My two-day stay with Orang Sungai (translation: people who live by the river) began at the the Kopel reception centre in Kampo Mengaris village on the banks of the Kinabatangan river.
We ate lunch with the locals, learning a little about their way of life, and how the Miso Walai Homestay programme and their conservation and tourism organistation (MESCOT) had been set up with the help of the WWF in 1997.
Getting onto an open boat, we cruised down the river to see some of the seven types of rainforest, plus many of the birds and monkeys that live along the banks of the longest river in Sabah province. We saw proboscis monkeys, longtail macaques and the silver leaf monkeys (re-named ‘Beckham’ by the locals because of their spiky hair). There were also herons, hornbills and beautiful kingfishers with cobalt blue and vivid yellow colouring.
The first night, we ate and slept at the beautiful Tungog Rainforest Eco Camp in the forest by Tungog oxbow lake
Halim, our guide, took the group out on foot for a night safari in the forest, to see the flora and fauna up close. I admit I was a little terrified of the prospect of meeting a huge snake in the dark, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
After a cold shower of collected rainwater in a cubicle shared with a bat, several spiders and a couple of small lizards, I headed for bed. Bed was a mattress on the floor of a “camp deck”, a wooden platform raised off the ground away from snakes and other wildlife.
I fell asleep to the intense wall of jungle sounds and actually found it very relaxing, having one of my best night’s sleep of the trip!
Day two bought another river cruise (different wildlife up and about at 6am) and some conservation work, helping to plant fig trees in the forest alongside the river. The head warden told us that 760,000 hectares have now been reforested, and managed under the jurisdiction of organisations such as MESCOT and the Sabah forest authority.
We then returned to Mengaris village, where I spent the afternoon getting to know my homestay hosts.
In the evening the locals put on a culture show. I had a bit of a dance, but also got myself a temporary job as lead percussionist in the steel drum band (one of the others has photos…I’ll add to this later).