I had travelled from London to India, then Thailand to the Philippines and onward to the North of Borneo to a remote sanctuary for the now near extinct sun bear, and orangutan, a rehabilitation centre par excellence. It had been a wild journey already to get to this point, a lot of challenges and really living my best life.

Little family who turned up in the afternoon.
The shy sun bear with its long talon like claws for digging.

I had swum with whale sharks, visited Mogul palaces and forts, gone by horse up volcanic mountains in lake to see the emerald acid lake within that. I had gazed upon the Taj Mahal and other places of such beauty that I had been transfixed. I had had some adventures and laughed later, after the dramas were over. I had eaten a huge array of food and swum in crystal waterfall pools. I had seen art in museums that filled my soul with joy and learnt many things about cultures and ideas previously unknown to me. This trip had already held so much magic that I felt couldn’t be surpassed, nothing could surprise me. How wrong I was. Upon meeting the ‘Old Man of the Woods’ or ‘Wise Old Man of the Jungle’ I was in love. Seeing the insane flora and fauna I was gobsmacked and felt I was in for a roller-coaster of emotions. I was right.

Some photos from my trip before arriving at Sepilok.

All this, but nothing could have prepared me for Sepilok and its jungle with amazing creatures all around, and the wonderful work being done by the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre.

Feeding platform as seen from the viewing platform

Upon arriving there after my shaky start travelling via Sandakan, I arrived in my jungle resort hotel right by the gates of the sanctuary in a trance. Very overtired and very thrown-in-at-the- deep-end of jungle proper, experience. When I say jungle proper, it’s a very different and bizarre world from what you anticipate.

Camouflage d to a point of insanity!

Let me explain.

Jungle Hotel Sepilok

My jungle cabin room.

In my room as soon as I entered, a large gecko zoomed up the wall and went into hiding, the lady showing me the room laughed at the horror on my face and said it was a resident and I will be happy to have it as it’s eating all the mosquitoes and midges which are very prevalent. I wasn’t so sure. I’ve had normal sized geckos in many rooms before but this monster? I would shortly see that everything in that jungle is BIG. The insects, creatures, plants and flowers and the weather is all larger than life and very dramatic. Not one minute of the day passes by you not muttering ‘what the fuck’ at various pitches of your voice, indeed sometimes screaming!!!

Big bugs par excellence.

Anyhoo. I got acquainted with my gecko, unpacked rapidly while gazing over my cabin balcony into their fabulous huge jungle garden. I would find out later to walk to their restaurant took fifteen minutes over bridges and winding raised wooden walkways but for now I just wanted to walk over for the first feed at the orangutan viewing platform. Paying for my ticket for both the orangutans and a separate one for the sun bears.

Another super sized seed pod on a supersized tree

The Sanctuary.

Feeding time is to subsidise the food that the rehabilitated big guys might need a hand with. This means you are never sure if you’ll see them at all. If they are thriving and having a great time they simply don’t show up. It’s done very strictly as the policy is for them to go back to nature, not to be humanised too much. If you’re unlucky then you will just see some of the kiddos in the nursery which is lovely in itself, but behind glass. What you really hope is to see a good number at the feeding platform of the rehabilitated, the post nursery ones who have made it on their own, you cross your fingers that they will arrive for morning or afternoon snacks because there is no guarantee. If they are a bit low on food they turn up ,if not tough luck.

From the Journal (some ranting from the time!) April 28 2018

‘When I arrived there there was already a large group of quite noisy irritating people waiting on some action. I only had my phone camera and it was a mistake. In a weird way the fur on these giant apes comes out like a blur so along with zooming I ended up with rather poor pics but luckily for my practise there that morning only one, very greedy, old girl turned up. She seemed to be a regular and I would see her again later that day. The masked keeper seemed very fond of her and she was very fond of food! The noise of the insects although very loud couldn’t shut up the morons who seemed unable to shut their gobs. Greedy girl just had a macaque to join her for breakfast, and the two shared their feast happily. When the crowd wandered off I had a lovely more intimate time with them and under the thick canopy if I squinted my eyes I could imagine just being with them alone’

‘Next I went to the nursery in a big clearing where you could view through glass the naughty babies and teenagers learning how to survive for their ultimate release. They are hysterical. They play tricks on one another and being so mischievous, agile and strong get on with their day learning group social skills in the safety of this environment without too much interference by humans. There is a gallery at the top of the viewing hall with their names, histories and idiosyncrasies. Also it tells of where they were rescued from and any psychological damage they have endured from cruelty, caging and separation from their mums and groups. A lot arrive overweight from bad diets from ignorant people who ‘owned’ them.’ It was joyful but also heart-breaking. How are we to stop the mindless cruelty that has led to babies being ripped from their mothers, discarded and abandoned after having seen their mothers butchered? The stupid selfishness of people making them ‘pets’ in cages? The greedy zoos who deliver their own brand of torture? Or the short-sighted destruction of their habitation an ever more ‘throw-away’ consumer society?

