Monday, January 28, 2013

Adventure Travel in the Sukau Rainforest

“Ack-ack, ack-ack,” clicked a gecko, adding harmony to the echoing kak-kak of the hornbill, the high whine of Borneo cicadas, the tonk-tonk of the brown barbet. Under my bare feet, the belian hardwood, or ironwood of Borneo, deck boards felt smooth and warm.

The rich scent of rainforest hibiscus flowers and tibouchina shrubs lingered, without a wind to whisk them away.

Heavy clouds promised an afternoon downpour over the yellow water of the Kinabatangan River–I was about as far away from the Saskatchewan prairies as I could be!

Thirty-five hours of airport and flying time had transported me to a world I’d often dreamt about, the land of rainforest jungles.

Malaysian Borneo has the oldest tropical rainforest on the planet, with the Sukau and lower Kinabatangan area of Sabah (second largest state in Malaysia) home to a decade old wildlife preserve. Unlike North America, where access is open to nature refuges, in Malaysia tourism is strictly monitored to ensure there is as little impact on the environment as possible from human visitors. Officials stopped our boat, and our guide had to show his permit before we started our journey down the Kinabatangan, Sabah’s longest river.

My rainforest adventure began at the Sandakan jetty, on Jambatan #23, the slatted wooden footbridge that served as a street for the water village. Just like back home, in Regina, shops lined the sides of the nearly three metre wide “street”—that, however, was where the similarity ended!

Drying shirts and pants hung from short clotheslines or over railings on the front deck of homes and businesses, indeed the pubic washroom had a large plastic pail of laundry soaking beside the sink.

Local women strolled past, enveloped head to toe in colourful dresses, hair hidden beneath scarves despite the 32 degree temperatures. Inside, the shops gleamed with dark hardwood floors and walls, while bright curtains covered the windows. Prices were always negotiable!

From Sandakan we had an hour boat ride across the Sulu Sea to the mouth of the Kinabatangan, then on to Abai Jungle Lodge, where I’d be without any contact to the outside world.

Local men from the Orang Sungai tribe waited at the boat landing to greet us—some of the friendliest and most helpful ‘bell boys” I’ve ever met. The rooms in the longhouse were simple, immaculate and with all the modern conveniences we Canadians are used to, including individual bathrooms.

I’d already discovered earlier in my visit that Malaysia is serious about energy conservation. Each hotel room card has an electronic card holder at the door—when the room card is inserted the power comes on.

In an embarrassing moment, I’d had a hotel clerk have to come and show me how it worked! The jungle lodges took this one step further, so in order to have a warm shower an additional switch had to be flicked on to heat the water, rather like a trough heater back on the farm.

My first lunch at Abai featured grouper and white snapper, a local specialty. Along with lots of fresh vegetables and the mainstay of Malaysian meals, white rice, it was delicious! Generally, food was boiled or steamed, with the exception of bananas, which were deep fried in batter and one of my favourite foods throughout the country.

Of course the main reason for a visit to the rainforest was to experience the jungle and learn more about the wildlife. In keeping with the mandate to keep human interaction in the environment to a minimum, I was given two ways to explore—walking the boardwalk through the jungle and taking the guided boat tours.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Adventure Travel in the Sukau Rainforest