Sunday, June 20, 2010

Plastic Bottles, Moonlight Cruises and Indiana Jones

It's almost been a month since I've returned from my trip to Borneo and I still am thinking about what an adventure my sister and I had. In addition to the adventure we also learned a great deal about how many dedicated people there are throughtout the world who devote their lives to the conservation of animals and the flora and fauna. For example, one of the scientists working along the Kinabatangan River noticed that the local shrimpers were cutting bark off of trees to hook their shrimp traps to so they could locate them. Well, that meant that the tree would eventually die and there would be more deforestation. This scientist got together with some the local influential shrimpers and suggested that instead of using the bark, why not use "used" plastic water bottles. Read more...
Now, as you travel the river, you see along the river banks bobbing plastic water bottles. Late one night, while we were on one of our night safaris, we saw glowing red lights on the water. Uh, oh. Aliens? Red Tide? Crocs with red eyes? No. One ingenious shrimper had put red LED lights in his water bottles so that he could pull them up at night. Speaking of moonlight cruises, that is were I was able to get the great pics of the two birds pictured on the left. What I noticed, though, about where we were was the distinct lack of sounds. It is very quite. If you're in Africa, all night long you're hearing lions roar, hyenas barking, hippos splashing in the water, elephants trumpeting. But here, it was very quite. We had cloudless nights, clear views of the constellations and the milkyway. I told Mincho, our guide, that he needed to do "sundowners' like they do in Africa. Bring along a few "toddies" of choice, drift down the river and watch the sun set. His response: Well, you might then have to go to the bathroom and well, you're not getting in the water and I'm not taking you ashore. Good answer. Bug repellent won't repel those types of meat eaters.

Mincho so desparately wanted us to see the elephants but everytime the "crew" who tracked them would spot some, by the time we got there, they were gone. We told him that he could come to the lodge ANYTIME and get us if some were spotted. The next day after we saw the shrimper with the red lights, Mincho pulls up in the boat and says the shrimper had seen the elephants crossing the river about 20 minutes after we had left. Oh, poop on a stick. So, he was going to take us to that location and see what we could find. We're almost at the spot where they had entered the river the night before when Mincho gets an urgent call that 2 male elephants had been spotted in a palm oil plantation and that if we hurried, we could finally see the elusive pygmy elephants. We zipped down the river as if head hunters were chasing us, jumped to land and hurriedly got in a van and zoomed lickety split down the road zig zagging around pot holes and an occasional cobra (Ok I made that part up. We did see one dead one though). Got to the plantation and began walking in to find the elephants. We were not really prepared for this. Wrong shoes, wrong clothes but we didn't care. And there they were eating from the palm oil trees. Which the owners of the palm oil plantations don't really care for. And I doubt very seriously they would have been happy to find us there. But hot damn, we finally found them. See the picture at the left. Why such a big deal to see these? Well, in the state of Sabah, where we were, the WWF says that there are only 1000-1500 of the animals left in the world. They are smaller than other Asian elephants, and the Borneo Pygmy has a longer tail that reaches almost to the ground and straighter tusks. Their babyish faces and more rotund shape lend them appeal. Well, we finally found them. It would have been a real shame if we had not. But, Mincho and his team came to our rescue. It took a boat, a van and stumbling through a plantation to see them but we did. Success!

We left the Proboscis Lodge the next day to go climb Mt. Kinabalu and then back to Kota Kinabalu to stay at the 5 star Shangri-la Hotel. We stayed there for two nights to decompress and actually take some nice hot showers and get wonderful massages. My sister then headed back to Houston via Hong Kong and San Francisco and I had to overnight in Singapore and then head back to Atlanta via Tokyo. This is definitely not a trip for everyone. I saw an article the other day in the WSJ about the difference between a traveler and a tourist. We saw very few Americans on this trip. Mostly Europeans, Brits, Aussies etc. My hypothesis is that most, not all, Americans are "tourists". We like comfort and the familiar therefore, we take cruises (albeit some can be to exotic locations but only for a day or night then on to the next port)or we travel to Mexico, the Caribbean and certainly Europe. But the Europeans and Brits are travelers. You find them in some of the most remote places with not a care in the world. My sister and I felt like travelers and we really, really enjoyed the experience...

No comments:

Post a Comment