Random Travel Snaps: The Orangutans of Borneo

orangutan

Threatened by logging and captivity, their population dwindles through the years.  These so-called “men of the forest” are estimated to be as few as 10,000 still in the wild.

In 2007, I followed the path of a boardwalk that led me to a viewing gallery and a feeding platform.  There were a few orangutans on site but slowly, more emerged from the rainforest lured by milk and bananas.  Feeding time is twice a day – once in the morning and another in the afternoon.

No longer held in captivity (by various people and for various reasons), they are free to roam as they please around the 4,300 hectare Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve.  This is so they get used to their own natural habitat once more and this –in the meantime – is their sanctuary.

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre aims to return orphaned, injured and displaced orangutans back into the wild, back to the jungle of Borneo.  Orangutans are natives of Borneo and Sumatra in Indonesia.  The Borneo orangutans however, are only found in Borneo, and the centre affords a rare opportunity to see these endangered species up close.

The orangutans may be the star, but pig tailed and long-tailed macaques share a bit of the stage at the time of feeding.  They have learned that there is an easy meal available and show up too at feeding time.

A day trip to Sepilok is not possible from Kota Kinabalu but if you find yourself in Sandakan, a trip to Sepilok Sanctuary is a must.

Useful Info:

Getting There


If you are not on any tour, public buses and taxis are available from Sandakan town. The Labuk Road Bus Company vehicles leave from the front of the Sandakan Town Council (Majlis Perbandaran Sandakan or MPS) from 6.00 am onwards.

The Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan bus can also drop you at junction Jalan Sepilok, around 2.5km from the Center. Journey about 5 hours from KK.

You can hire a taxi for a return trip for about RM100.00 negotiable. The distance between town and the Centre is about 23km.

Opening Hours: 
Daily from 8.00am till 5.00pm

Exhibition Hall: Daily (except Fridays) from 9.00am till 4.30pm

Centre: Daily from 9.00am till 12.00pm and 2.00pm till 4.00pm Fridays 9.00am till 11.00am, 2.00pm till 4.00pm 

 
Address:
Batu 14, Jalan Labuk Sandakan Sabah,
WDT200, 9009 Sandakan Sabah
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Abuan Whitewater Adventure

Credits: Papers by CC oh joy yuletide, Chrysanthemum, Crystal Wilkerson Polka dot 08, EP Life is Good;  Border by LivE WWSH Page border; Tag by Crustal Wilkerson SVC tag

We were back at Abuan River the next day and were given the option to be on a raft or a kayak.

As we navigated upstream to where lunch was waiting,

Our lunch (left) and the kitchen crew with Anton and Herbert (right)

I took note of the big rapids to assess whether to go down river alone (on a kayak) or with company (on a raft).

There were easy rapids but there were rough ones as well.  Rough enough to make us get off our banca and walk while the boatmen and guides pushed and pulled.

Few days before the run, the river was high with some strong rapids, which would make for a fun ride on a raft.  On the day of our run, the water subsided quite a bit albeit still strong enough for a fun, challenging ride on a kayak but tamer on a raft hence the choice.

In truth, I am not fond of falling into icy water on a chilly, cloudy day and falling off a kayak is a high probability especially on that one rough rapid so I opted to start the trip downriver on a raft and switched to a kayak when the rapids became tamer.

In between rapids, the water is as gentle and calming as a river can be.  Quite a scenic river, it was easy to appreciate the beauty and serenity of the river and its surroundings.

Many of the locals enjoy the river as much too.

Though it couldn’t conceal the remnants of a recent major typhoon, a result of the abuse done to its forest.

Definitely a great introduction to whitewater rafting and likewise a fun challenge for kayakers with some experience.

Useful Info:

Adventures and Expeditions Philippines, Inc. (AEPI)
Contact Person:  Anton Carag Jr.
Email: anton@whitewater.ph
Mobile: (63)917-5327480

Exploring Abuan River

I am not one to pass up a chance to an adventure so one February evening, I found myself on a bus with 2 other friends, en route to Ilagan, Isabela.  We were to test run an eco-tour package intended to preserve the Sierra Madre forest and wildlife.

Abuan River is located at the Northern Sierra Madre National Park — the widest remaining tropical rainforest in the island of Luzon owing to its rich and diverse ecosystem spanning from coral reefs to beach forests.

For decades the river has been the route of “bugadors” (timber haulers) to transport illegally cut logs from the forest to Ilagan.  To give these timber haulers and their community an alternative livelihood, World Wildlife Fund-Philippines (WWF-Philippines) together with Coca Cola Philippines and the local government of Ilagan identified the river as the next ecotourism destination with rappelling, waterfalls trek, kayaking and even seasonal whitewater rafting as potential activities.

Skillfully navigating our boat through rocks and (sometimes) strong rapids.

Skilled in the river, the “bugadors” were our boatmen, river and trekking guides while their wives were tapped to prepare the food.

Ladies in charge of lunch.

Two hours navigating through the rapids and rocks and we arrived at the start of the trail to Sulimanan Falls.  Getting there was an easy 30 minutes trek that passes through rivers, hills and grasslands.

