A Travellerspoint blog

The Philippines

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Ready for the ride looking like very happy tourists =)[/i]]

The freedom of a motorcycle was a first-time experience for me. It's morethann the liberty of going where you want, stopping at will and picking up the road that most calls when it does. It's about the wind in your hair, the new smells bursting through you as you pierce the air on two wheels, the sun travelling with you, its light and warmth clinging to your skin, and the sudden showers of cool rain guiding your fate, curbing you to unplanned stops to introduce you to friendly strangers, unknown brothers and sisters of your adventure.

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The road was beautiful everywhere we looked.[/i]]

Clean roads led to clean towns, each with a tall, colonial church surrounded by humble but well-kept huts of bamboo walls and thatched roofs, a fresh harvest of corn, rice or coconut sun-drying in neat stretches at their doorstep. Each side with the characteristic Bohol design of intertwining dark and light slits woven together into a perfect pattern of squares, displaying shelves with carefully pruned plants, the huts were a pleasure to look at, one after another throughout the island. With effusive "Hello! What is your name?"'s children would go out of their way to greet us as we passed, gifting our already wonderful journey with their selfless smiles.

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Juan would point out at every single water buffalo along the way![/i]]

After a scenery stop at the Chocolate hills -which, to my disappointment are not actually made of chocolate- we finally made our way through rice paddies and past water buffalos tended to by old men with straw coolies to Anda, a village on the edge of the island blessed with heavenly white-sand beaches and a friendly small town atmosphere that makes stopping there inevitable. Splurging completely out of our budget, we treated ourselves to some "Vitamin Sea", a welcoming lodge-in-the-making owned and operated by our wonderful hosts Buddy and Annie, who not only made us feel right at home, but also surprised us with fabulous meals!

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Decadent banana pancake and mushroom omelete by the sea.[/i]]

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Crystal-clear water hole, very much like a cenote! This one was like the opening of a bottle where once you jumped in, you wouldn't be able to get out, so Buddy had a special rope ladder made which he carries out there each outing.[/i]]

IMG_5899.jpgThe irresistible Philippine tarsiers are smaller than your hand! (They're a different species than in Borneo)[/i]]

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Mangrove in Anda.[/i]]

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Children we met when Juan's tire went flat.[/i]]

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The family was friends with a crazy mangrove egret called Lapai, who liked to attack intruders with its demoniac a beak![/i]]

Needless to say, we were having a vacation within our vacation, and this only continued as we moved onto Malapascua to meet up with our new and awesome friends Simi and Caleb, with who I did my dive master course. Malapascua is yet another heaven, with crystal-clear ocean surrounding the small sand island. Roosters on perches adorn the dirt patios of every hut with their long, shimmering feathers. They are the pride of each home, bred for battling to their death in the traditional Philippine cock fights, a very sad but old tradition that hopefully will die out soon along with bull fighting and dog fighting in other parts of the world (this is of course only possible with the help of conscious tourists who know not to partake in "cultural experiences" that go against their own values!). Regardless, the roosters are beautiful animals and iconic to this country of seven thousand, one hundred and seven islands, but Malapascua's most famous attraction are the Thresher Sharks!
Right before the first rays of sun start painting the still waters with golden hues, even before the million roosters begin their morning calls, our boat parts over the smooth sea. Twenty five meters beneath us, every dawn since time immemorial the same phenomenon occurs. The majestic, two-meter predators come up from the deep, dark abyss to the edge of the reef for their daily routine: it's cleaning time! With their striking, round, large black eyes and their trademark tail trailing in a ribbon behind them, the threshers visit this point of the reef after a night hunting to be cleaned by colorful coral-dwelling little fish who come up, fearless of the powerful jaws of the threshers, between their jagged teeth and around their leathery skin to nibble off impurities. Simi, Caleb, Juan and I hovered in the same spot along the reef the entire dive, watching in fascination as one shark and then another circled passively throughout its grooming session, eyeing us occasionally with caution but no particular interest, then returning to the depths for the rest of the day.
So much happens under water! There's so much to witness and discover in the sea! Our night dive with the mandarin fish mating, fluttering belly to belly and darting off in a cloud of sperm and eggs, sea moths walking in pairs on the sandy bottom, soft gardens of coral blossoming at the edge of caverns... Our trip to the Philippines was an exciting cultural experience as much as it was a natural delight.
Now, having made the decision of returning to Borneo to work as a dive master in Mabul for the next three months while Juan trains to become one, we're already spotting new fantastic creatures every day and loving every extra minute we get under water.
We'll be telling sharing more of our adventures with you soon!

