Day 16: Last day in Borneo: Fairy and Wind Caves

Today we woke up around 7am and brought all our baggage to breakfast. We left the Lime Tree Hotel at 8:30 and were on the bus for an hour driving to a cave system. We arrived first at the ‘Fairy’ cave, which involved a lot of stairs (inside and out). It was huge! There is no real way to actually describe just how big it was- it was colossal inside. While there I was trying to imagine how many of my house I could fit inside. About 5. It was really beautiful, lots of stalactites/stalagmites and whatever plants could survive in the near-dark. Next we drove to the ‘Wind’ cave, which was not quite as large, but pitch black and absolutely full of bats. It was slightly smaller than the fairy cave, not that I could really tell because frankly I couldn’t see a thing. Although, when I was shining my flashlight, I saw some birds and their nests along with the bats. Thankfully, no one got pooped on. We ate a small lunch on the ride back to the hotel for the last time. We got back around 1pm, but because we were leaving for the airport at 6 we all dispersed. Some of the teachers renewed their rooms so the kids could shower. After about 4 hours of lazing around, we piled onto the bus and drove to the airport. Our flight out of Kuching left at 8 pm.

~Pearl Brosterman


Day 15: Bako National Park

Today we went we all woke up early because we had to be ready to leave the Limetree Hotel at 7:30am. We took a bus drive to Bako National park where we found 3 cute baby kittens. Then we took a boat ride to go to an island in Bako national park where there was a cafe and many hiking trails. Our hike was 1.2 km and took about an hour and a half because in the beginning we were looking for animals. We saw snakes and monkeys. We even saw 2 pit vipers mating. We also spotted a flying lemur clinging to a tree in its sleep. At the end of the hike we stopped and took a break for 30 min. During this time we climbed rocks and viewed the scenery. We then took a 20 min boat ride to our lunch. During this time a monkey nearly scratched Gui when he got close while taking a photo. This is when we realized the animals are truly wild and . After lunch we had a huge mud fight. It was invigorating and very fun. Kieran was like the terminator getting everybody. We then took a boat ride back to the mainland where we saw rock formations that looked like turtles and snakes. We drove back to the hotel with time left to discover even more of the city of Kuching.

~Diego Vanegas

Pit vipers mating at Bako National Park

Pit vipers mating at Bako National Park


Day 14: Sarawak Cultural Village and Kuching City

In the morning, we began by going to the Sarawak Cultural Village after breakfast. It took a hour on the bus and we listened the information about the village and Kuching city from our guide. He explained many things about Kuching such as China town, old buildings, population, crocodiles, and the South China Sea. After we arrived, the native people perform the welcome dance for us. As we visited each tribal house, we heard different music, observed how they lived, and tasted a lot of traditional food. It’s really good!!! After we visited all the houses, we went to the theater to watch their traditional dance and performance. According to this morning, I learned a lot of different culture of different clan and I really enjoyed it. Also it would help us more sciential and knowledgeability. In the afternoon, we returned back to Kuching city. Since there was a loud thunderstorm right over us, we went back to hotel until 5pm. After that, we walked to wharf to take a boat cruise to see the city sights from the river! Also we had a roof top sea food dinner in the evening, where we got to order our own crabs, lobsters, bamboo clams, and whole fish!

~ Ryan

Ryan with a musician from the Orang Ulu Longhouse. The mural is a traditional pattern, representing the family tree.

Ryan with a musician from the Orang Ulu Longhouse. The mural is a traditional pattern, representing the family tree.


Days 12-13: Visiting the Iban Tride at Mengkak Longhouse

After a long bus ride out of Kuching City, we carefully loaded, 3 or 4 at a time, into shallow boats looked like canoes with a motor attached to the back. The ride was a great experience and took us deeper into the jungle, where our cell phones became useless.

Staying in the Iban longhouse was a really eye opening experience. We learned so much about their lifestyle and culture from spending just one day with them. The tribe wasn’t in the best of spirits because one of their members had just passed away and they were still in mourning, but they still performed a welcoming dance for us. As part of the ritual, we were each given a small glass of homemade rice wine, which is a staple drink for their tribe. Then two men danced with swords and shields followed by two women dancing with skirts made of coins that jingled as they moved. Then we all got to dance with them and learn some of the traditional movements.

