Saturday, January 9, 2010

Borneo Day Five: Happy Birthday, Bryan!

Bryan's birthday was on our last day in Borneo!! For his birthday activity, we woke up bright and early and went to get a boat out to one of the islands of Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. The park is made up of five islands off the coast of Borneo in the South China Sea. After much conversing with several men at the counter we got spots on a boat going to Manukan Island, with a promise that we would be picked up at noon for the 15-minute boat ride back to KK- we had a flight to catch at 2:55, so we were playing it a little close.

Bryan loaned me his hat to keep the sun off my face, as we had foolishly left the sunscreen behind in our early-morning, pre-coffee stupor. Not the cutest, but pretty silly. The boat ride was nice- we stopped at Sapi and Gaya islands on the way out to Manukan, and it was a nice way to get a little tour of the area. In the distance, we caught a glimpse of one of the area's notorious stilt villages. We also got a shot of Manukan Island as we approached. It was such a beautiful day!! Perfect for an outdoor adventure. I could not believe the sight of the water when we got to the dock. It was so amazingly clear, and there were tropical fish all over the place. It was truly astonishing. You could see into the water all the way to the bottom, so you could see the fish really clearly. We didn't linger for very long, because we planned on going for a short hike before going swimming and fish-watching.We headed away from the gorgeous water, and into the wooded part of the island. We had been wondering where the lizards were in Malaysia- we see lizards all over the place in Singapore: changeable lizards clinging to tree trunks along sidewalks, geckos in our flat, skinks and clouded monitors at Bukit Timah, and water monitors at Sungei Buloh; but so far in Borneo we'd only seen a few geckos one night on a wall outside a shop. It seemed that Manukan Island was where the lizards, at least the skinks, were hiding. Every few steps we would catch their movements out of the corner of our eyes. They were remarkably unafraid of people, not running away until we were close enough to reach out and touch them.Our hike in the woods led to a beach, and to lots more interesting insects, including these two shield bugs.We also found another unusual plant. I'm not sure what it is (it's a pandanus!  Thanks, Ivan!), but it reminds me of a nipah palm. The large picture is the plant we saw on Manukan, and the smaller photo is a nipah palm we saw on Pulau Ubin. Don't the two look related?After our hike, we went back to the beach and I went swimming and checked out the tropical fish. Bryan waded in a little ways and took some photos of the fish in the shallow water. The fish were really concentrated around the dock, which was covered in barnacles and sucker fish. It was jellyfish season, and the jellyfish were definitely out so that was a little disconcerting, but we successfully avoided them. As I got further out into the water, the fish got bigger and more interesting. I approached a stand of coral, and a big fish seemed to think I was violating his territory and made a beeline for my toes. He darted straight at my feet, swam back about a foot and made another pass at me. The fish was less than a foot long and certainly didn't look dangerous, so it made for a somewhat comical spectacle. There were lots of fish that I recognized- angel fish, zebra fish, blue tang, and of course the jellyfish- even though I was scared of them, they struck me as strangely beautiful- they're just so unlike any other creatures. My favorite fish was one I'd never seen before. It was rather large, perhaps 12 inches long with a robust body, and insanely vivid colors- iridescent purple on its body with bright turquoise fins. You can get a vague idea from the picture below- it's near the bottom left corner.While I was engrossed in gorgeous, brightly colored tropical fish, Bryan was closer to the shore, equally captivated by something else. When I got closer, I saw that he was staring at some little, dull brown fish. The fish were in shallow water, near the sandy bottom, being knocked back and forth in the waves. We had passed one earlier, giving it a wide berth, as we assumed it was dead. Bryan had discovered that if you got close to the fish, it would swim away! It seemed as though the fish were playing dead! It was pretty neat, but I wasn't anywhere near as excited about it as Bryan. Since he loved it so much, I'll post the video he took- you can see the fish, which looks like a brown leaf, moving with the waves, and then swimming away whenever Bryan walks toward it. The green lines in the video are from the bright sun reflecting off the water- our camera isn't broken.

From on top of the dock, we took some more pictures. It would be fun to get an underwater case for our camera, but I think I would be really worried the whole time that some water would seep into the case and destroy the beloved camera (a Panasonic Lumix). The water was so clear at Manukan that some of the pictures from above the water turned out anyway. The little fish were all schooling together, and we got to see a big fish hunting them, swimming through the middle of the school a few times and eating them by the mouthful. The tightly controlled response of the little fish was fascinating to watch, as they kept their school together and tried their best to avoid the big fish. The predator ended up looking like he had a force-field around him because the little fish wouldn't get anywhere near him. You can see the schooling fish in the upper left corner of this photo.Our boat was a little late getting going, and we started to worry about making our flight. I think our boat driver sympathized, and ended up driving super fast for us. The boat ride was jarring but really fun! Once back on the mainland, we caught a taxi ("teksi" in Malay- I love how a lot of Malay words sound like English words- bus is "bas," restaurant is "restoran," clinic is "klinik," etc.) and headed for the airport with plenty of time to spare. Our trip was really an adventure and we had a truly amazing time, but it was nice to be headed back to our place, where we could drink the water! Here's the birthday boy on the plane home, reading New Moon!!


  1. That weird fruit is that of a Pandanus, although I'm no expert and don't know which species exactly. Here's a link with photos of the native species (P. tectorius) found in Singapore that you can use for comparison.