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Boat ready for our afternoon dive.[/i]]

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Simi meets Cindy![/i]]

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The magnificent Thresher Sharks.[/i]]

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Our vacation within our vacation[/i].]

Posted by juan y Cindy 03:29 Archived in Philippines Comments (2)

The Semporna Archipielago

Sipadan, Mabul and Kapalai

Clown in an anemone

Clown in an anemone

After several days of diving I started to feel comfortable enough to forget about the technicalities and just purely enjoy the marvellous underwater world around me, gliding effortlessly through small schools of striped catfish and spotting one of the many frog fish species in the area which sits completely still on top of coral relying on its perfect camouflage and unlikely form to disappear without even moving. If you stare long enough, your brain can decipher the hidden riddle and the creature appears in front of your eyes. Not unlike the revelation one experiences when the 3D image finally pops out of the hologram, the frog fish's shape appears and the coral or the seaweed you had been staring at is no longer inanimate, giving way to a perfectly camouflaged creature. A world where beautiful seahorses attached to corals by their tails stare at you with their fixed expressions, blue spotted rays dash out to a new hiding place under gardens of corals, five different species of Lion Fish roam the area and occasionally all puffed up and very sure of themselves pass by you with not a drop of hesitation. Cuttlefish, squid and octopi are frequently encountered and their mysterious eyes engage your attention while waves of changing colors run down their bodies as their chromatophores expand and contract to crazy effects. Yellow trumpet fish stay still before capturing their small prey and red false clowns hide in the myriad of protective arms of the anemones; threatening jaws of morray eels peep out from crevices every now and then, and turtles and their ever-following bat fish swim passively by, ignoring your presence. On one dive a huge grouper bigger than myself came to check me out in a very awkward and nerve-trenching role reversal, following me troughout the dive and even rubbing up against my stomach twice! Sharks lay on the bottom of the ocean floor, were the many starfish move ever so slowly. A school of several hundred Big Eye Trevally engulfed me, leaving nothing for me to see but an endless display of interchanging metallic scales, black round eyes and mouths. Observing the irregular shape of a juvenile Rock Mover Wreasse makes you wonder how it's possible that the juvenile forms of many species resemble in no way, neither in color nor in form, that of their parents, making such dramatic changes (almost comparable to a butterfly's metamorphosis) that there is no way you could suspect them of belonging to the same specie. Hundreds of colorful fish and other forms of life remain anonymous as my knowledge of marine species is quite limited.

