8 April 2010

Crocker Range & Sepilok


 "There is need for awareness that the mountains and rivers and all living things, the sky and its sun and moon and clouds all constitute a healing, sustaining sacred presence for humans which they need as much for their psychic integrity as for their physical nourishment. This presence whether experienced as Allah, as ...Atman... or as the Buddha-nature or as Bodhisattva; whether as Tao or as the One or as the Divine Feminine, is the atmosphere in which humans breathe deepest and without which they eventually suffocate."


  With only a few days before our trail-bike hire expired, Tony & I decided to head inland from Kota Kinabalu into the Crocker Ranges. At an average height of 1800m above sea level, it is the highest mountain range in Sabah.

 Up in these ranges, One is truly amongst the clouds 

(and at times, above them!)

  A small shack on the edge of the mountain road, complete with vegie garden
 I was as shocked as you may be now experiencing the contrasts of the freedom found in the high mountains with this utterly sad scene of our first primate sighting, a Bornean Gibbon.


Just outside a guesthouse and restaurant in the high ranges, this 'mini-zoo' was home to two Bornean Gibbons, a couple of high energy squirrels and a fruit bat. The zookeeper claims they were all orphaned and he lets the Gibbons out once a week. 

The whole scene was suspiscious and apparently these dodgy 'zoos' are quite common all around Malaysia, with wild-life trafficking receiving little law enforcement attention .

I could really feel their pain, Gibbons being even more closely related to humans than monkeys. They just wanted to swing free in their forest, which was sadly within view of their tiny caged prison.

These poor mammals are apparently no longer found in the Crocker Ranges, 
hunted into extinction or possibly sold to Zoos like this one?

Continuing on our journey through the ranges, 
we suddenly came to a turn-off with a sign that says ‘Poring 10km’.

Thinking this meant ‘Poring Hot-Springs’ the famous hot springs at the base of Mt Kinabalu surrounded by lowland dipterocarp forest, the vision of resting our weary bodies in the warmth of the Earths thermal waters was too good an opportunity to miss.

The other factor calling me to hot-springs was the idea of being in the warm lowlands, as my jacket had fallen off the back of my bike a few days earlier, riding in the cold rain was exhilarating at first, but quickly became a shivering affair.

The dirt road quickly dropped off into the valley below, weaving hairpin corners with steep gradients. The mountainside covered in a combination of primary and secondary montane forest, and at  times purely bare sections of recently cleared land. 

As we began to weave our way down into the valley floor, the rain began and the road seemed to melt away beneath our feet, turning into a sticky clay substrate. 

Our dirt-bikes now starting to slip and slide much like riding through butter, and as the rain increases, our traction decreases.

Tony reminds me to be careful what I wish for, having set the intention of ‘adventure’ earlier in the day, a goal so open to universal interpretative ambiguity.

At this stage we believed the bottom of the road would connect us to a main road system and hopefully just a few more kilometers before our savior, ‘Poring Hot-Springs’. 

Although the lure of the spring was strong, our traction on the roads was starting to become non-existent. It became a mud-skiing adventure, trying to balance the front and rear brakes without dropping the bikes.

As long as we make it to the bottom our problems will be solved?

So we thought.

The road got worse and worse and it became apparent that it had only recently been cut out of the mountain, making matters much more difficult, the very few villagers would respond to our queries of ‘Is this the way to Poring Hot-springs?” with the familiar embarrassed smile that meant ‘me no speak English’. Strangely just pointing back up the hill and then laughing!

As the road turned into a goat track and eventually we wound our way down into the valley, the path turned into a gushing creek that would make the most travel hardened trail-biker smile from ear-to-ear.

We eventually made it over and came to a T-intersection with a group of villagers nearby huddled around a fire in a make-shift bamboo camp covered with a tarp.

This was the moment we hadn’t expected. 

Although they spoke no English, it was clear by their hand signals that the only way to civilization was back the way we had arrived, back up that steep slippery-dip of a road all the way up nearly 2000m in elevation into the Crocker ranges.

