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Watch your step; there might be snakes.

Summer Vacation 2008 - Exploring the Danum Valley Conservation Area

sunny 31 °C

“Watch your step; there might be snakes.” The last thing I heard before our guide veered off the path into the jungle in search of... Oh wait. I'm getting ahead of myself.

We woke up in our lovely (imagine sarcasm here) hotel in Lahad Datu excited for our trip to Danum Valley.

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We had to finish the last minute packing and make sure that they actually got our laundry done in time. On the way down for breakfast we found out that the lady at the desk didn't know where our laundry was, or anything about us having dropped off laundry to have done. Uh oh. We decided to leave it with her and eat. While we were eating we saw the lady who worked the counter last night come running in with our laundry. Safe! Half an hour late, but still. Just under the wire. As we were checking out, our van to Danum Valley arrived.

We got into the van and were on our way, with a couple of stops. First, for the sake of everyone else at the Borneo Rainforest Lodge (BRL) we had to stop at a pharmacy and buy more toothpaste. Secondly, (and from the BRL's point of view, more importantly) we had to stop and pay our bill.

With that taken care of we were on our way to Danum Valley. Danum Valley is part of the Sabah Concession Area, one million hectares of protected area in the middle of Borneo. Danum Valley consists of 438 km2 in this area, which is a relatively small part of the total concession area. Other parts of the Sabah Concession Area are still being explored. Current surveys continue to turn up lots of new plant and animal species. It's quite amazing there is still that large an area not explored on the Earth. The BRL is built in the heart of Danum Valley, it is surrounded by rainforest. Here's a shot from our balcony.

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It was approximately a three hour drive to Danum Valley. In total it was about 99km: 17km on paved roads and 82km on gravel. It was a fairly bumpy ride (the agent at the BRL office joked with us about the ride being a 'free massage'). At one point the driver stopped and got out. We saw the other tour guide up front get out with a tire pressure meter and thought, “Oh crap.” They explained when they got back in that there was too much air and it made the ride too bumpy. That's a better explanation than a flat tire.

We arrived and were welcomed very nicely by the staff. They took care of our bags and told us they'd take them to our room when it was ready. At this point I took off to the bathroom. When I returned, Court, and the Japanese man who was in our group were each sitting upstairs with a nice fruity drink and a refreshing cool, wet towel to wash their hands with. The staff member gave us a quick introduction to the lodge and told us our guide would be Leo(nard). More importantly, she showed us where we could eat.

Lunch was excellent. There was a red and green bean porridge that Court loved so much she eventually got the recipe from the chef! We had to wait around for a little bit more for our room to be ready. Once it was ready, we got a HUGE surprise. The lodge was pretty busy and there were a lot of people, so we got upgraded. As we were walking down the staff member said that they were putting us in the biggest chalet at the lodge. And she was right. We have a separate living room with couch and chairs. Then we have our bedroom with a massive bed, lots of floor space and nice high ceilings. And a bathroom with separate shower and tub. Finally, there is a beautiful balcony overlooking the Danum River. WOW! In total we think this chalet is bigger than our actual apartment in Japan. In fact we found out from Leo that this lodge was built in 2000 because the Sultan of Brunei was going to come visit. At the last minute he canceled, but I think he came in 2003. There are actually three rooms, the main room and the right and left wings. The right and left wings were built for the Sultan's two wives!

We unpacked and relaxed for an hour or so. Court spotted this little green guy on the tree behind our room. As it turns out, it is a flying lizard!

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Then it was time to meet our guide and do the Nature Hike trail. We met at 15:00. There are only three people in our group: me and Court and another man from Nagoya. The small group is ideal for this area. We left around 15:15 and were supposed to take one hour to do the hike. It was only 600 m on a boardwalk around the lodge. Within the first 20 metres Court spotted an agamid lizard on the side of tree. We ended up seeing 4 different agamid lizards: two females, one male, and one juvenile.

