But soon we were saying selamat datang!
On reaching Sandakan, located in the state of Sabah, our eyes met the Nature Lodge named after Sungai (river) Kinabatangan – an inordinately beautiful sight, lavish with evergreens lining the banks and hovering like apparitions.
Our eco-friendly chalet was set as if in a mythical landscape.
We began with an evening safari on the balmy waters, a soft orange in the sky, in the hope of locating a few jungle inhabitants.
In the first round, the next day, we spotted a troop of shy proboscis monkeys on the higher boughs, pearly white egrets, a family of playful long-tailed macaques, a scheming crocodile sunbathing, and orang utan nests.
A wonderland in the wilderness.
That night, we went on a guided walk through a bewildering maze of the lowland dipterocarp forest. What could’ve been tricky if we gathered tiger leeches or wasp hives was actually nature at its benevolent best!
Finding camouflaging caterpillars, sleeping trogons, screeching cicadas, Gelotia spiders, occasional flycatchers, and the rustling of leaves, rheumy air, the scent of flowering plants, resulted in a new, incontestably cherishing experience.
There’s something magical about being in direct contact with the earth.
In the cool of the following morning, we encountered birds racing around in the sky: pied kingfishers, a preying fish eagle, a flight of barn swallows, bushy hornbills and others among the many exotic species that the Bornean rainforest houses.
As we careened across the river, pygmy elephant tracks in the midst of the lustrous, tall grass became evident too.
Breakfast consisted of eggs, fried noodles and kopi, delicacies from the region, and followed by a nap as the day progressed into a velvety summer noon.
Later, we hiked to Oxbow Lake, getting lost in the rhythm of the melodious sounds emanating around us. The route we took had pawprints of wild boar, several pill millipede, fresh elephant dung, coastal monitor lizards.
One and a half hours later, we were already dipping our feet in the profoundly warm water, tiny Mahseer fish nibbling at the dead skin.
At daybreak, we drove to Sepilok, in the same district and a few kilometres away from our lodge, believed to accommodate more than 60 free living orang utans and orphaned babies, taken into the reserve where their survival skills are honed.
Although we do not support the concept of man playing a role in the lifecycle of a wild animal, we understand that its current status pleads conservation. Orang utans, 94% similar to humans, are currently at a risk of extinction due to manmade palm oil plantations.
As a giant squirrel foraged, a clan of these demure red-haired creatures popped out of their hideouts, swinging from tree to tree. A glimpse and they disappeared!
We checked into Jungle Resort, ate noodle soup, coconut curry and rice in banana leaves and dawdled in our supersized bed, a sense of ambedo setting in.
Also endangered, mostly due to deforestation, are the Bornean sun bears who we chanced upon; this adorable, compact and the smallest species of bear stole our hearts in an instant!
“Every creature was designed to serve a purpose. Learn from animals for they are there to teach you the way of life.”
Worth mentioning is the charming Lindung Gallery restaurant that serves delectable root vegetable chips and organic, sweet Sabah tea.
With memories for a lifetime, we left this phantasmically stunning place called Borneo.