Borneo – primates, bugs and baby turtles!!

OK – so some of you might be asking, where the heck is Borneo? Well, Borneo, a giant, rugged island in Southeast Asia’s Malay Archipelago, is shared by the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, Indonesian Kalimantan and the tiny nation of Brunei.

Arriving in Borneo, we knew we had a week of R&R in Kota Kinabalu before our tour started. Thank goodness! We were tired from the Vietnam tour! That was about 15 days of GOING every day and included 2 overnight trains and a flight. And countless bus rides. HA.

First, though, a layover in Kuala Lumpur. We wandered for dinner and found ALL THE BEERS and good pizza too. Hard to find good pizza in the world I have found. It is one thing I miss about home, good reliable pizza. Ha.

YAY Beer flight!

ALL the beers!!

I love arugula (aka rocket) on my pizza!

Our arrival in KK (as the locals also call it) was pretty uneventful. Plane. Customs. Immigration. Uber to our apartment. As I knew when I booked it, this apartment was in a tower above and attached to a mall. Malls are big in KK. Seems like they are everywhere. And, similar to other places we have been, the mall also contains a grocery store. Good stuff. I don’t even have to leave the building to get food to cook. All good.

So, lots of screen time (blogging and planning for me – lots of South America research and planning, as well as some Alaska planning that week), lots of home cooking, and relaxation. We went out to dinner once or twice. I did some shopping, new T shirts, etc.

One thing I did was visit with Willi and Pam, who were on our Vietnam tour with us. We caught up for lunch one day, just before they left. They had come to KK to visit with the biological family of their adopted son. Fun to see friends again in a new place!

After a week of – well,  basically hibernation, we got to the hotel where we would meet our tour group. I ventured out for food and came across an open-air seafood restaurant, where all the fish and shellfish were in tanks around the room. An ENORMOUS room – like a warehouse. I had a lot of fun looking at all the crazy offerings. Like crayfish in water bottles (yup). GIANT horseshoe crabs. Clams that were spitting. And other crazy things, like the bugs we ate in Australia. Weird creatures. Hard shells like a crab, longish like a crayfish, but with a very flat head. Here is a photo I borrowed from the web.

Weird right?

I also saw some ‘more traditional crayfish’ in a tank, each one in a plastic (water) bottle. I was told later that they are ‘baited’ into the bottle in the ocean, then they eat and grow too big to leave, and the locals can come get them and then eat them/sell them. Pretty clever but weird looking!

AND some enormous Horseshoe Crabs! I had no idea that people eat those! Plus, don’t they have blue blood! I could never eat one, I have admired them – as a prehistoric-looking creature sometimes found on MY beach – since I was a kid.  They were big and beautiful in the tank, though.

Above and below – these are stonefish. VERY hard to spot in the water, but we have seen a few diving. Thing is, these are poisonous. To touch, I think, but apparently edible. In the photo above, they just look like rocks. In the one below, if you look closely, you can see its frowning mouth and an eye.



Crazy looking crabs.

ENORMOUS lobsters. no claws, though.

Anyway, we met our group and had a briefing by Jerry (our guide) then we headed out to dinner. The good news is, there is a nice mix of people of different ages on our tour. A family of 4 with 14yo girl and 12 yo boy (or was it 13?). Some college-age girls, with a 17 yo sister, and some others in their 30s. Many from our group are from Australia. The family of 4 is from New Zealand (Score! that’s where we are headed next!). Plus one girl from Brussels, one from Poland (but lives in London).

After dinner, we all stop for cash because there may not be any ATM’s for the entire tour (until we get back to KK). Wow, OK.

The next morning we head out for a long drive (7-8 hours) to our first place, a homestay in Kota Belud. This is a farm area, and we are given a tour of the small village and shown all the fruit trees, as well as some rice fields.  We see some beautiful flowers and friendly locals. In the afternoon, we watch a cooking demonstration, where we learn the traditional vegetarian dishes, which are made with fermented fruit that is picked before it is ripe. If eaten fresh (before ripe) it can make you sick. Hence, the fermentation process. Our host also makes a traditional dessert, which vaguely reminds me of a macaroon, but not as sweet.