We turned around and tried to get back up, but after making it no more then 500 meteres.
Tony got bogged and we could see up ahead a four wheel drive was also ‘stuck-in-the-mud’.
The road was literally melting away before our very eyes.

The rain was getting worse and we quickly found shelter in an abandoned bamboo shack, resigning ourselves to the life of a lowland villager, in a forgotten corner of the Crocker Ranges on the Island of Borneo in far eastern Malaysia. 

Our fancy plastic cards and Australian Tax File numbers wouldn't get us out of this situation.

Tony and I were both exhausted, so we decided to surrender and have a nap. I was glad to be out of the rain, although knowing nightfall was only a few hours off seemed to circle endlessly around in my mind as I drifted off into misty sleep.

After waking, the rain had mostly cleared. It was 4:30 PM

The energy had shifted, birds singing songs of joy over this sacred forgotten moment, and it seemed maybe we could make it out alive!

Before heading off I sang an OM and prayed to the mountain, please guide us to somewhere high, dry and warm (I should have been more specific and asked for a Jacuzzi and some dinner waiting other then chicken and rice!)

Incredibly, it was much easier going up then it had been going down and we made it to freedom, back on a sealed road in the freezing cold Crocker Ranges, right on sunset.

My new challenge was the chill factor of riding through the mist without a jacket. We quickly found the closest accommodation available with 'hot showers'.

To my frozen shock the shower didn’t work, I stood there in all my naked, shriveled up glory, desperately trying to work this strange electric shower, and thus kick start my circulatory system!

Unfortunately it was broken, so they offered us a kettle which I warmed and mixed in a big red bucket before pouring it over myself repeatedly I began to thaw out.


Later that night I rested my feet in more warm water and read up on how to speak Bahasa Malaysian.
All in all it was quite an epic adventure, and any day that ends with your feet in a giant red bucket full of warm water, is a grand day indeed.

The following morning we had planned to meet a Spanish friend doing research on the Indigenous peoples around Tambunan and the effects of Palm oil expansion on their land entitlements. 

We spent a lovely morning riding through the west side of the ranges, and discovered a gorgeous waterfall nestled in the foothills just 12 kilometers from Tambunan. 

Unfortunately we got the call later in the day for our dental work to be completed and so had to abort the mission and return to KK before flying out to Sandakan.

So we are now on the East Coast of Sabah just near Sepilok, an Orangutan Rehabilitation Center. 


The Orangutan feeding at the Center is quite a popular tourist attraction and there were more then 50 people gathered to see the 'Man of the Forest' (the literal translation of 'Orang Hutan' in Malay)

Although it was great to see my first Bornean Orangutan in real life, (The Orangutan in Sumatra, although similar, are a different species), The most exciting experience was watching a flying squirrel glide over 30 metres through the canopy to another tree. 

Borneo has the highest diversity of Gliding animals in the world. Snakes, Lizards, Frogs and Squirrels have evolved species that take advantage of the maneuverability benefits of being able to cruise from tree to tree.  
So due to lack of response and complete inability to make contact with the ecological restoration group known as “MESCOT” we have decided to spend the last week in Borneo out at the Danum Valley conservation area. 

A research site in the interior of Sabah for scientists, ecologists, botanists and the like.

This is said to be the most untouched Primary Tropical Rainforest in Sabah (Mostly Lowland Dipterocarp Forest). It has never been logged and there is no evidence of indigenous people inhabiting this area (although i do find that hard to believe?).

After Danum we'll fly out of Borneo to KL where Tony will head north to Vietnam and I shall travel onwards to India for one month.

After India I will finally be re-united with my Love, Gemma, in Thailand
whom I miss like the caged Gibbon must miss its forest...

Stay awake, keep breathing


1 comment:

Scheherazade's Den said...

This post had me enthralled, you are great at telling a yarn Pauly boy and
with it always comes a political and personal message of responsibility for this earth...well done bro, this is great stuff, I'll keep reading.
Hope you ease up on the red bucket moments, you can't have too many of them all at once.
X Carls