Monday, January 12, 2009

Rainforest hike (Jan. 2/09 - Bako National Park, Borneo, Malaysia)

This morning we set out for an all day hike in the jungle, but emerged from our bungalow to find the action starting right outside our door. About 30 monkeys (long-tailed macaques) were all over the place - in trees, on the grass, and on our roof, peering over the side to see if it was a good time to sneak in to our room to steal something. We noticed that the grass all along the walkway had been haphazardly dug up, and then spotted one of those bearded pigs close by, busy rooting up the lawn.

The trail started climbing steeply right away, taking us from the beach up through the rainforest and onto a rocky plateau that spans most of the park's interior. It wasn't until we stopped for a break part way across that we noticed the pitcher plants growing all over the place beside the trail. The plants sprouted pitcher-shaped vases about 3 or 4 inches long that hung from the branches on pretty little coiled vines. Each one had a lid that can close, and a hollow area inside that contains a liquid capable of digesting insects and plants that fall into it. Some of them were especially pretty, with red stripes around the rim. When the trail descended back down into the rainforest, we spotted another variety that grew right at ground level and had green spikes decorating the outside of each pitcher. It was fun to see them in real life after only seeing them in books before!

After a couple hours, we came to a pretty little spot where Sigur Creek cascaded down over the rocks in a small waterfall, which we were glad to see as it meant a rest stop and a mandatory toe-cooling as we waded across the creek. The trail then dropped steeply down onto Tajor Beach, but one last obstacle stood between us and the beautiful flat sandy beach below. There was a section of slippery algae-covered rocks to cross to get down to the beach, and very few flat-ish footholds. The parks people were nice enough to tie a big rope to some trees to help lower yourself down, but a colony of red ants had conveniently decided to use it as their highway. Somehow we managed without any casualties, and it didn't take long for us to whip off our shoes to cool our feet in the wet sand. The tide was way out, so we were able to walk around the rocky headland (complete with a natural arch) to the super long Sigur Beach. Mudhoppers and shellfish filled the tidepools at the top of the beac, and we found a shady spot amongst them for a lunch break. When we got up to leave, I heard crunching noises nearby and looked up to see a silvered leaf monkey sitting casually on top of a rock beside us, munching on some kind of tree fruit. He had a grey mohawk and tufts of hair sticking straight out from his cheeks, and he didn't seem to care that we came so close while he was eating.

After dipping our toes in the balmy South China Sea, we trudged back up the trail and retraced our steps to the trailhead. An elevated boardwalk connects the park headquarters to the trailhead, crossing a mangrove forest area that floods regularly at high tide. When the tide is out, as it was when we reached the trailhead, monkeys tend to run around the trees looking for an easy meal. This time, long-tailed macaques (the cheeky ones) were taking over the boardwalk, causing us to wait since we didn't want to end up getting bit by a monkey! The babies leap-frogged over each other on the railings and took turns leaping off the boardwalk and trying to grab a branch from a nearby tree as they flew through the air, sometimes missing completely and crashing to the ground. It was pretty entertaining! The group of proboscis monkeys could be seen off in the trees behind them, but we couldn't get closer since the macaques were totally blocking the boardwalk!

We enjoyed a much-needed shower and a cold beer on the patio before heading to the cafeteria for one last Bako meal. Since we arrived yesterday morning, all 3 meals a day have been the same greasy noodles, cold rice, and gross chicken and fish heads. I guess we can't be too picky, but it will be a relief to have some variety tomorrow, wherever we end up!

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