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Part two: jungle living

Showering jungle-style

From Mount Kinabalu, we and our sore legs headed towards Uncle Tan Wildlife Adventures at their rainforest camp by the side of the Kinabatangan river. The camp is built for open-air living, it fits seamlessly into the jungle and only two trees had to be removed to make way for the huts and connecting boardwalk. Consequently, we were living right in the jungle, hearing the calls of the passing macaque monkeys, surrounding birdlife and the splash of something big in the swamp. We shared a hut on stilts over the swamp with two other couples, Gaby and Albert and Stephanie and Mike, sleeping on double mattresses on the floor draped by mosquito nets. The arrangements were basic but adequate and everyone seemed to adapt well. At first we were unsure about the riverwater ‘showers’ (a barrel and a bucket) but we got so hot and sticky that any cool water was a relief. We even had a rainwater shower on our first night during a huge thunderstorm that meant our first safari trip out on the river was cancelled.

Malaysian blue fly catcher

Our safari schedule included early morning, late afternoon and night boat safaris combined with day and night treks in the jungle. The wake-up call for the morning boat safari was a bleary 5.30am with just time for a change of clothes and a quick brush of the teeth before we were called to the jetty. The morning river trips were very peaceful and it was wonderful to see the sun rise and hear the jungle waking up. We usually spotted more birds in the morning and we also saw one of our two orang utans during one of the morning boat rides. We saw our first wild orang utan during an afternoon boat safari and had to get out of the boat and trek through deep riverbank mud and through vegetation to get a good view. He was an older male with a long orange goatee and didn’t seem too happy to see us, stripping twigs and branches off his tree before disappearing deeper into the trees to hide. During our boat rides we also saw Borneo gibbons, proboscis monkeys, silvered leaf moneys, plenty of macaque monkeys, common palm civets, monitor lizards, different types of kingfishers and hornbills, eagles and flying foxes. We were amazed by the talents of the guides who could spot even the most camouflaged and hidden animals, even during the night safari with just a spotlight to help them.

Nature's swing

We were in the jungle for a total of four nights/five days by which time it felt like home. The camp is headed by a wonderful team of staff, coordinated by the unique Lan, and from our arrival to our departure we were welcomed warmly and treated as friends. We were impressed by the work hard, play hard attitude of the staff and the sheer amount of fun they had. After breakfast the staff played enthusiastic games of football with anyone who wanted to join in (although I got the impression it was strictly men only) and after lunch it was time to play badminton while spectators watched in hammocks from the sidelines. In the evening, the staff showed their other talents by picking up guitars and tambourines and leading a sing-a-long and general good old time.

The jungle weather seemed to be quite predictable, it gradually warmed up after sunrise, becoming baking hot after lunch and then there was usually the sound of distant thunder which gradually rolled closer for a huge downpour between 6-8pm. During our first night the rain was particularly heavy and in the hut close to ours, the occupants spotted a snake sliding under the roof to try to keep dry! The camp staff were quickly called to help and with much excitement and shrieks, the snake was scared back into a tree by banging on the roof to displace it and encourage it to seek shelter elsewhere. It was identified as a mangrove snake (only mildly venomous) but after than incident we always did a snake check whenever we returned to our hut.

During the quieter times in the schedule, we enjoyed sitting on the boardwalk around the most remote huts and waiting to see which kinds of wildlife we could see. During one of Jon’s birdwatching sessions, he was scanning through the jungle when he saw a familiar item through the binoculars: his North Face trekking shirt hung high in a tree deep in the swamp.  We’d left it outside our hut to dry and while we were out, the macaque monkeys must have got hold of it and had some fun. First jumping on Jon at the orang utan sanctuary and then stealing his shirt in the jungle – it looks like the monkeys have got it in for him!


Back to the delights of night markets in KK

The Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin mosque, Brunei

We finally arrived in Kota Kinabalu (called KK for short) at about 7pm last night. We were slightly delayed in setting off due to heavy rainfall in KK but I’m glad we waited it out rather than fly through it. All our flights were fine, the food was healthier than usual inflight fare, there was a decent selection of films and the stops helped keep us interested and provided an opportunity for us to revive ourselves. The stop-over in Dubai was a good chance to stretch our legs and look at all the goods on offer in the transit lounge. We had about an hour and a half and we were able to browse all the expensive goods on offer in the transit lounge;  nice pens, jewelry, whiskies, electronic goods and rich Dubai men to buy them all.

