Monday 10 November

Toast, coffee and scrambled egg for breakfast in the resort’s open-air restaurant, set on stilts next to a landscaped jungle garden. It is already very hot as we amble gently over to the orangutan sanctuary. Peter isn’t good at hurrying us along, but finally we have all deposited our bags (save Nancy, who successfully makes a special case for taking hers in) and have entered the reserve. At the feeding platform, two orangutans are waiting, along with a macaque.

(magnify) Waiting for lunch
(magnify) King of the swingers

The crowd of spectators grows and cameras are brandished. The ranger arrives with a blue plastic bucket filled with bananas and the feeding begins. There is some aggression from the macaque, but the orangutans soon put him in his place. After the main action a Provosts squirrel, black with a rust-red underbelly, appears to help clean up.

(magnify) Feeding time

We have a nature walk following the feeding. We don’t see any boar or deer, but the leeches are delighted to see us. The leeches here are long and black, much larger than the ones we saw in Sarawak, and are anchored at one end onto the tip of a leaf, the other end waving speculatively at passers by.

Some in the group haven’t seen enough of the orangutans, so we decide to stay on and watch the afternoon feeding. I’m walking with Ann, Steve and Fi along the wooden walkway back to the feeding platform when Ann spots a macaque in the undergrowth, not far from the walkway. Out come the cameras, but suddenly there are many of them, approaching out of the forest, and we find ourselves quickly surrounded. Then it gets a bit worrying as one jumps onto Ann’s back and refuses to get off. I have no idea how to disengage a macaque from somebody’s head without provoking it to aggression. Ann’s main concern is that one of us should quickly get a photograph of her, but she does finally manage to persuade it to let go.

Macaques Long tailed macaques

However, they have not finished with us, and as we hurry along the walkway towards the feeding platform, they flank us along the handrails on either side, all rather unnerving.

The Macaques make the orangutan feeding very entertaining this time, and the crowd of spectators is much smaller too. The macaques are constantly trying to get one up on the orangutans, climbing up from underneath the platform, but also arguing among themselves. A baby loses its footing and goes crashing down through the undergrowth. Scuffles break out. Meanwhile, the orangutans get on with the serious business of bananas, occasionally pushing the macaques out of the way. Eventually they get fed up, scoop up the remaining bananas and swing slowly away, arm over arm along the connecting ropes, to finish their dinner in peace.

Orangutans Hopeful macaque

There is a video afterwards back at the centre about the work of the sanctuary. Most of the problems facing orangutans stem from loss of habitat due to logging and palm plantations. At the sanctuary, they adopt orphaned orangutans, and gradually reintroduce them to the jungle, teaching them how to climb and swing, and how to build their nests and forage for food.

The bus ride to Sukau is about three hours. As we drive, the bright sky begins to cloud over. We pass through miles and miles of palm plantations. The weather gradually deteriorates, and as it does so does the road. Rain begins lashing against the windscreen, and lightning lights up the sky. A river flows down the dirt road we are now bumping and rattling along. Rob remarks: “Note to self: don’t invest in Malaysian buses.” I reflect that until you’ve off-roaded in an ancient Chinese bus with two engines through palm oil plantations in a tropical thunderstorm, you haven’t really lived. Probably.

We pull up in the dark. Peter tells us to carry all of the luggage down to the jetty. Jetty? As we shelter under a corrugated iron roof, we hear in the darkness the sound of water and the outboard motor of an approaching boat. We speed for three minutes in total darkness along what is presumably a river to the Proboscis Lodge Sukau, and are greeted with tea/coffee/Milo on the terrace restaurant. There’s a buffet dinner, and then we retire to our rooms to clean up. That evening, I win a glorious victory at the card game “cheat”. (Well, it was about time – I taught them the stupid game for goodness sake.)