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Day 9 |
Jun 01, 2014

Sandakan, Sabah, Borneo

By Juan Carlos Restrepo, Geologist
Coordinates:
N 05º48.493’, E 118º04.931’
|
Air Temperature:
28°C
|
Pressure:
1001 hPa
Weather: Sunny to overcast and stormy in the afternoon
Wind: 5 knots
Today I woke up tingling in anticipation of our day in the province of Sabah, in Malaysian Borneo. The Kinabatangan River has been described as “Borneo’s gift to Earth”, and that was our mission today, to explore the beautiful and rich Kinabatangan River.

Shortly after the Silver Discoverer came alongside in the busy port of Sandakan, we got into coaches that would take us first to the War Memorial in Sandakan, before heading to the Kinabatangan River, Sabah´s longest river.

The Memorial Park is located on the site of the Sandakan Prisoner of War Camp. It was an eye opener for me as this was a chapter of the World War II history that I was not familiar with. Of the 2500 prisoners that the Japanese armed forces held in this camp between 1942 and the end of the war, only 6 survived -the ones that managed to escape….

Within the park a commemorative pavilion holds educational material and includes a scale model of the original POW camp. We took a path that winds through the park past preserved wartime relics providing also interesting botany and birding opportunities.

We then went to a jetty where we embarked local boats that would take us up the Kinabatangan River. After about one hour we arrived at Abai village. This was a lovely and little jungle village where the last descendants of the Ming dynasty make a living from fishing and a bit of agriculture. The local community of only 260 people welcomed us with a smile. We had a tour of the place, heard about their stories and lives, and enjoyed their hospitality before a delicious lunch. They did make a big effort to provide us with a nice and typical meal. They even had to build a longhouse so we could all fit in. Following lunch the local kids performed with music and typical dances. The sounds and moves reminded me of the Indonesian culture, which after all, is not that distant from theirs.

We then said good bye to our new friends and went to a nearby area to plant trees. Our guests were assigned to a particular tree and did the planting. This activity supports the reforestation efforts in the area and helps the local community, as they have committed to NGOs and governmental programs to planting 20.000 trees per year. Something that Borneo is in desperate need of, considering the widespread deforestation brought about by the palm oil industry -a serious ecological disaster for Borneo, and for our planet.

After this emotive and significant activity our guests split into 3 groups. Those going on an overnight optional excursion to a nature lodge further up the Kinabatangan, those continuing on to Pitas Oxbow Lake for a bit of a walk looking for fauna and enjoying the flora and those guests that decided to head straight back to the ship.

I ended up going to the Oxbow Lake and we set off in fairly small, 6-seater wooden boats. Shortly after we left the village of Abai we arrived at the starting point of the hike and shortly after we had started walking, the sky opened up and it rained cats and dogs… A magnificent and powerful tropical downpour, like few I had seen before, fell upon us as we went through the forest. We then re-boarded the boats to head back to Abai village. The boat journey was incredible. The rain was truly torrential and mighty. It was beautiful to see such power of nature and we all got well and truly soaked.

Once in the bigger boats, which had a cover, we started heading back down the river towards Sandakan. The weather improved and the sun came out! We had a very good look at a troop of Proboscis Monkeys, plus some Long-tailed Macaques and a variety of birds.

We got back to the Silver Discoverer before sunset just before the ship left the pier to drop anchor in the bay for our overnight stay. What an exciting and full-on day. As I prepared for dinner I thought of what adventures my colleagues and a group of more than 20 guests would have been up to, as they spent the night in the tropical rainforest of Borneo. I will hear about it tomorrow.

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