Thursday, April 26, 2012

Things We Find in the Woods Part Eleven

Bryan and I have lived in Singapore for 2 years and 9 months now. All this time, I've been hoping to see the banded leaf monkey. It's one of only two types of monkey in Singapore (the other being the long-tailed macaque), and it's very rare. My friend Andie Ang did a census of them and found that there are only about 40 left in the wild in Singapore, meaning that the banded leaf monkey is locally critically endangered. They're confined to the Central Nature Reserves, and they're very wary of people, usually taking off through the trees as soon as you spot them. All of these things mean that it's very difficult to see these monkeys in the wild.

But last week we hit the jackpot. My colleague and I were doing our macaque census at Upper Seletar Reservoir Park. We were watching a group of macaques on the edge of the forest. Jayasri was looking through the binoculars. She lowered the binoculars, squinted at the trees, lifted the binoculars, and lowered them again. "CRYSTAL. BANDED LEAF," she hissed in an urgent whisper. I got all wide-eyed and crazy and stood up, slowly making my way toward the trees, hoping to get a photo. The monkeys are notoriously hard to photograph, as they're often high up in the trees, and quick to flee. But I got lucky again. It's not a great photo, but it's proof that it really happened!
Love the white stripe along the front of the body

They're really just beautiful animals. I admit that we got super distracted from our research on the long-tailed macaques, and spent about an hour just admiring these monkeys through the binoculars. We were very quiet and got lucky that they stuck around for so long before moving off.

It's hard to follow that. What's exciting after seeing a banded leaf monkey in the wild in a place where they're critically endangered?? Well, we had another experience that was exciting in a different way.

One day at Bukit Batok Nature Park, Jayasri and I were in the carpark where we've frequently seen the long-tailed macaques. As we sat there, we heard a loud banging sound on the other side of the empty carpark. As we looked in the direction of the sound, we saw a snake thrashing around atop a trashcan. Eager to see what type of snake it was, I got up and hurried over.
It was a paradise tree snake!

We watched the snake for a while, and I was surprised to see how active it was! Most snakes I've seen in the wild are super lethargic, and just sit there without moving.
Slithering all over the place

Pretty soon we figured out why the snake was so active. His tail was caught in the trashcan lid! We discovered this when the snake flung himself over the side of the trashcan and starting banging himself against it in a vain attempt to free himself.
Poor little guy!

If you know me, you know that I can't handle to see animals in pain or distress (see the time I almost cried in front of two well-respected primatologists because a monkey got attacked by a dog). So of course, my first thought was "WE HAVE TO HELP THE SNAKE!" I set off on a search for a stick longer than the snake. All I could find was a very short rake, and my friend was NOT approving of my idea to free an angry snake with a short rake.

We stood there a few minutes trying to figure out what to do. We called everyone we knew from NParks, but nobody picked up (it was after office hours). So then we called ACRES, the local wildlife rescue organization. After some difficulty in explaining that a snake was stuck in a trashcan, they dispatched someone to help us.

But before they got there, a few workers showed up in a lorry. One of them saw the snake and started throwing rocks at it, earning himself a loud, "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?!?!" from me. They walked away, and a few minutes later one of the other guys returned with a very long stick. He looked at us and asked, "Free it or kill it?" "FREE IT!!! DON'T HURT IT!" we both yelled at him. And so he did. As soon as he lifted the lid, the poor snake fell out and slithered away faster than I have ever seen a snake move. Phew. To think that I used to get stressed out at work over printer jams.

Well, I really can't top endangered monkeys and daring snake rescues, so I'm not even going to try. Here's a picture of a pigeon.
A pigeon

I mean, this isn't just any bird. It's the prettiest pigeon around! It's a male pink-necked green pigeon. I think they're really beautiful!

You know who else would probably appreciate the pink-necked green pigeon? The mangrove snake. Although, while I appreciate the bird as a lovely birdwatching find, the mangrove snake would appreciate it as a delicious snack!

We actually saw not one, but TWO of these snakes one day in a tree at Lower Peirce Reservoir Park. It was SO cool. They were even mating up there in the tree! I don't know if you've ever witnessed two snakes getting it on, but I assure you that it's weird. They looked like they were trying to turn themselves inside out!

