Finally, after 2 months, s/y ALISHAN leaves the Kinabatangan river. From Sandakan Marijke travels to Tabin wildlife reserve, where the monsoon rains and flooding are causing a different kind of adventure then anticipated. An attempt to sail from Sandakan straight to Puerto Princessa in the Philippines is abandoned. The alternative route to the west coast of Palawan produces a close encounter with sea gypsies (the real ones!) and a D-tour to Kudat (still Malaysia) for more provisions.
Jaap’s birthday is duely celebrated with yachtie friends from Czechia, Colombia, Swiss and Hawaii in the little pond that makes do as a yachtharbor. After that we finally sail out of Malaysia. The 2nd part is about Palawan and our times in various anchorages.
s/y ALISHAN on a misty morning in Sukau a few days before departure.
Right after the New Year we lift the anchor and move from our possy near the powerlines to the other side of Sukau, downriver, in an attempt to tear ourselves away from what had become our favorite hang-out in Sabah. No more boat trips with Ahmed, no more bicycle rides or jungle walks. We had seen a lot on the river and now it was time to let the currrent take Alishan back towards Abai near the coast and from there back to the salt waters. We stopped twice to spend the night and to say goodbye to all the different monkeys and kingfishers.
During one of our last dinghy trips we got a surprise visit. Busy with the bino’s looking overhead, we never noticed him or her coming onboard, until Jaap felt ‘something wet’ sliding over his leg...
The surprise visitor: A Mock Viper, not the poisonous kind, we learned later.
Near the river mouth, at the village of Abai we stayed for a week to wait for better winds and tide conditions and of course to see a bit more of that swampy area. We met up with Padding, Zainal’s nephew who became our local guide and his family became ours.
Paddings father and cousin had been catching parrots. We tried to get them to release them. They said they would after a few weeks...
On a night trip Padding showed us some nightjars, very active and sitting upright in the trees, not at all looking like the nightjars in the books. They had us confused a bit, specially since Padding insisted they were frogmouths. Some close-ups with the Nikons resolved that problem.
We saw quite a bit of the oxbow lake there and of the peat swamp around it. The boardwalk at Abai Jungle Lodge produced a very good sighting of the Black and crimson Pitta, an Oriental dwarf Kingfisher and a lovely Orang Utang girl, frolicking in a tree, absolutely soaking wet with rain.
She wasn’t the only one who got wet!
Kids in the village of Abai, where there are no roads and no cars and a bicycle is quite a novelty.
The peat swamps don’t make easy commuting. Boardwalks are the only way.
The wet monsoon had started with some hefty showers. Big logs and debris in the river raced by, but we learned to deal with it.
All the washing is done in the river. I wonder how the towels in the back stay so white?
Our ‘new’ family over for tea
Leaving the river was a bit tricky, The eastern exit was closest to Sandakan, but very shalow. We could only pass through at the highest of high tides, which were always at night. The western exit, the one we took on the way in, would take another 2 or 3 days sailing, including a 30 mile leg of beating upwind. Jaap had worked out that the day after the new moon the tide would be favorable in the early morning. It was our only chance. We left at the 10th of January and touched bottom once. Tracks of other sailboats that we pasted on Maxsea, our navigation program, led us safely over the sandbanks to deep sea and on to the town of Sandakan.
Scenes of Sandakan
Now that we had escaped this trap, we had some time to kill. Leaving Malaysia for the Philippines was next, but the north-easterly winds were still blowing strong and we lazy and long-time cruisers won’t sail upwind if we can get around it.
Marijke took the time to see some of the interior of Sabah at Tabin Nature Reserve, that has some unspoiled rainforest with big trees and a big concentration of wildlife that has no other place to go. In January the chances of heavy rain are big, so business was slow and a short term arrangement was no problem.
In fact, there were only 6 other guests on my first day at the center, who left the following day when the forcast turned sour. When you have flights to catch it’s understandable, but me, I would rather be there and experience the heavy rain than go back to town. Well, an experience it was. The first day it rained on and off, mostly on, but we (my guide and I) could still go out and explore. Heavy down-pours started on day 2, solid water came down at night. The little river that borders the center grew from a gentle stream to a racing monster in just a few hours. Some riverside cabins flooded and we all (7 staff members and me) moved to higher grounds. First I was given the option to leave, (but didn’t) an hour later I was ordered to, for safety reasons. But there were rooms to be cleared out and furniture and mattresses to be evacuated and by the time the only 4x4 that could negotiate the floods was available for me, the rain had eased again and the river was calming down. I argued with the manager in KK over the phone and after much persuation he let me stay. And I’m glad I did.
Before and after the rain
That day our trips to the core area were canceled and I had to stay around the center, where everybody did their best to find me something of interest. The frogs in the kitchen pond, the mousedeer taking shelter under the boardwalk and the otters partying on the riverbank.
Greater Mouse Deer
As the only guest I now had my personal guide, driver, cook and waittress and they made me feel like a celebrity. The next day the weather was stable enough that our outings in the jungle were continued, though somewhat restricted. Big logs had landed on top of the bridge across our river, but once they were cleared, we set off. Armed with raincoats and umbrellas and sitting on benches on top of the 4x4 we managed to see jungle fowl, trogons and pittas. Many animals were in hiding but some Samba deer ventured out. The 4th day was less wet and we saw 3 male Asian Paradise Flycatchers in full breeding outfit flying through the jungle, their long white tails fluttering like party streamers. Never seen anything like it!
A poor shot of a Paradise Flycatcher, but the only one I got.
We saw the Crested Jay, a very shy bird, aptly named the rain bird in Malay. Also a Narcissus Flycatcher and lots of White-crowned Shama. We never got to see any elephants, though soft and warm droppings told of their recent tresspassing. On my last evening the rains stopped and the whole staff came onboard for a nightdrive. We were treated with 2 wood owls, a frogmouth, lots of civets and 4 leopard cats. Not the clouded leopard itself, but beautiful big-sized jungle cast that leave the forest at night to hunt in the neighbouring plantations. They were glorious!
Other highlights were the White-crowned Hornbills that I saw on 3 occasions, making my list of Bornean hornbills complete. the group of gibbons with the silver leave monkey, who kept to himself, but stayed near the group. The guide told me they weren’t sure who was following who. Also the Crested Firebacks, the Red Jungle Fowl and the Bornean Falconets, (the latter at quite a distance) I loved all the birds, rare and not so rare, all special because I could see them in their own habitat, the beautiful tall trees There were Nuthatches, Bronzed and Plaintive Cuckoos and Dark-throated Orioles (Yes, Orioles in Borneo!) AND Serpent Eagles, the birds I seem to have an affinity with... Why? Because they eat snakes?
Crested Serpent Eagle at night
Back in Sandakan Jaap, who had not been able to leave the boat unattended, was glad to be relieved of his watch. The worst of the rain was over and soon things went back to normal. We shopped for food, consumed our last roti and te-tarik and got ready to leave for the Philippines. Marijke went over to RDC (Rainforest Discovery Center) in Sepilok a few more times, met up with KK friend Denis and got introduced to the people who work at RDC and who were very welcoming with coffee and a much-needed rest in their airconditioned office. Thank you Hubert and Bern, Celia and Sho. Surely hope to see you again!
RDC staff Bernadette and Hubert with their kids they brought Marijke back on board after a long day birdwatching at the rainforest.
More scenes of Sandakan:
Fishing boats lined up near the fish market
Nori at the vet for his yearly shot.
We’ll miss the superb te-tarik and the big flowering trees.
But not the heaps of rubbish in the watervillage where these children live and play.