In the morning we wake to birdsong, the moist air from the previous night’s rain covers the misty river, the jungle is in full chorus. Our boat putters along the Kinabatangan River (Sabah’s longest at 560 kilometers), the surface a glistening mocha fondant in the early-morning light under a sky of silvery sateen.
The area is only accessible by boat, our lodge the Bilit Rainforest Lodge – as good an example of rustic luxury as I’ve seen. In the mornings and afternoons, we took river cruises in one of the lodge’s fiberglass boats. The shallow vessels felt like they would not be much defense from the crocs in these swampy waters.
On the 2 hour trip, we spotted packs of mischievous macaques, a bunch of comical looking proboscis monkeys scrabble in the branches. Their enormous, Gonzo-like orange noses are unmistakable, even as they leap from the branches in a boisterous acrobatic dance. We also find our first wild orangutan, a blur in the distance that became clearer with binoculars. The sun starts to color the banks, thick with vines, tree roots and tangles of lush foliage, as we continue the forest roll-call of wildlife. There were monitor lizards, tree snakes and a tiny blue-eared kingfisher hungrily studying the water, and the birds: from rhinoceros hornbills to purple herons. On a night safari another world became alive: owls, small snakes wrapped among the plants and birds settled down for the night. All captured by the eyes of our own Captain Eagle Eye, who could spot a small bird under the leaf, while piloting the boat. So many things to see and try to put into your memory bank: like what a rainforest looks like, the density of the forest floor, the images of monkeys pacing on the edge of the river near sunset, and how closely the palm oil plantations are to the rivers edge – taking away precious habitat.
The Kinabatangan River, is lined with protected reserves, making it a good place to spot not only wild orangutan, but Pygmy elephants, proboscis monkeys, crocodiles and all of Borneo’s native hornbill species as well. Likened to as a “mini-Amazon”.