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Elephants!

15 May

She’s surprisingly bristly, like a sparse, straggly, scrubbing brush, and her skin is thick, so thick that you have to give her a good hard slap before she can feel you.

To clamber up, you stand on her bent knee, grab a large, leathery, ear and swing your leg over.  Except she’s about three times as wide as a horse, so you end up being unceremoniously shoved in the bottom by a friendly mahout, who’s probably secretly laughing at your incompetence.  He then demonstrates how to do it properly by nimbly scampering up the trunk and perching on her head, as if she’s a stool and he’s having a drink at the bar.

Then she stands up.  Blimey she’s tall.  As someone who’s not particularly fond of heights, I’m starting to wonder whether this was such a good idea.  Dickon is hoisted up by a couple of people and plonked infront of me, I plant my hands on her head as I’ve been instructed, infront of Dickon’s thighs, I hope it’ll be enough to stop him falling off.  He whimpers nervously as she trundles off down the tree lined path.

It’s very bumpy, a slow rolling motion, rather like the boat that made us all sick off the Otago peninsula in New Zealand.  Keep looking ahead, instructs the mahout, and I try to do just that, because looking down is a bit scary, particularly as we’re walking alongside a ravine.

But gradually, as we slowly move along the sun scorched track, and she never gets faster than gentle lumbering, I start to relax and enjoy myself.  Dickon keeps up a steady mantra of it’s really fine, she’s very slow, she doesn’t want to hurt me, and he, I think, starts to enjoy himself too.  Every so often she waves her trunk in our direction, blowing sweet, bananary breath on us, and he says “Banana, Mummy!”, so I pass him one from my bag and he gives it to her.

Once you get over the terror, it’s a lovely way to travel.  We’re walking through farmland, with mountains in the distance, and we spot lychee, mango and rose apple trees.  When she goes downhill, it feels like being on a very slow moving roller coaster and you can’t imagine how you’ll ever manage to stay on, but it turns out that it’s quite hard to fall off such a broad back.

We spend all day with these beautiful, gentle creatures, with their toenails the size of desert spoons and their friendly wandering trunks, always on the look out for bananas.  We talk to them, feed them treats, wash them in the river.

We’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of amazing, once-in-a-lifetime days on this trip.  But we’re all agreed, this was one of the very best.

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My day being a ranger at Rasa Ria Resort

29 Apr

By Eve

Today I was a Rasa Ria Ranger for the Orangotans in the reserve at Rasa Ria Resort.

First I prepared the food for the Orangotangs (there were two) like sugar kane, cabage and papya.

Next we walked to the platform where we saw them eat the food I prepared for them.

After that we…….. (here comes the exciting part) 5…4…3…2…1… me and Ned WE BATHED A BABY ORANGOTANG!!! Ten-ten (the baby orangotang) was extremley cute with her dark barkey eyes and her hasel brown fur. And if you looked hard enought she looked like the cutest animal alive. But any cute animal can be egressive, even Ten-ten!!! Ten-ten is quite egresseve when being bathed and espetioly her tummy because she can use her hands and her feet to grab you and try and take the wash cloth. She was really wriggerly but still very cute. And she was dressed in baby clothes.

And that was my day being a ranger at Rasa Ria Resort in Bornio.

THE END.

Leeches

21 Apr

I’ve never really understood the fuss about leeches.  Sure, they drink your blood, but so do mossies, and at least leeches can’t kill you.  It doesn’t even really hurt when they bite you, because they inject you with a local anaesthetic.  One might even say that it’s quite cool to be bitten by a leech, a jungle badge of honour.  Or so I thought.

It’s true that they don’t really hurt, and that they can’t kill you.  But they are horrible.  They sort of sniff you out, or they would if they had noses, they can sense your body heat and they chase you.  Actually chase you.  They search out crevices in your skin and latch on, slimily.  As you walk, you can feel their slippery little bodies squirming between your toes.  When you pull them off, blood oozes thinly all over the forest floor and you are left with a bruise.

They’re kind of freaky.   But very Borneo.

Kuala Lipis

15 Apr

Kuala Lipis and I didn’t get off to the best start.  After eleven hours on the train from Singapore, I was expecting big things.  So a hotel room with mould growing up the walls and an insufficient number of beds was not quite what I had in mind.  A night spent refereeing fights between children who objected to sharing said insufficient beds, did nothing to improve my opinion.

Wandering around the town the next morning, all I could see was grime and decay.  The type of grime that you only get in Asia, layer upon layer of dirt on every surface, dead rats, piles of rubbish in corners, festering in the heat.  The type of decay that you only get in tropical climates.  Crumbling concrete, rampant mould, jungle creepers threatening to engulf the small town.

But then, like the creepers, it gradually started to grow on me.  As the only Westerners in the town, with children to boot, we were objects of friendly curiosity.  We talked Olympics with the guys hanging out in the clock shop (above), we were given bananas by the newspaper seller and the Chinese lady in the grocers’ shop said hello every time we walked past.

