February 5, 2011
Chaucer once said, “All good things must come to an end,” and no matter how much I tried to live in the moment and mentally slow down time my trip has come to an end. Now for those of you have been following along with me on my entire trip you are probably laughing at me saying “good” because of all the mishaps I had on my trip. But in the end it was better than good, it was monumentally, amazingly, eye opening-ly, life changing-ly, spectacularly, meaningful. This trip has forever changed the way I will view the world and more importantly myself. I was ready to say goodbye to Borneo, goodbye to the bugs, goodbye to the heat, goodbye to living out of a hotel, but saying goodbye to the trip itself was overwhelmingly emotional and it will take me another five months to fully cope with being back home. Hopefully this trip just represents the beginning of my adventures as I barely scratched the surface of all the places I long to see and all the animals I wish to help. Many have asked me what now? Now I work on getting more amazing people like you to look at my pictures and try to inspire them to care about these animals and the future of our planet.
Thank you to everyone I met on this journey- all the volunteers at the various sanctuaries, my tour guides, and new friends I met in the most random of places- thanks to all of you, you really made this experience special. Thanks to all of my friends and family who let me write cranky emails to them when I had horrible days and for writing back making me feel like I wasn’t so far away from home after all. And a big thank you to my parents without whom I never would have had the courage or ability to take this trip. Thank you for bailing me out when I was stuck in a cockroach filled windowless basement in India and sorry for nearly giving you heart attacks when I wrote you emails of my misadventures. And last, but most certainly not least I want to thank all of my loyal readers for following me and sticking with me through everything I’ve been through. I’ve really enjoyed all the emails I’ve received from you guys sharing your tips on what to see and your thoughts on my experiences. I really do love hearing from you and hope you keep enjoying my blog.
If you missed out on some of my posts or want to go back and see certain ones again you can click on Places I’ve Been at the top of the page and click a destination to see all my posts from there. You can also checkout my interactive grid of some of my favorite posts from the journey, click on the image to go to the corresponding story. Even though my trip is over, my new life is just beginning and I promise there will be plenty more interesting photographs and crazy stories coming your way in the future so stay tuned…
February 4, 2011
After all the crazy places I had been and all the weird places I had stayed on my trip I wanted to end the trip with a few days of relaxation. I had heard wonderful things about the Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort located just outside of Kota Kinabalu, Borneo and thought it would be the perfect place to spend the last few days of my journey. The resort is a beautiful beach resort complete with multiple swimming pools, great restaurants, tropical drinks and coolest of all their own nature sanctuary. The resort is a wonderful example of responsible tourism as they provide a wonderful island getaway and profits from the hotel help run their own nature sanctuary where they protect 400 acres of beautiful rainforest for local wildlife and four orphaned baby orangutans from Sepilok on the eastern side Sabah. Guests can go on various encounters and jungle walks during the day and night to meet the adorable orangutans and other native animals like hornbills, sunbirds, iguanas and more. There are a million activities to do at the resort and beyond like golfing, kayaking, bicycling, village visits, scuba diving, and jet skiing just to name a few. The only unfortunate thing about Borneo is it is on the equator and it is hot and humid and during December (the rainy season) it is prone to storms. Bad storms. Monsoon storms. And unfortunately we arrived the day a monsoon was hitting Sumatra and we were getting pounded by the edges of it. We did get lucky and had a few hours of sunshine almost everyday, but a lot of our plans kept getting canceled due to the weather.
