We’re Going on an Orangutan Hunt: Our Travels in Borneo

If you know Matthew, you know he’s a huge fan of wild animals. Anywhere that we can find exotic animals in the wild, he wants to be there! This is how we found ourselves at the airport in Cambodia headed to Borneo on a search for wild orangutans. Slightly kidding, but Matt’s love for animals was definitely a contributing factor to our next stop.

Malaysia is quite big and had a lot of interesting activities to offer. We took two flights, first to Kuala Lumpur and then to Sabah, before taking a bus to Kota Kinabalu. During our flights, I had terrible stomach cramps and actually threw up on one of the flights. By the time we reached our hostel in Kota Kinabalu, I was wiped and ready to relax. Little did we know, this was only the beginning of a 5 day long Asian illness that would knock me on my ass… Most people don’t travel to Asia without a little stomach discomfort, but this wasn’t just a case of bad fried rice. I woke up the next morning with horrible stomach pains, to the point where I couldn’t sit, stand, lay down or eat without discomfort. Day 3 came but my stomach pain never went. We took a terrible bus ride for 3 hours to make it to the base of Mt Kinabalu where Matt intended to do an amazing hike. I continued to expunge any food that entered my body, and literally cried from the cramps I was having. The next day, Matt decided he didn’t want to leave me alone to do the hike, and we should head on to our next stop Sandakan. Worst idea ever…. We headed to the bus stop, and waited patiently for the bus to arrive. When an hour past, we heard a bus coming down the road! We gather up our stuff to board, just as a bus swiftly drove past us and waved. 4 more hours of waiting while buses past by us and then we finally got one to stop! I was certain that Matt was going to just stand in the street and risk getting hit if the next bus didn’t stop. Meanwhile, I’m crying in pain trying to find anything resembling a comfortable position. We boarded the bus, and then enjoyed another 5 hour ride through hell. When we reached Sandakan, I was feeling weak and like absolute crap. I hadn’t eaten pretty much anything in 4 days and couldn’t sleep laying down. I laid my head down at a small desk in our hotel room and finally getting the best sleep I’d had in Malaysia. That night, Matt got me some good old McDonalds for dinner, and guess what – I actually started to feel better! Seriously, I don’t know what’s in ketchup, but that stuff works miracles! I ate my first small meal in 4 days and resumed sleeping at my little desk. By day 5, I was right as rain and ready to take on Malaysia!

Our first actual stop was the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center near Sandakan. This center is unique because there are very limited cages or enclosures, with the exception of quarantine and a mommy-baby enclosure. It looked more like jungle where the orangutans were free to roam as they pleased, and only a few wooden walkways for the visitors. We wandered through the trees in search of monkeys and were amazed to see so many! Most were high up in the trees, but easy to spot. A few were curious about the visitors and came down to the walkways to investigate. While we aimed to give them their space, they got so close to us, we could have reached out for a pet! They were beautiful animals and seemed to really enjoy their lives at the center. After, we went to the mommy-baby enclosure (which still seemed very natural and open) to see feeding time with the youngsters. The babies were adorable, and you could really see their personalities as they started to play together. At night, we went back to Sandakan for a wonderful sushi dinner!

Apparently this wasn’t enough animal sightings for Matt, and the next day we booked a 3 day tour that would take us to the jungles around the Kinabatangan River. Before we left for our tour, we got up early to watch the 2016 presidential election results. We were joined by some other travelers, mostly non-Americans who were interested in the election. We enjoyed discussing some political topics, all while watching the nail-biting results roll in. When it came time to board our bus for the tour, we still didn’t know who would win, and were absolutely terrified. We stayed at a “resort” which was more like a jungle lodge, but had pretty good accommodations and food. Even if you did have to share the bathroom with a rambunctious family of lizards. That afternoon we took a rainy river boat cruise to look for wildlife. We saw proboscis monkeys, macaque monkeys, hornbills, silver langurs and, our favorite, wild Orangutans! It was really cool to see them in the wild, and I couldn’t believe how good our guide was at spotting even the tiniest animals! When we got back for dinner, we found out the final results of our presidential election and spent the remainder of the night in a foul mood.

The next few days continued in much the same way, with river boat rides and some uneventful jungle treks. We met a really nice firefighter from Canada named Aaron, who we spent the rest of the tour with. Each meal included a relentless battle with macaque monkeys who would hang from the rafters to steal your food. They were very excited by coffee creamer, and would literally grab the whole container and tear through it! We even found a monkey that had the same hair-do as Matt, which only made clear that he really REALLY needed a haircut. Our second night, we did a night trek through the jungle surrounding our lodge. It was really cool to see animals at night, sleeping or skulking around the jungle. We even saw a wide-eyed civit cat climbing a tree.

After 3 days in the jungle, we were ready for a change of scenery. When our tour ended, we went back to Semporna with Aaron. We also met up with a friend we met back in Spain, Ben! Ben had contacted us a few weeks back and planned to meet us in Borneo. Our night back in Semporna included a lovely fish and chips, good beer and great conversation.

But my love Matthew still needed to see one more group of animals before we left Malaysia, and this time we were going aquatic…

TO BE CONTINUED – Malaysia Part II – Sipidan

Matthew & Stephanie

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