Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sabah Orchid Tour Day 3 - Oct 2 2009

I know that if I don’t sit down and force myself to write this then I’ll probably never finish it. I don’t  really remember what we did or where we went on Day 3 and need to refer my photos to jog my memory. It’s only been a month but it really feels like it was several months ago. Our itinerary was jam packed almost every single day, up early and off into the trails for the rest of the day, then dinner and sleep, rinse and repeat.

I had a lot of fun this trip but if I were to do it again, I'll do it differently this time. A slower pace and a much tighter travel budget as this trip took quite a bit out of me moo-wise.

Getting ready to check out of my room at 1 City

I got up at about 5:30am that morning, to pack my stuff as I was checking out of 1 City to meet with the rest of the group at the Hyatt parking lot across the street. We were to head off to Kinabalu Park that morning. The plan was to ferry 6 in the Innova and 4 in the Unser, folding the backseats up to make luggage space. A moment of frantic shuffling and a plastic piece came flying off someone’s suitcase. When the bags were all loaded in, we were off!

For this entire trip, I was the lead driver and this would be my third time driving up to Kinabalu Park. It’s an easy drive and very scenic along the way. I had actually hoped to just be a passenger this time as I was never able to appreciate the passing scenery the previous two times I was here, being the only one who could drive. No biggie, this was a new group and I enjoyed getting them lost. : P Along the way, we made a quick stop to pick up some juicy sweet mangosteens. This is my favorite local fruit, cooling and full of vitamins. There were rambutans and durians on sale too but I’m not a fan of either as they’re considered ‘heaty’ fruits, loaded with sugar and will get you sick in no time.

We arrived at the park around 11am. We were to meet Mr. Henry Ansow Gunsalam who served as John and Peter’s guide on previous trips. He’s the resident expert on pitcher plants and maintains a beautiful mountain garden of Nepenthes plants over at Mesilau Nature Reserve.

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Tom Yam fried rice with seafood. I think this was RM15, serving for two.

When we arrived, our cabins were not ready yet so we parked the cars and hung out at the restaurant. Hungry, myself and Gary ordered a big plate of Tom Yam fried rice with seafood for two. The others opted for cheesecakes and coffee. The time was 11.30am, cool and misty. It felt very good to be up in the mountains, fresh air and greenery all around. But the mist was a hint that a wet day was ahead of us.

At noon, we were greeted by Mr. Ansow, a soft spoken man with years of experience in his field of work (conservation, pitcher plants etc.) who then took us down to the locked shade house. Many rare species such as Nepenthes rajah and various slipper orchids are kept in here. We would not have been able to gain access without Ansow’s help and permission so I’m very grateful for that.

Our guide, Mr. Ansow on the left, pointing out interesting plants to the group.

The locked area is located next to the Kinabalu Park Botanic Garden. We spent about 50 minutes here photographing orchids and pitcher plants. Many were in bloom and one particular species caught my eye, an Ascocentron gokusingii according to its ID tag. The flowers were a light shade of blue, a rare color in orchids.

Ascocentron gokusingii, per ID tag.

Nepenthes rajah, one of the largest species of pitcher plants in the world. The pitchers pictured here are less than half of the maximum size.

Paphiopedilum dayanum in bloom.

From the locked area, we were taken on a tour in the botanic garden. The entrance fee is RM5 per person.

Coelogyne species, lots in flower at the time.

A Jewel Orchid, probably an Anoectochilus.

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Everyone scrambling to put their ponchos on. It was a wet day but worse was yet to come (Day 4).

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The mist moved in and lingered while we searched for Corybas.

Can you spot the perfectly camouflaged cicada?

After about 15 minutes of exploring, the rain started to fall. Mist was moving in from all around and the temperature dropped. Everyone pulled out their plastic ponchos and pocketed their cameras. The weather was determined to make it hard for us to photograph anything. It was an enjoyable walk and I also noticed some jewel orchids growing by the trails which I’d missed the previous visit. Ansow then took us off trail in search of Corybas, also known as Helmet Orchids, but all we found were a flock of very angry and annoyed birds squawking at us. They were probably Drogons though I didn’t get a good look.

Shifting our bags into Nepenthes Lodge.