Unlike most of the snakes I've seen in Singapore, these are BIG - they grow to be 6 to 8 feet long and are about as big around as a man's wrist. It was pretty amazing to see two big snakes up the same tree. We did give them a wide berth while we observed them, however - mangrove snakes (a.k.a. gold-ringed cat snakes) are mildly venomous and are known to be very, very aggressive.

We've seen lots more neat wildlife and nature lately, so look for more Things We Find in the Woods posts soon!

A Sidenote: Although we ultimately didn't need them to free the snake caught in the trashcan, ACRES was very prompt in answering our call and dispatching someone to assist us.

If you ever find an animal in distress and don't know how to help, I highly recommend calling ACRES Wildlife Rescue Hotline at +65 9783 7782!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Borneo Day Three: Bako to Kuching

Our last day in Borneo started out early. We had an appointment to meet Mohammed, our boatman, on the beach at 8 AM. We got up bright and early and were greeted by long-tailed macaques on our porch. One sat in a tree and placidly watched me through a window as I brushed my teeth.
Look closely - there are 3 monkeys on the roof
and one climbing the porch railings!

We didn't linger long to watch the monkey antics, knowing that Mohammed would be expecting us. He met us on the beach, looking awfully chipper for 8 AM!
Good morning, Mohammed!

We tugged our boots off, waded out to meet him and clambered into the boat. It was a beautiful, sunny morning, and it was a great chance to admire the scenery on our way out.
Can't get enough of those stunning sandstone formations

There were lots of fishermen out in the morning. I imagine it's a lot more pleasant to fish before the scorching sun starts beating full-force! The jellyfish guys were there again, still hard at work!
Jellyfish bigger than their heads!
Catchin' some fish

The ride back was over before we knew it, and we told Mohammed goodbye. At the boat place, we asked if we could hire a car to drive us back into Kuching. We were told there was a bus, but Bryan and I hadn't had breakfast and were willing to pay a few extra dollars  to expedite the process. But for your reference, if you ever end up in the same place - we later found out that the bus is super cheap, clean, fast, and comes frequently. Anyway, we ended up getting a ride from a talkative local. He really seemed to think we were silly to pay for a ride, and he offered to drop us off in his part of town for no charge at all. From there, we could take a water taxi across the river for about 50 sen each (about 15 cents USD). It seemed kind of weird that he would take us for free, and Bryan and I initially declined, but the driver was super persistent so eventually we relented.

The driver took us right to the water taxi, which ferried us across the river for 1 RM total, in a matter of about 30 seconds. Somehow we'd ended up exactly where we wanted to be quickly and almost for free. It was all a little strange.
The water taxi or bot tambang

After two solid days of Bako cafeteria food and a morning with no breakfast OR coffee, Bryan and I were really hungry and caffeine-deprived. We wandered around a bit, looking for a place with food and coffee, but didn't find much. I was getting irritable (Riley's don't handle hunger gracefully) and we decided just to bite the bullet and eat at the one place we'd seen where we knew we could get both food and coffee...McDonald's. Oh, I'm so ashamed that we would eat at Mickey D's while in a country where people are food-crazy. But I'll admit it - that was one good egg McMuffin. (Interesting sidenote: McDonald's in Malaysia doesn't have milk for your coffee!)

After breakfast, we roamed around town a bit more, just checking out the sites. We noted a bizarre devotion to cats in the city - the shops were full of cat knick-knacks, and there were huge cat statues in a couple of the roundabouts. But why?!
The city had a strange affinity for felines
(See our embarassing breakfast destination in the background)

Because we had our bags with us and a lot of time to kill before our flight, we kind of wanted to hang out somewhere for a while. It was oppressively hot outside, so we opted for air-conditioned Old Town Coffee, where we hung out and read for a few hours (Bryan and I were both deep into the Song of Ice and Fire series, and didn't mind the opportunity to dig into our books!)

After a while, we decided to walk around a bit more. We walked through Chinatown, puzzled over the presence of more cat art, and made our way to the river. We strolled along the river, admiring some of the city's unique architecture. The golden Parliament building is an especially notable presence.
Kuching Parliament Building

In the photo above, the small white fort to the left of the Parliament Building is Fort Margherita. The fort was used in the 1800's to protect Kuching from pirates. Yes, pirates. Awesome. The fort is now abandoned and inaccessible to the public, so we settled for admiring it from afar.

