Remarkably the journey from Bali to Borneo was our only experience to date of any kind of travel disruption. After taking the early flight to Kuala Lumpur (KL) we had to change planes for the onward leg to Kota Kinabalu (KK). Our scheduled flight was cancelled and we were put back a couple of hours. We then boarded the next flight where we sat for an hour whilst maintenance checks were carried out only to be asked to disembark. Another hour later we finally took off for Borneo and arrived nearly six hours later than scheduled!
There's no way KK can't be described as picturesque. It was bombed twice by the Allies during the second world war. Firstly to slow the Japanese advance and secondly to hasten their retreat. As a consequence the buildings can be best described as functional.
What the town lacks in aesthetic beauty, the surrounding countryside more than makes up for. Just off the coast are the five islands that form the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park and inland is Mount Kinabalu.
Unfortunately for us the weather was lousy for all but one of the days we were there. As a consequence we spent most of our time sampling the culinary delights of the city rather than the natural beauty. As it was we had to make a choice on the one day we had good weather. We went for the other great attraction in the area which was to see the orang-utans in their natural habitat.
Orang-utans share 96% of our DNA and are therefore our closest relatives in the animal kingdom. The most popular place to see them is Sepilok which is a six hour drive from KK, however we met an English couple whilst enjoying lunch and a beer who told us about an orphanage that was based in a small rainforest linked to the Rasa Ria resort an hour north of KK. They described the resort as 'proper 5 star' so we decided to spend the day there and to enjoy a bit of luxury as well as see the orang-utans.
We hired a car and headed up there early. The orang-utan viewing was at 3:00p.m. After breakfast at the hotel and a walk along the beautiful white sand beach, we settled ourselves by one of the swimming pools. The lifeguard provided us with our towels and then asked for our room number. Inspired by Frank Abignale Jr I said 'Room 108' thinking or rather hoping that we'd then be left alone until it was time to see the orang-utans. No such luck! It turned we'd sat ourselves down by the exclusive pool and within minutes the guest relations manager appeared. 'So you're staying in Room 108 and waiting for the room to be made up?' he said. We exchanged glances as if to say 'should we, could we bluff it all the way?' There was no telling what was going to happen next so we decided to confess all expecting to be frog-marched back to reception to wait it out until the afternoon. Luck must have been on our side as rather than ask us to leave, he insisted on us staying and experiencing the hotels' exclusive hospitality. Next thing we knew we were being presented with cold towels, fresh fruit juice and canapés!
At 2:30 p.m., almost reluctantly, we headed off to the nature centre for a briefing before the orang-utan viewing. Any concerns we had that the experience was going to be somewhat contrived were soon set aside. The orphaned orang-utans are rescued after having typically been discovered by local farmers. They are then taken to the orphanage where they are given a full medical, treated for any injuries or diseases and then gradually rehabilitated.
By the time they're able to roam freely in the sanctuary's rainforest they're capable of feeding themselves, therefore there's no guarantee that you'll get to see them at feeding time. The orphanage currently has four orang-utans and we were lucky enough to be visited by 'Katie', a six year old who will soon be transferred to the rehabilitation centre at Sepilok where she'll spend another five or six years before being released into the wild.
We also met Ten-Ten, a two year old orphan whose name refers to the date and month that she was found. The rangers have developed a rehabilitation programme for very young orang-utans that is based on the watch and learn principle that reflects how the animals learn in the wild.
Seeing the orang-utans made our visit to Kota Kinabalu totally worthwhile even though we never made it to the islands. Next stop is Kuching where we hope to see more of Borneo's amazing wildlife.