A trip to a healthy coral reef will put in evidence why it's been described as the most productive ecosystem in the world. This is a world that most of us have seen in the form of amazing documentaries, but to live it first hand is a completely different experience.
In my case, I'm often more sensitive and prone to meditation (not the "ohmmm" type but just personal questioning and reflecting) after having an intense connection experience with nature, so sitting on a chair at the beach after a dive I recapitulated. I had always eaten fish, in fact I love the taste of it, I had no problem going into a restaurant and ordering a big fresh piece of mahi mahi, snapper, tuna... yet there was no way that I would be able to kill one of the amazing animals I just described before just for the mere fact of satisfying my meal choice of the day. I was thinking that, if I were given the option every time I sat down in a restaurant, I would rather have the beautiful creature live than to have it killed for a meal. This was not always the case. As a kid I loved fishing: getting ready early in the morning, the nerve-recking minutes before making it over the large Costa Rican shore waves with the boat before heading into the sea, and of course the adrenaline rush you get when you suddenly feel your rod pull and the noise of the reel going on as you are losing line; the intense fight and the uncertainty of your opponents identity, and the gratifying feeling of getting home with a good catch and a great dinner. I used to love to fish, but then I had decided that I liked to see the fish more underwater, in their natural behaviour than to catch them. I had no objection on humans consuming fish and even though I could no longer bring myself to killing one, I did enjoy the taste of it often. That right there might sound like a contradiction, but not necessarily. I have never been a vegetarian, and the use of animal protein in our diet seems to me to be logical; it certainly is in the natural world. Although the act of killing is something that goes completely against my nature, I have absolutely no issue with someone slaughtering a pig in the correct manner and hopefully a pig that has lived a dignifed life, to be killed and consumed, yet I cannot kill it myself. This goes even further: there are circumstances where killing is actually the only logical solution and the humane thing to do (when an animal is suffering intensely and has no hope of survival, for example). And even on the few occasions when I've encountered such a circumstance I've not been able to kill, even if all my reasoning and brain tells me it's the right thing to do. I cannot bring myself to do it. So I had figured that was that, and left it there, I would not kill fish but would enjoy their meat anyway.

After many years of not fishing (but enjoying sea food meals very often) I had a very interesting conversation with a very interesting man -to say the least-. He was arguing that we should not serve meat in our restaurant at the lodge I managed. He was all against fishing even for sport (tag and release) and was talking of the psychological damage some of these fish might suffer. I listened to the conversation and made some impassionate points about it; Hitesh was after all a vegan, eating absolutely nothing that contained animal products (he did not even eat honey because it means stealing all of the bees' hard work). As much as I respect people's decisions (and especially this kind where the intent is to respect and honor animals and life in general) it was not a belief I shared. But at the end of our conversation he said something that lingered in my head for a long time: "FISHING IS JUST HUNTING UNDER WATER".

"Fish is food, not wildlife". This is the concept most people have of fish! If I had fallen for it, I, who am known by all friends and family to be crazy about wildlife and conservation, then what about most people that do not feel nearly so passionate about the subject? As the manager of an ecolodge that I was proud to work for I constantly had all sorts of conversations tyring to get people to understand the importance of wildlife and pristine ecosystems. Never in a million years would I dare hook and iguana, a macaw or a baby monkey by the mouth, drag it until it's bleeding and squirming like crazy before I threw it in a bucket of water until it drowned. I wouldn't do it and certainly I would beat the crap out of anyone if I saw him doing anything like this. Yet when done to a fish, as beautiful or rare as it might be, our reaction is not nearly as dramatic and is very familiar. No one minds. It's what you're supposed to do with fish: it's called fishing.

The ocean seems to suffer from a misconception, one that is realistically threatening its balance. Humans think of the ocean as an endless provider of goods. We take and take and then we take some more. When the fisheries crash and fish become scarce, we develop better technology and move even farther, or deeper until we catch some more. Ignoring the hundreds of scientifically proven realities, we have managed to deplete important fisheries, and place many of these to the brink of no recovery. Today humans take out about ninety million tons of wild harvest every year! Even with the disastrous decline of fisheries the quotas get larger and larger.

Apex predator is a term used for predators that sit on the very top of the food chain, and whose adults lack any predators themselves. Adult jaguars, grizzly bears, crocodiles, blue fin tuna and big sharks are all considered as such. Their roll has direct effects on the health of the entire ecosystem in ways most people can't begin to understand. That without them dangerous changes occur, jeopardizing the health of the ecosystem and potentially collapsing it is a fact, no doubt about it. And because they sit at the very top, eating away, their own populations are naturally small, otherwise they would eat everything. So nature's own way to control them is a series of characteristics that naturally limit their numbers in a healthy ecosystem, for example: they reach sexual maturity late and the number of offspring are low (or in case of the tuna the survival rate of the young is low). That works out fine in a pristine environment, as it has for millions of years, but these same characteristics make it very hard for them to survive once their numbers a very low due to brutal exploitation by humans, making a comeback for the species a very, VERY difficult occurrence even under the best management.

