“Prepare for landing,” the Captain said as we hovered over Kuching. As we began our decent, we started to see fireworks. We continued to look and saw at least a dozen firework shows in the city. Our Malay seatmate told us that Chinese New Year celebrations would continue until midnight. Colors lit up the night sky and it felt a little magical.
Nick and I enjoyed some live local music at the Culture Club, the bar located next to our hostel before bed. We discussed how quickly our trip was happening and promised this trip would not be our last. This day was a great day, I felt so happy. The kind people I met that day, the unexpected views and excitement of new places remind me why I love to travel.
Bako National Park
Nick and I took an hour long bus ride and choppy ocean boat ride to Bako National Park. Bako was established in 1957, and has 11 sq. miles of protected rainforest. Although arriving in the late afternoon,Nick and I wasted no time and hiked to 3 lookout points. We enjoyed coastal views and spotted a sleeping flying lemur, bearded pig and Proboscis Monkeys.
Bako felt a little like summer camp. We had a cabin with other camp mates, we ate overpriced mediocre cafeteria food and signed up for the guided night hike. It felt like the rainforest came alive a night. We saw so many unique animals, including: luminescent fungus, luminescent worms, fresh water cat fish, tarantulas, stick bugs, giant ants, green poison frogs, birds, green vipor snakes and an owl. We learned that giant ants can be used as stitches, when they bite a wound you can pinch off its body. We also learned that female stick bugs will eat the male after having sex.
The next morning we got an early start and hiked up to a secluded jungle waterfall/ natural pool. The water was dark red in color and the floor of the pool consisted of smooth rock. We were thankful we found this oasis as swimming on the beaches was prohibited due to crocodiles. We learned that a handful of people are killed every year by crocodiles in Sarawak. We hiked to a view point where we met some monkeys and watched the tide come in. The waves crashed against the rocks, the wind blew and the coconut trees swayed.
We returned to Kuching and spent the next day at Semenggoh Nature Reserve. We hiked on a trail to a feeding platform and watched semi-wild orangutans swing from tree to tree over our heads. We watched Edwin, the oldest male who had already begun to develop check pads, another male, mother, and her child enjoy bananas and coconuts. I could have spent hours watching them. Humans closest relative, these endangered orangutans had so much character and personality. In addition to the apes, we had the opportunity to check out 2 crockadiles. One female burried her eggs and an employee told us they would release the babies into the river. We couldn’t imagine stumbling upon one of these 10 foot monsters (can grow up to 25 ft. long). After, Nick and I hiked to a beautiful waterfall in Kubah National Park and enjoyed the old growth rainforest and water all to ourselves.
On our second day in Kuching, we discovered why rainforests are called RAINforests. Kuching gets on average 170 in. of rain a year and after today this didn’t surprise us. We woke up to pouring rain and thunder but decided to rent a motorbike as we were sure it would pass. We checked out Medan Niaga Satok market, where jungle produce was sold. Although the rain was on and off, by noon it was very much on. We jumped back on the motorbike, were frantically searching for gas and were drenched through our rain gear. However, so many locals were more than willing to point us in the right direction (Malaysia has entered the competition for friendliest locals with Myanmar.) Finally, we showed up to the Matang Wildlife Center. Here we walked a loop where we saw endangered animals. The center helps rehabilitate animals and puts hem back into the rainforest. We saw sambar deer, crockadiles, and bear cats (Nick’s favorite). A gibbon throw a handful of poop thrown at us so we continued on to the birds.
Then we saw him. A male Orangutan close to 300 pounds. The king. He was in a two story cage and his orange curly dreaded hair hung off his body. He was captivating. We moved up high to a location where we were able to watch 3 female apes and another massive orangutan in separate quarters. As it continued to pour one orangutan held a large leaf over it’s head while another held up part of a berlap sack. I was eye level with this female with nothing between us but open space. We stared at each other. She looked unhappy. They all did. She bit her lip then stuck her tounge out at me. So I did it back. Then she did it again and so did I. Then she turned her back to me and sat in the pouring rain.
My attention moved towards the male. His checkpads were massive. He was massive. He played with the water coming out of the drainage. He watched us. Then he made his way to the door and began to pound on it. He wanted attention, he wanted out. He wanted something. He hung his body from the door frame and swung back and forth. He returned to the water then returned to the door, this time with a rock. He smashed the rock against the door, pounding. There was no response. He wore his emotion on his face. I could sympaize. He looked like he was giving up, like he was depressed and helpless. I cried. Not because I am PETA person, this park is doing the best they can to rehabilitate these animals. Sure, it’s a shame that they don’t have more money to give these animals more space, but they have been able to send tons of animals back into the rainforest. However, I felt sad. That we’ve gotten to a place where there is an imbalance in nature. How are these animals endangered? Who could anyone ever kill one of these things? There habitat is changing, trees are being turned into tables. Rainforests are rapidly being removed from this world and there is nothing I can do.
The next day, Nick and I learned from our mistake and paid for a cab to take us to Annah Rais Bidayuh Longhouse. Nick and I were envisioning a Native longhouse, however this was more of a raised community on bamboo stilts. 1,000 – 2,000 individuals live her, however only about 150 full time. The children lived at a nearby bordering school and some adults were in the city working or in the oil and gas industry. We visited a home that had been preserved and saw a cage of human skulls. 500 years ago, headhunting was an important part of Borneo’s indigenous culture. The majority of the skulls on display are said to be Japanese soldiers as the British used the head hunters aid during WWII.
As we continued to wander the village, we met a man who had a small museum full of ancient relics that were passed down to him. Most impressive was a basket that the leader of the tribe used to carry his enemey’s heads in. Dried Tabasco leaves were placed at the bottom to prevent blood from dripping out and animal skin was used on the cover to prevent the smell of rotten flesh escaping. Tribes boiled a concoction of cobra, scorpion and frog poison then proceeded to soak their darts in the mixture for 2 weeks. The darts were made of palm needles so when the victim pulled out the dart it would break inside of them and within 2 hours they would die. Nick and I practiced our blow dart skills and were fascinated by the history in the village. Many of the traditions and rituals surrounding the practice of head hunting remain a mystery, however hunters of heads believed human skulls brought protection. They thought they could communicate with enemy spirits (after taking their head) asking them to stop attacking their tribe. The individual with the most number of heads outside of his home was often the leader of the tribe. Although rich in culture, I am glad that I live in a society where I don’t have to worry about being hunted for my head.
Top Spot – a Chinese seafood hawker court on the 6th floor, try a fish fillet (Nick wasn’t disappointed)
Zhun San Yen Vegetarian – tied for the best vegetarian restaurant on our trip. The owner obviously takes pride in her fresh buffet and delicious homemade soy milk.
Culture Club – fun bar with live local music, check out the band atu ada
Chong Choon Cafe – small breakfast hawker court, the laksa is remarkable!
My Village Barok Lodge/ Riverside Hawker Stalls – enjoy various noodle dishes, milk juice, fried taro, tofu and sweet potato (take a boat for 1 ringet across the river)