20,000 leagues under the sky, 2004- travel blog

King of the Swingers.

Don't stare when I'm eating.

Gis a bite.

Pit Viper.

Jungle track.

Hanging around.

Grub's up.


Next logical port of call in Sabah after climbing Kinabalu is a visit to Sandakan and the nearby orangutan sanctuary at Sepilok. Actually the next logical port of call would have been the hot springs just outside the Kinabalu park but I decided to miss them out.

Against all of the advice of the Lonely Planet I decided to stay in Sandakan instead of a Sepilok itself partly because one of the hotels there sounded really nice, unfortunately I hadn't booked ahead and it was full so that was a waste of time. Sandakan wasn't a particularly pleasant town and all I did there was sleep and find the bus to Sepilok.

When I went to the orangutan sanctuary in Sumatra I was sure it said it was one of only two in the world but this one claims to be one of four, I've found another one in my guidebook in Sarawak so there are at least three. This one is set up as much more of a tourist attraction than the Sumatra one with a big visitor centre and a matching entrance fee, even my camera had to pay to get in and my little thing was charged as much as some monsters there. My bus arrived just before the start of the morning feeding time so I rushed through and thought that I was lucky because there didn't seem to be anyone else there. I followed the boardwalk to the viewing area and as I turned a corner saw the viewing platforms swarming with tourists. In Sumatra the rangers take about 10 to 12 people at a time into the jungle where they feed the apes, here they have a big bank of raised platforms and half of Australia had turned up for the day. Still the orangutans are cool to watch and they didn't seem to mind the array of cameras and video cameras pointing at them.

The jungle reserve is also host to many other mammals, birds and reptiles and a nice green pit viper was sleeping in a tree over the top of one of the walkways. Macaque monkeys were flying around making a menace and the whole place is full of the traditional jungle sounds of birds and insects, unfortunately I didn't get to see any of the hornbills that live there. Feeding time was short and straight after it the vast majority of people there jumped straight back into their tourist buses and headed off to the next point of their tour. I'd paid for a days entry so decided to do some of the parks jungle walks while waiting for the second feeding of the day was at 3pm. I got a pass back at the reception centre to go on a 4km round trip to the Sepilok Water Hole (just after I said I wasn't doing any more trekking). The woman gave me lots of warnings about what to do if I met any macaques or orangutans but I was a lot more worried about meeting any of the vipers that wasn't having a siesta. As soon as I got into the real jungle the heat and humidity were unbelievable and with the deafening insect noises and monkey calls it really did feel like being completely in the wilderness even though I was only a couple of km from the main road. Halfway to the water hole was a sign for the Birdwatchers tower and I'd just passed the turn when it started raining. Strange rain, I could hear the rain falling for about 5 minutes before water actually made it through the canopy and down to ground level. By then I'm managed to make a tactical decision that the "birdwatchers Tower" probably had a roof and would be a good place to head. I got there and stayed relatively un-rained on although of course once it stopped raining it was a long time before water stopped falling from the canopy.

WARNING: Don't wear boxer shorts in the jungle. If you are squeamish or of a sensitive nature skip this next bit, Jade, go and do your homework.

Once I ventured back out from my shelter the walking had become a lot tougher as the trail had turned to mud. I crossed a couple of bridges over small creeks to the Water Hole and when I got there I sensed a peculiar feeling "down below". A swift examination revealed that something that hadn't been part of my anatomy in the shower that morning was where it shouldn't be. Thankfully the trail was deserted so I dropped my trousers to see a leech attached to my scrotum! I only just resisted the urge to run around the clearing shouting "Oh . Oh ****!!", I instantly decided that the park could stuff it's no smoking policy and lit the cigarette required for a quick removal. I don't know what anyone would have thought if they had walked onto the scene to see me with my trousers around my knees and a lit cigarette held between my legs. Trust me, holding the burning end of a cigarette millimeters from one of your most sensitive areas is not an easy operation, especially with shaking hands but I did manage to get the bastard to drop off though not before it left me with a souvenir bruise, I hope it was female. I've absolutely no idea how it had managed to get there, I was wearing boots, trekking socks and long trousers, why didn't it just have a snack on my legs? It goes without saying that I finished the smoke then decided to get the hell out of there. I then saw leeches everywhere, crawling on the trail, hanging on the branches and far too many climbing on my clothes which my lighter swiftly dispatched. As soon as I got back to the boardwalk near the park office I checked my bag, took off my tee-shirt and checked that front back and inside-out, checked my boots and trousers and then sighed with relief although I remained paranoid for the rest of the day.

It was only when I was having a coffee and lunch that I remembered that the reason I've been carrying a small tub of Vaseline for the last 10 months was that I read that the best way to remove a leech is to cover it with Vaseline so it cant breath and releases. To be honest I don't know how long I could have waited while it held its breath (and my ****) before just ripping it off, acting logically and having a leech on your genitalia don't go hand in hand.

Anyway, I finally calmed down and had a walk around the exhibition centre then as the afternoon feeding session drew near I went back to the viewing platforms. This was a much better time to visit, all of the tour groups must visit only in the morning as there were only 15 or so people there this time and it was much nicer to spend time watching the orangutans playing and eating. Just before I left, I watched a video presentation about orangutans and the work of the sanctuary which was quite informative. Once I got back to Sandakan town I went straight back to my hotel for a shower and final leech check of the day and a good stiff drink.



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