Monday, 28 April 2014

Homestay Experience

For five days we stayed with a family in their wooden stilted house under a bridge in a village called Batu Putih next to the Kinabatangan River. The village was close to the Kinabatangan Wildlife Reserve, formed in 1997, which is a mixture of lowland dipterocarp rain forest and limestone vegetation. Spending time with this friendly host family we experienced Malay lifestyle in a rustic traditional village. We had organised a range of conservation, wildlife and cultural exchange activities to undertake each day. The place was very hot and humid. It felt like walking through wet concrete. At night we had a brief respite when it was only 33C in our room.

The family we stayed with was extensive. It consisted of about 12 adults and 20 children. There were four generations under the one roof. What a very busy house!

The front room was multi-purpose, being a playroom, dining room, TV lounge and bedroom. We were privileged to have our own bedrooms with beds, whilst everyone else, including great-grandma slept on a roll out mat wherever there was space and it was quietest.

We ate with family members sitting on the floor and using only our right hand. Breakfast was at eight, lunch at twelve, and dinner about 7.30pm. The food was delicious, steamed rice was obligatory, apart from at breakfast were we received noodles or tapioca (a root vegetable which was grated to make cakes which were fried or steamed in bananas leaf parcels). Chris particularly enjoyed a mackerel like fish which he munched down whole, bones and all. Charly favoured the chicken in a sweet tomato sauce and the curried boiled eggs. We all relished trying the local vegetables such as banana palm hearts and ferns gathered from the forest.

Our activities included:

Dawn and Dusk Safaris
We went looking for wildlife either on foot through the Reserve or down the Kinabatangan River. The most successful means was by river, as we were able to see high up into the canopy where the animals were searching for fruit and fresh leaves. We spotted Long Tail Macaques, Silver Leaf Monkey and the endangered Proboscis Monkey. When walking through the woodland at dawn it was very noticeable how quickly the temperature increased once the sun had risen.

 Early morning flight of the Proboscis Monkey

 A Stork Billed Kingfisher looking for his breakfast

Proboscis Monkeys are one of the most endangered monkeys in the world, however on the Kinabatangan River they are a common sight

Silver leaf monkeys look like little wizards close up, with pointy hats and beards

Black Hornbill

Dusk on the river is very peaceful

Oriental Pied Hornbill

Long Tailed Macaques come down to the waters edge every evening in large groups to soak up the last of the sun's rays

Estuarine Crocodiles are a rare sight and generally stay hidden when the river is high, they can grow over to 6 metres long - this one is a tiddler by comparison at only 3 metres!

Sarah finding the distinctive claw marks of a sun bear 

A Mound Centipede hiding from the world

This beautiful lake sits around 100 yards from the river and is connected to it underground as its height mirrors the height of the river, currently half of it is covered in succulent-like weeds

Conservation support

Collecting seeds on a walk around the reserve with a very knowledgeable chap called Taing was good fun. We also planted out seedlings in areas of the reserve which had been completely decimated by Chinese logging companies in the 50/60's.

Night treks
Creeping round a pitch-black wood in the late evening with our guide was exciting. Every crunch underfoot was amplified as we tiptoed slowly along nature trails looking for nocturnal animals such as Slow Loris, Western Tarsier and Civet Cats.

Blue Eared Kingfisher sleeps in the forest

Fruit Bats visit the banana flower and sip its nectar

Cultural pastimes
We gained an insight into traditional lifestyles by going on a trip to collect ferns, which we had for dinner. We also tried our hand at bamboo rod fishing, which in the chocolate Kinabatangan with bits of fruit as bait was not worth it! Always with an eye out for the large Estuarine Crocodiles!

We watched a show of traditional dances and an excellent Indonesian martial arts dance, accompanied by music. The instruments were large gongs, drums and a xylophone-like piece that set a melodious rhythm for the dancers.

We were sad to leave our new family who had shown us so much, however we were looking forward to a quieter few nights rest!

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