Make yourselves a brew and get comfortable. It's a long one folks...
We arrived at our hotel in Kota Kinabalu in the evening, ditched our bags and went to get some food. We headed over to Sonya and Nigel's hotel as they had some ideas for our stay in Borneo and they recommended their restaurant. Unfortunately by the time we arrived they must have been closing up as our meals were somewhat lacking. After we had eaten we decided to fly to the other side of the island the next day as Sandakan is the place to be if you want to see wildlife. Making the decision was easy, putting it into action was slightly harder, especially as Sonya and Nigel had had one too many and the hotels wifi, like its food (in our opinion) was lacking! However after some heated discussions and 4 attempted bookings we sorted out flights and accommodation for the next day. It was time for bed.
The next morning we woke up with extra time so we could have breakfast before heading for the airport. Our choices were grilled chicken with fried egg, grilled chicken with scrambled egg, grilled chicken with boiled egg or if you were feeling adventurous grilled chicken with plain omelette (so just egg). We got a taxi over to the N and S's hotel where we all crammed in, luckily for us Ben and the Driver somehow squeezed all the bags into the boot so after a cheeky hi 5 (which the driver wasn't to sure about) we were on our way.
When we got on the plane we were all sat separately (they could spot trouble a mile off when Nigel turned up) but the views from the plane where amazing! Meandering rivers through miles of lush green rainforest!
We squeezed into another taxi (no hi 5s this time ) and got to our new hotel. Travellers tip no. 76: checking in does not require any more than 2 people to be involved. Any more than this may lead to any or all of the following: incorrect amount of rooms, the wrong type of beds, extra payment, unintentional upgrades or car rental.
Once the palava of checking in was over we headed out in search of food. We came across a mall that had less and less shops each level higher we went until eventually we reached the "food hall" on the top floor which could have been a scene from the next post apocalyptic blockbuster from Hollywood. We left the mall and strolled along the river front past the more local eateries where we eventually came to one that appeared satisfactory. We had some lovely local food and Sonya finally got her Malaysian clay pot chicken.
Our next port of call was the jetty at which we were told the boats leave for Turtle Island. We didn't know where this jetty was, only that it existed somewhere in the town and was called crystal quest (premise for the next Indiana Jones movie?). We found the jetty with out much fuss in the end (I'm sure the Hollywood scriptwriters could jazz it up a bit). However it was closed. After standing around doing nothing much for a while (actually this would make a really dull movie, never mind) we managed to attract the attention of a "security guard" (an old man in flip flops and swim shorts) who assured us if we came back at 8am the next day we would be guaranteed a place on the boat and the island to stay the following night. After fighting with more Atm's it was an early night for all.
We woke early the next morning and even missed our FREE breakfast just to make sure we arrived at crystal quest on time! Which we did. Only to find that it actually opens at 8:30. So we could of had breakfast after all. While we were waiting Ben and Sonya decided to go and get some snacks and fruit for breakfast while Anna and Nigel carried on waiting. When someone finally turned up at 8:45 they were immediately bombarded by Anna and Nigel only to discover that today's trip was fully booked. Travellers tip no. 13: Old men wearing flip flops and swim shorts are neither security guards or reliable sources of information. They were told that unless someone cancelled we would be unable to go that day. So Anna and Nigel waited for Sonya and Ben to return. When they finally did, they were greeted with the news that there was a cancelation and we would be going to see some turtles!!! We quickly paid and boarded the speedboat. It was a bumpy ride but it was worth it as when we arrived it was like stepping into paradise!
Turtle island is actually made up of 3 islands that are protected by the Malaysian and Philippine governments. A select amount of visitors are allowed to only one of the islands so there is no disruption to the nesting turtles.