Macaque mother feeding her baby at the sun bear sanctuary

‘The huge contradiction across Asia, seems to be very black or white, huge cruelty or huge kindness to all animals. Seen on every corner is mind numbing and casual torture of creatures for money, food or sheer amusement. The thugs prevail but an ever growing number are becoming better educated and and are fighting the good fight to save animals, treat them with kindness and empathy, and to rehabilitate as many as possible to return them to their native state.’

When travelling alone there is a tendency of having overblown emotions. Normally this is fine but sometimes it gets a little ‘out there’.

People making noise I tutted furiously at, animals I openly wept for, fish I marveled at, art inspired me and later in Indonesia my turtle, who stayed swimming with me for twenty minutes, I got sunstroke for! I communicated with him on some higher level. I felt he had been waiting for me. This went for the whale sharks in Cebu and elephants in Thailand and now the orangutans. You feel more connected when your emotions are this raw.

Elephants in Thailand made me very emotional too

Well, later that afternoon when I went for the afternoon feeding a whole group came in, as I stood alone at the platform, and cavorted, played and ate as if they were there to welcome me. After the lack-lustre morning feed this indeed was a huge spectacle, and I felt it was just for me as they knew how much love I was sending out. It’s true my friends, I was blessed.

The solitary ones, Greedy Girl (of course) a troupe with babies and the ubiquitous macaques all turned up to tell me that they are thriving in Borneo’s jungle.

Watermelon and bananas seemed to be the top favourite.

The man who came with the basket of fruit, his face covered and wearing latex gloves to protect them from disease and I feel also to stop them identifying with humans too much, started unloading their afternoon tea. Greedy Girl sat next to him as she had done in the morning, a male lurked hanging from a rope cautious of the big bully Alpha male and his gang already established on the platform. A baby swung above, occasionally coming down the rope for a choice banana which it would pick up with its feet. There was a slapping of a head or two by the ones lurking above leaning down to inflict their mischief.

The troupe when settled on the platform resembled a primitive human family settled for a meal. Serious and choosy about the the best bits, and nimbly removing peel with their lips to spit it out after.

The feeder suddenly leapt to his feet at one point to retreat when Alpha decided to get something he fancied, bullying him a bit to show that the human was also subservient to him too! Said man obviously agreed and harmony was restored, then he went back to show that Alpha was NOT ALLOWED TO STEAL THE WHOLE BLOODY BASKET!

Their expressions are so human it’s scary, the hand to the head expressing exasperation being my favourite, and the eye contact obviously conveying conveying a multitude of things., you could see weariness, greed, impatience, love, slyness etc. The effortless acrobatics and distinct personalities of some of the loners was I think interesting too, as they had come in at different times and from different directions so were obviously doing their own thing in different places in the jungle. I was in awe and when some more people turned up I left after a few more minutes not wanting the magic to be spoiled for me. I was in love.

The Sun Bears.

The sun bears were next door in another section. These poor creatures had suffered similarly to the orangutans and are also endangered. They also had names and their individual histories on signs scattered around, and a rehab programme in an area of jungle around Sepilok.

My first view of these razor clawed endangered chaps

Their chubby fluffiness belied their huge talons that they use to dig out tasty morsels from the forest floor. They are also on a see them if they are there basis son I again was lucky to see a bunch of them. It’s all random which I think is wonderful and the way it should be.

Macaques with their babies were hanging out at eye level on the high raised walkway just chilling out. They are so wonderfully insolent but not to trusted as I know they can be nippers !

I was boiling hot and felt sated and happy so went back for a waterfall pool swim at the cabins in the middle of the jungle. Bliss.

The nail would finally fall off when I was snorkeling in Indonesias beautiful Banuken

When I got back to my cabin for a beer and a ciggy out on my terrace (after a long cold shower) saw Indian black toe had now gone completely black. I cut the nail down a little further as I had been doing previously and prayed it wouldn’t go bad on me. I looked over at the monkeys swinging across in front of my cabin and was so happy to be alive. This is indeed living your best life.

More beauty from Sepilok next time dear friends x