Above, blocks of Latex, drained from the rubber trees in the area.

Beautiful view of the mountains.

Gorgeous flora.

Crazy beautiful red dragonfly!

KITTY in the window!

This enormous bolder – I was told – rolled down from the mountain many years ago.

Gorgeous stream. Some folks went for a swim. To cool off. 

More beautiful flora.

Local kids. They enjoy the attention of the tourists. Like to have their photo taken. But we were told not to ‘ask’ to take their photo because they are shy and will say no. But clearly, they are happy about it. HA


Delicious cake of coconut. Not too sweet but very addicting!

There is a beautiful stream running through the town, and a really nice bridge to cross it. On the other side – rice fields.


Jerry brings us some fruit, and it looks quite different to me. When you squeeze it, it cracks open into 3 pieces, shell and inside, and is SO DELICIOUS! Laney says its a combination of flavors, peach, orange and kiwi she says. DELISH.


We split up into our dorm rooms (girls and boys). Helen (the other mom) and I end up in our own room while all the young women are in one room (college and teenagers). Glad we dodged that bullet. HA kidding, they are all lovely.

The next day we are OFF to Sandakan, to cruise the Kinabatangan River in search of various monkeys and the elusive orangutan.

Upon arriving, we are warned about the macaw monkeys, that they are pests and will steal your (small) belongings if you leave them unattended. Like phones (YIKES). And, my small travel purse, with money, credit cards, passports – might be small enough to be carried away. So, I kept it on me at all times. Don’t you know, at one point, we all left the table, and a monkey snatched the ‘Reserved’ sign from off the table! What would a monkey want with that? either way, it’s probably gone forever.

In the next 3 days, we are scheduled for 5 boat cruises. I take 4, Laney takes 3. We accidentally overslept for one, and Laney opted out of one (she was tired and hot). It was quite hot a humid there. We did see LOTS of monkeys, different kinds, including the orangutan. They were a bit further away that I had hoped they would be. I took some photos but mostly you see a fuzzy thing that might be a primate. HA. A tour-mate, Valerie, however, has mad skill and good equipment so I downloaded some of her photos. She graciously allowed us to have them for free.

These are mine. Not too bad for an iPhone. But not good either.

Below – these next 7 photos, these are from Valerie:

You can view her full gallery of photos on her website here.










Aside from the boat rides, we also went on a jungle walk. Pretty cool. We didn’t see any monkeys but lots of insect life. Oh, and leeches. Yes. We knew they were a possibility, and, ironically, the person that was MOST concerned about them (Laney) got the most. I pulled 3 off of her skin. I had one or two but on my clothes. I think she had the most because of her body temperature. She has always run a little warmer than most. She’s like a little heater. And that’s what the leeches sense. At one point, we saw a leech on a leaf, and you could see it reaching out. Like a skinny red worm, standing on one end, the other end swinging around, seeking and bending toward any source of heat, like a body. HA. Freaky. But, no one got hurt, partly because we checked every hour or so, so they didn’t get embedded…. . Laney became known as the leech queen. HA

You have to see this 6s video of a leech on a leaf:

Leech video

The pill millipede – we were told they were harmless (thus i was holding it)then heard later they are not! HA! I’m still not sure… Oh well.  I know there is a red centipede in Borneo that IS poisonous…

cute little froggy on a leaf… He was only a couple inches long. And, since not brightly colored, and not black or white, most likely not poisonous…  or so Dylan said. He was quite the wealth of nature knowledge.



Our muddy boots (and legs)



Cooling off after the jungle walk!!


Most of us got stuck in the mud at some point. Nearly knee-deep! a boot was lost at least a couple times.

After that walk, we were BEAT and TIRED. A nap was in order.

That evening a kimono dragon visited our resort. Pretty cool.

Cam was lucky enough to have one visit him in the open air bathroom on the island later in the week. Sadly there are no photos (or videos, ha) of that scene.

