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August 28, 2007

The Proboscis Monkeys - Sarawak Part 2

Tom McLaughlin

I have a big nose and have always been teased about it. I once considered a nose job, but one teacher told me it was a good strong Roman nose and I should be proud of it. During the summer months it often becomes bright red, refusing to tan with the rest of me. I guess this is the reason I became enamored with the Proboscis Monkey's of Borneo.

The Malays call them Orang Blanda, Orang meaning man; Blanda meaning blonde. To sort this out, the denizens of the area have flat noses, while the early colonists were from the Netherlands with blonde hair. They also had the protruding noses hence, as a joke, the monkey became known as Orang Blanda.

My daughter and I took a boat along the coast and then inward where we might have the opportunity to see them. We landed at state forest center complete with restaurant, wild boars and dozens of small monkeys running everywhere. After eating, we began our search for the Proboscis Monkey. I was assured the trail would be similar to a jaunt through the sand forests of the Eastern Shore. More on that later.

As we began our journey through the tidal flats, the rare Proboscis Monkeys appeared. Not a small troop, but perchance 18-20 of the creatures. Even the guides and forest rangers got excited. And, I felt really good because here was an animal I could identify with other than the elephant.

They scurried, argued, played, ate fruit and had the best of time completely ignoring us. There were only three of us watching this scene as other members of the group had gone ahead. I was proud of myself, as I was the first to spot them coming. After all, we did have something in common. After about five minutes, they were gone about as fast as they had arrived. Still a rare treat.

Also in residence, especially around the restaurant, were long tailed Macaques. They are a funny little animal, stealing food and scurrying around everywhere. I believe there is a resident population fed by humans, but I know there is also a wild group.

While climbing down from an 800 meter jungle hill, I noticed one stood in front of us blocking our way. My friend Rudy preceded, but the monkey gave a menacing growl.

I said "Rudy we better wait." Soon came a huge troop of over 35 of them crossing in front of us. The monkey did everything but hold out its hand in a stop position. Soon, he scurried off and another took his place. Another troop, I don't know if it was the same or another group came by. This went on for about 15 minutes. Of course, my daughter had my camera on the other side of the hill.

The trip up the 800 meter jungle-enclosed hill was difficult and wondrous at the same time. As many of you know, I have rare neurological disease but that was not going to stop me. The climb to the top for me, was on all four's in places, my vanity refusing any help.

I stopped and rested when I had to, my daughter frequently looking back asking, "Daddy, are you all right?" Yup I breathed, climbing, staggering, falling, sometimes like a drunk getting myself up that damn mountain. But I made it to the top, legs like rubber, sitting down, walking and trembling.

The top of the mountain was flat as the vegetation had changed and I was able to rest. Our guide encouraged me to go back the same way I had come up while the other group went down the other side. Rudy elected to go with me and I let him help me through some of the rougher spots. And believe me there were some rough spots especially with gravity.

I am so proud of myself that I did it, (don't tell my doctor) and I still am. A damn foolhardy thing to do, but great for my self esteem as I am not going to let this disease beat me, including climbing a mountain in Borneo!

Kota Kinabalu, the capital of the Malay state of Sabah, is north of Kuching where the events described above occurred. For those into mountain trekking, one can climb the largest mountain in Southeast Asia, a two day venture. There are also reefs to explore whether snorkeling or scuba diving. There is not much there after these two experiences and visits to smaller towns that would be most beneficial. However, I would advise going to Kuching as both easy and difficult nature experiences are available.

You should go now before it gets developed. Nerdy science-oriented teenagers are perfect. "Blonde" personalities just won't fit in and neither will the scatter-brained type.

There are opportunities for inland jungle trekking and camping, but remember this not a jaunt along the Appalachian Trail. One can also go to many of the towns along the Borneo coast via Air Asia, a cheap airline. Plan at least a week and a half. Fly to Los Angeles via United and then Malaysian Airlines to Kuala Lumpur. (They were just voted the Number One Cabin service in the world).

From Kuala Lumpur you can then travel to Kuching. Make reservations through a travel agent at least four months early to get really cheap rates because, for some reason, both airfares and hotel costs are cheaper through them. I strongly recommend the Holiday Inn at Kuching. (Contact me for the name of my travel agent and I will give you some tips.)

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