The Wonderland that Sabah Is
So here we are, Debby and I, in a local Chinese Restaurant located at Mile 6 outside of the city of Sandakan, in the Malaysian territory of Sabah on the island of Borneo. The couple we are with are from Indian ancestry, having grown up Malaysia, and realizing that when a person cannot take a lot of red hot chili peppers the best option is Chinese food. Of course they have mixture of the extremely hot chilis in small bowls by the sides of their plates to excite their palates. It is a type of consideration that you find all over Southeast Asia that a host would prefer his guest over himself so this is of no surprise to us, but the next thing that happens is quite amazing. When it is time to leave, I ask if I can help pay for the meal, which of course is a form of courtesy in the West, but then our hosts tell us that someone from another table has paid for our meal which turns out to be quite common in Sabah. The person who has kindly paid for our meal is a former colleague of our host. She does not have time to sit with us, nor even chat, but kindly pays. I think to myself about a world where people act like they do in Sabah. Quite hopeful!!!!
The first days in Kota Kinabalu are spent with Debby attending the annual EARCOS teachers conference which always attracts great keynote speakers on some of the current issues in the world. There isn’t much for physical education people at this conference so I chose a route which seems to suit me best. Three of the four days in KK I take a boat out to a group islands in the marine park for snorkeling and scuba diving.
During the evenings we arranged some meetings with the local Baha’i community on dreams, becoming your true self, and life after death (this was mentioned in the last posting). The overriding theme that I found on this trip through the personal work and dream work was that what seems to be opening for the people of Borneo is a chance to dream their own dreams in their own lives. Much of the culture in this part of the work, if not the entire world, has always required that an individual live his life according to what someone else has desired for him, and not from his own inner self. Whether it be for the father’s goals or the CEOs or the sultan’s, people have had to keep hidden their own inner desires for their lives in order to survive and not receive severe consequences. It seems to be changing so that the value of personal initiative can be balanced with that of harmony of the group.
After several days in KK we leave early Monday morning aboard Airasia over Mt. Kinabalu to the incredible area around Sandakan. Our guide, Samuel, a member of one of the tribal groups of Sabah meets us along with another couple from Holland and then we are off to our first adventure. We arrive at the Gomantong Cave, which is famous for large numbers of bats and swiftlets, and the not so famous odor from bird and bat droppings and then 1000s of cockroaches that line the boardwalk. The villagers from this area harvest the nest of the swiftlets after the young are hatched and have flown off for bird’s nest soup which is quite pricey. It is quite amazing to see what kind of heights the villagers have to scale on ladders to get to the nests. It is not something I would want to do for a little bowl of soup.
In the village in front of the cave we are met with a few wonderful surprises. A pregnant female orangutan parks herself on tree just outside the village and close by is a beautiful green viper. We know that we will see orangutans later in the trip at the orangutan rehabilitation centre, but it is really something special and hopeful to see a great ape in the wild. We also see a beautiful green tree lizard. It is a great start.
Next we are off the village of Sukau which is about 2 hours drive from Sandakan along the Kinabatangan River, the longest in Sabah. After lunch and couple of hours in the resort, we board a boat to head up a small tributary called the Menangal River and there we become enveloped by the jungle at its very best. We see a cat snake, river otters, monitor lizards, a baby crocodile, a large numbers of proboscus monkeys along with pygmy tailed and long tailed macaques. At one point on one side of the river is large dominant male proboscus monkey with his harem and on the other side 10 meters away a bachelor troupe of males plotting to take over the harem. The dominant male makes a huge display in the trees to the let the bachelor’s know that these are his women. Now we know that we are not watching the Discovery Channel; we are the Discovery Channel. Further up the river we spot some hornbills and kites and when we return we are treated to a gorgeous sunset. What an amazing day. At night we have a great dinner in our sorongs which is the jungle equivalent of a black tie dinner.
The next morning we trade the peacefulness of the jungle to the open waters of the Sulu Sea. After two hours on the river and another hour on the sea we arrive at Selingan Island, one of three islands that Malaysia bought from the Phillipines in 1971 for the grand total of about 20,000 USD. These are protected areas for green and hawks bill turtles who come to these islands to nest. It is quite encouraging to see what the Malaysian government does to protect the future of these great sea animals and part of our fees to the excursion goes to the research and development of the programs there. Most of the action starts at night, but after our lunch and some snorkeling around the house reefs, we stumble on to mother nature at her best once again. One of the tourists is walking away from the beach when out of the sand pops a little baby turtle’s head. Several of us rush over and we watch as he struggles to lift himself out. Not knowing what to do and not wanting to harm the process we call over the lifeguard who quickly comes over. He sprinkles a small amount of sand on the turtles back and this causes him to pop all of the way out of the sand and head for the sea. After a few mounds, the lifeguard then picks up the turtle and takes him down to the water’s edge where the turtle instinctively dives in and begins to swim to the deep waters. No matter how many times you see it on Animal Planet, it is just not the same as real life. Debby takes some wonderful shots.
After a nap we all gather in the dining hall in the early evening and there must wait until the first big turtles come ashore and begin to lay their eggs. Depending on the conditions the time can vary from 8 pm to 5 am so we are hoping for the former. At around 9:30 pm we get the signal to head out to beach and there we see a large green turtle having already dug a hole in the sand begin to lay some 90+ eggs. To protect the eggs from poachers like monitor lizards the rangers collect the eggs and the place them in the ground in a hatchery a few hundred meters away. That night 25 more turtles will come ashore and lay more than 1500 eggs of which 70-80% will be born and return to the sea. The last phase of our night’s visit is to release the newly born turtles into the sea which we had already seen earlier in the day. It was another magical moment.
So now after a night’s sleep and a boat ride back, followed by breakfast at the local pier, we find ourselves at the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre where orphaned orangutans are taken in and gradually reintroduced to the jungle. They are amazing animals and it seems like you can never spend enough time around them. It was not unlike our experience in Sarawak a few years ago, and once again, it is a blessing to be around people who have dedicated their lives to saving our nearest relatives for whom we share 96.4 % of our genes.
Later in the day we head back up the river to the Abai River Lodge, again on the Kinabanagan River where we are introduced to our guide named, Jack. His father used to work for the forest ministry and could identify over 250 species of birds. Jack seemed to have inherited his father’s enthusiasm. We have never had a guide who could name and find so many beautiful birds. Even on a night walk in jungle, he pointed out several birds sleeping on branches.
By the time we arrived in Sandakan the next morning and toured the large Buddhist Temple on the hill overlooking the bay, we realized that we had experienced something really special. The jungle had really given herself over to us in great wonderment. It is a remarkable place.
Not surprisingly that evening when I gave a dream meeting to the Baha’i community in Sandakan there were three or four dreams about snakes. I told them snakes always mean change and that lots of snakes meant that lots of positive change was about to happen in the world. We know that we are both changed from our trip.