Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Magic Kervan: Orangutan, stinky predatory flowers, teachers-bodybuilders and other endemits of Borneo


We head to the outskirts of Kuching on foot. The city is called “The city of cats”. At almost every roundabout we see figures and statues of cats, but we couldn’t understand why they are so honored here and we didn’t see much cats on the streets.

One comes to Borneo in order to see natural wonders, endemits, rare animals and plants. Historical landmarks and architectural buildings are not the strong sides of the island.

Our next destination is Gunung Gading National Park. We want to visit it in order to see the parasitic giant flower Rafflesia. Here grows a rare kind of Rafflesia that blossoms only at the territory of this park.

Biological note: Rafflesia Arnoldii is the biggest flower on earth reaching a diameter of 1 meter. Its leaf bud grows for 9 months before blossoming and is as big as a human embryonic. The huge flower stays open for just six to eight days and before it fades it emanates a strong smell of decomposing corpse. Because of its short and impossible to predict period of flowering one has to be very lucky to see one but we will try anyway. There are said to be many Rafflesia flowers at this park so, who knows, we might see an open one.

We walk for an hour and a half under the hot sun till we reach the fork to Lundu Town where the entrance to the park is. We start hitchhiking and no more than 15 minutes later a luxury jeeps stops by. It is driven by an elegantly dressed driver.

He is going to a nearby place just 10 km away, but insists to take us to Lundu as he says he is not occupied with anything in particular at the moment. We refuse as the distance to Lundu is 100 km. but he keeps insisting. Soon we fly direction Lundu and enjoy an air-conditioner for the first time.

Before we entered the car the outside temperature was 40 degrees Celsius (105 Fahrenheit) and we started feeling dizzy waiting on the road. Our driver turns out to be a rum bird – he is a professor at the university though he looks like a businessman. He belongs to the ethnic group Bidayuh, one that we have never heard of till now, but this is normal as there are so many ethnic groups in Borneo.

He told us that most of the Bidayuh are Christian Evangelists and go to church every Sunday. His name is Joshua and has five brothers and four sisters. He speaks in a low, flat tone and doesn’t seem very interested in us. He doesn’t ask us where we come from or what we do. We drive in silence most of the time and at the end he leaves us at the center of the town with an air of someone who did his duty.

We reach the fork to the park and sit to eat in a pavilion. It is 6 p.m. now, the park closes and we decide to try and enter through the main entrance. There is still light from the sun and we know that the path with the Rafflesia flowers is no more than 30-40 minutes walking distance.

The Rafflesia flower and its magical intent

The guard at the door spends some time wondering who these two strange guys coming on foot at this time of the day are. We tell him we want to walk for 20 minutes inside the park. Obviously the improbability of the situation is too much for him as all tourists come with organized transport and guides and he receives a brain freeze and lets us in without requesting us to pay any entrance fee.

We start running but we don’t see even a bud of the Rafflesia flower. We read some information signs where they say that the best chance to see the blossoming flower is during the rain season, which is September-December. Nevertheless the forest is amazing. We see giant liana vines hanging everywhere and the trees are enormous. We feel like we are in a fairy tale.

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