After too many beers too many we somehow managed to drag ourselves up for an earlyish departure, wheeling the short 28K trip north to Bako in a beat up old Proton, Malaysia's now dated national car. After a wild goose chase to escape the city in the right direction we eventually parked up at what proved to be a super scorchy reception area adjacent to a river, and it was only here that it dawned on me that the last leg into the park had to be done by boat. The 8 quid odds that cost was certainly better split 3 ways and soon we were motoring in a semi conventional longboat past stilt houses and rusty barges into a beautiful ocean bay studded with net tethering platforms and lone fishermen in small Tampangs. A prominent sign at the jetty had warned of crocodiles.
Fresh from incongruous industrial estates and housing developments, it was a sudden delight to be thrust into a world of pristine rainforest, mangrove flats and enticing mountainous offshore, painted in rich blue and green. Rounding jungle clad rocky escarpments we risked the short crocodile conscious paddle onto a wide mudflat cum beach, with another reception centre just discernible through the trees. The realisation of further organised, user friendly infrastructure immediately told me that a day would not be enough after all here, but it was all we could do to follow the pristine monoblock path out in the direction of the trekking trails, from whence we had opted due to time constraints for a short 800 metre jaunt called the Puku Trail. It was even before we got to the trailheads though that a boardwalk bridge spanning a narrow muddy river had us peering at the stark very sparse vegetation of a mangrove forest, my main priority was immediately realised. Sadly just a little too far away for comfort, my camera zoom revealed further detail in the tan and cream creature which fed here nonchalantly, occasionally reeling on one arm or jumping between branches. Its colouration had originally fooled me into believing it was a Red Langur, what would have been a notable find in itself, but further consideration revealed it to be Bako's star attraction amongst many, a Proboscis Monkey. These unlikely creatures are found nowhere else on earth except Borneo, quite sizeable primates whose most characteristic feature their long droopy nose makes them equally fascinating and perplexing. I watched as my suitor fed voraciously on mangrove leaves, occasionally being rewarded in witnessing fantastically agile leaps with a co-ordination showing them to be supremely well adapted. It did just surprise me somewhat to learn that their chosen habitat is remarkably sparse and seemingly exposed.
We eventually tore ourselves away with the promise of more, as the Puku Trail proved to be redeemed in its shortness by a realisation of full on jungle with erratic precarious clambers. Waterfalls and gigantic rock segments elicited dank atmospheric caves, and we descended into a darker world of thorn clad palms, towering trunks and the raucous screech of doubtless humungous unseen insects. Though full of otherworldly character it was perhaps the short well trodden nature of our trail which served to foil further notable animal encounters, but journeys end exuded an altogether alternative reward in the materialisation of an untarnished beach cove, prompted by more jungly rock cliffs and fine island studded vistas. Our pit stop here presented us with a contrastingly unshy grey Long Tailed Macaque for company, doubtless on the prowl for unattended tourist pickings, and though we heard the odd rustle and branch crack the only other discernible wildlife was the preponderance of surprisingly speedy and agile land dwelling hermit crabs the size of golfballs. Now having a vague idea as to which tree type they preferred, our subsequent return clamber was rewarded when I finally spotted another Proboscis seemingly unperturbed as it sat there nonchalantly high and distant on a branch with its back to us, qualified by eventually witnessing that it was surely a mother as a juvenile launched itself from a neighbouring perch into its arms. The mother perhaps better understood than we did the folly of energetic activity in the midday heat, and so we continued on to glean only a fleeting glimpse of a large squirrel. Passing reports of the sighting of a Flying Lemur were sadly not substantiated by us, yet it was palpably bad manners to admit to any sense of disappointment surrounded by such unparalleled beauty. Our return to the mangrove revealed there to be several Probosces inhabiting it actually, they remained too distant for our satisfaction but that was simply a reflection of natures way.
Upon return to the park HQ and a much needed isotonic top up, I reaffirmed my dismay at not being in a position to afford more richly deserved time to Bako and its wonders. The Lemurs and Hornbills had always been predictably elusive dreams, yet I had not even seen an inkling of the 4 species of similarly bizarre carniverous pitcher plants I knew were there to be had. It was a bitter sweet moment as I trudged the mudflats back out to the boat, happy that I had at least reached Bako at all and learned of its delight, yet sad that I had come upon one of nature's princesses and paid her no more homage than a whore. The outboard was coaxed into life only to abruptly air its propellor and die upon reaching the river estuary. Where jungle met civilisation our boatman wrestled with unspecified tinkerings as though Bako would not let me escape her throes. We finally got under way again to race another boatload back to modernity, I resented the fact that we won.
Too late in the day to justify the already overpriced Sarawak Cultural Village, a tourist enclave of traditional achitecture, art and practice, Ben and Fulya elected to plump for uncharted wanderings which thankfully took us unexpectedly to a very contrasting yet impressive attraction, perhaps the finest Chinese temple I have ever frequented. Its impressive proportions and typicaly garish hue was further qualified by very fine painted reliefs of warrior and guru scenes, and I had an interesting insight into prayer practices as a local young honey knelt upon a cushion to variously proffer her hands in a Buddhist "Wai" and use clay "dice" and "chance sticks" to elicit a kind of fortune telling. She would alternately drop a brace of clay tablets in front of her to be interpreted much akin to tea leaves I supposed, then rattle a tin of chopsticks until one would finally escape to reveal a written prophecy.
Back in town the requisite hose down and spruce up then had us boys jump in the car in search of an ATM, a seemingly simple task which got us variously gridlocked and disorientated in the realisation that a festival marking the run up to Malaysia's 50th anniversary had seized the city centre. A subsequent traipse out to a noodle house gave me the rare indulgence of fried venison with rice, and in the process we stumbled across a street parade of people variously made up as cats, gorgeous indiginous costumed chicks doing traditional dance to the Beatles, and a pipe band looking like the Boys Brigade banging out Scotland the Brave. In Borneo! I had previously hit upon a similar entourage at the ubiquitous Freedom Square grassy ground zero, but my prior exploits in the unprecedented heat here seemed to have compromsed my normal sense of enquiry, I found only the energy to briefly sample troupes of baton twirlers and flag whirlers before apathy intervened. Another boozy one capped the night, and like so many times before it was sad to be saying farewell to new found friends only for them to promptly disappear over the horizon. Ships in the night.