived I went to see ‘the boys’ – my main reason for visiting the park yet again. I have been visiting this park for many years, in fact my brother, Roger, helped with fundraising to get the park started. Some years after it started my father had to apologise for his lack of trust in the success of the project and he too loved visiting.

‘The boys’, as they are affectionately called, are three of the world’s largest primates, and Orana park is part of the international zoo based breeding program for Western Lowland gorillas: their role now is to house three of these critically endangered species. These bachelor boys are :Fataki, the silverback and half-brothers Fuzu and Mahali. (Fataki is a half-brother to Mahali too).

orana 2016-02-05 10.44.22They’re housed in the $6M Great Ape Centre – Orana’s most   ambitious project ever was completed in June 2015 just before the gorillas arrived. The habitat enables Orana to hold two species of critically endangered great apes (in separate habitats within the one complex) and the endangered Sumatran orang-utans will hopefully be transferred to Orana during 2016 – when I will return to Christchurch. Add it to your ‘bucket-list’ too.

Raising awareness on the plight of gorillas and orangutan is also a huge page of the park’s role although in the future Orana Wildlife Park hopefully may receive a breeding recommendation.

As you will possibly know threats to gorillas are primarily driven by lifestyle choices such as habitat loss due to coltan mining for electronic devices. Orana Wildlife Park has partnered with Re:Mobile, a New Zealand firm that recycles and re-markets mobile phones, reducing the demand for new handsets and the associated environmental impacts.

So, take any old mobile phone to the park when visiting and put it in the collection box so you too can help.

Orana, a registered charity, is a not-for-profit organisation, and raises 100% of funds for each new development and generating the required funds for the Great Ape Centre was a huge effort by them – well done to you all. See their website to see how you can help as a volunteer, adopt an animal, or donate.

I have more blogs to come about my recent day at Orana Park, but for now for some of my gorilla photos:

Keep up to date with the park and its inhabitants on Facebook … here is the boys shopping list.

Shopping list for vegetarians
Shopping list for vegetarians

NOTE: Many of the endangered animals at the Park do not belong to Orana Wildlife Trust but to the relevant breeding programme which makes decisions about which females are best bred with which males to ensure the most diverse gene pool possible in these captive populations. From time to time animals are moved between various zoos and parks to enhance the genetic diversity of their particular species.

*See recent posts about the quakes – an elephant in the room and one about Christchurch as it is.

See heuse IMG_6616re for more of their conservation activities

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Malaysia truly Asia: Sarawak ticks all the boxes

Malaysian Borneo – land of hornbills, head-hunters, orang-utans and ‘where adventure lives’ according to travel brochures:  Sarawak could also be called the land of paradoxes and it ticks all the boxes.

For instance, Kuching, capital of Sarawak, East Malaysia, means cat, but the city was not named after a cat; it has a Sunday market that’s open on Saturday (and other days) and an India Street that has very few Indian shops.

Easy to love, this walkable city has a racial mix of 23% Malay, 25% Chinese and about 49% Dayaks, the collective name for the indigenous ethnic groups, Sarawak epitomises the tourism tagline: Malaysia, truly Asia.

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Walking down Bishopgate Street to Carpenter Street I talk to a Chinese man whose family have been ‘special makers of fancy coffins’ for three generations; across the road a man’s making cake tins on the footpath; around the corner Malay women are making their famous Kek Lapis, an intricate, colourful layer cake, and beside my waterfront accommodation, a heavily, traditionally tattooed Iban woman, creates delicious vegetarian meals to order.

Like all travellers in this national geographic showpiece, I want to see the endangered orang-utan. Just out of the city, at the Semenggoh Centre about 70 people attend the twice daily feeding. Free to range in this 740 acre green belt there is no guarantee they will come to the feeding stations. We’re also warned to obey the staff as they have no control over their charges and photos show injured workers as proof!

At the feeding station a mother and week-old baby appear: despite being told to keep quiet, it’s hard to ooh and aah quietly! They’re delightful, the mother uses all four limbs interchangeably and sometimes it’s hard to tell if it’s her feet or hands she’s hanging from. She eats many ‘hotel-bananas’ as the little lady-finger bananas are called by locals as ‘all hotels serve them’, and a ripple of muted laughter spreads through the camera-clicking tourists when the baby tries to take one. A radio message comes for the ranger – Richie, the huge dominate male has made one of his rare appearances at the other feeding station and one by one we return down the track to where he is being fed.

He is huge! This ‘man-of-the-jungle’ has large cheek-flaps showing he is the king of this jungle and apparently he has already dispatched one pretender to the throne. A young male also arrives for a hand-out but keeps well away from Richie. As he crosses the rope that allows them to travel high above us, he stops to stare down at us, hanging mid-air like a kid on a school jungle gym. I have to laugh; he looks as though he is showing off to us, his DNA relatives, who are not so agile. Continuing on he shimmies down a vine and rope beside the small bridge we have just crossed and is given fruit. Richie just continues eating, a solid lump of muscle sitting on his man-made wooden picnic table.

