Ever since watching the Discovery Channel as a young child, I had dreamed of finding my way to Borneo. The Discovery Channel, constantly did episodes on Borneo’s impressive rainforests, which used to be highly protected from human impact. It’s rainforests are home to some of Nature’s most beautiful and elusive plants and animals, such as the Rafflesia flower, the Pygmy Elephant and the Bornean Sunbear. Borneo is also home to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center, which is a facility that provides medical care for orphaned and confiscated orangutans, as well as dozens of other wildlife species.
It is an amazing region, filled with one of a kind wonder and beauty. And thanks to the Discovery Channel, I was determined to get there.
Our first stop was in the capital city of Kota Kinabalu. While KK is the capital, it is more like a large village. But, there is still a good bit to do and see! Ever wonder where the first Survivor Episode was taped? Borneo. Yup, on the island of Pulau Tiga, just off the coast of KK. From KK, you can jump to most any island and go snorkeling, hiking and sight seeing. Both fortunately and unfortunately, all the islands are protected and you can therefore not spend overnight anywhere unless you are with a company doing a tour. Even then, I think the limit is two nights. But, KK itself, is a great place to rent a motorbike and simply tour around; there are a few good look out spaces just at the edge of the city line, if you are interested. During the first days of our arrival in KK, we spent most of the time on the back of the motorbike and in cafes, figuring out how to travel inland to both Sepilok and Sukau, to adventure through the wild and trek alongside the Kinabantagan River.
Regardless of what people say, you can do this trip the backpacker way and catch buses and taxies to each destination. Just be prepared to feel a bit lost at times. The great thing is that East Malays are incredible friendly and truly want to help you get where you want to go! We took shared taxis and buses the whole time we were in Borneo, and everything worked out just fine.
From KK, there are so many places in Sabah to explore. For us, I had planned this leg of the trip, so our first stop was therefore, of course, the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center. To actually go into this refuge and watch 8 Orangutans swing into sight, eat, chill, sleep and pee was literally one of the most rewarding experiences for me on our trip. I was fulfilling a dream! These animals are so much like us humans it is unreal! And yes, you can say you saw one in a zoo… I promise, it is not the same thing. The Orangutans at SORC have acres upon acres of wild jungle to explore. They are not in captivity. They actually only come in at feeding times. We heard that there are times that tourists come to see the great animals, and to their dismay, none of them show up for breakfast, finding their own food wherever in the sanctuary they may be! We were incredibly lucky to see eight of them, one being just a baby! Watching their large toes curl around bananas and lift them into their mouths whole, left me with my mouth wide open in a gasp. And when they stand up and walk, hug each other, turn their head side to side, take a nap, pretty much anything they do, they look like humans. Really, I could go on about our similarities forever. But, if i did that, I would never get to talk about trekking and long boating along the Kinabantagan river inside the Borneo Rainforest, one of the oldest rainforests in the world. What a life changing experience it was to watch King Fishers fly into their favorite spots, see anacondas slithering on banks, hear monkeys of all variations jumping and calling across tree lines, observe orangutans perched at tree tops, witness owls flying during daylight hours, feel crocodiles lurking under our boat, be annoyed by mosquitos slamming into us on all fronts, to duck from a bats’ flight, to have to survey every inch of our bodies for leeches as we returned to our rooms and to come lie in bed at the end of the night and think about our shared reality under the beauty of the 140 million year old Bornean Rainforest.
It is no wonder that Borneo’s Rainforest has been scientifically traced as the center of the evolution and distribution of many endemic species of plants and animals. As a wanderer there, you literally feel like you are in the nucleus of the atom that is our world, feeling shock waves of energy, vibrancy, wholeness and oneness.
So, call it what you want. Borneo, Sabah, East Malaysia… None of these express the beauty that this region holds. No words can hold the such a powerful vibration.
All I can really say is, there could be no better last destination for our big 2014 trip. Every moment from May-September 2014, with just Rob and I, was beautiful, whole, meaningful, fulfilling, enlightening and faultless; and Borneo, you gave us the exact epic end we were needing.