At the end of the trail lies a 3-tiered falls.

First falls

2nd falls

Pool from the 2nd tier falling to the 1st tier

3rd falls where we had lunch

Getting to the 2nd and 3rd tier required a bit of scaling and bouldering with the help of ropes provided by AEPI, the outfitter tapped to develop the tour.  Lunch was prepared on the 3rd tier beside the falls.

Simple but mouth-watering!

That’s what I call innovation.   🙂

After lunch, the next agenda was to rappel down to the 2nd tier.

Getting into position:  Argel and Herbert — our belayers.

Not exactly my thing, I was not happy to learn of this but with a little prodding, gamely went along with the agenda.

I know that I am gradually overcoming my fear of heights when it took me perhaps only 20 minutes to muster enough courage to just go for the 60 ft. descent with only some distress and perspiration while at it.

S and I rappelling down.

Either that or I am getting better at throwing caution to the wind.

After witnessing a few of my rappelling jitters in the past, A gave me a big hug and told me he was proud of me. Heck!  I am proud of me.   🙂

The Season of Giving

Alas the season of giving is here and the child in me still loves the mystery of a carefully wrapped gift – the thrill of unwrapping a gift to discover what’s in it… ahhh!!  Which is why it brings me great joy come Christmastime to search for the perfect gift, perfectly wrapped for the people I love.  If I love the surprise, so would they, yes?   🙂

Recently, I was invited by friends to join their gift-giving mission.  Six years ago, the burden to help the needy and the desire to share the blessings they were bestowed with gave rise to this endeavor. Good friends pulling resources together just for the joy of giving – no agenda, just pure passion.  I have been donating to their effort for a few years now but this year, I was invited to take part in it first hand.  I’m glad I did.

It was heartwarming to see how a simple gift,

a simple lunch and a bit of entertainment

can add excitement and joy in their lives.  It actually took so little to put smiles on their faces.

Because of its poverty and remoteness the group decided this year to give to the students of Cumao Elementary School in a village in Gattaran, Cagayan Province.

What they lack in materials things are compensated by the beauty of the land and the pureness and the childlike enthusiasm of the people.  The teachers, who chose to stay in remote Cumao and devote time and energy to teach, care and nurture these kids; they are heroes in my eyes.  There is no season for giving for these teachers.  It happens the whole year round.

More snaps captured that day:

 

You Have Something To Say

Credits: JSprague TW dialog template; LivE SSun Fun paper pack (grass, maraschino and paisley skies); JWilson’s Rejuvinate and Reaffirm flower element.

We could hear assertive arguments in the background.  When the other party left, we asked what that was all about.  You said that they were from the other island pressuring to discuss developments of the island.  Explicit in your battle to protect your land and resources, you struggle to preserve your indigenous culture and tradition.  An admirable task and we are with you in your struggle for existence in this world dominated by us, the “unats” – straight haired.

Mang Augusto and many like him have been struggling for existence after the Pinatubo eruption.  They are descendants of indigenous people who lived around Mt. Pinatubo of Luzon for thousands of year.  The Aytas or Aetas were forced into evacuation centers and many have been relocated throughout the country when tens of thousands of them were displaced by the dramatic eruption of Mt. Pinatubo.  Ash and lahar covered their homes and destroyed the forests, rivers and fields that had ever since supported their livelihood and this historical disaster radically changed their world in June of 1991.

Enjoying life in Nagsasa Cove

Although they were among the first to inhabit the Philippines, they have been facing the same problems as other indigenous people in the Philippines – how to secure a land to make a living, enhance their human, civil and ancestral rights given that they can no longer live separate from the outside world nor maintain their basic source of livelihood.

Nagsasa could be the next hot spot and may soon be at risk from commercialization,

which could probably strip the caretakers of the cove from their domain, this time by us, the “unats”.

A Heritage of Music, Dance and Storytelling

This is my last post on the T’bolis and it’s beautiful land, Lake Sebu and what better way to honor its people and its land than to celebrate its cultural heritage through vivacious singing and dancing.  No, we didn’t dance nor sang BUT…

On our last night in Lake Sebu, our host prepared a simple musical production in honor of their heritage.  The T’bolis are masters at music, dance and storytelling.

After dinner, young T’boli women, men and children garbed in their traditional and colorful costumes gathered on one side of the longhouse getting ready to perform while eight friends in shorts and t-shirts looking forward to the show.  It started with our host introducing their culture, particularly their type of dance and music.  Inspired by nature, they imitate in their music the sounds of birds chirping, water flowing and the blowing of the wind.

These indigenous people have a rich musical heritage and a wide array of musical instruments.

This is a Hegulong (t’boli guitar) that was played by the bead maker we saw earlier that day.  It is said that a hegulong can only be made from a specific tree and a densu (ritual) of offering something to Tulus funen (a spirit who dwells among trees) must be accomplished before the instrument can be blessed with good tunes.

These performances are not for entertainment but it is more of their way of seeking wisdom from their ancestors.

Their dances likewise are mimics from the actions of animals, such as monkeys and birds.