The hot Borneo sun and our heavy backpacks made exploring sweaty work. Before long, we retreated to the Grand Margherita Hotel's cafe, the Orchid Garden Coffee House. From there, we could sit in the air-conditioning, sip cool drinks, and enjoy the view over the Sarawak River. It was so pleasant there that we ended up relaxing until lunctime, when we decided just to eat there. Bryan had some Sarawak laksa, and I had a vegetable patty.
Our yummy lunch!

After lunch, it was time to head to the airport to catch our Air Asia flight back to Singapore. At the airport, we browsed a gift shop where we solved the mystery of Kuching's cat obsession - apparently kuching means CAT in Bahasa! Now we could head home assured that Kuching wasn't governed by a crazy cat lady or something.

Kuching was a great short trip from Singapore. It was a short flight to Kuching, and only a little further to get to the wilderness at Bako National Park. If you're looking for something to do over a holiday weekend sometime, I recommend hanging out with all the wildlife at Bako for a couple of days! We loved it!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Borneo Day Two: More Bako Fun!

We woke in the morning to the sound of ping, ping, ping on the tin roof above us - monkeys were eating in the trees, and dropping their leftovers on our roof! The wildlife greeted us literally as soon as we opened our door - the proboscis monkeys that had slept in the nearby trees the night before were up and about, moving through the branches. Macaques were running around, looking for easy food opportunities. There were even bearded pigs foraging in the yard! It was quite a morning wake-up call!
"Oh, good morning, friends!"
Crazy-Eye came to see if we had any breakfast to share
"Don't mind me, just lookin' for some grub!"

After we'd woken up a bit, we decided to go back to the places we'd seen the snakes the night before, to see if they were still there. To our surprise, both snakes were still in their places!
The male pit viper got a little more comfortable...
...but it seemed that the female hadn't moved at all!

We headed to the cafeteria for some coffee, then got all ready to head out on another hike. We had a 7 km hike planned along the Tajor Trail. It started out from the same trailhead as our hike the day before, so we walked along the rickety boardwalk again. The tide was lower this time, so we saw some different things, including legions of fiddler crabs!
Fiddler crab showdown
Ummm...this doesn't look like a fair fight!

A water monitor was wallowing around in the shallow water, looking pleased as punch!
Happy lizard

Right at the head of the trail, we spotted the silvered leaf monkeys again. This time it was a whole group of about 14, napping, grooming, and foraging in the trees.
Sleepy leaf monkey

There were also birds around - lots of the sandpipers, plus this cute little bird that seemed to be gathering material to build a nest!
All birds I can't ID are referred to as "Cute little bird"

Shortly after the boardwalk, our trail split off in the opposite direction of the trail we'd taken the day before. It was pretty rugged for the first 500 meters or so, but it got much easier after that. And soon we started spotting LOADS of PITCHER PLANTS!!! My favorite!!
Look how big they are!
Watch out, bugs. This plant's hungry!
These skinny ones grew in a big clump
There were so many varieties! It was like a pitcher plant sanctuary!

While admiring the pitcher plants, I saw a little lizard scurry across the trail. It looked a lot like the green crested lizard, but it lacks the blue ear spots, so I'm not sure what it is! Perhaps a juvenile green crested lizard?
He was very shy!

After an hour or so, we came to a shelter where we stopped to rest and appreciate the ocean off in the distance!
A view of the South China Sea

A few hours into our hike, we reached Tajor Waterfall. It wasn't the biggest or most impressive waterfall we've ever seen, but it was clean and cool. It was also far back in the forest, so it felt like a little woodland oasis. After our hot hike, I was happy to tug off my boots and go wading!
Tajor Waterfall
The water felt so good I decided to dunk my head in!

We lounged around by the waterfall for a long time, cooling off and having snacks (including homemade banana bread I brought along!). Eventually it started getting late and we still had a couple hours of hiking ahead of us, so we headed out.
Bryan on our hike back

The trip back went much more quickly than our trip out, especially because the return hike was mostly downhill! When we were almost back to the trailhead, we ran into the silvered leaf monkeys again! In fact, we got to them just in time to watch them cross over the trail one by one. It was like a monkey parade!!
Leaf monkey juvenile. So comfortable in the trees!
Mom and Baby were there too. Baby needs to learn to hang on!!

