Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Truly Asia: Malaysia

Dearest Followers,
Malaysia was amazing- I flew into Kuching and stayed there for only 4 short days. We stayed at this awesome backpackers hostel that had it's own bar on the rooftop. I might have visited it a few times :)  I started my biodiversity class the second day I arrived in Malaysia- we visited some museums and explored the city a bit, we also met with the World Wild Life Fund- that was pretty interesting hearing about their projects in Borneo. A fun fact about Kuching is that the word means Cat- so I was staying in the city of cats and it was quite fitting because I had never seen so many stray cats in my life. After Kuching we headed to Matang wildlife center a Orangutan rehabilitation center just a few kilometers outside of Kuching.

Sarawak River- Kiching Malaysia
We were greeted at the Matang Wildlife center by this friendly guy- Arman. He is a dominant male orangutan and he would probably kill you if he got the chance. It was amazing being so close to these amazing creatures and getting the chance to work so closely with them. Another fun fact- did you know that Orangutans have around a 97% similarity to a humans genetic make-up? This means that we run a high risk of spending diseases to each other which is why you should never hold a baby orangutan. NEVER!

Arman- A dominant male Orangutan 
My group went to the Matang wildlife center to volunteer for 2 weeks. I stayed in a long house and had two other roommates- which worked out just fine. The accommodations weren't fancy and it was pretty much just like being at summer camp. We had a pretty demanding daily schedule- Breakfast at 7:30am, volunteer/projects from 8:15 to 12:30, Lunch, A one hour break, Class, Dinner, then free time/ homework time. It was pretty grueling so I usually went to bed every night around 9pm. As you may or may not know the island of Borneo is predominantly rain forest and it was amazing being there. I remember going on our first hike and it started raining and it was the first time I really realized why it was called a rain forest. Without any warning it will begin to down pour and there will be thunder and lighting. It was amazingly beautiful. Something else I was surprised to figure out was how freaking hot it is by the equator. Holy crap! I have never sweated more in my whole life- like seriously- I didn't even know you could sweat in some of these places lol. It also didn't help that we were doing a lot of physical labor- which was part of our volunteer work. Everyday I was divided into a group and assigned to work on a certain project. You could either be on construction, wood, maintenance, Orangutans, quarantine, and sun bears. For construction you worked to clean out and build new enclosures for some of their animals there. Wood crew carried lumber into the Jungle because the center is working on building a new ranger station- this was probably the hardest crew. For maintenance I carried gravel up to a feeding area for orangutans-also very hard. Orangutans, quarantine, and sun bears was when we got the chance to work with the animals and do husbandry with them. We got to clean out their cages and feed them. 

The center had more than orangutans and monkeys they also had sun bears, deers, and crocodiles! 

Mr. Crocodile
At the center we worked with Leo and Tasha primarily- they are both from the UK and are dating so they were pretty cute :) Below is Leo during one of our hikes showing us a buttress tree. Fun fact about the buttress tree- if you are ever lost in the Jungle and need to get attention the best thing to do is bang the end of your machete against the buttress trees roots- it will make a loud noise allowing anyone who is looking for you  to locate you quicker! I did a whole project about jungle survival- if you are ever curious! 

Leo with Buttress tree
Veronica and I working hard on construction crew
Veronica and I were on a lot of the same crews and we both thought it was funny because we were the two people with the worst backs- we made it through though- one bag of gravel at a time. Below you can see me doing orangutan husbandry- I'm in the cage cleaning it and I have a little friend to my left. She liked to watch me while I cleaned and whenever my water hose got near her she would stick her hand out and play with the water. You had to be very careful though when you were in the cages because orangutans have very long arms and will grab you if they get the chance. It was really tempting to touch them but I resisted and just looked! 
Me doing orangutan husbandry 
This is a semi-wild orangutan with her baby. She lives around the wildlife center and is still fed by the center but she sleeps outside in the trees. The day I was hauling gravel I got to see her and her baby. It looks like the baby is smiling at me :)
Semi-wild orangutans
We took two field trips while we were staying at Matang. Our first field trip was to Semengoh- which advertises itself as a place to see wild orangutans. It has around 26 "wild" orangutans living in the area- however they are not really wild because they are habituated to humans and are fed by them everyday. It's a big tourist attraction.
"Wild" Orangutans
This is me in my tourist pants at a traditional long house
The second part of our field trip was visiting a traditional long house. Traditionally in Malaysia many different families would live together in one long house. 