There are hundreds of alarming, scientifically documented, cases of specific species dropping to red numbers. Blue fin tuna has been fished to the brink of extinction. There are some that consider that even if we stopped their fishing altogether there is just not enough genetic material in the pool to keep the population viable. Forty years of overfishing have plummeted their numbers by a devastating 97% of its abundance in the 60's. That means that in the last 40 to 50 years we have managed to hunt them out so effectively that now only a pathetic 3% of their original number continues to survive, yet we continue to sistematically fish for them despite the overwhelming evidence that they're about to become extinct. Blue fin tuna has been the case for much propaganda and yet the demand for it has grown: the rarer it gets the better it's priced. This year the record was broken again for the most expensive fish in the world: the 269 kilogram fish (the biggest from 274 individual tunas shipped from around the world) was sold in Tokyo's Tsukiji market's first auction of the year for the outrageous price of $736,600 USD! Yes, that's no mistake, it's $1,241 per pound, with single slices in a sashimi or sushi restaurant going for $24 USD. Please, by all means google it if you're having a hard time believing this (as I surely did). With a price of three quarters of a million dollars on their head, it would seem they don't stand a chance, and unless drastic mesures are put in place rather soon, we might be seeing the last of this magnificent animal.

That's one example but there are housands... Sharks in general have had a devastating toll. Cindy and I witnessed a presentation at our diving lodge that left us just about crying. With the theme "400 million years to perfect, 30 to almost destroy" the presentation exposed sharks' current situation: Between 70 and 100 million sharks are fished every year, mostly for their sought-after fins in Asia. The fins are tastless and with close to no nutritional value. In fact they serve just to add texture to a very bland chicken or beef stew. So is it possible that we're exterminating these magnificent, irreplaceable animals for a simple bowl of soup? Sadly this soup is regarded as a status statement and with many Asian economies growing, the demand has also increased in many of the coutries. It may seem to be a remote problem confined to Asia, but even if the demand is by the vast mayority Asian, an alarming chunk of the supply comes from the USA, Mexico, Spain, and Central America being the top suppliers of shark fins! This uncontrolled slaughter has left abot 1/3 of the shark species on the brink of extinction. 90% of the population of large sharks have been wiped out in the last three decades. Again, remember apex predators whose roll in mantaining the health of the ecosystem, are invaluable.

These are two shocking examples, but sadly most are in close resemblance: salmon, bass and cod represent the bulk of the consumption and all of them have suffered critical blows.

With wild fish we have chosen time after time to ignore the fundamental limits the law of nature placed on the ecosystems, and have constantly removed more fish than can be replaced by the natural process. These are multibillion dollar businesses, and somehow it seems to be the reason for generation by generation to find reason amid the irrational destruction of the greatest natural system on Earth.

The fact is most people don't like to think much about these problems. Kids starving in Africa, devastating wars, animals going extinct... it's an overload of information that seems so distant and so fatalistic that we feel helpless and hopeless, so it's only natural that most people place those thoughts in the back of our minds to be able to cope with our more immediate realities and continue with our contempt lives... but as the famous quote goes: "Those who have the privilege to know have the responsibility to act." And those of us who have the opportunity to get a better understanding of our world's most critical matters should by no means stand in self-chosen ignorance.