When we got back from our long hike, I braved the creepy, mosquito-filled showers. It was kinda gross, but I definitely felt much better afterward! We relaxed for a while, reading on the porch, listening to the monkeys and birds all around us, and waiting for the cafeteria to start serving dinner!

A little before dinner, we walked down to the beach to explore the rocks a bit. The whole beach was covered with sand bubbler crabs that skittered into their holes as soon as we got close.
Bubblin' away!

We walked over to the sandstone rock formations we'd seen on the way in. They were even more impressive up close!
Reminds me of the Painted Desert in Arizona
Bryan and some big rocks!
♥ Together on the beach ♥

After exploring the beach, we went to the cafeteria for dinner (more rice, french fries, and pineapple) and a couple of Tsingtao. While we were eating, the macaques came to the cafeteria in the hope of getting food, but the employees have an interesting strategy for chasing them off - they have slingshots! They said they only shoot small stones at them, nothing big enough to hurt them. But the strategy appears highly effective - the whole time we were there, the workers never shot anything at the monkeys. All the workers had to do was show the monkeys the slingshots, and they would run away! Pretty effective, and better than the alternative (dangerous human-macaque encounters).

Also while we were eating, there were wild pigs tromping around next to the cafeteria, including a HUGE, beefy (or should I say "porky"?) male. He left and two piglets wandered over and curled up with each other and went to sleep! It was so cute! I couldn't believe that they were so comfortable so close to people! There were also bats swooping onto the patio to eat the insects congregating around the lights. I've never seen so much wildlife while eating dinner!

Once we were done with dinner, we headed to our little hostel room to go to sleep early - we had a boat to catch first thing in the morning!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Borneo Day One: Kuching to Bako

Bryan and I took a trip to Borneo a while back that I never got a chance to blog about. If you follow the blog closely (Hi Moms!), then you might have realized that we've been to Borneo before. That first trip was to Kota Kinabalu, in Sabah. This time we headed for Kuching, in Sarawak. Both are in the Malaysian part of Borneo (the island is actually split between three countries: Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei).

We left Singapore on Thursday afternoon and arrived in Kuching less than 2 hours later (hooray for Air Asia!). We made our way to the Pullman Hotel. On our way, our taxi driver gave us a little crash course in Bahasa (I always forget how to say "vegetarian food, please!").

Our hotel room was really nice, but we were ready for some dinner, so we just dropped our stuff and headed back out. We roamed around for a while, just checking out town and looking for a place to eat. OK...I have a confession to make. I don't really like Malay food. I like most Southeast Asian food - Indonesian, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, etc. But Malay food just doesn't do it for me. I know that's kind of sacrilegious to say in Singapore, but I can't help it. I think my unfortunate food experience in KL is partly to blame. Anyway, we ended up eating at a place with a mix of Malay and Western food. It was pretty good. After dinner, we headed back to our room so Bryan could enjoy the luxury of taking a bath!

When we awoke the next morning, we really got a chance to admire the city from our room. It had looked nice the night before, all lit up, but in the daylight we could get our bearings and identify different landmarks.
Wow! A pretty great view from the Pullman Hotel
The striking blue building on the right is the South Kuching City Council Building

The day ahead of us was full of big plans, so we checked out of our room and set off to get some lunch. We went to one of the first places we found, a funky little cafe called Fullhouse. It was a stylish place, with original artwork on the walls, and furniture and clothes for sale in the back. The menu was full of comic book art too, which was pretty fun. The food was less impressive than the atmosphere, but it was fine.
Funky Fullhouse (Here's a more detailed blog post about Fullhouse).

After lunch, we got a taxi to the boat dock, where we planned to get a boat to Bako National Park. We bought tickets for the boat and then went into a waiting area, where a colorful (and possibly mentally disturbed) local woman proceeded to talk incessantly at us, despite the fact that we obviously didn't understand Bahasa. After about a half an hour, we went to ask someone how much longer it would be, and realized that we could have gotten on a boat at any time - we'd been waiting for nothing! Oh well.

We hopped on a little motorboat with a friendly "boatman" named Mohammed, and sped off down the river. It was a perfect day for a boat ride: the sun was shining off the water and there was a cool breeze.
Smile big if you're happy to be out of the city for a few days!

