|The Kinabatangan River is the longest river in Borneo (560km). It originates in SW Sabah and flows into the Sulu Sea (East coast of Sabah). The lower basin is the largest forest-covered floodplain in Malaysia. Three types of forests can be found there: the saltwater mangrove forest, the riverine forest and the dipterocarp forest (a type of dry land forest characterized by very high plant and wildlife diversity). This lower basin of the Kinabatangan River and its surrounding rainforests make up one of the richest ecosystems on earth. It is one of only two places on earth where 10 primate species can be found, including wild orang-utans. Scientists worldwide consider the area to be of great biological significance, and efforts are being made to ensure it remains protected into the future. It remains one of the last dipterocarp forests in Sabah, due to extensive logging and rapid establishment of massive palm oil plantations in the state.
In order to get to the Kinabatangan River, we boarded a bus heading to Lahat Datu at a long distance bus terminal just outside of Kota Kinabalu. We informed the driver to let us off at Medan Selera, a café located near the junction where we were to be picked up by the Nature Lodge van. The minute we got on the road, our driver almost (but, not quite, so it doesn't count) ran a car off the road. In fact the car did pull over to the side, while our bus driver remained oblivious to the situation and to his blind spot. We followed a narrow, bumpy and not fully paved road at first. The road quickly became winding, and hilly. I was about to vomit on more than one occasion, but luckily we pulled over just past the Mount Kinabalu Park HQ, with a view of clouds over the Mount Kinabalu ridgeline. A row of fruit and veggie stands continued for a long ways on either side of the road, while the air felt refreshingly cool. As we carried on, the road kept giving us stunning views of green valleys below, while the undulating hills send me up and down as I tried to keep it all in. Kung Fu Hustle was playing on the screen, with English subtitles. I kept being drawn to the screen, which made me feel even more nauseated. Sitting on the bus, with the beautiful scenery just whizzing past us, and without the ability to stop and take it all in on a whim, made us realize just how awesome it is to cycle. I even thought to myself that if we had done 6 months of this, instead of cycling, I would have been packing my bags to go home right about now. Sitting on the bus makes your body feel tired, and dopey. No fresh air is hitting your face, and no warm feelings from people's waves and hellos touch you as you go by. You may get to your destination faster (hours instead of days), but you also miss everything in between. I guess cycling, by virtue, is more about the journey, and less about the destination. At least that is how we see it (thanks Kevin and Trina for the idea).
Eventually we arrived at the junction to Tawau, and stopped there for a 1/2hr lunch. We exchanged our ticket stubs for some rice, an aubergine dish and some other veggies. We gobbled down our meal in order to have some time to checkout the 'junction market'. As soon as we got out there we heard honking, the bus was leaving. We got back on the bus, only to be pulled over at a police roadblock. A police officer boarded the bus, and immediately looked at the two of us asking us for our passports. At first we were a bit worried about being singled out like that, but he went on to check everyone's IDs. A lady selling popcorn and fruit got on the bus behind the officer. Some 4 or 5 other ladies were waiting their turn outside. Undoubtedly they saw the roadblock as a great business opportunity. No one was pulled off the bus, and we were on our way. A short distance later we were dropped off at Medan Selera. We didn't realize how hot it got to be outside, as the bus had the A/C on full blast. A couple of ice-teas later we were in the Nature Lodge van heading down a very bumpy, dirt road. Views of palm oil plantations on both sides of the road as far as the horizon continued for miles, interrupted occasionally by a cluster of small homes and road construction crews. We wondered how are we going to see any wildlife in this type of environment? We passed several large tow trucks, stuck tire-deep in mud. A few hairy moments followed, where we almost got stuck ourselves. We saw a few scooters on the road, some carrying an entire family. We wondered exactly how they imagined getting past some of the muddy sections. I guess as long as there was a pickup truck on the road with them, they'd be just fine.
As soon as we crossed a bridge leading to Kampung Bilit, we caught a group of Borneo pygmy elephants off to our left. We managed to get a glimpse of their hind ends as they scurried deeper into the bushes. The instant Myles started to pull out our camera, the driver locked all the van doors with a click of a button. I guess he was worried that Myles wanted to ride the elephants. Despite their name, they are anything but small. Later the same day, we got another glimpse of the elephants, although it was difficult to really appreciate their presence as we were piled into a van with the engine on. It would have been a much better experience had the engine and lights been turned off to allow us to stay in their presence for a while, without scaring them away. We did hear them, however, you know the sound.
Throughout our stay in the area we saw proboscis monkeys, a lone orang-utan, countless macaques, gibbons, a langur, black hornbills, a rhinoceros hornbill, egrets, oriental darters, monitor lizards, kingfishers, scorpions, bugs, bugs, bugs, etc... This is definitely not a zoo. These are wild animals, and so seeing them up close is not possible, as most of them stay clear of humans (with good reasons). We saw most of these magnificent creatures from a boat. We were wishing we had a good pair of binoculars, and a stronger optical zoom on our camera. Despite not being able to fully document what we've seen, it was an awe-inspiring experience just to be in their presence.