Friday, April 24, 2015

Long-nosed Proboscis Monkey River Cruise & Fireflies Tour (Garama River) @ Kota Kinabalu [East Malaysia]

When my four eyes fell on the irresistible air deal listed on AirAsia website, it didn't take me long to make a purchase online without giving much thought on the planned activities in Kota Kinabalu (KK).

As the departure date neared, i scrambled to find more information on what to do in KK, saved for climbing Mount Kinabalu! Turned out day trips were quite the norm and there were numerous travel agencies offering similar sightseeing packages; one of which was RiverBug.

I am seldom comfortable with online purchases, especially with vendors i have not heard much about. However, the coach arrived five minutes before the designated time for our first tour; Proboscis Monkey River Cruise & Fireflies!

Our guide, the gentleman in green in the previous photo, called himself Ken and belonged to one of the biggest tribes in Sabah, Kadazandusun. He was entertaining and managed to bring us much laughter in the almost 3-hour coach ride. 

Don't be surprised; the base camp was indeed that far from the state capital. As you could probably gather by now, the real tour operator was OIB Tour and price was cheaper according to the website (RM 155 versus RM 190 per person)! 

The last 800 meters to the base camp where we can have some afternoon tea before starting the river cruise was terribly bumpy although the worst i have encountered was in China with items strewn all over the bus. 

"Welcome to Nature's Haven" - an apt description and i can guarantee you my experience was as natural as it could be, with minimal modern touch that urbanites have taken for granted. 

You could even choose an overnight package and stay in the above bungalows if you intend to surround yourselves in nature's orchestra; by that, i meant the chirping of crickets and occasional chatter by the primates.

Afternoon tea was provided and served in this sheltered building overlooking the peaceful nature. Frankly, this would be a great time to utilise your anti mosquito spray / gel / patch! 

I needed my coffee fix! I might be very particular when it comes to this essential beverage but even i found it to be too weak for my liking! Darn, should have brought along a pack of my Old Town 3-in-1 white coffee!

The snacks were plain, comfort food; fried bananas and white sticky rice! I took quite a few rounds as they were just too delicious for my simple palate. 

Ken informed beforehand that there were two types of sticky rice; white and brown with the latter being more popular. The ones we had were white and in between the rice was an anchovy that was likely cooked in sweet sambal chilli; me like!

Spotted our first primates even though they belonged to the long-tailed macaques frequently seen in Singapore at areas like Bukit Timah, Macritchie reservoir etc. 

Counted a few felines too! They were so tame and friendly; you might get the impression you are in a cat cafe without paying the exorbitant pricing! 

One didn't even shy away from jumping onto our table and look at us with pitiful eyes in the hope that we could share our food. 

On our way to the jetty!

Safety comes first; put on the life jacket that could save your life in case a humongous water buffalo / crocodile decides to barge at the boat.

The vessel which would take on the responsibility to hold all fourteen / fifteen of us. Having AirAsia as its sponsor does have its effect; Ken had to reassure us everything was safe on the boat. 

Unlike crystal clear water. i had a particular dislike for muddy swampy water. You never know what lurks beneath those water and it's precisely this uncertainty that makes me uncomfortable. 

Well, if anything happens, i do have a large group of companions. 

After navigating a short, narrow river way shaded by trees, we finally got to a wider clearing that signified the official start of our river cruise. 

The bothersome sun can be an irritant to your skin; do slap on some sunblock before you took the cruise as I managed to get quite a good tan! 

Be alert to the wildlife surrounding you! Binoculars can be rented at RM 10 from a retail shop at the building where we had our afternoon tea. 

A barely standing hut.

Someone asked if there was crocodiles in this river; Ken replied likely not as there had not been a water buffalo carcass and there were plenty of monitor lizards which preyed on crocodile eggs. A major relief for many of us. 

Our trusty and reliable boatman! Can't remember his name but he was so steady in the way he maneuvered the boat.  

Something stirred in the water and Ken immediately alerted us to the direction. 

A pair of water buffaloes! By one look, Ken confidently claimed they were domesticated water buffaloes and shared that the cuts on the ears were evidence. Buying a water buffalo in Sabah was an expensive expenditure as the indigenous tribes relied on them for three main activities. 

Wedding, farming and death as they believed that a dead man would ride on the sacrificed water buffalo to their sacred mountain; Mount Kinabalu.

Continuing our journey to seek out the long nosed monkeys. 

A loud exclaim by an observant travel mate got us excited but it was yet again another long tailed macaque! Like in Singapore, long tailed macaques are also considered a pest in Sabah given their intelligence! 