This boy was the star of the night.  He twirled, tumbled, scratched and did all things a normal monkey does.

It was cute and hilarious.  The T’boli children—whenever they gather – tap anything in sight in rhythmic beats.

Something perhaps like what these kids were doing.

But as in many cultural heritages, the T’boli’s are threatened.  The community owned School of Indigenous Knowledge and Training (SIKAT) was set up to address their vanishing culture.

SIKAT is a school that revitalizes cultures and traditions in their indigenous education program, which includes traditional music and dances.  It is their aim to encourage students to learn in their own language and to value their heritage.

Getting There:

General Santos City is the gateway to Lake Sebu.  From the bus terminal take a bus to Koronadal (often referred to as Marbel, its old name) and get off at the Koronadal bus station. Tell the conductor to drop you off there.  The trip is about 45 minutes.  From Koronadal, take the Yellow Bus to the town of Surralah (about 38 minutes).  From Surralah, take a jeep to Lake Sebu (about 43 minutes).

On the other hand, one can also arrange for pick-up, depending on the resort you stay at.

Five Reasons Why…

You should try Whitewater Rafting at least once in your life.

Credits:  Bannerwoman Designs Worn, Folded Edges, Judy Meibusch Doodle Dot elements, LivEdesigns SSunFun Alpha

Ever since my first rafting experience in 1999, I was hooked (see here, here and here).  I can’t count the number of times I’ve rafted the Chico, after all as they say, you never run the same river twice.  And I felt it time to share this exhilarating experience with my team.

So for 3 days in January, we found ourselves in Tuguegarao slaving away, devising strategies for the year

with a little bit of team building on the side.

Then on day 3, we spent an adrenalin-filled day at the Chico River in Kalinga.  Here are insights gathered from this experience.

It’s Liberating

When was the last time you’ve tried something at least once in your life?  I am one to try almost anything (I say almost because I have yet to convince myself about bungee jumping) at least once.  Whitewater rafting may not be for everyone but you’ll never know unless you’ve tried it.

I’ve rafted with many first timers with sedentary lifestyles through the years and as often as not, they at the very least, had a blast and in numerous occasions, a wild side they never knew they had is kindled.

Anton Carag, charismatic mover and shaker of whitewater rafting since 1998 at the Chico

Many among my team were apprehensive before the run and listened intently to Anton Carag lecturing on proper paddling techniques, what to do when one falls off and how to get back on the raft.

Doing a Hi-Five for a job well done

I saw how their fears transformed to confidence after the first few rapids.  They started to have fun.

Some even enjoyed the falls, bringing home stories of how they survived it etc.  It also helps to know that two internationally recognized wilderness specialists trained Anton and his team of guides some 10 years ago.

It Fosters Team Spirit

Rafting only works if everyone works as a team.  Listen to your leader and follow exactly the commands.  If the team fails to act as one, the raft may capsize.  If you’re not prepared to drink gallons of water, you probably don’t want this.   It’s also a hassle getting back on the raft and if the water’s low, you will most likely be going home with bumps and bruises as a remembrance from the river.  But hey, isn’t that proof of that adventurous spirit you thought you never had?  So listen to your guide and be in sync with your teammates.

It’s Actually Safe

First of all, the guides (mostly natives of Kalinga) know the river like the back of their hands.  And to reiterate, top-notched, seasoned river guides with international experience trained most of them.  But in case you didn’t follow instructions or to put it nicely — misunderstood the guide’s instructions and you fall off or worse, the whole raft flips, not to worry because the equipments, most especially the vest you are wearing (I can only speak of AEPI’s as I am not familiar with the other outfitters) is US-certified safe.  This means that when you’re under, the vest is buoyant enough to carry you out.  Sometimes with a little help from you, but hey again, sometimes you need to work a little harder eh?

It promotes Eco-tourism

And provides jobs.  Whitewater rafting is part of the new adventure and eco-tourism that the Philippines have to offer.  Most of the guides used are from neighboring communities and the more tourists, more jobs and other business opportunities are not far behind.  It also teaches us to respect and appreciate Mother Nature.

It’s Gorgeous Out There

Spectacular views of the Cordillera Mountains coupled with beautiful riverbanks and clear waters (not always the case though) surrounds the whole stretch of the run.  Unspoiled.  Pristine.

Except for raging rapids that never fails to stir up your adrenalin, the only other sounds you hear are chirpings of birds and the flow of the river.  Serenity in a most natural setting.

Excellent Food at Casa Carag

The 6th reason why you should try whitewater rafting with AEPI.  The food is just extraordinary.

Nothing is ordinary, from the longganisa, Salinas and hot native chocolate for breakfast, to the local Ibanag dishes such as their pinakbet and inabraw.  It’s all good!

So, at the first chance of rain (which is sadly a long way off), book a package with AEPI and experience the ultimate adventure of your life.  Season starts in August and ends in February.

*  All photos at the river courtesy of AEPI.

Contact Details:
Anton Carag, Jr.
Mobile:  (63)917-532-7480
Landline: (6378)844-1298
Email:  aepi@whitewater.ph; anton@whitewater.ph; whitewater1ph@yahoo.com