Day 45: Bako National ParkJuly 30, 2016 in Malaysia
Today we'd decided to visit the locally-famous Bako National Park for a chance to see the rare proboscis monkey. Unsurprisingly, they're so named as they have long, large distinctive noses, and only exist on Borneo. Our new friends Keith and Maria were keen to join, so we all breakfasted and caught the 9am bus just near the hotel. After an hour's bus ride we arrived at the boat terminus where we had to catch a boat downriver to the national park proper.
The boats are just medium-sized speedboats with space for around 12-15 people, so most of the people from the bus piled in and off we went. Fairly short trip of maybe 20 minutes, with mangrove-banked muddy river soon giving way to limestone cliffs, heaped jungle foilage and bright blue water. It wasn't a great day as it was fairly overcast, but at least it wasn't raining.
Once we alighted from the boat in the national park, we made our way to the visitor centre to check out the information. There were two trails Shandos and I wanted to hike along; one of which was an hour each way and the other was 90 minutes each way. But we'd been given heavily conflicting information about the boats and buses back home - depending on who you asked, the latest departure was anywhere between 2:30pm and 4pm!
By the time we'd stocked up on water and snacks, registered in the park book, slathered on sunscreen and insect repellent it was after 11am, and our hopes of doing both trails were fading quickly. We decided to go for the shorter one first and see how we were progressing at the end - this trail had more chances of spotting the monkeys, while the other trail was to a spectacular limestone pinnacle that stuck out of the sea. We chose the monkeys, so off we went into the jungle.
The trail was pretty slow going as it was mostly over tree roots - enormous root systems where you have to be careful about your footing or you'll slip and bust an ankle. And once we'd plunged into the dense foliage the temperature went up hugely and pretty soon we were all sweating. I've done a lot of sweating on this trip so far but nothing like this. It was running down my arms, my back, my neck, dripping into my eyes, running down my bum crack, the works. Every time I moved my hands droplets of "water" would go flying like you've just washed your hands and don't have anything to dry them on. It was gross.
No sign of any monkeys either - having done a fair bit of hiking in Australia I think we're both fairly good at spotting wildlife, but we were coming up very short. It probably didn't help that the trail was a bit crowded - we were stuck for quite a while behind a group of 10 English tourists (looked like a double-family group), where the teenage girls were constantly moaning about how uncomfortable they were and how much it sucked and why they wanted to turn back and so on.
After about 45 minutes we finished the trail and popped out onto a large beautiful beach. Definitely not isolated as everyone who'd done the trail was there, but it was a nice environment and we got some good photos out of it. Lots of very large hermit crabs around, probably the size of golf balls or so! Although privately I thought the best part was having a cool sea breeze drying me off after the stuffiness and humidity of the jungle.
After a rest and a munch on some supplies we headed back down the trail. We realised pretty quickly that most of the people we'd accompanied on the way to the beach were on a one-way guided walk and were getting little speedboats back to the visitor centre, so once we left the beach we were suddenly on our own. A couple of minutes along the trail Keith heard a rustle in the foliage and we all paused, spotting a family group of long-tail macaque monkeys about 5-10 metres away in the trees. These are the sort of monkeys you get at places like Ubud; fairly small, used to humans and sometimes quite aggressive towards food like Darling Harbour seagulls. The male wandered over briefly, gave us a sniff from the treeline and wandered away.
We kept walking and I'd basically given up hope that we'd see any proboscis monkeys. But about 2/3rds of the way back along the trail I heard a movement in the trees to our right and froze. We were standing on the side of a cliff edge with a good vantage point over the trees for maybe 30-50 metres to the shoreline, and I could see one of the trees was shaking and not with the wind. I quietly called to the others to stop, and suddenly saw a flash of brown fur about 25 metres away - a monkey! Macaques don't have brown fur - it's a proboscis monkey! Jackpot!
He sat in the top of the palm tree chewing on fronds for maybe five minutes - we couldn't see him that well but it was definitely a confirmed sighting! After a little while he leaped through a few trees off to our left and moved on, but another one was by now rustling around to our right. This one moved across as well and we got a better view since he was closer in. And again, he just sat there chewing his palm fronds.
Although I said earlier we were on the edge of a cliff, and we were, we were actually about halfway up the cliff with an enormous boulder overhanging us. Over the next 20 minutes that we watched the monkeys, three more proboscis monkeys came over the top of the boulder and leaped into the trees over our heads. Again, not that close to take good iPhone photos, but still fairly close! A couple of other groups had turned up by this point so I stopped them and pointed out the monkeys. Thankfully not the large whinging English group from earlier, I would've let them walk past!
Eventually we had our fill of the monkeys and pressed on down the path, arriving back at the trailhead by 1pm. At this point there was basically no chance we could do the longer path in time to make the last boat, even if it was at 4pm like some people said. But we'd seen the main thing we wanted to see, so not too disappointing. We headed to the visitors centre and cafe where we ate the last of our snacks and drank a beer to celebrate our large monkey sighting - apparently seeing one or two is common but a large family group is rare. Substantially less rare was the enormous hog that was hanging around near the cafe, waiting for scraps to get thrown off the balcony.
Beers finished, we started walking the few hundred metres from the cafe back to the boat dock. The other three pressed on ahead but I decided I'd walk along the parallel beach (there was a dense but narrow strip of jungle between the boardwalk and the beach). About halfway along the walk I heard another rustle in the trees and stopped - this time a proboscis monkey was right there in front of me, maybe 10 metres away! This was a large male with an enormous nose, and another monkey nearby that I could heard but not see. Moved in closer to take a few photos which of course were mostly obscured by leaves, and eventually it got spooked and ran away. Still, pretty happy with my effort!
Rejoined the others at the boat dock where a boat thankfully turned up fairly soon. It wasn't the last boat but since we weren't staying overnight and didn't have time for any more walks, we boarded and headed for the terminal. There was a bus waiting which left maybe 15 minutes later - again who knows if it was the last bus, hopefully not, but anything's possible. The journey back to Kuching took about 45 minutes and we collapsed into the hotel room tired and very smelly.
Had a great shower and relaxed for a couple of hours before meeting Keith & Maria again downstairs for dinner. We went back to the James Brooke Cafe where we'd eaten on our first night in Kuching last Saturday - hard to believe we've been here a full week! Not a big night as we were all tired from the day, so headed back around 9pm and basically straight to bed. Though since we've got the front room overlooking the street and the waterfront, it was difficult to sleep as it was a Saturday night and very noisy outside.Read more