Despite being latecomers we found our rooms were located in the best chalet so everything worked out ok. After finally washing our clothes in the sink and hanging them on the railings outside to dry we headed to the beach to snorkel and sunbathe. The beach was stunning, the best beach any of us have been on in our lives. When it came time for lunch we didn't want to leave, but hunger got the best of us and we headed to the canteen. The food was really good. Especially considering the limited facilities on the island and the small cost we paid. After lunch we saw the biggest monitor lizard yet (around 4-5 foot) who was completely unfazed by humans. Ben hurried back to get the camera and embarked on a mini photo shoot after some quick tuition from the pro. Then it was back to the beach to sunbathe, read, sleep and snorkel. We saw some amazing fish including clown fish but unfortunately no turtles.
We did however find evidence of turtles all along the beach there were tracks in the sand leading to dug up nests, we even found some broken shells. We were starting to get very excited. We had a stroll around the island as we weren't allowed to after 5pm as this is when the turtle activity can begin. The beach on the other side of the island was deserted and there was almost no movement in the sea, we truly were in paradise.
We headed back to our chalet to get ready for dinner and the nights turtley events but had some time to kill so we played cards and relaxed on the porch while the sun set. We had such a laugh playing cards. One card game involved lying to win which Sonya was terrible at! At 7 it was time for an educational movie. We learnt some amazing things about the turtles we were about to see but also some terrible things about us humans. We really do take this planet and its other inhabitants for granted.
Did you know, male turtles latch on to the female turtles to mate, and other males get that jealous that they hold the couple down and sometimes drown the female!
We had our dinner and played some more cards to kill time. We had to wait for the first turtle to come ashore to lay eggs. This could of happened any time between 7pm and midnight. On some nights, no turtles come assure. We went to the nursery where we heard and saw some of the eggs hatching, until it was "Show Time". We followed the ranger very excitedly down to the beach we had been lying on just a couple of hours earlier where we saw 4 huge sea turtles. And I mean huge!!!! Like the size of a large coffee table! We were led down the beach some more where we gathered around a giant green sea turtle who was laying her eggs. When they lay there eggs they enter a kind of trance which was why we were able to get so close without bothering her. In this trance the turtle is oblivious to sound or movement. We remained quiet out of respect for the occasion and turned off all flash photography so as not to damage the delicate eggs. The ranger retrieved the eggs as she was laying them to transport them to the nursary away from predators. He then measured her and checked her tags. The Rangers apply tags to monitor the turtles to learn more about them which will improve conservation. We left before she came out of her trance so she never knew we were there. It was the most incredible experience. Words cannot describe. The next part of night was to bury the newly laid eggs in the nursery. There were 91 in all, %85 - 95% were expected to hatch but only 1% are expected to make it through to adulthood, this goes to show how important it is that the eggs are looked after and why the rules for the tourists on the island are so strict. We were then taken down to the other beach where we were going to let the freshly hatched baby turtles go. They are the cutest things you can imagine. It's hard to believe how such tiny babies, smaller than the palm of your hand, can grow to the gigantic size that they do. Sea turtles can travel hundreds and thousands of miles away from where they hatch but when the time comes they are able to find the beach they were born on, using a navigational organ in their head, to lay their own eggs. Watching the baby turtles scramble down the beach to the sea under the moon and stars is something we will never forget. It was amazing. Then someone farted. Seriously let rip. Way to spoil the mood 👍. We let 17 turtles begin their lives by running into the sea, but only one will survive all the predators... and we think life is hard!
We would just like to give Sonya an honourable mention here as although the turtles were undoubtably the stars of the show, watching Sonya march ahead of everyone else and get as close as humanly possible without touching was a sight to behold. Way to go Sonya, top turtle nerd!
On the way back to our rooms we saw dozens of hermit crabs scuttling about, the biggest one had found his home in a bottle lid. Although very interesting hermit crabs and monitor lizards couldn't hold a candle to what we had seen so it was off to bed for an early start.
