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by Antony Dodd
Cambridge, United Kingdom
July 31, 2004
On our first evening, we strolled up the boardwalk of the Lintang trail that leads through swamp forest. We spotted durian trees, rattan palms, and a monkey that we couldn't identify. The mosquitoes had us for dinner, and we disovered the value of DEET repellant.
The next day, we decided to follow the entire circular Lintang trail, because the literature indicated that the trail is well marked and passes through most of the vegetation types that arise at Bako. We headed off early because the park leaflet indicated the trail took 4-5h and we wanted to be able to stop and look. We started the trail in the northerly direction that passes over the mangrove boardwalks and then vanishes into the jungle. The mangrove boardwalks include several hides that we decided would be good to occupy on a later occasion. After the mangroves, the rocky path climbs steeply up a the hillside filled with dense rainforest. The path subsequently levelled off to a plateau which occupies the centre of Bako, which is filled with kerangas (iban for 'poor soil') vegetation. At this point we were hot from the climb, so were glad that it started to rain extremely hard. Once we got our eye in, we spotted a range of different Nepenthes (genus of pitcher plant) species growing as vines within other shrubs. Just off the trail we encountered some particularly large specimens, that were so large and heavy with water that they rested on the ground. These pitchers measured about 25cm long and were about 5cm wide (about the size of a large shoe).
As the path passed back into rainforest, we noticed small green cup-like pitchers on the ground beside the path. In some areas of kerangas, we found another carnivorous plant, the sundew, located by streams that flow across the rock.
The streams we encountered during this walk were stained brown (rather like tea), presumably by tannins from the decaying leaf litter. The tap water in the hostel at Bako was similarly stained brown. When our bottles of water ran empty on the Lintang trail, we decided to refill them by passing the water through our MSR Miniworks filtration cartridge. The tannins presented a severe field test for the filter, which needed cleaning a number of times while we were at Bako!
After about 2h of walking through alternating areas of rainforest, hill forest and kerangas, breaks in the trees revealed that we were quite high up and had great views over the sea. Shortly afterwards the path descended rapidly though damp, mossy forest where every single surface was soaking wet. There were lots of interesting caves between the boulders, and we saw a few orchids growing in secluded areas. Finally, when Mei-See didn't think it could go on any longer, the path emerged onto the swamp boardwalk that we explored the previous evening. About ten minutes later we had returned to our hostel. Something we realised about the walks at Bako was that when the leaflet says "5 hours", it was going to be a 5-hour walk, unlike many documentation that tends to overestimate walk lengths. Alternatively it could be that we just went very slowly because there were so many interesting things to look at. Unfortunately, we didn't see many animals (perhaps because animals are best seen at dawn and dusk), nor did we encounter many people. We did encounter many, many mosquitoes however!
Whilst Mei-See was resting after the walk, I saw a troupe of proboscis monkeys swing through the trees from the hostel veranda. By the time I woke her up, they had gone and she was cross to have missed them...
That evening, we decided to go on and evening/night walk around the mangroves and swamp boardwalk. When it was dark, many of the trees in the mangroves were filled with fireflies that flashed in sync like fairy lights. It was pitch black along the swamp boardwalk, and although we could hear both insects, animals, and frogs, we didn't see any. We did look out for big eyes of nocturnal animals. That night, there were thunderstorms and torrential rain that lasted all night, which brought some very big spiders into the bathrooms.
The next day, we wanted to see some animals, so we headed for the hides in the mangrove. Before we reached the mangroves, a number of monkey heads popped up onto the boardwalk. We kept still and quiet, and more and more appeared. We watched the monkeys and realised they were silver langur (leaf monkeys). About twenty in number, and some babies, occupied a few shrubs by the shore boardwalk and settled to eat some leaves on the shrubs. We watched the silver langur, which did not seem disturbed by us if we kept quiet, for about half an hour. When we took up our position in the mangrove hide, we noticed a number of proboscis monkeys in the distance; the tide was out so the monkeys were moving between trees across the sand. The proboscis monkeys were then scared off by a load of noisy people on the boardwalk. We decided to enter the forest again in the hope of seeing more proboscis monkeys, and had been advised that the Jalan Telok Paku trail was a good place to see them during the evening. We progressed along this trail, and saw many small lizards, and also a monitor lizard in a den off the trail. We were tantalized by the strange grunting sounds we believed to be a male proboscis monkey. On our return journey along the trail, we were greeted by the sight of an entire family of proboscis monkeys- several females, many young ones playing in the trees (and on each others tails!), and a single large male, replete with pot belly and huge nose. He wasn't particularly happy with our presence, and moved closer to us to keep a good eye on us. He made a lot of funny grunting sounds, and his nose wobbled when he did so. This family of monkeys were fascinating, and we watched them for well over an hour. Unfortunately we didn't get any decent photos. Since this was our last afternoon at Bako, were felt very privelaged to have seen such an interesting resident of the park! That evening, the park was extremely busy with families celebrating Hari Raya and enjoying the holiday- all the barbecues were busy.