We cannot simply decide to forget, eat what we want and hope for the best. We eat more and more every year without really bothering to learn what any of those fish look like, how they behave or how many remain... Having a fine dining experience on account of a blue fin tuna is no longer acceptable, in fact it's downright deplorable. Giving in to a cultural exchange by trying a shark fin soup is no longer justifiable. With seven billion humans inhabiting our planet the need for every individual to do their part is ever important. Even if only by good consumer choices as a driver of change you would be doing something grand. As small as it may seem, the more people show that those values count for their purchase decision, the more corporations and governments will act accordingly. Oh, and don't be shy or lazy to explain to the waiter or the owner of the restaurant or the shop why you refuse to eat there on account of the endangered species on their menu. Take a stance. Educate. It's your duty.

FISH ARE WILDLIFE. If we hunt them and eat them, we must hunt them with care and eat them with fullness of our appreciation. We must come to understand that eating the last wild food is above all a privilege.

If we are comitted to make things better these are four ways to get started and by being interested and supporting any effort arround these areas you would be making a difference.

1. A profound reduction in fishing effort: The United Nations estimate that the fishing fleet is twice s large as the oceans can support.

2. The convertion of significant portions of ocean ecosystems to no-catch areas: key fish breeding grounds and nursery habitat must be reserved as safe havens if over exploited populations are to rebuild to harvestable numbers.

3. The global protection of unmanageable species: Species that stradle too many nations or that occur in unknowned international waters have been shown to be unmanageable over the long term. In the face of hard science, politicians of multiparty treaties "negotiate" catch allocations that go against scientific reality (just as the case of the blue fin tuna).

4. The protection of the bottom of the food chain: Small forage fish that make the staple for biger fish are being massively caught to produce fish meal for feeding pigs and chickens and aquaculture, yet we do not know enough of the population dynamics of these small species that form the base for the pyramid.

"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to change. It's not." (Dr. Seuss)

You can start by showing your support to South East Asia's first shark sanctuary by signing the petition at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/support-a-semporna-shark-sanctuary-and-the-future-of-our-oceans/

I Read a lot prior to writing this, a great book was "Four Fish The future of the Last Wild Food", by Paul Greenberg, a book I recommend to all of you and from which I took the liberty to state some of its content, like the four actions I listed at the end.

Posted by juan y Cindy 07:08 Comments (2)

Sungai Kinabatangan

Home to the Orang Sungai (people of the river)

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The misty and slightly chilly forests surrounding Mount Kinabalu ( Malaysia’s first World Heritage Site) were a lovely place to spend a few nights , hiking the trails during the day and cuddling up under blankets in our sleeping bags at night after a warm cup of Sabah tea. It was here we finally were able to see the world’s largest flower: the rafflesia, which reaches up to one meter in diameter and only blooms for a maximum of seven days. What's the strangest thing is that the rafflesia is not a visible plant! It's actually a microscopic plant that depends on a type of vine to live in, and only becomes visible when it starts to bloom. That makes sightings even more special so local people have the very convenient custom -for tourists- to set up signs on the road indicating when there's a rafflesia in bloom in their property. This is how we found this one!

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From Kinabalu we headed to the lower Kinabatangan area in search for wildlife.
Deforestation and the ever-growing palm plantations are a well-known threat for Borneo’s unique wildlife, but even though you know it’s coming you can help feeling your heart shrink in anguish when the last three hours of your bus ride there is nothing to be seen other than an endless sea of palm oil cultivation.
In the 1950s the period of intensive logging in Sabah was just beginning, and in the last twenty years, 80% of Sabah’s forest habitat has been destroyed. In the 1980s over-logged forests were re-designated for permanent conversion to agriculture and palm oil plantations soon became dominant. Malaysia is constantly disputing the #1 oil palm producer title against Indonesia, and just the small state of Sabah has 1,400,000 hectares planted.

