Monday, January 31, 2011

Sightings


We awaken to the sound of light rain but are eager to get out and explore on our last morning here. We set out by ourselves toward the canopy and are surprised see a mouse deer dash across the road. We are scheduled to meet our guide at 8:30 so don’t have too much time but walk across one canopy bridge and enjoy the early morning air. The sky is clearing and we are overjoyed to see a small patch of blue sky. Hopefully it will be a decent day.

Breakfast at the lodge is delightful as usual, with a different assortment of eggs, pastries, fresh fruit and Asian offerings . We are all prepared with the appropriate clothing. Alas, it is raining again but we are determined to see an orangutan today and all 4 of us are charged up for the final hike. We set off on a nature trail along the very brown river when our guide hears on his radio that an orangutan has been spotted by researchers along a different trail. We quickly head back and down a different path. By now, it is raining heavily and we hurry, sloshing through muddy puddles and wet trees. We wonder if he is going to still be there when we arrive. Before long, we see a small group of students from the field research station, sitting on the ground with binoculars, looking up into the trees. There he is, a large copper colored orangutan, going from branch to branch. We follow him, this small group, walking around among the leaves and puddles, our eyes focused upwards in the tree canopy, totally disregarding our caution regarding leeches. The guides tell everyone to avoid standing below him and not to invade his personal space. They say he may drop pee, poop, branches, etc. Sometimes in their swinging from branch to branch, they miscalculate or grab a dead branch and land on the ground. It is fascinating to see him so close and in such a natural environment. We are all so thrilled to have had the opportunity to sight one in the wild. He eventually moves out of sight, and we continue down this trail along the river, still in the rain. By the time we turn back, we are all muddy again and back at the lodge, go through our leech seeking routine one more time. This time we are shocked to find so many – our traipsing around among the leaves made us magnets for them. Ray finds one on his abdomen, bloody, ugh. One more in his armpit. I find one on my abdomen, just ready to suck. We find them on our leech socks and pants and do a thorough cleaning of our stuff before packing everything away.

We have our final lunch at the lodge and load up the Toyota Land Cruiser for the trip back. The driver looks from side to side looking for animals. We bump along the road when the driver suddenly stops and points out an orangutan in the top of a tree down slope from the road. He is laying on his back, arm curled around his head, lounging. He is close enough to see with the naked eye and we are all thrilled. What a delightful way to end the trip! It has been quite an adventure, and not one I would recommend to everyone but has been a unique experience and one we will never forget. It has given us a new
perspective on life in the rainforest and the need for conservation of our resources to protect these animals.

Our flight takes off from Lahad Datu in the pouring rain. It is clear that they are used to this weather as it doesn’t seem to deter the propeller plane from taking off. Furthermore, they are well prepared by handing each passenger an open umbrella to walk to the plane, and taking it from each person as they enter the plane. Good customer service by Malaysian Airlines! The flight lands in Kota Kinabalu and we see groups of people standing outside a waiting plane near a runway. We later learn that there had been a bomb threat and these passengers going to Jakarta were 3 hours delayed. We transfer to a flight to Miri, arriving late in the evening. Air Asia which we fly, is a local commuter airline, with very, very low fares, which allows anyone to be able to fly between cities in Malaysia –great concept. A lot of young people traveling home for the New Year holidays.

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