Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Borneo Day Two: MONKEYS!!

We had an adventure planned for the afternoon on our first full day in Borneo, so we took it easy in the morning. After hanging out in the hotel for awhile, we went off in search of lunch. We had an Indian place in mind (our favorite kind of food!), but it was closed! It turned out that a lot of places weren't open, probably because it was a holiday. Eventually we settled for Secret Recipe, a chain in Southeast Asia. It was just fine, and it was nice to have some decent coffee- we quickly discovered that most of the coffee in KK is astonishingly awful.

For the afternoon, we had booked a tour through a local company to go on a boat on the Garama River to see the very bizarre proboscis monkeys! We were both really excited about the tour. It started out with a two-hour van ride to a more remote area. We met the other people on the tour, and it was interesting that of the nine of us, five of us were Americans currently living in Asia (two guys living in Hong Kong, a guy living in Seoul, and Bryan and me). We got to see a lot of the countryside, and it was really beautiful- everything is so green! It was nice to be out in the middle of nowhere too- Singapore is so small and densely populated that it's rare to feel like you're away from it all- even when I'm with the monkeys, they're often somewhere near people, or even hanging out on the street! Once we got close to the river, I started intensely looking out the windows, hoping to spot some roadside wildlife. My efforts were rewarded when I spotted a crocodile in the water near the road!!

After the ride, we took a short walk through the jungle to a little house with a huge porch, where coffee and snacks were awaiting us. As we munched on fried bananas, I noticed some long-tailed macaques nearby, and was surprised at their timidity. Even though people were eating out in the open, they kept their distance, and got skittish if someone approached them to take pictures. I couldn't help thinking about "my" monkeys back in Singapore, who would definitely have raided the picnic, wreaked havoc, and swiped as much food as they could carry in their little cheek pouches!!

Before long, we boarded a boat and headed out on the river. We quickly saw some more macaques, but our guide dismissed them as "common monkeys," and we moved on in search or the rarer and more elusive proboscis monkey.

We were a little concerned that we might not end up seeing any of the monkeys, but before long we struck it lucky! Our guide glimpsed some characteristic bright orange fur up in the trees, and we all spotted a lone male, with his big, funny nose. Proboscis monkeys are an endangered species that lives in the wild only in Borneo (and in two zoos- in New York and in Singapore, where we first saw them!). They are strange in appearance- the males have huge, bulbous noses that are believed to be used as a sort of resonance chamber to enhance the sounds of their calls. Both males and females have big, bloated bellies and their fur is bright orange, in sharp contrast to their verdant habitat. They eat mostly leaves, and move about comfortably in the trees, as well as in the water, as they are skilled swimmers. As is typical with monkeys, the males are much larger than the females, although this species is quite large overall- one of the largest monkey species. Males also have darker fur on their backs. We didn't get good pictures of the first male, but we soon spotted another group and snapped pictures like crazy. By then it had started raining, so a lot of the pictures were taken in the rain (we had a canvas awning over us- at least I did; Bryan was on the outside edge of the boat, and was definitely getting rained on).

It stopped raining after about a half an hour, which made visibility a lot better. We cruised around in the boat for a couple of hours and ended up seeing three separate groups of proboscis monkeys. Most of them were up in the trees, munching away on leaves, but we saw a few down on the ground, and even some swinging around on branches and executing impressive leaps between treetops. It seemed strange to see them jump so gracefully with such awkwardly shaped bodies!The video below is just a couple of the monkeys eating in a tree, but it gives you an idea of how they move, and just how unusual their body shape looks.

And here's Bryan and me, sporting this season's finest in cheap, last-minute rain gear. Also, a shot of the whole boat after the rain stopped.The boat turned around and headed back to where we started, but along the way we got to revisit some of the groups that we'd seen on the way out. We also spotted a lone silver leaf-langur high in a tree. Our guide said that we were very lucky because langurs aren't very abundant in that area, and are hard to find. Bryan and I had a chance to see them a little more closely when we were hiking at Bukit Nanas in Kuala Lumpur, but it was neat to see one in a very different habitat.In addition to the amazing wildlife, we also got some exposure to the local culture. As we went along the river, we saw some houses up on stilts. It was mind-boggling to think of people living in houses that are literally on the river. I mean, they could look through their floorboards and see water, and maybe even a crocodile from time to time! We saw some of the local fishermen as well, out in their boats setting traps and maybe hoping to catch dinner.And an abandoned building, right on the water! It was totally being reclaimed by the wilderness. It was an unexpected little find, and I'm fairly certain I was the only one on the boat to get excited about it.Our guide also pointed out this large, somewhat dilapidated boat that he said is in the process of being overhauled so that it can be used for overnight tours.The boat slowed down on the way back so we could look at the cattle that were in the middle of the river. The guide said they were domestic water buffalo that belong to the locals. Everyone clicked away with their cameras, and I giggled about how funny we must look taking pictures of the domestic cattle. I couldn't help imagining the Malaysians in Ohio, snapping photos of the cows out in their fields.Sunset on the river was really beautiful. The bold oranges and reds reflecting off of the river made for an awe-inspiring end to our ride.The boat docked back at the place where we'd had coffee and snacks, and dinner was laid out for us. Bryan and I aren't big fans of Malay food- we've tried some in Singapore without much success, and in Kuala Lumpur I got violently ill from a bowl of laksa, so we weren't too excited about the meal. It turned out to be OK, and it was interesting to eat food that had been prepared by local people. And no one got sick, so that's a plus. We saw the macaques again, but they were going to sleep for the night, cozy up in the trees.

Once we were finished with dinner, we walked back through the jungle to the vans, and we all piled in and drove a short way to a field where we all clambered out again to see some fireflies. The fireflies were pretty neat- a whole tree was lit up with tons of them, and they appeared to pulsate rather than blinking like the ones I've seen in the Midwest U.S. I have to admit though, fireflies were a little tame after a day of watching monkeys swing around the jungle.

The ride back was peaceful and it started to rain again. We went to sleep that night to the sound of rain pouring down and the hum of the Night Market outside, going strong despite the showers.

(If you're ever planning a trip to Borneo, I recommend go2borneo, the company that ran this tour- they were really helpful and the tour was really a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You can click here to see the tour that we took).

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