Every once in a while Mohammed slowed down to point out an interesting sight: cool fishing contraptions set up on the river, a group of men fishing for massive jellyfish, fat mudskippers swimming along the shore.
Men were tossing jellyfish off the boat ans into a box on shore. I put a red circle around a jellyfish in mid-air. HUGE!

Mohammed also took us on a brief tour back into a mangrove area, where we saw fat mudskippers flopping around and unfamiliar birds flying overhead.
Puttering around the mangroves

The river eventually widened and joined up with the South China Sea. When we were almost to our destination, we slowed down again so Mohammed could point out some unusual rock formations. The sandstone formations had eroded over time, and the patterns left behind were beautiful.
Sandstone rock patterns remind me of those bottles of colored sand we used to make when we were kids!

Mohammed dropped us off, and we set up a time for him to pick us up in a couple of days. We headed in to the Visitor Center area to check into the room that we'd reserved. Before we came, we'd checked the Bako National Park accommodation on TripAdvisor, and the consensus had been pretty much unanimous: the rooms were rough, old, and all around bad...but it was worth it, because the area around the accommodations is teeming with wildlife, nature, and beautiful views. Unfortunately, we'd also made our reservations late, so we ended up with a room in the hostel instead of one of the nicer bungalows.

The room was about what we expected. It was plain (the only furniture was 4 beds and 2 fans) and mostly clean, but kind of moldy around the edges. There was a shared bathroom/shower that reminded me of something from one of the Saw movies. But the room was in the middle of the forest, and we would soon discover that the claims of abundant wildlife were 100% accurate.
The oh-so-luxurious hostel
Shared hostel bathroom.
Warning: Jigsaw may be lurking behind the door.

Once checked into our meager accommodations, we were eager to explore. We got our hiking gear together and set off on Paku Trail, which had been recommended both by our boatman and by the people at the front desk. To get to the trails, you first walk along a rickety old boardwalk.
This is my "Hooray! I didn't get murdered in the bathroom!" face

The mangroves by the boardwalk had some familiar wildlife, including the mudskippers that we find so lovable.
It's like running into an old friend while on vacation!

Paku Trail was kind of hard work at first, as we were going up a lot, but it leveled off pretty quickly. After only 15 minutes of walking, we heard crashing branches above us. Some squinting into the trees revealed that we'd gotten lucky fast. There were proboscis monkeys all around us!!
The big-bellied male proboscis monkey with a mouthful of yummy leaves, his favorite food!

I'm going to take a minute to give you some fast facts about the proboscis monkey, because they are awesome.

Proboscis Monkey Facts
1) These big-bellied primates live ONLY in Borneo!
2) They are endangered due to habitat loss.
3) They make loud, honking alarm calls (see a video here).
4) The Malay name means "Dutch monkey" because the locals thought the big-bellied, big-nosed monkeys resembled Dutchmen!!
5)  Infants are born with BLACK fur and a BLUE face!

The young males have little noses!

I adore these monkeys. I love that they're so big, yet still manage to move so effortlessly through the trees. I love that they all look like they're pregnant. I love that they're orange. I love that they maintain a healthy wariness toward people. I love that their alarm calls sound like someone blowing their nose. I just think they're super. We hung around and watched them for quite a while before we finally managed to tear ourselves away.

Along the trail, we heard lots of pretty birdsong but didn't manage to spot many of the birds that we heard. We did see this olive-vented bulbul though!
Not the most beautiful bird  in the woods, but the plain ones need love too!

Paku Trail ends on the beach. It was nice to cool down by wading in the water. There were hermit crabs scuttling all over the beach too, which was great. My favorite one had a bright green shell.
This one had the prettiest outfit.

We hung out on the beach for a while before starting the hike back. I hung out on a rock like Ariel from the Little Mermaid.
We got no troubles; Life is the bubbles; Under the sea!

When we left the beach, we heard some commotion in the trees. It was more proboscis monkeys! We couldn't see them as well as we saw the ones before though, so we moved on. The hike back was much quicker than the hike out has been, probably because Bryan and I were getting hungry for dinner!

The last part of the walk to the hostel goes along the boardwalk. When we got there, we saw some long-tailed macaques foraging on the beach. Yay! It's always fun to see macaques in other countries, because they often look a little different from the ones in Singapore, or live in habitats that are a little different from the ones they occupy in Singapore. I don't see macaques on the beach very often, so it was fun to watch them playing in the sand.
Beach Monkey!