Breakfast was at half 6 and was not quite as good as the previous meals. Then we caught the speedboat back at 7. Another bumpy ride and we were back at crystal quest jetty where unfortunately their is little regard for the ocean and a lot of litter. This was a shame after the paradise we had just been in. We got a taxi back to the same hotel we stayed in 2 nights before. Our taxi driver was called Jad and he told us he runs a tour himself with a local fisherman who can do a river trip to spot wildlife for a lot cheaper than the organised trips. We told him we'd meet him in front of our hotel the next day.
We booked ourselves a Junior Suite which had 2 queen size beds to save on the cost. We all fell asleep. The excitement of turtle island had worn us out. We were apparently less worn out than the oldies as we woke a couple of hours later and ventured out while they continued to sleep. We went in search of some new trainers for Ben and some food. We found neither. Luckily McDonald's has successfully taken over the planet 👌so burger and chips it was. But not for Anna of course, large fries only. We returned back to the hotel where Nigel and Sonya were still asleep! We watched house of cards on the iPad and went through our expenditures. Turns out Anna has spent £400 less than she thought so Ben can finally stop paying for everything! Bloody dyslexic! We all went out for dinner at a lovely little rooftop bar and restaurant. On the way back we stopped at a 7/11 to get some water and snacks where we amused the cashier by taking pictures of the cigarette packets. They have images of "when smoking goes wrong" and are disgusting.
The next day we woke up with plenty of time to make the most of our complimentary breakfast. Anna had more omelette while Ben tried the local equivalent of a full English: noodles, rice, honey chicken and beef balls. Mmm the perfect way to start the day. At 10:30 our trusty driver Jad was ready and waiting out front to take us to some local caves and the river. Anna and her parents got nice and cosy in the back of the un air-conditioned car whilst Ben just about fit in the front seat. Despite the discomfort Jad was an excellent host. The journey took 2 hours, we passed a couple of crashes (nothing to serious) which Jad hilariously commentated. We arrived at the black cave named after the black birds nests here. The nests are edible and can be sold for thousands of pounds a kilo. Luckily they are protected from poachers and there are regulations in place for people collecting them. We trecked through the rainforest where we saw a red leaf monkey. The cave itself was very impressive. It was unspoilt by tourism and we were the only ones there! Along with the birds there were bats and thousands of cockroaches. So many that the floor appears to be alive! As we walked around with Jad leading the way Anna was pooed on 3 times. Along with the birds, the bats, the cockroaches and the poop we even saw a snake!
Our next stop was a small village by the river to go see us some wildlife. But first. Lunch. Jad told us that he knew somewhere to eat but it was just someone's home. We got there and apparently it was closed. Still not sure how a home can be closed but we found a place to eat just next door. We all had chicken fried rice and 2 sprites each. It cost £1 per person.
We got to the jetty in the middle of nowhere. There were a few houses dotted around and a sign that said national geographic accommodation of interest. Or something like that. We went down to the river with Jad (who said he would only come if we wanted him too. Aaaw) and met our local guide for the afternoon, Mr Eddie. We got on board and headed into the jungle... Dun dun duuuuun.
It was awesome. For the majority of the time we were the only people. Immediately we saw a grey headed eagle. We went on to see loads of King fishers, long tail macaques, pig tail macaques, proboscis monkeys, monitor lizards, a white paradise flycatcher and for a while we stalked a crocodile up river. It was awesome, following the bubbles along and occasionally seeing it surface. By this time however our time was almost up and other boats had come along so it was good timing. As we headed back to the jetty eagle eyed Eddie spotted a baby crocodile sunning itself on a log. Anna's photography will hopefully give you a better idea of the day...
After all the excitement it was time to cram back into the taxi for the 2 hour drive back to the hotel. We moved hotels for a cheaper rate and left Sonya and Nigel in the junior suite. It was time for bed as tomorrow we were off to find orang utans.