Two young women are warned to come back from the end of the viewing platform ‘until Richie leaves’ – I wouldn’t want to be in his way. He walks upright; with each step his long hair sways just like a shampoo commercial. He stops and stares, or maybe glares, and I send a message of hope that the heart of Borneo will always be secure for him, and with one more stop and stare he strides off without a backward glance

He knows he’s safe from us physically but most travellers here are well aware of his need of our protection and, despite international concerns, it seems Sarawak is working to secure the orang-utans future, not an easy task.

Like adverts say ‘but wait there’s more’ in this fabulous area of East Malaysia: add a kayak trip from one Bidayuh village to the next; spend time at an Iban longhouse and of course, eat the delicious local food and explore the many excellent, free, museums. Travelling in July? The three-day Rainforest World Music Festival – set in the Cultural Village at Damai – is a must-attend for great local and international performers

Also unique to this 3rd-largest island in the world, Borneo is the Proboscis monkeys. With a long straight pale tail they leap clumsily from tree to tree and eating young shoots of indigestible foliage which breaks down in their two stomachs. Male vanity and the need to dominate means their nose can grow to such a pendulous length they have to hold it up to eat! Other males, lower in rank, have almost human or Pinocchio shaped noses and hang out in male groups until it grows bigger and they have the chance to challenge the leader and become the head of the harem. They are easy to see at the wonderful Bako National Park.

Borneo conjures up images of exotic adventures, an eccentric history, a White Rajah, wild animals, mystery and romance: my first travels there delivered, and as you know, if you follow my blog, I soon returned to the land of head-hunters for more exploring!

Cute mother and baby in Malaysian Borneo

I took this photo of a very cute mum and her baby at a wildlife centre close to Kuching, Sarawak. Malaysian Borneo.

mum and baby IMG_7205

Sepilok Jungle Resort makes a handy base in east Sabah

Unfortunately, because of time pressure, I only had 2 nights at the Sepilok Jungle Resort – a handy base for exploring the Sandakan area of  east Sabah I start talking to a woman at dinner and find she was one of the original owners! She and her husband started the lodge some 18 years ago and as well as increasing the number of rooms,  they planted all the magnificent plants and trees. ( it’s still a family business)

Entrance Sepilok Jungle Resort
Entrance Sepilok Jungle Resort

Their rooms range from dormitory to air-conditioned deluxe with balcony rooms and over the years the trees have grown and the Resort is set  in this magnificent landscape – it’s also the first place I saw the bird om my bucket list – the fascinating hornbills.

I also saw many birds, fruit bats and butterflies feeding on fruits and flowers as well as fish feeding in their lakes: it’s the perfect place to relax in tropical jungle surroundings.

This is a great base to visit other places including just a five minutes’ walk to the Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary which is on everyone’s to-do list.

 

I also went to the Agnes Keith House from here, attended the Sandakan Memorial Day ceremony for the Death Marches,  and visited the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary as I’d been told it was the best place to see them up close – this was true but I loved seeing them in the wild albeit a little further away! These monkeys are only found on Borneo making them rarer than orangutans.

Thanks for the great accommodation!

The face of Visit Malaysia 2014
The face of Visit Malaysia 2014

 

Angus Keith House
Angus Keith House

 

 

Angus Keith House tearooms
Angus Keith House tearooms

 

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Orangutans need our protection

Sepilok staff, the orang-utan minders, remind us to keep noise to a minimum, to keep our belongings safe from the naughty, inquisitive macaques and, after wiping our feet on a disinfectant-drenched mat – to help reduce contamination of their space with our human bugs – we walk to the platform area.

watermarked-sepilok IMG_7362

This is where the orang-utans, often orphans,  who have graduated from the nursery (learning  essential skills they would usually learn from their mother) to this ‘outdoor nursery’ where these young ‘wild men of Borneo’ are now learning jungle skills and where they’re fed with supplements of  fruit and milk.  The aim of the centre is to help them become independent and integrated into the wild population.

I overhear a group talking. ‘I’d pay much more to come here’ which is fine for our western bank account but not for many locals. I believe it is great locals are coming as it’s these very families who will save the forests the animals need. They cannot be saved only by the western or tourist dollar – even though that is essential.  If tourists such as I heard talking are ‘happy to pay more’ I suggest they make a donation or ‘adopt’ one of the orphans not that the Sepilok increase the price. Open twice daily, this is one of the few places that admission prices are the same for Malays and non-Malay.

I stayed only a few minutes away from Sepilok at the wonderful Sepilok Jungle Resort  where I received some of the best, most efficient service of any accommodation places in the region.  They were hosting me, but I also noticed how solicitous they were with a girl who arrived with infected insect bites, arranging for a car to take her and a parent to the Dr.

A family run business, which started in 1991, they have planted all the trees in the beautiful landscaped gardens and it’s a peaceful place to stay – I also saw my first hornbills there.  With raised walkways connecting accommodation, pool, jacuzzi, reception, and café, it’s good for bird spotting.  Even better, it’s only five minutes from the popular Sepilok rehabilitation centre and I walk there to see the current inhabitants. More about the Jungle Reserve in another blog.