Our night plans to visit the nature sanctuary got canceled every night due to weather, but we did manage at least one visit each day to the orangutans. The four orphaned babies at the sanctuary are all between the ages of 2-4 and are simply adorable to watch frolic in the jungle. Orangutans are very endangered and nature reserves for them to live in on Borneo are dwindling due to deforestation by the Palm Oil Plantations. Orangutan babies are also illegally captured as pets and in the process the mother orangutan is almost always killed. Often when the mother is killed the baby will fall from the tree it is in to its death and every captured orangutan represents dozens that died in the process of procuring it from the wild. The orangutans here have been rescued by the Sepilok Rehabilitation Center, which I visited while in Sandakan on the northeast part of the island. They will live at the nature reserve at the Shangri-la for a few years and then will be released back into the wild at Sepilok in their nature reserve. There is also a discovery center at the entrance to the reserve where you can learn about the animals and watch a video about the “man of the jungle,” this is the same movie you watch at Sepilok so if you can’t make it there you can still see the documentary (and if you did go to Sepilok you can skip it if you don’t want to watch it twice). It is a wonderful opportunity to get up close and personal with this amazing endangered ape and learn how we can help secure their future on Borneo. You can even adopt one of the orangutans by giving a small donation to help protect your new furry orange buddy. I adopted the rambunctious Katie, my favorite orangutan, who I watched for hours swing from tree to tree and make a mess while she pulled branches from trees to scare off the macaques and fight with fellow orangutan Reg over a coconut. The hotel posts online a list of people going back since 2000 who have adopted the orangutans. You can see that list (with my name on it!!) here. For more information on how to help the orangutan check out the Orangutan Appeal UK.
I had a ton of fun at the Shangri-la and after all the crazy things I had been through in the last five months lying on a beach chair with an “Orangutan Special” (an amazing tropical drink signature to the resort) and hanging out with my furry ape friends was a perfect end to the trip.
February 2, 2011
The city of Sandakan in the Northeastern part of Sabah is often referred to as the gateway to an ecotourism paradise. I was coming to Borneo for that paradise, so I didn’t really have much interested in spending much time just checking out the gateway, but I decided to spend one day doing a city tour of Sandakan. It is the second biggest city in Sabah and used to be the capital, but now Kota Kinabalu on the Northwestern side is both the largest city and the capital.
There is plenty to see in the city, but I chose to just stick to a tour of the highlights. First stop on the tour was the Puu Jih Shih Buddhist Temple. The temple is a little over 20 years old and is built high on a hill that overlooks the city center and the Sulu Sea. I had lost track of how many temples I had visited at that point, and I didn’t feel the same beautiful spiritual presence that I experienced at some the temples at Mount E’Mei in China. If you have never been to a Buddhist Temple it is worth a visit though and it provides a nice panoramic view of the city below.
Our next stop was at the city market located in a large warehouse building with food on the bottom floor and clothes on the second floor. The second floor is just a lot of knock off clothes that reminded me of the Silk Street Market in Beijing. We were hoping to find some interesting local crafts, but none were to be found. The bottom floor is all different types of food that is purchased by the locals, but it wasn’t a particularly amazing market. My dad really enjoyed the fish section in the back, but it was a little smelly for my taste.
My favorite part of the tour was our visit to the Kampung Buli Sim Sim, also known as the floating village. This fishing village is completely built on stilts over the water and is a very common site in Malaysia, especially in Borneo. The water below the stilts was disgustingly polluted, but the houses themselves were actually pretty nice. On the outside they are painted in the traditional bright Malyasian colors, which I first saw in the Malay area of Cape Town. We were invited in to two of the homes who also had craft shops and the inside of the houses were much nicer than they seemed from the outside and everyone was very friendly, especially the children.
Our last stop was the Agnes Keith House, named for the American writer Agnes Keith. Agnes and her husband lived in the houe from 1930-1952 and Agnes wrote several books about Sabah and the people there. She was the first person to really put Borneo on the map and did for Borneo at that time what many say Kipling did for India- sparking people’s interest in the wild jungle. My dad and I aren’t really museum people so we had a quick look through and then had a great lunch next door at the British Tea House, which overlooks the water.
If you have a very short time in Borneo and want to focus on the wildlife the city is nothing spectacularly out of the ordinary, but if you have a half-day it is fun to see it and experience and learn about a new culture.