10/05/2015, Malaysia, island of Borneo
The big nose winner
At Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands, one day I was talking to an American cargo ship officer. He was telling me about an incident which happened to him on his very first day of work as a deck officer on a large container ship. We initially got into the discussion as we were commenting on how many Philippinos work on ships around the world. In this situation, he had to jump in the middle of two squabbling Philippino deck hands who just pulled knives on each other. The source of the argument? One called the other a "monkey"! We had a good laugh over that. But now that Rebecca and I have spent months in the Philippines, 7 months in Indonesia and 4 months in Malaysia, we have seen what nasty little animals monkeys can be and that in these countries, to call a person a "monkey", is derogatory enough to start a fight.
Visiting many national parks in Malaysia, we have had the privilege to see all kinds of monkeys. Macaque monkeys are everywhere. They are cute, especially the small ones, but in some areas they have developed little fear of the placid tourists, and this is where the monkeys can become aggressive. They are stealthy animals moving in as a casual group then quickly raiding the tables at the dining area of a park headquarters cafeteria. Most tourists just back off and let the little peeing, shitting, animals take what they want. There are only a few tourists who will swing a plastic chair at the teeth baring, snarling, animals to drive them away and save their lunch for themselves. But the raid and being ripped off by monkeys gives the tourists some fun stories to tell and makes for unique souvenir pictures.
The unusual proboscis monkey, with a very long nose, lives only on the island of Borneo. Their numbers are far fewer than the macaque making them very difficult to find and photograph. But still, rather than tramping all day on park trails, I got my best pictures of a proboscis, sitting in the late day shade, high on a tree branch, at the park headquarters. At 3:30 in the afternoon, it seems so many animals wake up from the forest and head to the central location as though it is some sort of scheduled feeding time. Every tourist is warned though, not to feed the animals. Even the hefty "bearded pigs" ramble in, single file, then spread out to see what might have been dropped on the ground. As the pigs wander through, the macaque monkeys move out of the way like parting waters.
Some of the most dangerous "monkeys" are actually the ape, orangutan . There is no "g" on the end, nor should it be pronounced with a "g" on the end. Orang means "person" and hutan means "wood" or "forest" but in the spelling and pronunciation the "h" is eliminated. Monkeys have tails, apes have no tail. To call someone an "ape" does not seem to have the impact of "monkey" but to further that experiment, I will leave for others. Orangutans only live in a few places on the large island of Borneo and on the Indonesian island of Sumatera. Their numbers have been greatly reduced due to hunting and human overpopulation. Males can grow to hundreds of pounds. But even small Orangutans are incredibly strong and need to be kept at a distance. At one park/orangutan rehab center, where there are twice daily feedings of the apes which come out of the forest. A bulletin board at the park headquarters displays pictures of tourists who were the mauled victims of an out of control orangutan. The orangutans trigger? No one knows for sure. There might have been food in the victims backpack or the orang might just have been in a bad mood that day. These animals have learned that humans are docile and nothing to fear. Those mauled tourists have permanent scars from deep teeth bites in their legs and arms and handicaps including missing fingers. But no one should carry food when there are monkeys or apes around. These animals will do what they can to steal it. But contrary to this, there are a few public parks in Indonesia where macaque monkeys are numerous and rely on tourists buying bananas and peanuts to feed to the monkeys. In these locations, there are numerous park employees who keep a close eye on the tourists to make sure they do not become too comfortable with these wild animals and might mistakenly treat them as a docile pet to touch.
In the Malaysian rain forest, there are all kinds of animals like deer, civet, bear cats (a small black bear), porcupine, clouded leopard, crocodiles, tigers and all sorts of snakes and colorful birds. The problem with hiking park trails, at the end of the day, you usually see only a lot of trees and some very nice waterfalls to cool off in. We visit the local zoos to see what we miss in the woods.
Hiking up and down the mountain trails, in the protected parks we visit, are some of the most impressive trees imaginable. The loggers would love to move into some of these areas. It is not unusual to see trees 5 feet, and more, in diameter and hundreds of feet straight up, like the mast on a large ship. Only near the top does it finally branch out into a bushy crown. There is no relative to these trees in North America but they do remind me of the cowry tree in New Zealand. The lumber from some of the species can easily be described as "iron wood" and is so incredibly dense it sinks as quickly as steel. Nails cannot be driven into the wood without first predrilling the holes. Of course this is a valuable wood so the forests, outside of established parks, of Borneo are quickly disappearing.
