Saturday, April 1, 2017

Borneo Day 11 - Gomantong Caves and KJC

We had planned a 7:30AM departure today to spend a few hours at the RDC.  But, when we got up it was raining and it didn't stop by 7:30.  So, we aborted the trip to the RDC and decided to head to the Kinabatangan River with a stop at Gomantong Caves first.

Before breakfast, I was able to wander around a bit to get some last photos.

Red-headed Tailorbird:
Red-headed Tailorbird

Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker:
Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker

Prevost Squirrel:
Prevost Squirrel

Before leaving the Sepilok Forest Edge Resort, we checked out and picked up the laundry that they had done for us.  It was all folded up in plastic bags so we didn't really check it.  Back in our room we pulled out the laundry so that we could pack it away only to discover that it was still a little damp.  Worse yet, it stunk.  Not people stink but some other funky stank that was yet to be identified.

Since we were in a hurry we didn't go back to the office to complain which, in hindsight, we should have done.  At least to get our money back on the laundry.  Instead, we but it back in the plastic bags and hoped that we could air it out at our next location.

The drive to Gomantong Caves was about 2 hours.  Once there, you walk along a boardwalk for a while before reaching the caves.  This is a good area for birds and other animals.  But, all was saw was Buff-necked Woodpecker (spotted by our great driver Munair).  This shot is indicative of many rainforest photos...there is always something in the way:

Buff-necked Woodpecker

The caves themselves were very cool.  The main cavern was huge and there was much more natural light than I thought.  We had done our research and were prepared with masks and gloves.  We definitely needed the masks because you could start to smell the ammonia about 100 yards from the entrance.  We didn't end up using the gloves because the boardwalk inside was flat so we didn't need to use the handrails which were covered in poop and who knows what else.  Luckily, the boardwalk wasn't too slippery but the walk inside probably isn't for everyone.  Besides the joy of walking through crap, you risk getting crapped on by things flying around.  You also have to be OK with the occasional small crab, group of cockroaches and large centipedes crawling around.  Sound like fun?  If so, book your ticket now!

Cave Entrance

Entry Chamber

The Gomantong Caves are famous for all the Swiftlets that nest here not to mention the bats.  The reason the Swiflets are so important is that their nests are used for Birds Nest Soup which is a delicacy in parts of Asia.  We saw workers actively climbing flimsy looking ladders as they harvested the nests.  That's one "crappy" job.

Workers Harvesting Bird Nests

John gave us an option to leave the boardwalk and head to what he called the "bat cave".  This sounded OK until we saw that the cave was located up a long steep bank.  So, the only way to access it was to scramble up this bank and then back down on our return.  That wasn't going to happen. So, we opted for a picture instead.  Here you can see the cave in the distance and the bank that you would need to scramble up:
Looking Towards the Bat Cave

The caves were actually a pretty cool experience and we are glad that we stopped by.  None of us got crapped on and they have cleaning stations at the restrooms to wash all the crap off your boots.  You did bring boots...right?

As we were walking on the boardwalk back to the parking lot, we ran across a large millipede encountering an equally large skink.  I guess neither was interested in eating the other since they just passed and went about their business:
Centipede vs Rough-scaled Skink

The drive to the Kinabantangan River isn't that long from the caves.  At the river bank, we were met by representatives of Kinabantangan Jungle Camp (KJC) who helped load our luggage into a boat.  The boat wasn't in the best shape and we just sat on wood benches with wood backs.  It wasn't very comfortable but the cruise to KJC was less than 1/2 hour.  We did see our first (and only) Saltwater Crocodile on this ride which was great:
Saltwater Crocodile

As we pulled up to a dock the only building we could see was very dilapidated.  "I hope that's not our room" Bill said.  Luckily, it wasn't.  There was a boardwalk from the dock to the main area of KJC which turned out to be rustic but OK.

Kingabatangan Jungle Camp

I forgot to take a picture of our room at KJC.  But, it wasn't bad. There was no A/C but there were fans.  Plus, the bathroom actually had a shower curtain so the toilet wouldn't get soaked when you showered.  This is a luxury in me.  We also got a hand towel.  It's the only one we had in any room the whole trip I believe.

The room also had two twin beds and a double bed so that we had room to put stuff (which has constantly been an issue on this trip) and, more importantly, allowed us to each have our own bed.  Boy, Ricky and Lucy sure made the right decision back in the day.  You sleep so much better when you have a bed to yourself.

