Sixteen years ago, living in Phoenix with our precious baby girl, Bill and I became hooked on a new reality T.V. show called Survivor. It was highly publisized in Phoenix because host, Jeff Probsts’ parents lived in Scottsdale at the time. This would be the first time I’d hear of the exoctic island of Pulau Tiga in Borneo, Malaysia. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that 16 years later I would be visiting the island of Borneo, with my three teenagers, hubby, and sister.
Now, if you are wondering if we made it to the small island of Pulau Tiga, the answer is no. We looked into it and the island itself is not really known for much except that Survivor was filmed there. So, we opted to take a side excursion to Sandakan and make our way to one of the world’s richest ecosystems on the lower Kinabatongan River.
On the way to the Bilit Rainforest Lodge, was the Gomantong Cave. This cave was unlike any other cave I’d ever been to, and I’ve been to quite a few. I had done zero research on this cave as our main focus was on the wildlife we were going to see along the river. Luckily, our guide was quite informative about the cave on our two hour journey from Sandakan airport to the cave. Let me start with a little background on the unique item that is found in this cave.
Living in Asia, I have been exposed to a very expensive and rare treat that the Chinese enjoy called bird nests. Edible bird’s nest, made from the hardened saliva of cave-dwelling swiftlets, is one of the most expensive animal products consumed by humans, sometimes referred to as ‘the caviar of the East’. Yum. Ok, I can totally handle seeing cute little birds in this cave, but wait… there’s more. He goes on to tell us that it will stink due to the ammonia smell from the bat guano, but we will get used to it after a few minutes. He then suggests that if we don’t care for cockroaches that he has bug spray if we need it. Since I was little, I’ve been terrified of cockroaches. A few tramatic experiences as a child/teenager has them right up there with spiders as scary things my husband has to deal with. Did I mention that we were there right before Halloween? I think that this whole cave experience qualifies as my scariest haunted house visit EVER!!!!Ok, so we get to the cave, it stinks really bad like he said. There is a nice wooden platform to walk on with a rail that takes us through the cave. It’s very dark. He points out some nests that are above our heads, ohhh and ahhhh. As we get farther into the cave we notice lots of movement…everywhere. Again, it’s pretty dark in there. The cave wall, the floor, the middle of the cave floor, the railing, it was all moving. As we look down at the wood platform, it is covered in guano and roaches. We found ourselves moving closer to the rail to try and tiptoe around the nasty critters until we noticed the rail was also covered in roaches!!!! OMG! I can’t escape! Can’t go next to the cave wall, yep, covered in creepy crawly roaches! Our guide was hilarious trying to point out the cool roaches (a rare white one that his dad had in his roach aquarium) as we are literally running and stomping (to scare away the little bastards) trying to escape this guano laced, roach filled hell! “But wait! Let me show you something really cool”, he yells as we are trying to retreat. Posted the video of “something really cool” for your viewing pleasure. We did manage to leave the cave without incident, except for some bat guano dropping on Alicia’s helmet. I have to admit that one of our coolest moments in Borneo happened as we were leaving the cave area. It was a short walk through the forest to where the van was parked and we were lucky enough to witness two Orang Utan in a tree right next to us. Unbelievable! Our guide mentioned that we should buy a lottery ticket, because a sighting like this never happens. This realization of how ‘in the jungle” we were, was pretty amazing and the ultimate reason why we wanted to come here to this beautiful country.
We are now onto our final destination another 30 minutes away to the lodge. We arrived in the afternoon, so we were able to head out on the evening boat to look for many different species of monkeys, birds, maybe the elusive pigmy elephant, etc.
I’ve put on a few of my favorite photos of the 3 different boat rides we took over the two days. The lodge itself was a bit rustic, but comfortable. The biggest nuisance was the constant banging on the roof by the wild monkeys in the middle of the night. Was quite alarming! The first night we were there I somehow managed to get my pinky toe stuck under the door as I was shutting it. Pretty sure I broke it. Totally sucked, because I was really excited to do the jungle hike instead of the boat ride to spot more wildlife.
Now we are leaving the Kinabatonga River and are headed to Turtle Island via a boat from Sandakan. We stopped at the local market near the dock before heading over.
This is a one night adventure to see turtle eggs being laid, and then later baby turtles being released. Again, modest accomodations with running water, shower, toilet, and food. Our guide was back with us for this adventure to Turtle Island and he was giddy with excitement. We had the afternoon to explore the island and snorkle. Emily managed to brush up against something snorkling and had a skin reaction, nothing a little rubbing alcohol couldn’t fix. Finally, it was dinner time and the long wait for the turtles to come onto the beach began. They had a nice little museum/education room on the sea turtles, which we enjoyed walking through. Each guide gave their group the run down on the rules and how the night was going to go. We had to keep our voices down and vibrations to a minimum, (stay in one area only so the turtles wouldn’t get spooked), NO lights or flashes on cameras. We were told that once the signal was given to quickly follow the turtle guide to where the turtle was laying her eggs on the beach. The first one happened quite soon after we ate, but one of the guests kept using the flash on her camera and it totally stopped the process. The turtle went back to sea and we left deflated and pretty angry and annoyed with this lady. The second one came about an hour and a half later. We excitedly ran down the beach to witness this amazing sight. She did not dissappoint. I still can’t believe they pick up these eggs and transfer them right away.
After they collected all the eggs we went to the area where they bury them in the sand. The sex of the turtle is determined by the temperature of the sand and our batch was buried in the female area. Go GIRLS J! Now it’s time to release these adorable little turtles. Unfortunately, statistics show that maybe 2 or 3 will actually make it out of the 60 we released.
We came, we saw, and we were amazed by the wildlife in Borneo. Kota Kinabalu was a short flight from Sandakan where we finished off our vacation with a couple of days at the Shangri-La. Did some more snorkling, relaxing, and shopping.