Sunday, July 17, 2011

Ghost Town - Kuala Lumpur

After recuperating from my cold in Borneo for a week (in a hotel in the middle of a shopping mall - I don't even know where to begin to discuss how crazy that was), we flew to Kuala Lumpur to meet up with some good friends of mine, Paula and Charlotte. They were gracious hosts, housing us, feeding us and keeping us entertained for the time we were there (thanks guys). They also had an awesome view of Petronas Towers from their place:

I'd never heard of them before but apparently they're quite famous. Did I mention I work in an architecture faculty at a university? Anyhow, I thought a petronus was a type of spell Harry Potter learnt at Hogwarts.

It turned out that the weekend we arrived was of the Bersih 2.0 protests which call for clean elections in Malaysia. Like any reasonable government with nothing to hide, the Malaysian Government decided to lock down the city with riot police, water cannons and a level of iron-fisted authority which was mind boggling (and I've seen NSW cops in action so that's saying something). Given it was supposed to be a peaceful protest, it was all a bit ridiculous (of course, it was peaceful until the cops turned up). The net effect of this is that Kuala Lumpur turned into a relative ghost town.

Apparently, this is an unusual sight in one of the biggest cities in Asia.

Zombie apocalypse is nigh!

Of course, I missed all the action but the cops were up to their usual tricks (different country, same old bullshit) such as allowing the protesters 'safe' passage down a street, then blocking off the other end and pelting them with water cannons and tear gas. Read all about it HERE. Anyhow, there was a pro-Government group who were wearing shirts that said patriot on them (you can see them in red in the distance here - damn you, shitty camera lense but they're there).

They were shocked when the police had the audacity to water cannon them too. Didn't the police know they were government stooges? It was all relatively sedate with only over 1000 people arrested in one of the worst crackdowns in Malaysia in years.. sigh... At the far end of this photo is a cordon of riot police - I didn't feel like getting much closer.

Anyhow, aside from that excitment, there was lot's of tea drinking, good food and catching up and all too quickly we flew off to Istanbul. Istanbul is the reason I haven't been blogging because it is a level of awesome that incomprehensible to my little brain. I'll get to that but if you want to amuse yourself in the meantime, Ruth's just put her Istanbul photos up on flickr...

UK tomorrow and maybe some time to tell you about Istanbul...


Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Monkey magic - Sabah

(Today's blog photos are mostly Ruth's because she's a heaps better photographer than me. To see her full range of shots from the trip, click here).

Do you know what people like in Borneo? Chicken. Chicken is everywhere. There are KFC's on every corner and every other store is selling some chicken based meal - even Burger King advertises its chicken burger before anything else. However, let me give you a tip though: if you eat at a place where it has a sign saying "possibly the world's best roast chicken" I can tell you that possibility is slim. If there is a plague that wipes out the entire human race except for a handful of survivors and one of those people is Dave from Dave's Diner, Borneo and he is the last person on Earth cooking roast chicken - he might be in with a shot but even then I doubt it. Whatever, chicken meals are everywhere you turn.

Anyhow, in terms of the primates, the macaque are the chicken of the monkey world. On any trip to Borneo you're really on the trail of orangutans and proboscis monkeys but the macaques and their camera stealing shenanigans can get weary.

Case in point, we had made our way to the Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary to see the wild men of Borneo and it is essentially a well staged managed show where orangutans might turn up to one of two feeding sessions a day. It started poorly, the initial feeding session all we got was a bunch of macaques going crazy trying to steal the food. I imagine all the orangutans were in their celebrity trailers too busy getting manicures to show their faces.

Eventually, the keepers dragged out a distracted and bored looking young orangutan. As with any pro, he performed for the crowd but I didn't really believe his commitment to the performance and wondered if the gratuitous penis flashing was intentional. He was obviously the smartest guy in the jungle that day.

For the next feeding session, Ruth and I got prime position for photos when this macque came and sat next to where we were standing. This is one of the pig tailed macaques - the one's with the big red bums which appear when they're ready for 'business time' if you know what I mean. I can assure you that they are very, very smelly. Thankfully, she didn't hang around for long so we could enjoy the spectacle of the our ape cousins gorging themselves.