After pulling out our stink infused laundry, we laid it outside on railings to air out.  With more time to savor the aroma by letting it waft across her nostrils, Karen gathered the scent clues.  Lets see...the unmistakable smell of decaying leaves, the overpowering stench of wet yak fur, plus a hint of smoke led to a theory.  Our laundry was likely left downwind of the pile of smoldering leaves we had seen at the lodge.  Just our luck that the only dry foliage in all of Borneo happened to be burning and upwind of our hanging clothes.  We only hoped that airing them out a bit would take care of the problem since we were running out of clean clothes.

Before our afternoon boat trip, I wandered around the grounds a little bit.  There actually wasn't very far to wander because the lodge only has a couple acres sounding by electric fence.  The fence is there to keep out the elephants.  There is a walking trail outside the fence but it was closed because the elephants were close by.  The fence doesn't keep everything out though.

Water Monitor:
Water Monitor

Bearded Pig:
Bearded Pig

Best of all, up on the deck we got eye level with a teenie tiny Bornean Pygmy Squirrel:
Bornean Pygmy Squirrel

For our afternoon boat trip, they put cushions on the wood benches.  The extra inch or so of padding did help out...but not enough.  It was still pretty uncomfortable.  But, that was forgotten 5 minutes after leaving the dock because we came face to face with a large herd of Bornean Pygmy Elephants on the bank of the river eating.

Bornean Pygmy Elephant

Father, Mother, and Baby

Bornean Pygmy Elephant Closeup

Mother and Baby

That baby elephant was too cute!  But, gets cuter!


We watched the elephants for over a 1/2 hour as they ate, bathed, and wandered along the bank of the river.  Watching from the safety of a boat was fantastic.

Bornean Pygmy Elephant

Bornean Pygmy Elephants

"Do I have something in my eye?".
Is There Something in My Eye?


What a great experience.  The elephants are certainly not guaranteed to be seen on the river.  In fact, until this group of 25 or so wandered in they hadn't been seen in the area for about 4 months. So, we got really lucky.

The hard boat seats were almost forgotten at this point as we continued downriver and came upon a small troop of Proboscis Monkeys.  These have to be the most unique looking monkeys anywhere and we really wanted to get some prolonged looks at them.  But, this troop was shy and we only saw a few females before they bounded away.

Female Proboscis Monkey

Proboscis Monkey Leap

We turned from the main river into a much smaller channel and it was here that we came upon our 3rd snake species of the trip all curled up in the branches of a tree over the river. A Mangrove Snake:
Mangrove Snake

This little channel was a great place to see Hornbills.  They are another iconic Borneo animal in my mind and seeing them in decent light and relatively close was great.

Wrinkled Hornbill:
Wrinkled Hornbill

Asian Black Hornbill:
Asian Black Hornbill

Oriental Pied Hornbill:
Oriental Pied Hornbill

Oriental Pied Hornbill

At one point, we came across a small group of Rhinoceros Hornbills.

Rhinoceros Hornbill

Rhinoceros Hornbill Flying

We also saw the largest Kingfisher in Borneo.  The Stork Kingfisher which is named that due to its large beak which is, of course, partially obscured by a branch in this photo:
Stork-billed Kingfisher

All this bird action was great, but we wanted more mammals.  More mammals...more mammals...

We got our wish just as the sun was going down.  A small group of Silvered Langurs had just crossed the river on a cable that was strung for that purpose.  They were really high up in a tree and back lit so there are no decent photos.  But, we did get a chance to see a mother with a baby.  This is significant because the baby Silvered Langur is actually orange.  That would be great to see in better light.

That was it for the boat trip but it was certainly a great one.

As I was taking a leak back in the room, there was high pitched shriek.  It turns out that one of the resident geckos had crawled into one of our bags and startled Karen just a little bit.  Needless to say, every bag got fully zipped up after that.

We were looking forward to a cocktail before dinner but when we went to the restaurant we learned that the few bottles of booze they had on display were empty and there were no reinforcements.  What a tease!  Luckily, they did have some cold beer which wet my whistle but no one else in the group was a beer drinker.  So, the beer was all precious...

After dinner, we were booked on a night cruise.  Apparently, you can see owls and possibly some nocturnal mammals like the Flat-headed Cat.  But, with the river so high John said the odds of seeing the cat were slim to none since the banks aren't exposed.  So, instead of taking the hour night cruise we opted to start our afternoon boat trip the next day an hour earlier.   In hindsight, that wasn't a good decision since the evening was dry.  The same can't be said for tomorrow...

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