Greetings from Sabah, Borneo! After an 18 hour journey from New Zealand (which wasn’t too bad in comparison to some other trips I’ve made), I arrived in Sadakan on Sunday the 3rd of July. I spent the night in Sadakan city, and headed to Sepilok the following day. I haven’t quite started official work at the sanctuary yet; I and the other volunteers are in a “quarantine” week to ensure we don’t pass any lingering bugs on to the orang-utans. We have been getting to know each other a bit, exploring the local area, putting in plenty of orang-utan observation time, and generally settling in.
I was so excited to finally land at the little airport of Sandakan on Sunday. I do not handle flights and rushing around transit loungers very well, so to step off the plane and find hot heat, exotic birds and beautiful jungle trees was so very welcome. I drank in the familiar Southeast Asia setting with a smile.
Arriving at my hotel in the city was a different story. Before getting to Sepilok I wanted to stay somewhere for a night so that I could gather my thoughts and have a nice, long sleep, but I found the city far from relaxing. I arrived too early to check in, so went for a bit of a wander to find some food and was quickly reminded how much I stand out here! I’m regarded as relatively tall in my home country, let alone Malaysia. People would stop and stare, and in the crowded streets it was quite difficult to get around. Everyone was, of course, very friendly, and I had cheerful “Hellos!” thrown at me from all angles, but I knew I wouldn’t be making street walking a regular activity there.
There is a day-time market right outside the hotel, and throngs of people bustled around it. I suppose I didn’t expect it to be quite so busy – once the time came to check-in I made a quick dash for my room. I didn’t stray too far until leaving the following day for Sepilok.
One thing I noticed was the amount of litter in the water and around the streets. It made me sad to see it, and I had not been able to spot any public rubbish bins along the waterfront – from what I could tell it seemed that trash was simply dropped on the ground. Indeed, during my first night a group of youngsters ate their dinner outside of the hotel. In the morning their rubbish and leftovers still lay in a pile on the street. It doesn’t seem hard to simply pick up and dispose of your litter, but I suppose if it’s not general custom then people simply don’t consider it.
The following day I met up with another volunteer who was staying close by and we shared a ride to the airport to meet some of the others. In total there are twelve of us from all over the world. We will be roommates, work colleagues and social company for the next two months.
Arriving at Sepilok was a relief. Out here we are surrounded by animal conversations and heavy, swaying jungle – it is nothing like the city, and I feel far more at home here. Our accommodation is near the tourist’s entrance to the sanctuary and every day we see people come and go for their daytime visits. Until we begin our work we will be blending in with the tourists, joining the river of groups to watch the twice daily orang-utan feedings. I am really looking forward to beginning at the sanctuary next week, but for now the opportunity to watch the orang-utans and familiarise ourselves with the area is appreciated.