There is no Bacon in Borneo - A Backpackers Perspective

Out comes my backpack again for another adventure. This time it's sunscreen, sandals and mossie repellent. Destination -BORNEO. For the geographically challenged,Borneo is part of the Malaysian Islands, right of the Malay Peninsula, a sultans breath from Brunei and a mere turtle swim from the Philippines.

Our group flew to Kuala Lumpur where we were to overnight before traveling onwards to Kota Kinabalu. Our hotel was called "The Palace of the Golden Horses". An amazing complex owned by a horseracing sheik. In the bathroom was a volume knob next to the toilet so you wouldn't miss a single bit of audio from the 6 o'clock news if you felt the call of nature at 5.59. The hotel buffet was huge and we all sniggered at the BEEF bacon on offer.

Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim country so the likelihood of procuring a real bacon sandwich is absolutely nil. After breakfast we took a flight to Kota Kinabalu and were met by a local guide. He took us to our hotel, a stark contrast to the previous nights luxury. This hotels name eludes me but we named it "The Palace of the Scurrying Cockroaches". On each bed were no duvets or crisp sheets but a nasty old pillow and 2 towels. After some thought we figured that the large towel was to sleep under and the small for drying oneself off.

We flew to Sandakan to visit the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. The centre rescues orphaned or endangered Orangutans (meaning Man of the Forest) and tries to re-home them back into the fast decreasing rainforest. They are fed only bananas and milk on a platform deep in the jungle so the blandness will encourage them to forage for at least a box of custard powder. Afterwards we headed to a River Jungle Camp via a horrendous gravel highway to a croc-infested river where a motorboat waited to spirit us to little chalets nestled in riverside gardens. The insects were gigantic and I watched a winged beetle demolish half of my chalet roof. In the tropics it often rains in the afternoon. "Rain" being a loose term, more a mini monsoon. Braving the weather we boarded a small boat looking like the cast of "The Perfect Storm". We cruised up a side arm of the river and saw Long Tailed Macaques , Pig Tailed Monkeys and Proboscis Monkeys that have noses as large as Barry Manilow . The monkeys were bedding down for the night in the trees and being smarter than us humans, avoided the rain.

Next morning we took a boat and headed out to Selingan Island, a hatchery island for turtles. Turtles lay eggs all year round so tourists have to adhere to a few rules. The beach is no go after 6pm nor are you allowed to photograph any turtles. You share the island with some impressive looking Monitor Lizards. Luckily, as a human doesn't look like a freshly laid turtle egg they're not that bothered with you. In the evenings the rangers will tell you that a turtle has beached and if you may watch. Once the turtle starts laying then they remove the eggs and rebury them in a controlled hatchery where they are counted, recorded and take 7 weeks to hatch. The mother is tagged, measured and when she returns back to sea that's the last contact she has with her eggs. When a turtle hatches its instinct is to scurry down to the sea, straight into a predators mouth. In the hatchery a small mesh fence prevents them from scurrying any further than about 30cms. Some evenings tourists are given the opportunity to release hatched turtles. When all the predators are safely tucked up in bed the tiny turtles the size of 50p pieces have a chance of swimming to a safe place. 10 out of the 70 to be released that night would be destined to beat all odds and make it to adult size.

Borneo is amazing if you are into wildlife. What rainforest is left simply bristles with the sights and sounds of insects, birds and apes. Tourists are few and far between and the locals are very hospitable if sometimes nonplussed. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me to go there and my experience was heightened by my amiable travel companions as well as being able to see the apes and turtles. I will never look at a towel, a turtle or a bacon sandwich in the same way again.


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