Dec 15, 2010
Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

I went down the Kinabatangan River and camped with an eco-tourism group, Uncle Tan’s, for a few days. I left the camp conflicted, not sure how to process what I had experienced.

The bit of tropical rain forest that is left untouched by Palm Oil plantation is small. Big enough to support wild life but small enough the wild life is a bit cramped and can be easily spotted. In the few days I was in the jungle, I saw Orangutan, Flying Fox, Proboscis Monkey, Long Tailed Macaque, Gibon, loads of birds such as King Fisher, Eagles, Owls, Tree Frogs, Crocodile…and of course mosquito galore! There are also Elephant, Leopard Cat, Sun Bear and more which I did not spot.

The group that arrived the day before mine and the day after mine saw a lot more wild life than we did. This naturally lead to a bit of competition and cynicism. Once we’ve seen a particular type of animal, the second sighting becomes unremarkable and only something new will elicit exclamation. My friend Tin who recently returned from East Africa wrote about a similar experience on her safari, “how quickly we get used splendor” she says.

It was great to see an orangutan in the wild and up close, but the continue thought I had was, how weird it must be for the orangutan to be disturbed by the noise of the motorboat and stared at none-stop by creatures clicking flashing lights at them. I kept on wondering how I would feel if people keep on stopping by my apt window and look in (oh yeah, we do, its called reality TV)!

I believe eco-tourism such as Uncle Tan’s is important as it provides employment for the locals. It teaches locals about conservation and the fragility of their environment. I think its important to have experiences first hand. I believe in undertaking the adventure first hand and living it out for oneself. In a recent blog post by Julien Smith he said that we all want to have adventures, so why aren’t you?  I would like to take that thought a step further. For us to not only to go out there and experience life first hand and have adventures, but to find a way that allow you to engage more more, to connect deeper, without causing more harm. I like to challenge to not just be a tourist in life and on the road.

A radical thought I would propose is that these types of safari excursions should be banned to tourists. Only scientists are allowed access to these pockets of jungle and un-tempered nature. I would gladly give up my opportunity to experience the animals in person and only learn about them in nature programs if it mean less stress is put upon them and their habitats. I wish for there to be an abundance of wild life and pristine jungles. I wish the locals valued their land and the forests without needing the tourists to support the efforts of conservation.

My favorite moments during my time in the jungle were the boat rides up and down the Kinabatangan River, even if we didn’t see any wild life. I simply liked knowing that incredible wild life existed all around me.The possibility of it is enough in itself.

I loved watching the guys who runs the camp play football w the travelers after breakfast and them playing guitar, singing American pop songs in between meals.

When we were leaving, the boys walked us to the jetty and sang a medley of “Goodbye My Lover,” “Bad Romance,” “In the Jungle the Mighty Jungle,” “One Love,” and “Heal the World.” Leo (pictured in green shirt above) sang with a beautiful voice and a combined sense of irony and sincerity….Perhaps the most interesting wild life to be found and understood is still man kind….

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