Not your usual forecourt

We landed in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, at about 9am yesterday morning and headed straight out to explore. The place is called BSB for short and in our spare six hours we visited the riverside food market, had a stroll along the waterfront, took a watertaxi ride past the houses, schools, fire station and even petrol station all on stilts out in the water. Petrol here is only 20p a litre! Everyone gets about by taxi boat which zoom about in all directions. After our boat trip we stopped by the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin mosque but were only able to peek through the doors as it’s closed to non-muslims during the month of Ramadam. Later on in the afternoon we looked around the Royal Regalia museum with photos, objects used in royal processions and also all the gifts and souvenirs the Sultan gets given by other countries  – quite an array of stuff, not all of it tasteful. We were surprised to learn how closely linked Brunei and Britain were; Brunei only became fully independent from the UK in 1984. The Sultan  actually studied at the Sandhurst military academy and has the honorary rank of general in the British Army. We were starting to droop by the time we’d finished the museum due to tiredness and the heat so we returned to the airport to wait for our final flight.

Fish, fish, glorious fish

In Kota Kinabalu our hotel is right by the night market so after arriving we just dropped our stuff, sprayed ourselves with DEET and then went straight out for some tasty food. We took a look at the fish stalls first – amazing whole fish with spots, stripes, orange ones, blue ones, ugly ones and spiky ones. For food we got a noodle soup dish which turned out to include tripe, liver and kidney but actually didn’t taste that bad, quite nice really once we’d added some lime juice, chili sauce and soy sauce. Then we had some barbecued squid with tasty fried rice (probably containing a health dose of MSG).

It feels great to be back in Asia even if it’s really hot here. When we landed yesterday evening the temperature was 29 degrees C and it must reach the high thirties during the day. Going outside is like stepping into a warm and steamy shower room. I’m afraid that we’ve been extremely lazy today; we got up for breakfast but then had another lie down and ended up sleeping until 2pm! We can blame it on jetlag. We managed to sort out a hiking package for Mount Kinabalu for Friday and Saturday and after that we are going to visit the orang utans in Sepilok and tropical rainforest at Kinabatangan valley. It’s doubtful that there will be any internet connection so it’ll be about a week before we can share our experiences and photos with you. Hopefully they’ll be worth waiting for and we’ll be able to tell you of some amazing times.


Ipanema but no sunshine!

Christ the Redeemer

Rio has been really interesting for us but unfortunately we haven´t had the best weather. Think of a typical British summer day with heavy cloud and a sprinkling of showers and you´ll more or less be spot on. Not to be put off by a little rain, we´ve been out and about – taking refuge from the drizzly beach in a great little cafe not far from Copacaban beach where Jon fell in love with the torta de limao (lime pie), enjoying tram rides to the bohemian Santa Teresa district and up to the statue of Christ the Redeemer and watching a dramatics arts group performing a play in Portuguese in the Parque das Ruinas.

The reality of the crowds. Everyone wants a photo with Jesus.

We could easily spend another week here. The city has an energy which can be felt from the people and glimpsed in moments such as the impromptu drama, people enjoying pavement beers or samba music heard from open windows. We´re set for the beach though as we head to Ilha Grande, a couple of hours away by bus and boat. The forecast is looking better for the next few days so we´re hopeful of some sunny island time. We´re staying in a jungle lodge, with the jungle quite possibly closer than you think since one of the rooms is more like a pagoda; just a floor and a roof!


It doesn’t always go our way…

Weather for Rarotonga, Cook Islands

29°C Mon Tue Wed Thu
Rain Rain Rain Rain
Current: Scattered Clouds
Wind: N at 11 km/h
Humidity: 74% 28°C | 24°C 29°C | 24°C 28°C | 25°C 29°C | 25°C

Weather for Northallerton, UK

9°C Mon Tue Wed Thu
Mostly Sunny Mostly Sunny Mostly Sunny Mostly Sunny
Current: Haze
Wind: E at 11 km/h
Humidity: 82% 16°C | 5°C 18°C | 4°C 19°C | 5°C 19°C | 5°C


We’re back (almost)

Just a quick post to let everyone know we’re well. We’ve been stuck in Lukla for a couple of days trying to get a flight back to Kathmandu, but there are very few flights due to cloud. Just a waiting game at the minute but we’re a bit concerned we might miss our Tibet tour. Internet is about 10x the price here compared to Kathmandu so we’ll leave checking our mail/email/replies till we’re back in Kathmandu!

Hope everyone’s well! More details to follow of our Everest adventures!

Jon and Lou