Sunday, April 10, 2011

Bako: Cinnamon trees, Deserted Beaches, and Naughty Macaques with Cataracts

Somehow I've been in Kuching for around 7 months, without venturing to Bako National park, only a 30 minute boat ride from Kuching. This is a very famous and popular national park in Sarawak, playing host to a number of Borneo's most treasured, unique, and baffling organisms. Well this weekend, it was a nice group of us, including Gilbert, Holed, Harny, Michelle, and her fiance, Andrew. We rented a chalet and planned for a 3 day, 2 night stay.

On our way to the park.

The trip was part work, part play, as I also did a small collection of plants at the park. Gilbert, Holed, and Harny helped me track down some of the Cinnamomum (various species of Cinnamon) in the area, so that I could collect small samples of those and neighboring plants for my microbial isolation. Why those plants in particular? Let's leaf that for a soon-to-come post. Just take it on faith for now, that these plants might have special qualities, potentially influencing microbial life dwelling within their cellulose-fortified, photosynthetic, bastions.

I'm not going to detail every aspect of our trip but will note important highlights in nonsentence form.

-excellent trails here, not too huge so as to destroy much flora, but clear and exciting in the range of terrain traversed.

-pitcher plants (Nepenthes ampularia among others) galore in some of the peat swamp and kerangas forests

-I never knew before this trip that pitcher plants are hang-out spots for hermit crabs

-First time swimming in a sea (South China) whose water felt hotter than the air outside.

-Fun night hike with all sorts of odd critters. Frogs (see photo below), some poisonous; poisonous spider; civet cat, skipping around up in the canopy; grasshoppers; stick insects; etc. There was plenty that we did not get to see, but that's part of the excitement of being here: it's all wild, unfettered, beauty; nothing fabricated, no circus acts, nor scheduled sightings. Just life, in all of its glorious [and sometimes not-so-glorious) serendipity.


At 7am on our second day at Bako, we woke up and started to prepare our simple instant mee noodle breakfasts. Right around the time we were sitting down to get sustenance for the day-long hike, we heard loud thumps on the roof. All of a sudden, a macaque peeks over the edge of the roof to check out the scene on the ground floor. We've got these suckers in the bag, he's probably thinking, as he then likely reported his observations to rest of the crew. And so, less than a minute later, the brigade drops down for operation Chili Tuna. They surrounded our chalet and some tried to distract us with their cute appeals, while others began making attempts at our table of food. We quickly moved the food to the kitchen and closed the door, but alas. A single can of chili tuna was taken captive and devoured before our eyes. Oh those sly devils are good. We just knew in advance they'd try underhanded tricks like these, so we had sticks to scare them off. For the common, unknowing tourist, however, things go far worse in many cases. Usually these monkeys can conduct whole raids on a kitchen, as we even witnessed several opening a refrigerator door and grabbing goodies out. These monkeys are far too comfortable with humans.
How'd they get so fearless I wonder?
My guess is that for year, humans were around, not causing harm, even offering food to these monkeys, as we all have a sore spot for cute, fuzzy, mammals, especially primates. So these guys got super accustomed to our offerings and probably figured we wouldn't hurt them, even if they pulled antics like the ones I described above.
Oh yeah, I guess I'm using full sentences now, oops.

-second day, we ventured on a 7 hour trip(3.5 hour there, about 2.5 hour back, about one hour for lunch and hanging out) to another beach, called Telok Sibur. This walk was more difficult than the last one, especially the last 45 minutes of steep descent. Originally we were thinking of getting on a boat from this beach to return back, but there was no phone signal and so none of us could contact the park office to request a boat. I was happy to walk back, but it meant we didn't have much time at the beach. The beach was totally deserted, not a soul in sight. I felt like LOST could have been filmed on this beach, except that the high tide midday floods all the terrain up to the slope For a while I thought I was seeing monkeys on the far end, but I was just being delusional and hopeful. Probably dehydration, or just being myself.
Holed and I decided to take a dip in the water, but it was just plain unpleasant because it was so hot I could have poached an egg in it.

-And then we walked back, by the end I was very much in need of 100 plus, the ultimate hydrating force here (sprite meets gatorade). I inhaled three cans and a liter of water within a minute.

-old macaque with cataract in one eye seems more polite than others. He'll take the food you offer him and eat it gently in front of you, unlike the younger ones, who will slyly approach, snatch it and speed to safety, fighting over it with others and devouring the snack.

-we had fun making some lewd light graffiti.

-I photographed a beatle imprisoned by a fan.


More photos here.

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