If you are not in the mood to read an over enthousiastic piece, you better stop reading N.O.W. I really tried to wait a day to get the level of stokedness a bit down, but it doesn’t work. So here it is!
I’ll ffwd a bit. Flying to Borneo, Kota Kinabalu, take bus to Sabah, Sepilok. Main focus: get to the Uncle Tan Wildlife Camp as quick as possible. Only the 6 hour busdrive was already legendary. When you get out of Kota Kinabalu, the biggest city of Borneo the jungle begins. We drove for hours through the most stunning views. I just sat and looked out of the window for 6 hours without getting bored. IT IS SO BEAUTIFUL OUT HERE. For miles and miles the only thing you see is untouched jungle. Mountains and hilly landscapes full of jungle. Green as far as the eye can see. Only once and then you see a few houses. After only the busdrive, this is thé most beautiful nature I’ve ever seen. I just want to write everything in caps just to stress how crazy amazing woooow and so much more this is. Anyway.
So destination: Uncle Tan Wildlife Camp. Uncle Tan has become a legend among backpacking wildlife seekers and nature lovers. Uncle Tan was actually a person, the first to start wildlife tours in the lower Kinabatangan area somewhere in the 80’s. The concept was very simple he wanted tourists to experience real jungle life like the tribes lived it and all of this as ecofriendly and responsible as possible. It was actually Hiddes dad who found out about the place and went there with the whole family more then 10 years ago. Time to follow them in their footsteps.
All visitors have to go to Sepilok first, where the base camp of Uncle Tan Wildlife Adventures lays. It’s the place where you get your clean sleeping blanket and get briefed before departure. You can also leave some luggage behind and only take the necessary. The night of our stay we were immediatly invited to drink some ricewine together with some staff.
The first morning we went to the Sepilok Orang-Utan Rehabilitation Centre. It’s a sanctuary where injured and orphaned orang-utangs are brought to be rehabilitated to return to forest life. Two times a day it’s feeding time and you have the chance to see the orang-utans. Honestly it felt very similar to a zoo to me. It’s a very good place ofcourse and the more tourists visit, the more money they have for the project. But still felt like a zoo. Everybody was waiting in front of the feeding platform to take the best picture. I can tell you: we must have taken thé best picture of the day, maybe even of the whole week and month. We weren’t really excited about everything so we decided to walk one of the trails that lie behind the orang-utang centre. The birdwalk. We didn’t hear or see too much birds, but what we did see after some time was an orang-utan that walked straight towards us. We quickly jumped aside to let him pass. After passing us he started tumbling like 5 or 6 times. ?
For lunch we went back to base camp and after we left to the real Uncle Tan Jungle Camp. We were a group of 6 people only. So very lucky. It took around 3 hours to get there. First by van and then we continued by boat to get deep into the jungle. The boatride was amazing. It felt like starring in a National Geographic Wildlife documentary. You could easily imagine a helicopter flying over to show the spectators the stunning view from above. Already on the way there we were very lucky and spotted our first wild orang-utan, which is very rare. We also saw a few hornbills and plenty of crocodiles. And a wild orang-utan!!
The camp is build in a swamp and is very basic. You sleep in shared open huts with only a matress on the ground and a clamboe. And that’s it. There’s no wifi, no running water, and only a few hours in the evening electricity from a generator. So if you’re looking for a luxurious hide away, this is not the place. If you’re looking for the real thing and see a lot of wildlife. This is the place.
We did in total 6 jungle treks. Some just by boat, some by walking, some in the coolness of the early morning, some during the night. And we saw more then we hoped for. We saw another orang-utan, this time the big alpha male. We got even out of the boat and that close for a few seconds that we saw his face properly. We saw at least 20 great hornbills as well as oriental and black hornbills. We saw regular and longtailed macaques, silverleaf monkeys, flying dutchmen(nose monkey), snakebirds, owls, crocodiles, varan, a centipede, wild boars, white crested fish eagles, several species of kingfishers and spiders. Loads of spiders.
Next to the wildlife program there was plenty of time and space to feel at home. The Uncle Tan’s staff is so great that once you arrive you really feel at home. They cook delicious food every day and in the evening there’s a lot of ricewine and music and singing. It doesn’t matter if you’re not the next undiscovered Adele, just go for it.
After 3 days it was unfortunately time to leave the camp. We left with very good memories and a very satisfying feeling to have survived -easily- the beautiful jungle. It was without any doubt the most wonderful experience of my life. But I’ll stop with the ooohs and the woooows before you get too much annoyed by it. Like in any other story there’s also a less fun side to this one.
It is true that there is still a lot of beautiful jungle. But compared to years ago it’s only a fraction what’s left. Huge parts of the jungle are being burned down to turn into palm oil plantations. Animals who inhabit the jungle since forever loose their habitat. Beautiful creatures like the orang-utan extinct. It’s weird that beneath something beautiful as a palm tree lies something very bad. At first sight, when driving through, it doesn’t look bad. It’s also green, it’s a palm tree which usually equals paradise. But it’s mainly the industry that makes it wrong. For ex. there is so much degraded land available that they could use instead of rainforest.
It is a story most of us know. But seeing it with your own eyes is just heartbreaking. On our way back during from Sepilok to KK we actually saw 2 huge parts of the rainforest on fire. One was very out of control, the other burned in straight lines, like lava or something. A bit too controlled to be natural I guess.
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