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Agriculture is a necessity and oil palm sustains major economies and livelihoods, but when you see the plantations reaching all the way to the river bank of one of the most biologically important places on Earth you feel the frustration, anger and despair of witnessing big companies not trying even a bit to make things better! The mighty Kinabatangan is being left with just small pockets of forests throughout its 560 km; too small to maintain viable populations of the animals and isolating one from the other. You would think that leaving a margin of natural forest between the plantation and the river would be the very least the government would enforce in such a unique environment, but to our sad surprise it is not happening, at least in many areas of the Kinabatangan.
However, oil palm plantations are not to be satanized per se. All monocultures have their environmental impacts and oil palm plantations may be a lot better than most of the other crops we are familiarized with. In fact, oil palm is biologically superior to other oil seed crops in terms of efficiency in the land use and productivity. But companies with no environmental consciousness eliminate this partial advantage by extending their crops over an excessive territory, and especially by removing important, beautiful and unique ecosystems to put in lines and lines of palm. Something to think about is that a lot of that palm oil will be used for the growing bio-fuel market! You may not be so happy to pour your biodiesel in your car if you knew where it came from...
In properly designated areas for agriculture palm oil plantations could very well be cultivated in relative low-impact to nature, but even then when Malaysia is getting close to the 5 million hectares the mere volume is sure to have some serious consequences on the environment.

So here we are, cruising down the Kinabatangan, a knot on our throats, looking at the plantations peek out along the riverside or behind the very thin line of forest that attempts to hide them, when the impressive array of wildlife starts to emerge from the remaining jungle.
The first we saw were hornbills flying above us. Borneo has eight species of them, and all can be found in the Kinabatangan. We spotted six of them while here. Above all the Oriental Pied is the most commonly seen, and the Rhinocerous Hornbill one of the most striking and largest (over one meter long!).

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Then our guide Arshad spotted a reticulated python curled up in a tree resting. This beautiful snake reminds you of the boas at home but can grow a lot larger, with historical records reaching the ten meter mark!!!! Please try to picture that by taking a few meter steps wherever you are right now and you won't believe the dimension.

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We then spotted a female orangutan with her baby! She was pretty high up and it was pretty dark by then but the sighting really made us happy, and then just as we were to arrive to the lodge we heard our guide Arshad mumble through a grin "you guys are so lucky", and take us straight to this big male eating ripe figs on a very low branch overhanging the river!
The experience of watching a completely wild orang-utan in his normal behavior, almost completely ignoring us except for a few glances down at us, visibly knowing his superiority in terms of strength and skill in the forest should he have to use them against us is something we will never forget. Orangutans are only found in Borneo and a small part of Sumatra, and at one-hundred kilograms make them the largest tree-dwelling animal in the world. These extremely intelligent, magnificent cousins of ours make a new nest up in a tree each evening where they spend the night, and are also the only great ape outside of Africa. Sadly because of loss of habitat the orangutan population has droped from 180- thousand to under 30 thousand in the last ten years!!!!!!!!!!! We are losing them way too fast.

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But not all is lost. Twenty six thousand hectares in the lower Kinabatangan have been set aside for conservation by the Malay government and WWF is working together with all the stakeholders on a project called Kinabatangan Corridor of Life, in an attempt to reclaim the river banks and linking existing protected blotches. Wild life tourism has skyrocketed in recent years and awareness of the situation is spreading.

So after a very impressive first ride down the river we finally made it to the lodge, where we immediately decided we would spend an added thirteen days in addition to the mere two we had originally planned on. We're posting this blog on our last day here, having experienced a couple of weeks we will always remember thanks to the wonderful new friends we made in the staff (Arshad, Risiman, Adika, Nana, Diana, Amy Vanessa, Ping, Joel, City, Lida, Rosita, Marcell...), fellow travelers on their own adventures, the joint peace and excitement of being in the jungle and of course, the spectacular wildlife! Let us share some pictures of the creatures we encountered throughout our stay.

Salt Water crocodile known more from Australia than Borneo inhabits this river. This is the biggest crocodile in the world reaching sometimes more than seven meters from nostrils to tail!

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The Pygmy Elephant (Elephas maximus borniensis), previously thought to have been introduced from the main land as a gift to the Sultan of Brunei, is now a recognized subspecies as genetic evidence suggests they have been isolated for thousands of years. These huge beasts are the smallest elephants in Asia, and travel along the riverside forests. They are somewhat shy creatures and sometimes are not seen by the guides for months at a time. We were extremely lucky and spotted them on a few different occasions. Sometimes we would hear a very loud noise, much like a gunshot but louder: it's the locals firing bamboo cannons into the air to scare away the elephants and prevent them from raiding the crops! Our own lodge actually also has to take safety precautions by setting an electric fence around the cabins to prevent people from getting trampled over in unexpected encounters between humans and elephants. Not far from here an Australian was killed two months ago by a bull elephant while she was photographing it.

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The western tarsier is a primate and one of the most unique looking creatures we can think of. The guides had told us they were around but not seen often. We were very lucky and were able to see this guy in two different occasions during our hikes at night. This is the mammal with the biggest eyes and longest legs in the world (in relationship with its size)!

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Slow Loris is actually a primate also and could be considered POISONUS! It secrets enzymes from its armpits that when mixed with its saliva create a noxious substance for its predators. In fact there has been a report of a human death from an anaphylactic shock after being bit by a Slow Loris. This nocturnal arboreal mammal moves very deliberately and slow as its name suggests. Cindy spotted this one!

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Banded Linsang is one of the Civets. Civets are cat/ferret- like creatures and the Banded Linsang one of the least encountered. One of the guides here had never seen one and the other just once before after years of working in the forest! This very special and elusive civet has a very long tail, a long neck and retractable claws just like cats (the only civet with this characteristic), and has a coloration similar to the ocelots and margays in Costa Rica and Mexico. We can’t believe we actually have a picture of a Spotted Linsang!!!!! Wooohoooooo!

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Hiking at night yielded some amazing animals. The kingfishers in Borneo are just outstanding and we spotted several species sleeping during these hikes.

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Pittas are also beautiful birds that we encountered during the nightwalks.

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But the animal we encountered every single time we went out was not necessarily the most loved. Checking yourself for leeches every few minutes was indispensable, and flicking them away may sometimes present a challenge. But they are painless and not known to transmit any disease, and after a while you start to tolerate these interesting creatures. Cindy even began to think they were cute (as long as they were on a leaf and not sucking her blood).

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And we will never get tired of seeing the Proboscis Monkeys! They are so beautifull and interesting to watch and hear. Adult males can weigh up to 22 kg, making them one of the largest monkeys in the world!

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Believe it or not we actually saw many more animals, but we can't post everything. What we do know is that surely the Kinabatangan will be one of the highlights of our trip.

From here we move on to Danum Valley, an amazing primary forest with a serious research station and then going to the world famous Sipadan for what promises to be one of the best diving of our lives.

Keep checking our blog and we'd love to get your comments!

Un abrazo!

Juan y Cindy

Posted by juan y Cindy 18:26 Archived in Malaysia Comments (10)

Borneo!

Bako National Park.

So we finally made it to Borneo, a wild land Juan had always dreamed of visiting, and the dream did come true as soon as we arrived to Bako National Park. As soon as we arrived to Kutching in Sarawak (southern Borneo) we went at our first chance to Bako, without reservations but with a firm decision and managed to stay for three nights.

We rode a boat that would take us down this beautiful river through the mangroves, with very graphic and disturbing signs warning tourists of the dangerous estuary crocodile (the largest in the world!). As soon as we got off the boat to this lush coastline a troop of Silver Leaf Langours welcomed us. I (Juan) was so exited I couldn't control myself. We checked in and headed for the trails, not twenty minutes had passed and we spotted the Proboscis monkeys!!!! Remember nowhere else in the world but Borneo is home to this peculiar species.

Adult Male Proboscis Monkey

Adult Male Proboscis Monkey

I was taking pictures of this beauty when they called me that a boatman had spotted a snake! I ran as fast as I could to find a beautiful Waglers Pitviper!

Female Waglers Pit viper.

Female Waglers Pit viper.

The Bearded Pigs (which can reach to up to 120 kilos!) walked in and out of the forest with their offspring.

Bearded Pig

Bearded Pig

Dung Beetle.

Dung Beetle.

As we hiked Dung Beetles worked arduously carrying their babies' provision somewhere safe.

Male (small) and female (large) Waglers pitviper

Male (small) and female (large) Waglers pitviper


And as if it weren't enough we spotted another Pitviper. The next morning when we woke up and went straight to check if she was still there I find the surprise that a male had come to visit her. He actually stayed on top of her for the next three days!

Rock Hopper

Rock Hopper

Walking by the shore hundreds of Rock Hoppers ran back to the water as we aproached them! I had never seen this amazing fish and was just fascinated by them. Cindy had her first encounter with them in Fiji andwas equally fascinated.

Adult Male Probosis Monkey

Adult Male Probosis Monkey

Believe it or not in all the excitment I left my charger for the camera back at the hostel so my battery ran out early thge second day... So Cindy and I went on a seven hour hike walking through the jungle hoping to see some magnificent animal like the King Cobra. We spoted a Gliding Lizard but couldn't catch it and because I had no camera we couldn't photograph the many species of native Pitcher plants that call Bako their home.

Bako was just amazing! And Sabah is supposed to be the real thing when it comes to wildlife so we are here today in Kota Kinabalu, planning our way into the heart of Sabah! We will keep you posted on our next sightings.

Proboscis monkeys in the mangrove.

Proboscis monkeys in the mangrove.

Posted by juan y Cindy 07:11 Archived in Malaysia Comments (4)

Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur came as a shock to us jungle hermits with its immense sky scrapers, speeding air railways, ten-story shopping malls with roller coasters inside them and its overflowing ocean of people. The transport system is easy and fun, with some trains having women-only wagon options, absolutely everyone being courteous and friendly, an exciting temple, museum or market just about at every stop of the way. As soon as we got off the plane we met the nicest taxi driver who taught us the most important phrase of our stay in Malaysia: "Terima Kahsi" (thank you), which is one of the only ones that has actually stuck to us so far =). So with that grateful attitude we were able to really enjoy our first week in Asia, in the great and modern but also traditional KL. In apparent contrast with the latest technologies and architecture is the very conservative dress code, mostly in women but also in men, the first wearing long and flowy gowns and covering head and neck with colorful scarves or full burkas when Muslim, or simply procuring discreet lengths when Indian or Chinese. Another imponent sign of tradition is the sudden burst of beautiful, single, male a cappella singing, which flows mystically out of the mosques and into the busy streets of the city. Food is also remarkable, with most every little stand on the street offering ridiculously cheap dishes with new vegetables and outstanding flavor. All of this to say that our introduction to Malaysia was full of new and fun experiences, our favorite outings being the Central Market (full of everything you'd want to have!), the unbearably ticklish fish spa, the KL Bird Park with its gorgeous feathers, the national museum, the Batu Caves (dirty but full of crazy macaques), our New Year's Eve and the Batik lesson on the last day.
A great first week before our adventures in the jungle!

The active streets of KL.

The active streets of KL.


Muruga, also known as Lord Subramaniam.

Muruga, also known as Lord Subramaniam.


Biggest Pigeon in the world.

Biggest Pigeon in the world.


Thean Hou Temple.

Thean Hou Temple.


DR Fish.

DR Fish.


Longtail Macaque pretending to be harmless.

Longtail Macaque pretending to be harmless.


Cindy and her Batik experiment.

Cindy and her Batik experiment.

Posted by juan y Cindy 06:39 Archived in Malaysia Comments (1)

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