Sunday, January 25, 2015

Malaysian Borneo: A Haven for Nature Lovers - Sarawak

When I was 14 years old, I leafed through an Orangutan Foundation International’s pamphlet, marveling at the wondrous red ape that lived in a far-off place called Borneo. I turned to my beige globe, spinning it around until I finally spotted the tiny island southwest of China that was composed of Malaysian and Indonesian territories. Previous to this day, I had no idea that these countries even existed. They were so far from my native United States, it seemed impossible that I could ever reach that part of the world.

That day, I signed up to sponsor an ape for a year through OFI’s Foster Parent Program and made a promise to myself. Someway, somehow, I would one day visit Borneo and see these magnificent creatures on their own turf.

17 years later, serendipitously, I found myself on a flight from Taipei, Taiwan, to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I had just finished teaching an English summer program in Taiwan, and was on my way to fulfill my dream. I would be meeting up with The Travel Geek Cyle O’Donnell, photographer and filmmaker, where I would produce and write script for a documentary based in Malaysian Borneo. It was one of the most surreal moments of my life.

When I first arrived in Kuching, Sarawak, I immediately fell in love. It was, after all, the city of cats. The weather was hot, the people were friendly, and there was plenty of exploration to be done.

See, I initially wanted to see Borneo because of the orangutan, which means “man of the jungle” in Malay. However, there was so much more that this oasis offered that I had yet to discover. For those unfamiliar with this semi-autonomous region, it possesses some of the most exceptional biodiversity on earth.

Its mind-blowing landscapes include jutting caves, looming mountains, dense forests, rushing rivers, pristine beaches, and dazzling waterfalls. The array of flora and fauna is just too plentiful to even begin to list. If you love nature, you will find your paradise in Borneo.

Semenggoh Nature Reserve

I arrived at the Semenggoh Nature Reserve around 8:30 a.m. to watch the orangutans feed at 9 a.m. The guide warned us that spotting the long, ginger-haired primates was not guaranteed. Anxiously, I walked down a short pathway to an opening in the forest where, sure enough, there was an orangutan feeding on a banana.

I stood on the wooden platform, filming these amazingly graceful, yet powerful creatures. They swung from tree to tree, munching on bananas, playing, and living without a cage in sight. I put the camera down, taking in the scenery with my own eyes. I focused intently on two adult females interacting with a baby; it was a fragile vignette of an endangered species in its own habitat. The juxtaposition of these animals with the lush, green backdrop was a gorgeous vision forever etched in my mind.

Bako National Park

From the boat station near Kuching, the ride to Bako was forty minutes of bliss. With the wind in my face, my hand splashing in the water, I watched the phantasmagoric cloud formations in the powder blue sky. The massive, verdure mountains whirled by, seeming to have been individually sculpted by Salvador Dali.