Thursday, 21 October 2010

Orangutans and Scuba Diving, Borneo

From the mountain we jumped on a bus to Sandakan, on the east coast of Borneo. Sandakan town itself is still fairly undevelopped and has little to offer, but it is the place to be to visit the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre at Sepilok, so tourists always have it on their itinerary.
It is, however, also home to an intriguing English tea house, set amid a manicured croquet lawn, with pet peacock and on top of a hill, looking out to sea. Quite why we decided we wanted to climb the 100 steps up to this venue the day after we just climbed up and down the mountain is beyond me, but we did have a lovely cream tea at the top (though they lost marks when didn't give us clotted cream, even though the guide book promised it!)

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is the one you will have seen on the television. It's the biggest orangutan sanctuary (as far as I'm aware) and not only cares for orangutans but also releases them back into the wild when they're ready.
Set in an area of dense jungle, the only time you really get to see the orangutans is at feeding time, when the macaques also descend from the trees to fight the orangutans for the last scraps of food. For 30 minutes or so, the sight of primates swinging through the trees and on to the feeding platforms is the main attraction - and they put on a fantastic show - but then as soon as the food has been eaten, they
disappear back up into the canopy. It felt like it was all over a bit quickly but was a great sight to see nevertheless.
I would have been really interested in volunteering at the centre, but apparently the waiting list is two years - so another time, maybe.

Once our legs had just about recovered from all the climbing, we headed over to Semporna and enrolled on a scuba diving course (so within 3 days of being at 4095 metres, we were heading 18 metres under the sea!)
Day one was theory day, where we would realise there's a lot more to scuba than we had previously thought - including complex dive tables to calculate the levels of nitrogen in the body, and many technical things to remember. However, when we actually got into the water on day two, that's when the learning actually started and it was quite a challenge!

At first I felt quite claustrophobic being under water and consequently quite panicked - especially since some of the skills we had to learn were taking off the face mask, simulating we're out of air etc. Kev, on the other hand really took to it and picked it up easily.
The afternoon of day one we did our first open water dive in the resort of Mabul - which, after a morning of theory and technical skills was quite a relief. I even managed to enjoy myself down there! Conditions were fantastic and apart from a strong current during the morning dive we had thirty degree water, sunshine and ten metres visibility.

Still, the following morning I was nervous all over again, unsure of whether I wanted to continue, but I'm not one to give up easily - I've paid a lot of money for this after all - and didn't want to spend the afternoon sat on the beach (even if it is stunning) whilst Kev goes and gets certified. Fortunately, I picked up where I left off the previous day and had a really enjoyable couple of dives... We were lucky enough to dive with some fantastic marine life including giant turtles (they're HUGE!) barracuda, snake eels, pufferfish, grouper fish, angel fish, clown fish and many other tropical varieties - it was amazing and definitely worth overcoming the fear.

We've got a lot of travel coming up over the next few days. Once we get back to KK we've got a flight to Singapore, where we spend two nights, then it's off to Bali and the Gilli Islands (where we hope to do some more diving!)

I'll blog again once we're settled in one place!

Sarah & Kev xx

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