We decided to do an afternoon cruise at 3pm and an evening cruise at 8pm. The cruises were RM50/$16.20 per person per tour. Osman’s wife assured us that we would see more animals in the afternoon than the morning. In the meantime, we sat on the deck and soaked up the serenity of the Kinabatangan River; enjoyed a simple lunch of egg, eggplant, and rice; and played cards with the children.
We climbed into the boat, ready for our tour. There was us, another couple, and the boat driver who spoke very little English. Where was this Osman we had heard so much about? The tour began and we were taken to a python’s “nest” where we saw a large sleeping python. The boat driver then pointed down a small offshoot of the main river and said, “We see monkeys.” Up ahead were five or six other boats doing exactly the same thing. Our driver followed along, stopping when one of the other boats spotted an animal. It was okay, and all you can ask for really, but in my head I was thinking, “Where’s Osman?”We saw proboscis monkeys (lots of them), long-tailed macaques, hornbills, a gold-ringed cat snake all of which were either spotted by other boats, or someone in our boat (who was not the driver). Our driver wasn’t the best at espying the animals, but to be fair he did have to drive a boat at the same time. As we merged back to the main river, ahead of us was a herd of pygmy elephants. At this point, our driver pointed and said, “Elephants.” We joined a group of boats at the riverbank and got up close and personal with the herd. It was great to see the elephants in their element. Elephants in their elements! I always thought they had such sad eyes, but these were the happiest elephants I’ve ever seen. There were about 20 in the herd including two babies. They were eating bamboo, trees, and grass, and bathing in the cool muddy waters of the river.
Although the animals were fantastic, I expected there to be a guide on board to help point out the wildlife and explain a little something about what we were seeing. We headed back for dinner, which was a home cooked meal of chicken, rice, and bok choy. After dinner, Osman came home all jungled-up, carrying a boat motor on his shoulders. We started to get excited. We would at least have Osman to take us on the night tour and hopefully catch a glimpse of a crocodile!
At 8:30pm, we left for the night tour with Osman’s son and father-in-law. Where’s Osman? Immediately, we saw an owl in the tree next to the dock. A good sign of things to come, we thought. A little further on, there was a kingfisher asleep in a tree. Then… nothing for a solid 40 minutes. I know you can’t predict or plan wildlife, but Osman’s son was making a lot of loud yawning sounds, his flashlight was dying, and his grandfather had to keep encouraging him to look for animals. All we wanted was to see a crocodile! Before we knew it, with no word of warning or farewell, we were offloaded back on the dock we had come from and went to bed slightly disappointed.That night the rain was torrential and I had a nightmare that the riverbanks burst and we all got washed away in a horrific flood; and the next morning, while making my graceful exit to the boat, I slipped on my ass in the wet mud. Good times.
Maybe we’ll have better luck in Sandakan.