We left Bako absolutely eaten by mosquitoes, despite endless DEET applications, mozzie net utilisation, and mozzie coil burning. However, our visit to Bako was fantastic and I think we could have spent weeks, rather than days, exploring the trails and watching the wildlife (we met a French guy who camped out on one of the beaches, unfortunately he was there during the thunderstorms and we heard his tent got raided by monkeys. It seems that the monkeys didn't realise the small rectangular pieces of printed paper in his tent were of particular importance for his long-term survival.... On the other hand, camping out on a jungle beach must have been amazing).
Returning from Bako to Bako Bazaar, it was the second day of the Hari Raya festival and we encountered some problems with our speedboat (ie. it didn't turn up). The helpful park staff sorted things out for us with another boat, so we did not feel so bad about not going with the boatman we had agreed to. In Bako Bazaar, all the local people were dressed most impressively in their finery for the festival.
From journal A Biologist In Sarawak
August 2, 2003
The night is full of all the noises of the jungle including foraging Bearded Pigs, rowdy bats and an orchestra of insects. Rise early and the culprits will still be at their antics, scouring the lawns and perimeter shrubbery for morsels. Marauding bands of long-tailed Macaques soon join in, often stealing food and trinkets from under the noses of inattentive tourists. Not surprisingly, feeding them is strongly discouraged.
The park's most outstanding attraction, the reclusive Proboscis Monkey is much harder to find. Dining out on leaves and fruit in the early morning and late evenings, Bako NP is one of the very few habitats left for these distinctive roaming primates.
Bako, and its neighbours parks, Gunung Gading and Kubah cover, between them, virtually all of the region's wildlife and flora attractions, with Gunung Gading the nominal home of the massive Rafflesia. This unique, parasitic plant takes nine months to mature and only blooms for a brief four or five days before dying. Sighting one of these monstrous flowers is certainly a highlight - and the smell is unforgettable!
From journal Borneo: Still Wild and Wondrous
October 10, 2002
Arriving at the park was an adventure in itself. After a 40 min drive from Damai to the sleepy jetty at Bako village, we transferred to a 30 min high-speed boat ride after paying for park permits at the jetty office. Permits costs RM 10 (US$3)per person. The boat ride costs RM 60 (US$18) two-way and seats a maximum of seven people.
The boat ride itself was exhilarating as we sped past the fishing village and headed towards the island that is the Bako National park. On arrival, we had to remove our shoes and wade in as the tide was very low and the boat could not dock at the jetty.
All visitors are required to pay for the permits at the headquarters located just off the jetty. Charges on camaras or video camaras are waived.
We chose to trek the most popular trail: Telok Pandan Kecil, a 1.5km easy to moderately difficult trail that ends at a secluded beach (2.5km from the HQ). The trail took us past a mangrove forest where we spotted sky-blue fiddler crabs and mud-skippers at low tide and two proboscis monkeys sitting atop the mangrove trees! The monkeys looked comical with their pendulous noses and their pot-bellies.
The trail begins with an ascent into the dense forest before reaching a plateau covered in scrub vegetation; it continued along a sandy path lined with carnivorous pitcher plants before reaching a cliff top with beautiful views of the famous sea stack and the secluded beach below. From there, I descended down to the beach, where I found that I was not alone after all. I "hitched" a ride with one of the boatman for a nominal fee of RM 25 (US$5) who brought me back to the HQ in less than 10 minutes. I took about two hours to trek the trail with frequent stops to take pictures.
Lunch at the canteen was a simple affair but made most interesting when some fearless long tailed macaques and silver-leaf monkeys arrived to raid for food. We also spotted a bearded pig, the biggest mammal on the island, scavanging for food near the HQ.
The tide had gone even lower after noon, allowing us to walk further out of the beach and towards the sea stack where we were able to admire the "works of art" by Mother nature.
We ended our day-trip with a thirst-quencher coconut drink served at the coffee-house located back at the jetty at the Bako village before heading back to the resort.
From journal Kuching, City of Cats