Proboscises, Vipers and Muffin Eating Macaques, Oh My!

Our day trip to Borneo’s Bako National Park (also known as the day a macaque ate my muffin) was our first introduction to the spectacular wildlife Borneo has on offer. Our hilarious guide, Eric, informed us in advance that there are six animals we would search for and with a little bit of luck and a lot of Eric’s great wildlife spotting skills we got to see all six! (They are hard to spot on your own, so while it’s possible to visit the park without a guide, we would highly recommend you hire one! Plus they are great resources for information about the flora and fauna.)

The “big six” were pretty spectacular. First, the monkeys! There are three types of monkeys in the park, in ascending order of coolness: macaques (most common, you see these guys all around Asia), silver leaf langurs, and the jackpot: proboscis monkeys.

Proboscis monkeys are peculiar looking animals, readily identifiable by their epic schnozes. They also have long, thin, whitish tails and the alpha males especially have gigantic pot bellies. These facially phallic monkeys are some of the strangest looking creatures we have ever encountered. They are endemic to Borneo and you can bet we were thrilled and in awe to have the chance to observe these guys in the wild for a while. Apologies in advance to the Dutch, but these fellas are also called Dutchmen. Wikipedia says this is because “Indonesians remarked that the Dutch colonizers often had similarly large bellies and noses.”  I did not realize that the Dutch were known as such, but you learn something new every day.

They are weirdly human despite their bizarre sniffers. Is it the hands? The eyes? The way they sit when they’re just hanging out?

Ok, and yes, this is a very graphic photo of a proboscis penis, but even though it’s essentially proboscis porn, it was just too funny not to share. We literally have dozens of photos of this guy’s frank and beans. In our defense, it was the first proboscis we saw, and we had no way of knowing whether it would be our last, and photographing from below makes proboscis penis appearances inevitable.

The silver leaf langurs are beautiful, and Eric joked that they are also known as David Beckham monkeys because of their spiky hairdos. They are pretty handsome, so…I don’t think it will ever get old watching monkeys clean each other, too cute.

The coolest thing about these primates is that they are a bright orange color when they are babies. We had the pleasure of seeing one youngin who had just a bit of orange coloring left, but unfortunately he moved around too fast for us to capture a photo. It’s pretty unbelievable though to see photos of the fiery newborns.

The macaques are known around here as pirates. And we can see why. Not five minutes into starting our lunch a macaque appeared out of nowhere, jumped on the table and stole Jenni’s muffin, running up a tree to relish his booty. We realized at this point that Eric wasn’t kidding about carrying a slingshot to protect us from these brazen monkeys. Don’t worry, you don’t actually shoot at them, but just holding up the slingshot is enough to make them run. And when the macaque came back for seconds Jenni held up the slingshot, and he ran cowardly away.

These bearded pigs were pretty cool, too. I wouldn’t want to piss off one of them.

The most surprising of the big six was the Wagler’s pit viper. I never thought I’d describe a snake as beautiful, but these snakes are absolutely exquisite. They can stay still for days, unless provoked by another animal, the rain, or the need to eat. It makes sense then that the locals joke that if you pick them up and turn them over their stomachs will read “Made in China.” Don’t try it though, these statuesque creatures are venomous and will bite.

The last of the six we found just in the nick of time, as we were getting ready to board the boat and return to town. The flying lemurs are the most difficult to spot. These nocturnal creatures sleep all day so you’ll never see them moving, and to top it off they are masters of camouflage against the trees to which they cling while snoozing. We had to take pictures and zoom in before we even realized this was a mama lemur with a baby in tow!

The rest of the animal sightings were just icing on the cake. We saw tons of fiddler crabs with their lop-sided Popeye-sized claw, and some lovely cerulean colored crabs. We also saw small mudskippers (baby dragon type animals we saw earlier in Penang), and these snake-like sun lizards.

We saw very few birds in the park itself, which was somewhat surprising to us, though we did see some blue kingfishers on the drive in that were quite beautiful.

While the wildlife was clearly the highlight, it’s worth noting that the surrounding environs are quite impressive. The park is accessible only via boat, which picks you up by the Bako fishing village, takes you down the Bako River, and out into the South China Sea before arriving on a wide beach backed by lush rainforest. Don’t expect to swim here though, as the water is brown and muddy, not to mention there are crocodiles and jellyfish.

It is incredibly humid inside the forest. We did a bit of nature walking where we saw lots of jungly plant life. We were surprised how many plants here are spiked. There are more pointed plants here than in the desert! There is also a rare tree called the Bintangor, which is being studied currently as it may be able to cure HIV. Fascinating.

Mangrove trees are sprinkled around the coastline, and we discovered that what appear to be young plants growing around these trees are actually roots of the big mangrove trees that pop up out of the earth so the tree can breathe. Amazing.

Practical Info

Bako National Park is just 37 km from Kuching and occupies a mere 27 square km.  But it feels worlds apart and packs a lot into a small space.  Many of the animals congregate around the headquarters.  There are a handful of relatively short hiking trails and some longer ones.  Most trails are out and back with I think one loop trail.  We took the Telok Paku trail to a more secluded bay, which is where we saw the viper.  We also took the Ulu Assam trail, which ascends to a platform overlooking the main bay.  This latter trail is very steep near the top.

Transportation: We booked everything through our tour company, but you need to get to Kampung (village) Bako, which is about a 30-minute drive from Kuching.  I believe you register there and hire a motorboat for the 20-minute ride to the park.  Depending on the tide, you may have to disembark in shallow water.  If you have one, a small towel is handy.  As is insect repellant.  And your required departure time may be determined somewhat by the tides, as well.

The park is on the mainland but accessible only by boat.  On arrival, you check in at the park headquarters.

::just for fun, because this van was so tricked out::
::just for fun, because this van was so tricked out::

Accommodation: Most people visit for a day, but right by park headquarters you can camp or stay in a “lodge” or a hostel.  I believe all accommodation is very rustic.  And be prepared to battle the macaques.

Food: We had a boxed lunch prepared for us that we ate at the canteen at park headquarters.  I’m pretty sure they sell food and beverages there, and toilets are available.

February 19, 2014 (Wednesday)

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