Woman weaving in Long house
Sun bear
Above you can see a sun bear- the character winnie the pooh is suppose to be a sun bear- and its true they really do love honey. Our second field trip was an over night stay at Bako National park which is famous for its mischievous macaque monkeys. Seriously they will steal the food or soda can out of your hands- they were a bit scary. While at Bako I went on a few hikes and found this amazing private beach. Emma, Luisa, and I hiked there the first day and went swimming. It was pretty magical until the naked old American man showed up. lol. We went on some night walks and I got to see some beautiful fire flies! I also got to see some "wild" boars and by wild I mean they'll come into your front lawn and fall asleep. 

Taking the boat to Bako!

Macaque monkey with baby
Bako-Private Beach
Bako was a lot of fun even though it wasn't very well kept and the monkeys stalked you. We headed back to Matang and only had a few days left before we left for Mulu National park. On our last night we had a huge going away party and danced up a storm. Below you can see me with my new children and the lovely ladies from the kitchen crew (at least I tried but I couldn't get the photo to upload) They taught us the Malaysian version of the electric slide that night and there might have been a dance off- the Americans won! It was so much fun and I'm very thankful for meeting such amazing people who are extremely dedicated to what they do. 
Me and my child

Me and my other child!
The next day we headed to Mulu National park- where on the first day we hiked through some of the largest caves in the world. We went on a all day hike and swam in a river- we saw lots of cool bugs and saw lots of leeches! Believe it or not I managed to live in the forest for 2 weeks and never got a leech! Some tried but I was too quick for them! 
Mulu National Park
Sadly I forgot the name of this guy but he's still cool
While we were at Mulu we celebrated my 23rd birthday! Here I am at my birthday breakfast! After that I enjoyed a canopy birthday walk, a plant walk, and a night walk! The group was extremely nice to me and I woke up to a group birthday card and a bag full of tasty goodies! 
Birthday Breakfast
Rachael and I before the Birthday Canopy walk
Birthday Canopy Walk
Birthday girl and Buttress tree!
This is the really cool spider that they found on my birthday. At first they thought they had discovered a new species  I suggested that they should name it after me since it was my birthday :) Turns out it already had a name- I still think they could rename it in my honor! 

Don't touch this spider!
After my exciting walks I enjoyed a delicious curry pumpkin soup for dinner. It has been a tradition since I was born to have a pumpkin pie every year for my birthday. I didn't have a pie but I was so excited to find the pumpkin soup and keep the tradition alive! The group got me a tasty piece of chocolate cake and make a group cake out of cookies. 

Birthday cake!
My lovey group got me this awesome Malaysian circle dress thing! You can make it into a skirt, a dress, even a shirt- it is beautiful! After cake and presents we had a movie night and watched the Audrey Hepburn film Sabrina. It was a lovely birthday and I felt very loved by my group :)

Birthday girl in birthday dress!
We only stayed in Mulu for 4 days then flew to Kota Kinabalu where we stayed for another 4 days. In Kota us ladies got to stay in a very fancy hotel which was so nice after spending weeks in the jungle. Getting my clothes actually washed like in a real washing machine was the best thing EVER!!! While in Kota we presented group projects and explored the city a bit- I of course found the market and did some shopping :) On one of our days there we went snorkeling. I saw so many amazing colored fish, drank fresh coconut juice with Annin, and avoided the sun- (the malaria medication I'm on makes my skin super sensitive to the sun.) It was an awesome day.  

Island where we went snorkeling 

Kari and I on our way!
Malaysia has been one of my most favorite country's so far. It was super easy to get vegetarian food, the people were so friendly (even the guys hitting on you were nice-my favorite pick-up line is  "Hey Girl") it was fun to explore, and just amazing. I can definitely see myself coming back here. The jungle was hard at times and the volunteer work was really challenging physically but the people and food were so amazing that I couldn't help but fall in love a little. And with that I leave you with little Dillion the cutest little monkey ever who nearly jumped on me and petted my arm a little bit while I was working in quarantine :)