Nice welcome board
Nice welcome board

Borneo adventures: Orang utans

It’s time for me to blog about my Borneo adventures in Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei so these orangutan are here to announce them: Food, endangered animals, music, orchids and cats, will be the first few topics covered. I will mostly write them in my travel chronological time fame, starting in Kuching and finishing in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah – a trip that took me 8 weeks.

Mum and baby ..
Mum Annuar and baby ..

Only about 24 ks from Kuching, Sarawak, the Semenggoh Reserve is a must-visit place. Home to semi-wild orangutans, it was created many years ago for the rehabilitation of orphaned or rescued animals. They no longer do any ‘rehab’ work here but provide food daily for those who want, or need it. I believe they are only given bananas (largely) so they get bored and not rely on the ‘hand-outs’ but learn to eat the food in the forest.

Naturally as with all wild animals, there is no guarantee how many will turn up – on the day I went three turned up – Richie the main man, Annuar with her under-a-week-old baby, and a young male, Saddam.

With more and more fruit trees being planted in the reserve the animals rarely venture out of the area and some have been transferred to national parks – including a male who Richie had ‘beaten up quite badly’.

I loved visiting here and seeing the orang utans – with their human-like expressions – in the ‘wild’ and especially their beautiful, richly coloured, coats.

Richie
Richie

Richie

Blog IMG_3484 (2crowd )Blog IMG_3342 crowd )

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I want a free feed too
I want a free feed too says Saddam
??????????
Saddam arrives by hi-wire … keeps them away from people

Magical Malaysia – Sarawak & Sabah

Today is my last day traveling in both Sarawak and Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, and it’s confirmed that Malaysia is my favourite Asian country.

For eight weeks I’ve been at such diverse events as the Rainforest World Music Festival in Kuching and attended the Sandakan Memorial service, and traveled to the Tip of Borneo near Kudat; I’ve been to many national parks; seen bearded pigs, proboscis monkeys, a pygmy elephant, the worlds largest flower, many birds, and of course, orangutans.

Despite this I now have a list of places I’ve yet to see so they are now on my ‘Borneo Bucket List’ file.

So, for more about magical Malaysia see my blogs (use the search box on the right) and for up-to-date information, use the links above, and make sure you get emailed  my blog updates (top right of this page) as, as soon as I get home and unpacked, the blogs, the photos, and articles will start flowing – the book will take longer! ( Do you have suggestions for book titles? Please.)

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PS Don’t forget to like me on Facebook,  Google+. & Tumblr, etc and recommend my blog to armchair, or actual travelers. (I’ll add the inks to those pages when I’m back in my office with my familiar systems)

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Rainforest World Music Festival starts soon

Sarawak .. music and orang-utans for me next month!
Sarawak .. music and orang-utans for me next month!

I’m off to the Rainforest World Music Festival (28/30th June 2013) so to find out more, follow me, @kiwitravwriter on Twitter (#RWMF) or like me on Facebook or sign up for email updates of this blog.

This Festival has again been voted, for the 4th consecutive year, as one of the 25 best International Festivals by renowned world music magazine, Songlines.

According to the editorial team of Songlines the “Selection of the festival is based on the broad representation of the quality and scope of music festivals around the world”

Now in its 16th year the festival, held annually in Kuching, Sarawak (Malaysia) and has put Sarawak on the world map with its “dazzling performances from across the globe” and which attracts more than 20,000 international and local festival-goers to Borneo for three days of daytime music workshops and action-packed nightly shows. The Rainforest World Music Festival stands among other renowned festivals like WOMAD in Australia and New Zealand, and the Ulsan World Music Festival, South Korea

Sarawak Tourism Board’sCEO Dato Rashid Khan said “The event has no doubt been a contributor of tourist arrivals to the state and as the organizer of the festival, we are proud to note that our efforts have been recognized for the 4th consecutive year. We are putting together another great act this year and are finalizing the bands”.

Here is just some of the talent for you to check out:

· Rafly Wa Saja Indonesia

· Pine Leaf Boys Creole/Cajun

· Chet Nuneta Paris

· Shangyin Chamber Orchestra Sarawak

· Kila Ireland

· Nunukul Yuggera Australia

· Lan E Tuyang Sarawak

· Rey Vallenato Jamaica

· Palsundae Korea

clip_image001

Spiritual Seasons (above) is a Medieval, Irish and Scandinavian folk band from Kharkov, Ukraine.

See the whole list hereand, see some of the 2012 musicians here on YouTube

I’ll be staying at the Damai Beach Resort  (& hope I get to check out their spa) while at the music festival and then after that I’m off exploring the rest of Sarawak, then the rest of Borneo.

Don’t forget, follow this blog, or twitter, or like me on Facebook, to see links to my stories and maybe you too will be tempted to get to the Rainforest World Music Festival and Sarawak, Malaysia, Borneo next year!

Tickets to the festival can be bought online – see you there! For more information, see www.rwmf.net