The next day, we got a better view of the orangutans at the Sanctuary, where orphaned baby orangutans are brought for care. After a brief quarantine, even very small orangutans are allowed complete freedom. They choose to stay, to return at the end of a day playing in the jungle, to the sanctuary. There is no separation from the ‘jungle’ and the sanctuary. Once grown, they are encouraged to live independently but can come back for twice daily feedings if needed, which, at times, mothers of small babies tend to do. Pretty cool. Like a halfway house for orangutans. HA

This is a picture of the lazy sun bear sleeping. The photo is taken through a telescope of sorts. Who knew you could take a photo that way? It was tricky, though.


This orangutan came to the sunbear area from the orangutan area. Obviously needing a nap. HA

Can you spot the snake in teh middle of the photo? Beautiful. Was right along our walking path near the sun bear area.


beautiful greenery around the walkways through the orangutan sanctuary


Crazy looking bug.

This orangutan decided to play and chill near the walking path, so I got to observe him/her for quite some time.



After the River, and the Orangutan sanctuary (and sun bear center) our next stop was Libaran island. This is a fairly remote island where we were ‘glamping’ for the night. The tents were beautiful, with rugs, and real beds and everything. Only thing is, no AC and no fan. I really thought it would cool down at night, but it really didn’t. HA


Look closely, this building is made of plastic bottles!!

Our glamping tent setup.


Inside our tent. Pretty nice!


The Turtle Hatchery!!

I enjoyed the walk to the other side of the island to visit the village of people who live there. (despite the insane heat!) Mainly they survive by growing food and by fishing and selling their fish to people on the mainland. They have grade school on the island, with a single teacher. For high school, the kids must leave the island and stay with family on the mainland.

beautiful, simple, homes

More creative uses for plastic bottles!

Villiage boys

Villiage girls.

Villiage cat. HA

On this small, remote island, they make boats and use them or sell them.


View of the beach from the island’s small pier, where boys were using cast nets to catch bait fish.

I believe a papaya tree.

Spotted on the walk back to our glamping spot!

Coconut water! YUM! I was bringing mine back for Laney – I put a face on it and we called it WILSON!!

After the village visit – we visited the turtle hatchery. The warden on the island patrols every night to see the turtles lay their eggs (had their been one while we were there, they would have woken us up to see) – and then, the eggs are dug up, and brought to the hatchery where they are reburied in a fenced and protected area. When the turtles hatch, they are held as briefly as possible and set free in the evening when they have the best chance of survival. We were allowed to release the baby turtles!! They were SO SO SO CUTE!!!




Turtle eye view.

Sunset when we released the turtles.



Our dining area at the glamping site. Our hosts provided all our meals.

Leaving the island. Thanks to Lauren for all the good selfies. HA

After a boat, bus and plane, we were back in KK.  I had an interesting snack along the way – a Snickers Oats. Like a Snickers bar but with oatmeal. Quite yummy!

On the way, we stopped at the Sandakan memorial where we learned about the Australian and British soldiers who were brutally treated and killed as prisoners of the Japanese during WWII. 2500 were held here, and only 6 survived. Very educational and very sad.


Above, at the Sandakan memorial, I finaly got a good photo of the lipstick palm, called that for it’s bright red stems.

The flight back to KK was mostly uneventful. Except that when we got off the plane (walking down steps to the outside, as usual – a jetway has been a rare thing since we left the US) – I spotted this on the ground. Everyone thought it was fake but it wasn’t. It was real, and beautiful and perfectly preserved. As I carried it through the airport (yes, I got a few funny looks as I bent to pick it up outside, but no one stopped me even though I carried it in plain sight), we were laughing at the idea that it might ‘wake up’ and how I would probably scream bloody murder. HA. At first no one else would touch it. It was SO beautiful.



That night, we went to the open-air seafood restaurant (a group of restaurants I think) for dinner. It was amazing.  I had prawns. Amazing.



The young ones!!


Why? I have no idea.

Group photo!

The whole group – crazy style – from top left: Helen, Steve, Sandy, Lauren, Valerie, Joanna, Stephanie. Center: Cam. Next Row: Rebecca, Dylan, Olivia, Rocky, Me, Laney. Front: Georgia, Phoebe.

The next day, we said goodbye to our new friends. Some, from Auckland, we would see again soon!