By 3pm, we were out of the garden and waiting to check into our rooms. Sleeping arrangements were quickly determined and we all moved in. The cabins are called Nepenthes Lodge and there are a few units here (each building houses two semi detached units). We rented 3.The rooms are comfortable enough but it does get quite chilly at night. There are two levels, the top floor is where the bathroom and rooms are located while the ground floor has a spacious living room, kitchen and small toilet. There are sofas, a dining table and a TV with some satellite channels (but no English news channel) . Electric kettle, complimentary tea, coffee and Milo and a small fridge can be found in the kitchen. Two bedrooms in each unit, a master bedroom with a queen sized bed and another room with two twin beds. There is also a barbeque pit just outside the kitchen.

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Rooms at Nepenthes Lodge. Looks good but the plumbing is problematic, either too much or too little hot water. The toilet in our unit wouldn’t flush properly but this was fixed the next day.

It is not cheap to stay in one of these units. Ever since handling of park accommodation was handed over to the luxury hotel group, Sutera Sanctuary, the room rates in a wooden cabin with leaky gutters have gone up sky high. For 4 nights stay within Kinabalu Park (2 at Kinabalu Park HQ area and 2 at Mesilau), we each paid a total of about RM1000. That’s per person ya. I really think it was a bad idea to hand over management of park accommodation to a luxury hotel group. This is a national park, not a luxury resort. The facilities do not reflect the prices paid either. Those wanting to stay outside the park may do so as there are many chalets, cabins and resorts here. However, over at Mesilau it can be a bother to drive to and from the park if you’re staying outside as steep gradients are involved.

After off-loading our bags, we set off again to do one of the easier trails nearby. We intended to look for Paphiopedilum orchids which some in the group had seen growing abundantly some years ago. Now, I was actually here in March and I tried in vain searching for the plants so I knew we were in for a rude shock. The orchids which used to grow in great numbers here were all gone. They had either been stripped by poachers, stolen by thieves or died due to excessive human intervention. It was plain to see that many people had passed through the area, creating clear-cut paths crisscrossing the undergrowth.

We continued on along the trail just as the rain started to fall again and descended to an elevation where it was just warm enough for tiny leeches to survive. I consider leeches a great nuisance when hiking or trekking in the jungle. The wounds continue to bleed for a while and may continue to itch for days. Not all have this reaction but I do! I remember being bitten once and it itched for a nearly a week.

A peloric form of Arundina graminifolia.

Tiger leeches are a whole different story. They do not inject an anaesthetic when they bite and this results in a painful wound. They are recognizable by a thin yellow-green stripe running the length of the body. Tiger leeches are found in the more remote jungles of Sabah and Sarawak. I carried a bottle of Minyak Cap Kapak or “Axe Brand Oil” with me to deal with the leeches. It contains camphor, eucalyptus oil, menthol and other oils which would kill a leech foolish enough to latch itself onto me. Just dab a few drops on the bugger and watch it fall off. In the days to come, this oil proved very useful. An alternative, and less overpowering oil, is to use mosquito repellent containing citronella.

We got back into our cabins just before dark and freshened up for dinner. That evening, while I was sitting in the living hall the phone suddenly rang and a lady asked if she had rung up reception. Naturally I said no, I told her she had rung up a private lodge/room. So she hung up and a few minutes later the phone rang again. Same person. I told her she had rung up the Nepenthes lodge and then the laughter rolled. It turned out to be Rita, calling to ask when we’d all be meeting for dinner.

Bamboo orchids, Arundina graminifolia, form a neat and beautiful row just outside the park restaurant.

We finished off the night by going for a nice dinner at the restaurant a short walk away from our lodges. Even though it was a stone’s throw away, I chose to drive cause I was tired of walking, especially since a steep incline was involved. Soon the others packed into the other car too as nobody wanted to walk anymore it seemed. Back from dinner, we took some photos of moths outside the cabin and then called it a night.

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Leave the porch lights on and you’ll find many moths of all shapes and colors just outside your door.

The plan for the next day was to do the Timpohon Summit Trail. We’d be having our lunch out on the trail so we ordered packed lunches at an exorbitant RM30 each to be collected the next morning. At RM30 I was expecting something really nice but what we got the next day requires its own paragraph in my next instalment! As usual, head to my Flickr photoset to view the rest of the pictures. Cheerio!

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