Monday, 4 October 2010

Wildlife River Trip

Yesterday we had an amazing day.  We've been here in Brunei for 2 months now and to be honest, we keep having amazing days!  Many people complain that Brunei is 'boring' and perhaps it is in some ways - it's a very small country, it can be quite restrictive for women, it's not great for some kinds of shopping.  But for us, so far, it's great.  We're both working full-time, I don't have a problem with not wearing shorts/vest-tops here, and my idea of a great day out doesn't involve trawling round shopping malls so we're finding plenty to keep us occupied.  Not that we're not living an entirely pleasant laid-back lifestyle here - we are - but we're just busy enough!

We did a day-long trip out to a part of Brunei called Temburong a few weeks ago (about which I will blog sometime, as that was another excellent day) but there is also a much more leisurely wildlife boat-trip, a couple of hours' long, that leaves from the capital Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB), and this is what we did yesterday with our friends Paula and John.

Brunei is part of the island of Borneo, home to a multitude of amazing wildlife, but one of the animals that only lives here on Borneo is the Proboscis Monkey.  Apparently these monkeys cannot even be kept in zoos, so living here in Brunei really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see them... and this trip didn't disappoint.

We set off from the jetty in BSB and headed first for Kampong Ayer, the largest water-village in the world.  Approximately 25,000 people live here - around a quarter of the population of the capital.  It's a vibrant community with houses connected by wooden walkways and boats serving as cars and taxis.

We stopped at one house to pick up our guide.  Many of the houses may look somewhat tumbledown from the outside...

But inside they have all the mod-cons you'd expect.  The extended family all live in this house which was clearly kept with great pride.

With our guide on board we headed off round the water village past schools, a fire-station, a police-station and several mosques.

Everywhere people smiled and waved at us.  As we motored past one of the primary schools I suddenly realised that there was of course no playground for the children...  but then I saw this boy on his makeshift swing on the balcony of his house - I guess children will make their own entertainment with whatever they have to hand!

Within 15 minutes or so we were clear of the city and into the jungle. 

It's always sad to see the sheer amount of rubbish that litters this beautiful country and indeed much of South-East Asia.  The beaches are covered in it, the water around BSB is full of bobbing garbage, and this river was also dotted with various plastic debris.  I know much is washed ashore from shipping, but it's also indicative of a lack of concern for the environment which is tragic anywhere in the world, but certainly in a country so rich and diverse in its wildlife as this. 

Still, that aside, we were soon on the lookout for any movement in the trees...  we were lucky to have an excellent eagle-eyed guide, but John and Paula (having done this trip several times before) were also pretty good at spotting well-hidden animals!

There were plenty of egrets around - although they're hard to photograph as they tend to over-expose a little, being so bright white.

This large Monitor Lizard was clearly in the pay of the guide - he posed for us for ages, sauntering along the bank as John and I snapped away with our SLRs!  

And not once, but twice, we happened upon a group of Proboscis Monkeys!   The first time they were quite close to the bank, but leapt off into the undergrowth before we could take many pictures.  However, the second group were happily eating in the trees giving us plenty of opportunity to use the zoom lenses.

The group was made up of females and youngsters, so sadly we didn't get to see any adult males who have the really pendulous noses, but I liked the profile of the females with their upturned noses searching for food.

They're really quite odd to watch as they move in a much more human way than the macaques that we see so often around our house.  These monkeys are larger and 'lope' rather than 'bounce', if that makes sense.  It's hard to explain.

Excitement over, we continued to scour the mangroves...  We thought that was it as we headed back towards town.

But then our guided suddenly spotted this young crocodile!  He was lurking in the shallows near the bank, clearly hoping for an unwary bird to pass by.  I'm sure he was pretty upset with us for spoiling his potential lunch, but we were very excited to see him.

The trip was only a couple of hours long, but felt like a real getaway as we headed off up the river into the jungle. We'll definitely be back in the hope of spotting more incredible wildlife.

A final treat was a quick ride past the city's Omar Ali Saifuddien mosque.  Commissioned by and named after the current Sultan's father it was completed in 1958 and its 52-metre high dome dominates the city skyline... and provides quite a dramatic contrast with the water village alongside.

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