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We spotted one lizard on the tree and he was one color. Then about 5 seconds later he was a different color. Take a look. This is the same lizard as it was preparing to bite if need be.

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This is the male. Its fin is a lot longer than the females.

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At the next stop, Leo was going to tell us about some white “stuff” on a tree and asked if we knew what it was. Court quickly piped up, “It's lichen.” I think at this point Leo realized we weren't just any people he was going to guide through the jungle. We discussed it afterwards and decided it must be nice for nature guides to get people who ask lots of questions and are really interested in the environment.

Leo also told us about the different types of plants and ways they've adapted to survive in the rainforest. Take, for example, the birds nest fern. This fern grows on the trunks of trees and its leaves are angled out, like a birds nest, hence the name. This fern catches leaves as they fall from the tree and absorbs nutrients from them. It also retains its own dying leaves to absorb the nutrients from them. Amazing.

As he was explaining about these ferns I noticed some pill millipedes. Leo was excited that there were two there. That way he could show us the difference between one rolled into a defensive ball and one not.

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Leo also told us about lots of lichens, mosses, mushrooms, vines and many other types of plants along the way. One time while we were stopped, the other guy in group noticed there was a leech climbing up Leo's shoulder. It was a tiger leech. We watched it as Leo explained all about the leeches.

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We also found a flat-backed millipede in our travels.

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When in danger, this millipede secretes a liquid that smells like vanilla but is very acidic and tastes horrible. 'Secretes' may be an understatement: you could actually see it shoot the liquid out of its back. It was cool. The female slow loris will actually lick these millipedes and then lick their offspring if they have to leave them alone. That way if anything comes to eat the offspring they will smell this smell and leave them alone.

On our way back to the lodge we spotted an orangutan in the canopy. It was kind of difficult to get a great view of through the trees, but we managed. Then the orangutan headed off away from us. Next thing we knew, Leo said to follow him and took us along a different path. At this point we connect back to the introduction. Leo ventured off the path and took off into the rainforest, shouting back, “Watch your step; there may be snakes.” He eventually led us to the tree directly below the orangutan. We were so close, I was worried that it would drop something on us. This was definitely a good way to start our visit.

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We got back on the trail and started to head back when we noticed a maroon langur (or red leaf monkey). The picture's kind of dark, but it's there in the middle.

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He started to jump from tree to tree and ended up in a tree just above the path we were on. This was a new type of monkey for us. One more down. Lots more to go.

Earlier on the hike, Leo had asked us what we wanted to see and I said I'd be happy with a flying squirrel and a gibbon. I'd never seen either of them. As we were walking back to the main lodge we noticed some people had a nice telescope set up on a tripod. We asked them what they were looking at and they said were looking at a sleeping gibbon. They also said they had a nicer view earlier. I asked to take a look and -bam-: a nice shot of a gibbon's arse. Well, at least I got to see a gibbon.

We had enough time to have some cake and coffee at the lodge before the slide show began. It was more of an information session than anything else. Ray, one of the guides, told us about the history of the lodge and the area. Then it was time for the “dusk” drive. It was basically dark out, but it was still called the dusk drive.

We piled into the back of the truck and headed out. Paul, our guide for the evening, sat up front with the high powered light to try to spot things. Over the course of the drive we saw four or five sambar deer (the largest deer in Borneo, but a lot smaller than white-tailed deer), a common palm civet, and four flying squirrels! Another thing off our list. We also saw two of them fly. Awesome. They started to twitch and then jumped out of the tree and glided down to a different tree (which is oddly familiar behaviour... Court twitches before every flight, too). Very cool.

And it was time to return for dinner. It was another excellent meal. The cook is great. There was a coconut pudding tonight that Court loved. Again, she's going to ask for the recipe. And finally it was time to go to sleep with the sounds of the torrential rain pounding down on our cabin roof (what's a rainforest without rain?). As long as it stops by 06:00 tomorrow, it can rain as much as it wants.

Posted by agc_cwm 07:16 Archived in Malaysia

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