There was other wildlife on the beach too - more hermit crabs, birds, and a lizard perched on a tree out in the water. It seemed like a weird place for a lizard!
Skink up a tree
Common sandpiper
Sandpiper bath time!

We were almost to the cafeteria when I heard more rustling in the trees. I watched for a while and then saw...a silvered leaf monkey!!!!!! AND...A BABY!
We were really fortunate to spot an infant!

These monkeys are so pretty - they have this great mohawk, and a such a sweet, innocent face. The adults are a beautiful silvery grey color, but their babies are ORANGE!!! BRIGHT ORANGE!!! It's so awesome! The monkeys usually range in groups, but we just saw these two. They must have wandered off for a while.
The proboscis monkeys are cool, but the leaf monkeys would whomp them in a beauty contest.
BIG jump!

Eventually the leaf monkey and her baby moved away from us, so we walked on. About 10 steps later, we encountered a group of long-tailed macaques. Bako is just Monkey Central!!
Try not to trip over the monkeys. They're everywhere!

We were almost back to our room when we got a big surprise: a bearded pig walked right across our path!!! It acted like we weren't even there! We followed it around the back of a building, and found MORE monkeys back there!! Remember how I said that the TripAdvisor reviews promised that the area was teeming with wildlife? Well, it looks like they were being honest!
Bearded pig, pretending we don't exist.These pigs sometimes follow macaques and eat the fruit that they drop!!

The macaques we saw behind the building had been raiding a trash bin. One got lucky and found some bread. She was running and clutching her bread, trying to get away so she could enjoy her prize in peace.

After watching the monkeys and pig for a bit, we dropped our stuff in our room and walked the short distance to the beach to enjoy a picturesque sunset.
Not a bad way to wrap up an already amazing day

After the sun went down, we went to the cafeteria and got some food. The cafeteria is the only option for food at Bako National Park. It's buffet style, and it's pretty basic, especially in terms of vegetarian options. For dinner, I had rice, french fries, and pineapple slices. Bryan had slightly better luck with some chicken curry.

A lot of the time, when we're on vacation, our day kind of ends when the sun goes down and we've eaten dinner. Bryan and I aren't big "nightlife" people, so we often end up playing games or watching movies in the evening, and looking forward to more outdoor adventures the next day. But we had plans for that night - Bako does guided night hikes for the great value of $3 USD per person. So we grabbed our flashlights and met up with some local guides!

We had just stepped out the back door of the Visitor Center when our guides stopped. They had already spotted a snake! It was a male Wagler's pit viper, just like we've seen in Singapore.
Photography in the dark is kind of tricky!

About 2 minutes later, our guides stopped again. They'd already spotted another pit viper! It was the female Wagler's pit viper, which is substantially larger and more intimidating than the little male! But don't let their looks fool you - the skinny male is venomous just like his beefy female counterpart!
I was in the middle of A Dance with Dragons on this trip, so when I saw this snake, my first thought was "The night is dark and full of terrors."

The night hike wasn't all scary creepy crawlies. We moved on to the Lintang Trail, where most of the hike took place. There we saw this sweet little Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher, fast asleep on a branch, with his head all tucked in.
Hope she keeps a safe distance from those scary snakes!

We also saw not one but two little frogs! I don't know how our guides managed to see these things. The first one was so small he could have perched on my pinky finger! I need a frog book, because I can't ID either of these.
I think the scientific name for this one is "Cute Little Kermit"

In addition to superhuman frog-spotting skills, our guides also had an insane ability to pick out superbly camouflaged stick insects.
How did they see this?! I can barely even find it in the photo!
If you look closely, you can see that this one is covered in tiny spikes.

To round out the creepy crawlies category, we also spotted a tarantula in a tree trunk (it hid before Bryan could snap a photo) and this crazy huge spider that was about the size of my entire hand.
One of the last things we saw before bed. Sweet dreams!

After the night hike, we headed back to our room. The proboscis monkeys were sleeping nearby, and from our front porch we could hear them calling. It was pretty exciting to be sleeping in a place so immersed in nature. We read a while, then slept in our strange little hostel room - I admit that I woke up a few times from dreams of snakes and spiders!!