Since the tropical rain forest is near the equator, there are two seasons, rainy season and not so rainy season. The annual hot temperature varies little. The number of daylight hours is the same year round. Because of this, it is difficult to tell how old a large tree is. Since it grows at the same rate all year, there are no annual growth rings like trees in North America. But still, it has been determined some of the larger trees are easily a thousand years old.
The most rare flower in the world rarely blooms and the conditions must be exactly right for it to bloom as a parasite on the tetrastigma vine. The largest Rafflesia can be over 3' across and weigh 22 pounds. The flower can stink like a dead animal and has the spongy texture like a mushroom. We had to go to several national parks where these flowers are known to bloom before we found one.
To the right, the photo album called "Malaysia Monkeys and Animals" shows some of this diversity. WELL, that was the intention. But this Sail Blogs is such a lame site it works only part of the time so images could not be loaded to the new folder. I put the images on Face Book at Patrick Childress.
Kuching, in Malaysian means "cat" but in the city of Kuching, there are only a few cat statues in the middle of roundabouts and very few live alley cats.
Borneo. The name has that wild air to it; pigmy head hunters, wild men, jungles. I googled "wild man of Borneo", terms I remember from movies my parents and grandparents had watched. Actually there were two wild men from Borneo, but in reality they were two dwarfs from Massachusetts that a carnival promoter had dressed up in furs and primeval garb, waving long spears. But who would ever catch on; who has ever been to Borneo, especially in our grandparents day?
Indonesia, on the east, and Malaysia, on the west, share the island of Borneo. From either country, you can venture inland or up narrow tributaries to marshes full of large crocodiles, exotic proboscis monkeys, the parochial orangutan, bearded wild boar and all sorts of other unique animals. Fortunately the natives are friendly. Conveniently, the language in Malaysia is as similar to Indonesian as American is to British or Australian. After 7 months wandering through Indonesia, we did what we could to pick up rudiments of that language so now we get two languages for the effort of one.
We were happy to put Indonesia over the horizon on our stern. Bali was a bust. The yacht agent at the neighboring island of Lombok and her coconspirator customs man, were combing our ships papers looking for any questionable marks for which to hold us ransom. But we held our ground and left town without bending to their corruption. But what a surprise clearing into the small country of Malaysia. The customs, immigration and harbormaster were all happy to have us enter their country. When seeing we are from the U.S., they would always exclaim "America, Obama!". Everything happened so fast, so friendly, so uncorrupted, with a minimum of paperwork, we thought something had to be wrong, which might cause us problems later on. We had forgotten how a modern country works. In fact, they didn't even ask for our clearance papers from Indonesia, the papers we had such a difficult time getting. Finally, we arrived in the land of educated people, normality.
And a modern country it is. The city of Kuching is as nice as any Australian or American small city, complete with divided 4 lane roads and long lines of rush hour traffic in the morning and evenings. New cars and SUVs were bumper to bumper. There are motorcycles, but not the heavy swarms that move more like herds clogging roads in other countries. This attests to the wealth of Malaysia. Oil rigs near shore and oil terminals on land help to finance the upscale lifestyle. Kuching in Malaysian means "cat". There are a couple cat statues around the city, and of no great interest, a cat museum, but very few live cats roam around. No one really knows how the city wound up with its name but it is thought that an early native word was mistaken for "kuching" and when the Europeans arrived, and stayed, "Kuching" stuck.
We were anchored just inside of a muddy river at Santubang, 25 easy driving miles into the country. So we had country living with easy access to the big city via an inexpensive shuttle van that traveled the route several times a day. And to make it even better, one of the wealthiest people in Malaysia owns water front property where he operates a fish farming enterprise. His floating docks are there for visiting cruisers to tie their dinghies to and have free access to the water faucets. Anywhere else we have been in the world, someone would have been charging a significant day rate. The city water at the dock and throughout Malaysia, is healthy to drink which is quite unlike all of Indonesia and most other island nations we have visited in the Pacific.
Our first days in the Santubong and Kuching area of Malaysia gave us a big boost to our cruising attitudes, which had soured in our final days in Indonesia.
There was no shortage of activities in the Kuching area. National Parks are important to the Malaysians and they take conservation as seriously as the Americans and Australians. There were mountains to climb, park trails to explore, rare flowers and animals to spy, crocodiles and very venomous snakes to avoid and cultural events to participate in. Since Brick House was the only boat anchored in Santubong, and it would be two weeks before other cruising friends would drop anchor nearby, Rebecca and I sailed off to not so distant parks to start our explorations of the sights of Malaysia.