Continued travels in Borneo!

Well I’ve got some more time to update things, so let me continue. I’m currently in Kota Kinabalu in the state of Sabah, Malaysia, but I’ll talk about that after I finish Kuching.

So our first full day I already covered. We woke up the next morning thankful that our experience with a local malay man, Kayrol, was pleasant and short – his kindness had just something a bit off about it – but we survived! Thanks to Rich’s social connections last night, we found out a few things.

1. The park we had planned to visit, Bako National Park, was best done in an overnight or a few nights spent in the park. Rich and I had planned to do a day trip, but his new-found friends at Mr. D’s  (A hostel right up the road from ours with a rather lively crew at night) told him it wouldn’t quite be worth it. In fact, a few had just attempted to do our exact journey and had come back alive but not satisfied with the experience.

2. The two guys who traveled to Bako and didn’t love it were leading an expedition to the Semenggoh Orangutan Rehabilitation Center the next day and offered to let us tag along.

So this made the choice between the two rather easy when we realized we could save a  good bit of money and have an experience that sounded just as interesting by checking out the Orangutan’s. We left around 1pm from Mr. D’s with the two europeans that Rich made friends with, a Botswanan that Rich and I met the other day, and three other people from England. We split a minibus and negotiated the price of 10RM a piece round trip ($3). Not too shabby. We arrived at the facility around 2PM and we hung around for an hour waiting for feeding time. Yes, it’s a rehabilitation center that continues to feed the animals… I don’t get it either.

When the Orangutans showed up, they did so royally. We couldn’t go into the park right away because one was camping out really close to the path to the feeding electrified. In any American park, there would be high walls, electrified fences and Jurassic Park style tranquilizer men at every turn. Oh no, not here. In fact, we got a talking to by the park ranger before going in. It went something like this: “Orangutans are very temperamental. They don’t like loud noise or fast movements. If you have a baby it will need to stay quiet otherwise it might get taken or hurt by the animals. In addition, the biggest Orangutan hates objects being pointed at it, so be careful of pointing fingers, sticks, or umbrellas at it, it will probably attack you. Also, there’s this one girl in there, we call her ‘Hot Mama.’ We call her that because she’s a hot head and sends at least one person a year to the hospital. If you bring food in that she wants to eat, or show her something shiny, you could get hurt or killed. Yep, so enjoy the tour!”

The actual speech was much longer and had many more examples of the Orangutans hurting people in the past few years. Needless to say, Rich and I were really excited to put ourselves in a dangerous situation and we giddily walked in as fast as we could, following the guide of course.

We were met with something like 10 semi-wild animals about twice our size swinging through the trees, howling at us, eating bananas and coconuts. It was awesome. We got some amazing video and pictures of the whole thing that I’ll try to put online in my album from Kuching. The whole experience was beyond words, knowing that in all reality, if they decided they didn’t like us watching them eat, we’d all probably be dead in under 5 minutes. And people like to think they are at the top of the food chain…. ahaha

We got back, thanked our European trip organizers, and headed back to our place to get cleaned up and relax. We did so, ventured out for some food, and headed back to Mr. D’s to celebrate the night of Rich’s birthday. The beginning of the celebration actually started down at the Kuching waterfront as we all sat on the banks of the river and reflected on our lives. Pretty deep conversation really and it was an interaction that I hand’t seen in a while. When is the last time anyone asked you to sit and relax next to a slow-moving body of water and talk about important things? Kinda cool. We then grouped at Mr. D’s and headed out to a local bar. Not just any local bar, but the local’s local bar. The Bornean’s knew it well and it served local rice wine, something they told me would be all but forgotten in a few years as only a few people made it because the demand wasn’t high. We had a blast for a few hours, gave Rich a manly yelling salute (Borneo tribal style: AHHHHHHH – AHHHHHH – AH!) and I headed home shortly after midnight because I’m a party pooper. Thus ends the day.

Our last full day in Kuching was Rich’s birthday. We hadn’t really decided what we were going to do but one of our friends, Jeremy, from Mr. D’s was a professional tattoo artist. What makes him special is that he’s a native Borne-an and is familiar with the traditional Borneo tribal tattoos, both how to do them and their significance. Rich and I talked to him on and off the past few days, exploring the world of tribal tattoos and were absolutely fascinated. Each tattoo had a special meaning, certain conventions had to be followed, and each was done in a special way. The style and meaning was so tribally protected that Jeremy didn’t even know what many of them meant anymore and there’s only one book that’s no longer in print that details how to make any of them. Jeremy invited Rich and I to come check out his studio and look at some of his work and it seemed like a decent way to spend the day.

His studio was in an unmarked building about 20 minutes out of town. Honestly, we couldn’t have found it again if we tried. Jeremy took us upstairs, showed us around (it was one huge room with all sorts of memorabilia and examples of his work) and Rich started to check some things out. As it was his birthday, and this was Borneo, he decided to get a traditional tattoo, given to travelers as a sign of safe travels and hopeful attainment of wisdom, in the traditional style – hand tapped with needles and a hammer.

I watched for two hours and Rich was inked and it was fascinating. We got to listen to one of the last of a dieing breed of people that live in Borneo and still remember the old ways of living in longhouses and practicing ancient traditions. It was quite an experience and it really made me  want to come back to Borneo before the culture really leaves – a point that Jeremy says is only 2 to 3 years away. Sad. Such is the price of modern civilization.

After Rich’s tattoo we headed back home, shopped around for souvenirs for the last time, and packed up. Sadly, we had to leave Kuching the next morning.