A town of this size in England would have a pub, a couple of greasy spoons and a Chicken Cottage, but Kuala Lipis has a dizzying array of food stalls and restuarants.  We had Malaysian Curry for lunch, Chinese for supper, Indian roti chennai for breakfast.  I would hazard a guess that we could have eaten in a different establishment three times a day for a month.  And it was all good.

Then there’s the jungle.  For hours and hours the train from Singapore trundled north through impenetrable emerald green forests, some of the oldest rainforest on the planet.  Feeling very much like characters in an Evelyn Waugh novel, we took a boat down the swift, muddy, river, towering trees on either bank, to a small village with chickens, goats and pink lace curtains.

From there, our guide, Hashim, led us deep into the jungle, through shoe stealing mud, to limestone caves with fluttering bats and elephant droppings.  All day we walked, meeting only a couple of hunters armed with machetes and shotguns.  We saw rubber trees with cups full of white sap, and rolled the sticky substance in our fingers.  We tracked elephant footprints, as large and round as dinner plates.  We battled blood sucking leeches and lost. We emerged, tired, sweaty, muddy, victorious.

Kuala Lipis and I didn’t get off to the best start, but it grew on me.  I forgave it the manky beds and the dead cockroaches in return for it’s quiet friendliness and faded colonial charm.  And it’s hard to hold a grudge against a place with elephant footprints.

Monkey Mia

22 Mar

We’re playing pearl diving. A heavily suntanned, retired couple bob around in the warm turquoise sea, talking about investments and stock prices. On the fine yellow sand some toddlers are building a sandcastle and three bikini clad backpackers lie on their towels reading fat novels. A little way out, there are small fishing boats, rods dangling hopefully over the side. A group of young men throw a ball noisily in the shallows. You could be on any beach anywhere in the world, except for maybe in North Yorkshire, where hypothermia would have set in by now. You could, if it wasn’t for the five dolphins swimming up and down the shore, playfully chasing minnows and weaving curiously around the delighted humans.

Monkey Mia is an unusual place. No more than a holiday resort really, in Shark Bay, one of only twenty-odd places in the world that meet all four World Heritage criteria for places of natural importance. One of the area’s biggest drawcards is the stromatolites, the living descendents of the earth’s earliest producers of oxygen. They’re not much to look at, rock-like creatures that bubble occasionally, but ex-geologist husbands find them very exciting. Scientists aside, most people come to Shark Bay for the stunning wildlife, dugongs, rays, turtles, sea snakes and the famous dolphins. In the 1960’s, a small caravan park was established at the end of a dirt track in a place called Monkey Mia. People would come to fish and the local dolphins soon worked out that if they hung around in the bay they’d get a free feed. Before long, people were coming to Monkey Mia just to feed the dolphins and their images graced postcards all over Australia.

I have to say that I was in two minds about visiting a place to feed dolphins, it sounded a bit cheesy and commercial, like a glorified aquarium. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. After it was discovered that unregulated feeding was altering the dolphins’ behaviour and causing serious problems to the population, the Department for Environment and Conservation turned the area into a reserve and took control of the feeding programme. There are now very strict no touching rules, areas which are for dolphin swimming only and continuous research into their behaviour. Only five mature females are ever fed and they’re only given a small snack, never enough fish to stop them hunting for themselves. Despite this, many more dolphins come into the beach every day. They know they’re not going to be given fish, they just like interacting with humans. The dolphins who come into the beach today are the children and grandchildren of the first animals to be fed. Dolphins spend a third of their day socialising, and these particular dolphin families have chosen to include humans in their coffee morning.

We continue our game of pearl diving, stopping now and then to watch as the beautiful creatures race past in pursuit of a long tom. The long tom lives to see another day but the dolphins don’t seem to mind. And nor do we.

Twinkle twinkle little star

5 Jan

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“Are they real?” whispered Eve as we sat in the boat in the inky dark cave, water gently slapping on the rocks, gazing in wonder at the hundreds of thousands of pin pricks of light above us.  I can understand why she asked.  The Waitomo glow worms create an effect as magical as anything Disney’s Imagineers have conjured up.

We learnt all sorts of facts about glowworms in the sprawling, cathedral like underground caverns of Waitomo.  While we listened to the life story of the little glowing maggots (they’re called worms for marketing purposes, worms sell better than maggots), we marvelled at the stalactites above us.  Some are huge and monstrous, hundreds of thousands of years in the making, some impossibly delicate, like glistening limestone icicles, one astonishingly beautiful, a draped shawl of rock, that looks like it was carved by Michaelangelo.

But it was the glow worms which will stay with us.  The tiny pin pricks of blue green light scattered in their thousands, across the cavernous black ceiling, like a dazzling milky way. “I think they’re beautiful”, Dickon whispered to me as we were leaving.  I think they are beautiful too.

A tramp in sandfly bay

19 Dec