Ouch, the sun that momentarily blinded my sight! Why did i have to choose such a time?! Reason being proboscis monkeys dislike the heat as much as Singaporeans and prefer to appear nearing sunset.

The many pong pong trees i am familiar with; back when i first started taking science in primary school, a pong pong was one of the first few trees mentioned in the textbooks. Many of us would likely remember the fruit was poisonous and will make you lose your voice. 

One of the villagers who was out fishing. This part of the river was still alright for them to catch some fishes for dinner but further down was the nature reserve where fishing was prohibited.

Abandoned structures; with better education, such rural dwelling would not be able to hold the younger generation and i believe in developing countries, such sights may not be so uncommon after all. 

Alex was tasked with my waterproof / shockproof / dust-proof camera as it has a function that i badly needed; GPS so that i would know the exact route of this river cruise! 

The river was connected to the South China Sea which was about 40 kilometers away! I thought we would come near to it but according to the GPS on the Olympus camera, we were not even close! 

Home of the boatman; his house was one of three still occupied in the vicinity as many have moved to the town area where amenities were easily available. 

I stayed in the kampong before but even then, i was blessed to have a house with electricity and clean water running from the tap. This didn't have electricity and cooking was still done the traditional way using wood. 

Throw me in the wilderness and i doubt i would survive. After close to thirty minutes on the cruise, we have yet to see any long nosed monkey! Ken gave a personal guarantee of their sightings and i waited, albeit impatiently given my personality. 

Did you see it?! I am amazed by the hawk eyes of Ken and the boatman as i could never, ever think there was something in between the leaves.

Immediately, the boatman stopped the boat and let it drifted naturally to the bank where the whole lot of us started clicking happily at our cameras (and many iPads) with the closer proximity. 

Another group of proboscis monkeys was spotted a short distance away, with one cradling a youngling! As they are naturally apprehensive, some groups would move away upon hearing the drones of boats or human voices. 

Aside from long-tailed macaques and proboscis monkeys, you might be lucky to also chance upon the silver leafed monkey which sports a mohawk hairstyle! We were lucky to see one before it climbed down the tree after noticing we were inching slowly towards it for a clearer shot. 

All of us got insanely alert after these few sightings and the whole boat was quiet as everyone's eyes were fixated in the foliage, hoping to be the first to claim the sighting.

Not just the trees; water too! A fellow mate spotted a water monitor and i was too slow to capture a good shot! 

As the heat and excitement drenched us in the form of sweat, the life jacket was seen as a deterrent to comfort and safety was happily disregarded. Note: young children should not learn from this irresponsible uncle (me).

Not everyone was there for the primates; the particular group's sole intention was to fish even though the water was said to be home to only a few species given that it was mix of both sea and freshwater. 

A kite eagle which can also be found in Singapore. 

Yet again a long nosed monkey; sorry for the poor picture quality as they were actually not as near and i could only thank my wise decision to bring along my 300 mm telephoto lens. 

Random photographs of the waterway as i took way too many! 

An observation platform for researchers and students on school trips. Without the shake from a rocking boat, i bet they could take better photos too! 

Baby water monitor; it camouflaged itself so well! 

The setting sun gave some respite to the heat but it took away the natural lighting essential for photo taking by an amateur. Flash photography, although available, should never be used on animals. 

More and more of the proboscis monkeys; see if you could spot them! As some of you are aware, the drawing attraction of a male proboscis monkey is its nose; the longer, the bigger, the better and a higher likelihood to get the babes. Gotcha on the last one; they were long tailed macaques!

On our way back as it was getting dark and our trip had been a success so far,

Lady luck was with us; the largest group of proboscis monkeys with about ten members sitting precariously on the top branches! 

In total, we had about eight sightings of these long nosed monkeys in about two hours although Ben's record was eleven groups over forty five minutes! 

From far, i thought it was a congregation of crocodiles. We were not that unfortunate; it was a herd of water buffaloes (easily over thirty of them) washing themselves! 

My virgin encounter with fireflies! The breed was the smaller type and it was mystical to see them lighting up on the trees, as if Christmas has arrived. 

Total time we spent on the cruise; a worthy two and a half hours that was both insightful and educational thanks to Ken's guidance! 

Dinner was at the same building where we had afternoon tea.

Again, nothing fanciful although there was a homely flavour to the food. The only problem i had was the lack of information on the kind of meat that was served. 


Tour Agency
RiverBug but the operator was OIB Tours
You may check out both websites for a comparison.

For your reference.

I paid RM 201.40 per person for the tour via RiverBug.

For the summarised itinerary of the 7 days, 6 nights Kota Kinabalu (Sabah) trip, please click here.

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