fredag 5. februar 2010

The river

I laid out the big map of the rainforest east of Sandakan, Borneo on the table and all three of us bent over it to look. I pointed to the Kinabatangan River’s mouth and used my finger to follow it carefully through many bends towards the River Lodge Town of Sukau. It was shorter than anticipated. “How can such a short distance take 5 hours?” my brother said disbelievingly. We would soon find out.

We all settled in the boat. It had wooden benches along the side, two powerful engines in the back, a small cabin and a top made of tarpaulin to shade from the scorching sun and pouring rain. The pilot gave us all life jackets and rooted around to find a small one for our son. Then he took off in high speed towards the river estuary. Well past the Estuary Police check point, we started a slow and careful voyage up-river. The river erodes the jungle and driftwood of all shapes and sizes were floating towards us. We went zigzagging through it all.

Benny, our guide was standing up front and watching for wildlife. She shouted out – “look over there!” The pilot stopped the boat. Far away, high up in a tree, we could all see an orange mass. It was a huge male orang-utan! He was sitting still, without moving for a long time. We all zoomed in with our cameras and binoculars to get a better view of this magnificent animal that is so rare to see in the wild.

Further up the river we stopped at a local restaurant. Along the sides of the house and towards the river there was some curious fence made of short logs of timber sticking up about 20 in. and perhaps 1 in. apart. From the dock to the house there was a wide hanging bridge with ropes to hold on to. I asked our guide about the fence. “It is to stop the crocodiles”, she said. I gripped the hand of the 3-year-old harder and swore a silent oath not to let go of him until we arrived safely back at the hotel in Kota Kinabalu.

After five long hours on hard wooden benches, zigzagging through driftwood, looking out for monkeys, elephants and crocodiles, we finally arrived at the River Lodge. At dusk we went up to a side arm of the river to see and hear the abounding proboscis monkeys. The next morning we had the same painstaking voyage back down to Sandakan, ending the adventure of a lifetime in Agnes Keith’s “land below the wind”.

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