Sunday, February 07, 2016

Kkhlee74 - Orangutans in the mist


Traversing numerous airports we provide comic relief to airport staff as we forget bags and boarding passes. Never mind that we are seasoned travellers, braving the jungles of central Mexico deep in Zapatista country when our bus broke down in the middle of the night, scaled the highest mountain in South-East Asia and the Andes in Peru, clambered across glaciers in a snowstorm in Patagonia, or driven through crazy places like Naples and Manila where road rules do not exist.

All that pales in comparison when travelling with two children under the age of three. Never mind that you are an expert in logistics or a meticulous planner, throw in months of sleep deprivation and it has all the ingredients of an award winning comedy sketch.

But miraculously we make it. As we board the plane and settle into our seats, JoaquĆ­n our four month old falls asleep immediately, exhausted from travelling over two consecutive days. I rub my weary eyes as the plane takes off and push back into my seat. It is a short 45 minute flight from Kota Kinabalu - just enough time to throw back a palm's worth of salted nuts, chased by a cup of juice, when the plane begins its descent.

Sofia's chatter as she makes a picnic over her tray table is interrupted by the pilot who announces we are approaching Mount Kinabalu. Luckily we're on the right side of the plane and catch sight of its majestic crown peaking out over a band of clouds. It is glorious to see it from the air having climbed the behemoth almost a decade ago sans babies and toddlers. It almost seems like another lifetime ago when we were a small family of three, where we are now six having welcomed Nikki's partner Llyam into the fold.

Arriving in Sandakan, we squeeze ourselves into a taxi and head for the Sepilok Forest Edge resort conveniently located next to the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. It is late afternoon as we sip chilled ginger tea in squat glass tumblers more suited to whiskey as we wait to check-in. The sound of water trickling into a pond full of fat koi lulls me into a stupor, and I finally exhale. Before long our rooms are ready.

It is a short hike up to our cabin as dusk arrives along with its squadron of mosquitos. We came prepared for we are travelling with an infant in a country where dengue fever and malaria are common. The cabins are dotted along a meandering path through the jungle, upon reaching ours I am delighted by its bucolic charm. The wooden cabins are basic but cozy. It also has an outdoor shower which I make note to try out the next day.

Dinner is a priority, the children are beginning to wane so we head back out into a clear night sky awash with stars. We decide to eat at the restaurant attached to the hotel. As I slip my sandals off, the wooden floor feels powdery beneath my bare feet. Overhead colourful paper lanterns house opportune geckos. We are tired and dinner takes more than an hour but when it eventually arrives it does not disappoint.

Our favourites are the kampung-style fried rice salted through with crunchy ikan bilis, topped with a fried egg and eaten with a side of spicy chilli sambal. The other is a piquant coconut fish curry bursting with fresh lime and chilli. Fully satiated we waddle back to our cabins as our children fall asleep in our arms, lulled by the rhythm of the noisy jungle. 

Morning greets us with mist laced through the trees, I push open the doors to the balcony and it begins to pour. Despite the rain we are excited, I don't mind the rainy day preferring it to the searing heat, as we amble down the wooden walkway of the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. The main viewing areas are on Platform A where feeding happens twice a day and in the nursery where young orangutans learn essential skills so they can survive in the jungle.

Nearing the main area we spy a solitary orangutan sitting on the platform holding a makeshift umbrella over its head, fashioned from nearby branches and leaves as it waits for breakfast. This generates some laughter and amusement from the growing crowd. The centre has been in existence since 1964 and focuses on returning orphaned, injured or displaced orangutans back into the wild. One of the best things about this place is being able to see orangutans living, playing and feeding in this large reserve rather than in a zoo.

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