Again we had an early start and met Jad outside the hotel. He took us first to the sun bear sanctuary. Sun bears are the smallest bears in the world and are native to Borneo. Because of their size they are often kept illegally as pets. One man hated this and decided to set up the sanctuary with the aim of rescuing and rehabilitating the Cubs and setting them free back where they belong. We watched a rather moving video about the operation and realised that the man in the video, the founder, was the same man who came and told Ben all about the fish tank in the lobby. We went out to watch the bears and saw the Cubs playing and climbing trees. One even fell asleep on a branch.
We really enjoyed the sun bear sanctuary, we would even like to come back and volunteer for longer, but it was time for our next stop. We arrived at the proboscis monkey sanctuary after about half an hours ride. We got there and were instantly distracted by the "David Beckham" silver monkeys (as named because of their hair dos) as they were very used to humans and very playful. One of the babies took a liking to Sonya and Anna and after trying to steal Anna's camera and climbing all over Sonya taking pictures of himself he threw up.
We decided it was time to return our attention to the Proboscis monkeys. It seemed to us there were 4 families each with a dominant male and their own feeding platform. Jad informed us that these monkeys were wild and could come and go from the jungle as they pleased.
We also watched a feeding of 2 hornbills which kept getting interrupted by a very cheeky monkey! Ben still managed to get some amazing photos of the birds with a little help from the 'pro'.
Our next stop was the rainforest discovery trail and canopy walk. It was amazing to see the rainforest from such a height but it was very hot, very sweaty and we didn't see any wildlife! It was time for the thing we had been most looking forward too. The orang utans.
The orang utan sanctuary was back by the sun bears so after a short drive we arrived, very excited. Again these animals are wild and could come and go as they liked so it was possible we wouldn't see any. After a short while of following the boardwalks through the rainforest we encountered our first great ape. Walking along the handrail following a ranger with a watermelon. He stopped to look at the tourists that were obviously so enchanted by him. He wasn't quite as enchanted with us and continued on after the watermelon. We continued on to the nursery. The nursery is a small wooden play area designed for the baby orang utans. Again they can come and go as they please but they seemed to enjoy it there as we saw 5 playing and swinging and winding up the Rangers. The rangers have a strong no contact rule with the apes to stop any contamination of human colds and flu as it turns out apes are highly receptive.
It was now feeding time so we made our way back to the viewing platform and waited. Unfortunately only one turned up. According to the Rangers there are around 200 of the apes in that area of forest but due to the time of season there is plenty of food for them in the jungle so they don't feel the need to come and be fed by humans. After a while however another one joined the first. This, we were informed, was the naughty one. He put on a bit of a show for the tourists on the roof of the observation deck then disappeared back into the forest. We felt incredibly privileged to see the seven or so orang utans that we did. Especially in such an amazing sanctuary. Unfortunately though, like all good things, our time at there had come to an end and we were kicked out as the apes were making their nests and getting ready for bed.
Jad took us back to the hotels after stopping at an ATM as we'd spent all our money and we arranged a ride to the airport for the next day. We had a simple dinner down on the harbour where we saw an amazing moonrise over the bay then dodged a weirdo down a back ally on the way home!
On our last day in Borneo we finally got a lie in! Our flight was at 2:30 and check out was 12 so the timing had worked out perfectly. We even managed to head back to the rooftop bar for breakfast. Trusty Jad came and picked us all up and ferried us to the airport, we arrived with plenty of time for our flight. Or so we thought. When we came to check in we found that our flight had actually been the day before. Seriously. We're not just saying this because we're running out of ways to make the blog more interesting. We actually booked flights on the wrong day. AGAIN! We managed to get another flight that was half an hour earlier so we rushed through security and made it to our plane on time. On the plane we had TVs in the back of the head rests so we were able to relax and watch a bit of tv... Ben the new star wars and Anna a girly chick flick. We touched down in Kota Kinabalu and waited at the airport for our flight to Bali. Luckily without incident.