Monday, July 7, 2008
Kuching - Day 8 - Bako National Park
Sunday, March 9, 2008
At 8:30, I left Barbara in the Executive Lounge planning her day. I was in a hurry to get underway to get to Bako National Park, since I would only have the one day there. Bako is known for its wide array of wildlife, plants, and jungle trails, some of the best in Sarawak, and is only 30 minutes away from Kuching.
The Hilton's doorman was fantastic, offering me two choices, join up with a tour group that would leave at 9:30, or hire a taxi and boat independently. Since I was trying to maximize my time there, I opted for the latter. He made the arrangements with a taxi driver, and away I went.
At Kampung Bako, I paid my park admission and hired a boat. There was an older Austrailian woman there who wanted to share a boat with a group, but she wanted to share it with a large group to get the cheapest fare possible. I wasn’t as worried about cheap, so I took the boat by myself. We ran down the river past the village with its little houses and net frames the locals use for fishing.
The tide was out, so the boatman beached his boat and I made a feet wet landing at Telok Assam, the park headquarters. We agreed he'd be back at 3 PM to pick me up. I checked in with the office there, and the person at the office recommended for me a short trail, the one to Telok Paku, a small beach. I thought it was rather silly to say that a 1km trail would take an hour. I was wrong.
Let me introduce you to the idea of jungle trails. These aren't nice, gently sloping up and down walking trails you might find in a park around here. These are uphill, downhill, climb over rocks, roots, narrow stairs, planks, and things that are not what I would call trails. I was watching the little markers that said 100 meters, 200 meters, and wondering if I would make it to the beach before I expired.
At the 500 meter marker, my phone rang. My cellphone. I was in the middle of the jungle in Borneo, and my cellphone was ringing. It's Barbara. Just wanted to see how I'm doing. Next time I'll turn off the phone and pretend that modernity hasn't entered the jungle yet. Shortly afterwards, I got to the end of the trail and the beach.
[Barbara and I have talked about this, and we agreed that she would have hated this. If we ever go back, I'll hire a boat to take her around. Or take us both. I'm not as interested in jungle treks as I thought.]
When I got there, I had a little tropical beach all to myself. No other people, no macaques stealing things. I'm like Robinson Crusoe with dry cigarettes. Ok, one dry cigarette. So, it's smoke break time. I put my camera down, set the self-timer, and took a picture of me there. Then I went for a swim. The water was cloudy because of the river outlet there, but it was still pretty, and warm, and a nice way to recover from sweating myself silly on the trail. It's a very slow slope there, so I had to walk a long way to get to waist-deep water.
I still hadn't seen any critters, but after about an hour some people started showing up, having come from the tour group. So, I packed up and headed back to the lodge to figure out what my next hike would be. The hike back was just as tough, but since I knew what I was getting into, it wasn't as hard as the trip out.
After I got back near Telok Assam and on the boardwalk, I saw my first wildlife, proboscis monkeys in the mangrove across from the jetty. Big nose, pot belly, red fur and a long thick white tail.
As I was taking pictures of them, a macaque came walking down the handrail of the boardwalk across the mangrove. I took a dozen pictures of him coming and going, and he ignored me completely.
Once off the boardwalk and onto the concrete path, I saw a water monitor. All of the wildlife was hanging out at the lodge while I was hiking through the jungle to see them.
I changed clothes at the lodge, putting my sweaty stuff into a plastic bag. I decided to go ahead and have lunch, a simple cafeteria set-up, with mee goreng, rice, and curry chicken.
While I was eating, a bearded pig came by. Holy cow! They hang out there at the lodge looking for scraps and handouts.
I spent some time walking the beach near the lodge, checking out tiny little crabs. Then I stopped to talk to another traveler, and he told me about a place up one of the other trails where he saw several green snakes. I headed that way, but got delayed because there were lots of proboscis monkeys hanging out in the mangrove now, and I took a lot of pictures.
By the time I got through there, it was time to get my boat back to the Kampung and meet my taxi. Boat number 22 was there as agreed.
This boatman did a great job for me, slowing down so I could take pictures of the people and houses along the river and running upriver past the kampong jetty to see if we could see any crocodiles, which inhabit that stretch of river. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see any that day.
The taxi ride back was uneventful. Barbara was hanging out at the hotel, after having done her own tour of some of the local craft demonstrations, and so I headed across the street to a little food court place where I could get a bottle of beer and a pack of cigarettes. After a beer and a smoke, I felt almost human and headed in for cocktail hour in the executive lounge.
We went out to dinner at a place highly recommended by the guide book. There were no locals there, only tourists, and the food was mediocre at best. This is the only place I’ll say that about in our travels. On the bright side, we were near the big cat statue in the middle of the road near the Holiday Inn and I got some great night pictures.
The next day, we went to see orangutans, the old men of the jungle. I was so sore from my hike that Barbara was outrunning me, and that never happens. Also, I found out that while my sunscreen did a good job on my body, it didn’t do so good on my scalp where I part my hair and where my hair is thinning in back. That hurt. Jim’s new rule: Wear a hat if you’re in the jungle in the tropics.
Prices are approximate. If you're in Kuching, your accommodations can probably contact one of the tour operators to get you on a tour to Bako for RM165 (US$51) or so. CPH Travel is one operator that is often mentioned. Or, you can do it the way I did. Taxi was RM85 (US$27) to Kampung Bako, admission to the park was RM10 (US$3), and the boat ride was RM90 (US$28), which you can share among a group if you're willing to wait. You pay the taxi driver and boatman at the end of the trip. Lunch was cheap, though plan to buy large bottles of water at RM2.50 or so after your trek.