Fortunately, things improved this time with about seven or eight orangutans getting around and a few of them got up on the feeding station (including a mother a baby).

Orangutans are supposedly the ape closest to humans in the genetic melting pot and no doubt an orangutan feeding sessions resembles a night out on a Saturday night in Sydney after a few beers. One thing about Sandakan (the nearest big town) is that it has a war memorial and you get a lot of Australian tourists coming just for that and then seeing the apes as part of their tour. I made that joke to an old digger next to me and his response was a sneering "huh, what?" Tough crowd in Borneo.

I must say though the orangutans were amazing animals even in such a controlled environment and you occasionally looked across with a certain pity in their eyes for the mass of tourists. Two feeds a day, hanging in rainforest in a sanctuary and oh my, such incredible flexibility - I'm pretty sure they were feeling a bit superior. Apes 1 - Jon 0.

At a certain point, the jungle starts to heave with the sheer number of macaques who eventually go crazy and over run the feeding post like a bunch of students at uni whenever there is a free food stall. The orangutans take their cue and swing away while the macaques go batshit insane fighting over food. Damn you Macaques...

From here, we headed to the Kinabatangan River for a few days of exploration. At this point, I had a slight sniffle but it was soon to get much worse. One of the first points of business on the river was a boat cruise. In one direction, the river looked quite calm and in the other there was brooding dark clouds, lightening flashes and the heavy threat of rain in the distance. Of course, the boatman head straight towards the terrible river starting what I would refer to as the the river cruise of death. Within minutes we were being lashed by torrential rain as thunder rumbled all around us and that sniffle I had was morphing into a mountainous headcold.

That being said, we did see some proboscis, macaques and hornbills. All very special but sadly no elephants which had been sighted the day before. Apparently they had moved about 60k down river.

The sleeping habits of the proboscis and the macaques was quite ingenious. They would sleep in trees on the river bank facing the forest. If any predators tried to attack them, they simply jump into the river as most of their predators (leopards, Mormans) can't swim. Sadly, their greatest other predator is the crocodile so I guess this plan does have a fundamental flaw. Orangutans can't swim so they just beat the shit out of any would be predator and then have a 7up to celebrate.

If only this macaque could read it would see that sign says beware of crocodiles... Stoopid monkey.

As my sickness got worse, I declined to go on the night walk although Ruth did. In her wellington boots, the mud was apparently knee high and the lovely Belgians we'd met spent the entire walk checking themselves for leeches in some paranoid frenzy. Sadly no photos are available of this. Overnight, there was a torrential downpour which was so heavy and loud Ruth couldn't even hear me snore - yeah, it was pretty loud. As it was still raining and my cold was getting worse and worse, I decided to skip the morning cruise and the subsequent morning hike was cancelled. As such, we hit the river again in the afternoon, this time in slightly more temperate weather.

We lucked out by seeing a couple of crocodiles, this baby one and a much larger ominous hungry looking one which partially submerged and heading towards our boat.

We also saw about a zillion cranes,

a trillion macaques,

the odd hornbill,

and more proboscis monkeys. I must admit that the proboscis was my favourite monkey. Apart from being funny looking (something I can relate to), there is a certain order and humanity to them. I know we're more closely related to orangutans but they seemed oddly aloof like a bunch of primate hipsters while proboscis were more like the squabbling and chattering weirdos that I like to hang out with.

Behold: the proboscis human in the wild.

The next morning, I was too sick (lazy) to get up at 6am to take the early morning cruise. As such Ruth was rewarded with a beautiful misty morning boat ride with more crocodiles...

...a beautiful kingfisher...

...and an a rare and precious sight - an orangutan in the wild. While you can't see very well because of the mist and it's distance, this was the one thing I really wanted to see but slept through it and Ruth got to see it. Bugger.


Just finishing up in Borneo and heading to KL on Friday and Turkey on Monday. Watch out Europe, you're on notice.


Sunday, July 03, 2011

Quick update

Hey there, still in Borneo but been struck down by some flu like monkey virus so taking it very easy. Just thought I'd let you know that Ruth has put some photos up on her Flickr site - just a few but more should go up in the next few days. Check it out here or check: