Friday, 19 March 2010

Bako National Park

When I got up this morning it was raining. Whilst I was having my breakfast, it was raining. When I was picked up by today’s guide in a Mercedes, it was raining. So I wasn’t sure it was the right day to visit Bako National Park.

Jan at Bako National Park

Kuching is situated on the River Sarawak which meanders generally northwards to reach the South China Sea about half an hour’s drive north of Kuching. The west bank of the river forms one side of the Bako Peninsula, a smaller river defines the west side of the peninsula. In 1957 the whole peninsula was made a National Park. We turned left to reach Kampung Bako, a fairly typical Malay village with a modern terminal building run by the Forestry Department. The terminal has a boat jetty on the smaller river. After a little delay, we were met by another CPH guide with his clients – two young European men. We made our way to the jetty and boarded our boat – a small fibreglass craft to carry about eight with a 40 h.p. outboard. Having donned lifejackets, the boatman took us downstream, past a number of odd wooden frames across part of the river which I understand are used to support the nets needed for prawn fishing. It was still raining hard and, since I was on my own in the front seat for balance, I received plenty of water full-face, particularly when we neared the sea and crossed the incoming waves.

The park headquarters is situated in the north-west part of the peninsula, facing the sea across a wide sandy shore on which our boat was beached. When the tide is high, there’s a jetty that can be used but at low tide, you take your shoes and socks off and climb over the side into the shallow water. There were a number of similar small boats coming and going and, once we'd crossed the beach, lashed by the rain, we found quite a few people at the solitary café. There are chalets nearby where you can stay overnight but most people come for a day visit. Almost immediately, we spotted the bearded pigs, looking for food round the back of the kitchens. We also saw a couple of small vipers, sleeping on leaves during the day.

There’s a variety of trails you can take so my guide chose a fairly simple one and we set off across the beach through a mangrove forest which is out of the water at low tide. We then turned into the jungle and followed the track. The rain eased and eventually stopped. By the time we got back to the park headquarters, I’d seen some fascinating sights and the weather was just right for walking. I was given a simple but delicious packed lunch, like yesterday, and I found the walking had given me an appetite. We'd seen six proboscis monkeys on the trail but, back at headquarters, we had even better sightings of other proboscis monkeys. At two p.m. we met up with the other guide and his two young men, boarded our boat and were brought back to the jetty at the Terminal. Here, we picked up the car and my guide returned me to the Hilton, damp but happy.

My pictures of Bako National Park.

They serve afternoon tea with light snacks in the Executive Lounge at the Hilton so I availed myself of this whilst doing some work on the hotel's computer. I’d seen the fairly large trip boat moored on the waterfront a little upstream of the hotel. It's called the M.V. 'Equatorial' and gives river cruises - I'd wondered whether to try it. After a bit of internal debate, I walked to the jetty, bought a ticket, and embarked about five minutes before it left for the 'Sunset Cruise'. It was an excellent trip, first going upstream for about 15 minutes before turning round and cruising downstream for about forty five minutes. We passed numerous business-like looking deep sea fishing boats, the Customs fleet and various sundry vessels, finally turning round opposite a couple of rather grand houses which are the homes of government ministers.

Dancers pose for photographs with a group of passengers during our return journey

On the way back, we were entertained by traditional dances performed by members of the crew. We arrived back at the jetty in the dark at about seven p.m. Pictures taken on the cruise.

Tomorrow afternoon - Saturday - I take a short flight north east to Sibu, Sarawak’s second largest city. Sibu lies about 60km from the estuary of the river Rajang. At Sibu, I will join a river cruise on the R.V. 'Orient Pandaw'. We’ll be sailing up the river Rajang visiting places like Kapit and Song. It’s unlikely that I’ll be in touch during this period so it may be the 28th before I’m back on line.