We had plenty of time to fit as much scrambled egg, beans, unidentified battered stuff, and weird, tiny sausages into our faceholes as possible at breakfast before waddling to the meeting point at the cafe at the Sepilok Oranguatan Rehabilitation centre at the delightfully sane hour of 10.20am where we were picked up by Woffie, the son of Mr Aji, who we’d booked a three day Kinabatangan River tour with. So the thing with Kinabatangan River is the fact you’re pretty much going to see wildlife which is great for the eyeholes and yay monkeys and shit, but the only reason you’re going to see wildlife is because they’ve been forced into a very narrow strip of forest on account of the palm oil plantations currently taking over Borneo.
We were driven through miles and miles of these plantations on the way to Kota Kinabatangan. Acres and acres of rainforest have been destroyed to make way for the global demand for palm oil which is basically in fucking everything. I’m not even shitting you, it’s near-impossible to avoid. Chocolate, soap, shampoo, chocolate, that sliced not-quite-cheese shit that comes in plastic wrap, cosmetics, chocolate. Have I mentioned it’s in chocolate? I’m not sure I can give up chocolate. Usually I love palm trees, they’re my favourite tree, but these vast swathes of stumpy palms take on a sinister air when you think about the huge and devastating cost that the eco-system is paying.
Mr Aji himself was waiting for us at Kota Kinabatangan where we could also withdraw cash and grab a feed before heading into Sukau. There are a couple of eateries to choose from, we chose the one where Woffie was eating because in the other restaurant they just kind of stared at us like we’d flounced in naked and had three tits. Sometimes it’s a wonder I ever get fed in Asia with my anxiety; “They’re looking at me! I couldn’t possibly eat here!”, but at least we had a native speaker with out to help us work out how to get the food from the glass cabinets to our faceholes.
We finally rolled into Sukau and were shown to our accommodation at Sukau Tomanggong View B&B. It was me and Tarrant in one room and Nat and Laura in another room and there was a cat we could harass whilst we chilled for a bit before our first boat ride. This is predominantly why you come here; to cruise up and down the river gawping at wildlife whilst making the appropriate “ooh… ahhh” noises. You can go on little walks too but your best chance of seeing animals is from a boat. They’ll leg it if they hear you coming on land which is fair enough given humans’ tendencies to annihilate everything within firearm’s reach, but they’re not bothered by the boats. There were eight tourists in total, all British.
So yeah. It started pissing it down pretty much as soon as we got into the boat, around 2.30pm. I’m talking the kind of rain you only get in the Tropics. Think buckets. Nat and Laura were decked out in fetching polka dot ponchos they’d bought in some manner of big variety store in KK which transferred the colour of the dots directly onto your skin at the mere hint of rain. I can’t claim that myself and Tarrant were any drier, our jackets could only be considered waterproof if “waterproof” was just a different way of saying “highly absorbent”. We had those pack-away waterproof trousers you can pick up at Sports Direct for a tenner but I’ve noticed they always seem to leak around the crotch area. It’s like they’re mocking you. But at least they add a vaguely windproof layer.
We were all so fucking drenched we might as well have swum alongside the boat. Of course on a boat load of Brits someone made the “it’s just like being at home” joke and as if on cue the temperature dropped several degrees in seconds and the wind dramatically whipped up. Yeah well now it is! For fucks sake. This was miserable. Primates and birds like being out in the rain as much as we do, we were gliding very fucking slowly along a river in bitter silence, heads down, not really enjoying any of this at all and just wanting to go back to our rooms to dry off and sulk.
The boat stopped and started to reverse. Oh thank fuck for that, we were heading back! But Mr Aji was gazing off into the trees. We followed his gaze and I shit you not, the rain stopped. It fucking stopped. And there, in the trees, just hanging out and minding her own business, was an actual real-life completely wild orangutan! Oh my god, seriously, we’ve been here a matter of hours and there she was. And guys, don’t do what I did and go to Borneo with just your phone as a camera or you’ll end up waving your £500 worth of telecommunications equipment uselessly at trees and filling your storage with blurry photos of foliage that may or may not contain large, orange apes. I don’t have any photos of this (well, I do, but it just looks like an indistinct tree-blob), you’ll have to take my word for it, but it was incredible.
The plus side of having a guide who gave exactly zero fucks about the weather was the fact that we were already out on the river way ahead of the other groups as the wildlife started to emerge. We saw load of cool stuff including a hornbill drying it’s wings off, tens of macaques, and we got our first sighting of a harem of proboscis monkeys. These guys. Now they fell out of the ugly tree, bless them, with their scrotum noses and pot bellies. In any one group there’ll be a big male and the other monkeys will be his females, plus any kids. You can tell the male. He’s massive. Oh, and he’ll have his cock out.
Mr Aji must have been running these tours for years now, he’s a very knowledgeable and experienced guide and knows a metric fuck tonne of shit about the jungle. He’s well known and respected, he’s met David Attenborough twice and even worked with him when Sir Dave’s team came to Borneo to film some stuff. But he still giggled like a 13 year old boy when he pointed the male out to us and oh dear god, I’ll never look at those little breakfast sausages the same way again. There he was man-spreading in the trees, scratching his arse occasionally, pink lipstick permanently erect. Well hello, ladies. Again, this is really difficult to photograph when you’re only brandishing a mobile phone camera, but never have I tried so hard to take a decent photo of a monkey penis. Thankfully it wasn’t just me, the whole boat wanted that perfect shot of primate genitalia to take home and keep forever.
In between pointing out wildlife Mr Aji told us a bit about orangutans, a species he clearly adores. Humans are, of course, the biggest threat to them and not just because of our habit of bulldozing their habitat. They’re popular with the illegal pet trade too. After that, malaria is a big killer and apparently, bees. Do not adjust your sets, I said bees. He told us that a bee sting can kill a baby orangutan which I guess makes sense because some of the fucking bees over here look like they’d replace all of your blood with venom in seconds just for shits and giggs. A young orangutan will stay with and learn from its mother for five years before it leaves so if it’s mum is killed or the baby is stolen before then it’ll need to be taken in by a rehabilitation centre such as Sepilok so the humans there can try and teach it the skills it needs to survive in the wild such as finding food and nest building. He says there are only 500 orangutans left in Sabah. That’s really not a lot.
Eventually, after a good bit of time monkey bothering, we cruised back to our guesthouse for a buffet dinner and a relatively early night. We had to be up at stupid o’ clock the following morning for a jungle walk.