The next morning, we were shown one of the blowpipes that the Iban people used to use to catch their meals. Nowadays, they use modern rifles, but some tribes still use blowpipes. The pipe is made out of a strong wood called iron wood with a small hole borne in the middle. It has a metal spear at the end so the hunters can finish off their prey. The darts are made out of palm tree needles and traditionally dipped in poison. The poison, however, doesn’t kill the animals; it only paralyzes them. This is why the spear is needed to kill the animal after it’s been disabled. We got to try using the blowpipe and aiming it at a target. It’s surprisingly difficult and requires a lot of air, but the native people of Borneo are very experienced and for them it is an effective hunting method.

Sadly, there were a few disturbing things we saw while at the longhouse. There was a monkey locked up in a cage banging on the doors to get out as well as pulling the hair out on the top of its head. There were a ton of wild dogs roaming around as well and if they did not obey rules they would be hit with a stick. Despite the sadness we felt, these images were all a part of an eye opening experience into a culture so removed from ours and yet starting to become impacting by modern ideas.

~Anna and Chris

Canoe ride into jungle

Pulling up to the Iban Longhouse in colorful canoes

Pulling up to the Iban Longhouse in colorful canoes

Day 12: Meeting our cousins at Semonggoh Nature Reserve

All of us are excited to see the rarest Orangutan. What makes them special is their small population in the wild. The guide has told us to wait patiently. After a moment of silence, a pair of orangutans showed up and approach us from the rainforest canopy.  The little one is cautious of anyone getting close to him. He grabs a banana and immediately gets back where he keeps a safe distance.  The adult mother is more confident to feed near the ranger. She hung from the rope and slowly took the bunch of bananas. Obviously, we enjoyed the moment of feeding. However, the concern is that tourists love to see the feeding. It’s what they pay for. It can be a let down though. If the tourists don’t see the orangutans, it is because the orangutans are able to feed themselves. Some of them do rely on the food from the ranger. The trick is, that if they are fed fruits by humans, it reduces the orangutans’ ability to find food in the wild. These creatures’ reliance on humans prevents them from depending on themselves. Either way, the research and preservation efforts are helped by our visit to the park preserve.


Photo credit: Hazel Wodehouse

Photo credit: Hazel Wodehouse


Day 11: Jungle river, city river

We got up early at 5am to take the boat back to the Abai Jungle Lodge. The sky was so dark and there were few people awake. The experienced boat drivers operated without much light. They communicated with flashlight through the pouring rain. After arriving the wharf, we took the bus to the Sandakan Airport. It does not take a lot of time and we arrived at the airport around 7:30a.m.

We had the breakfast at the airport. I ate the noodles and juice. Some restaurants here try to imitate western food, but the authentic maylasian food tastes best.

Around 8:30a.m. We flew to the Kuching (connecting in kota kinabalu). For this part Imod the journey took 2 flights and arrived in Kuching in the early afternoon.

We went to the hotel and beought our luggage to the room. Then we gathered in the lobby of the Lime Tree Hotel. We left the bright green decorations and took a walk around the park in kuching and also took the small ships around the park. In the meantime, we enjoyed the views and had barbecued meats in the park. We also walked around the vast orchid garden and saw many beautiful plants!!

Around 6pm, we went to have dinner. The food was really nice and all of us were very happy! After dinner, we walked along the river past tents selling colorful goods. Some stalls sold sweet drinks and snacks. We also shopped in the night market. There were mountains of people and it was very busy.

We went back to the hotel around 10:00 p.m.
We lived in the hotel for one night and we will go to the longhouse tomorrow!!! We are looking forward to living in the longhouse with the local people!!

~Weiting (Rachel) Zhang

Boats ready for a night ride out of the jungle

Boats ready for a night ride out of the jungle ~ Photo credit: Rachel Zhang

Orchid garden in Kuching         ~Photo credit: Rachel Zhang

Orchid garden in Kuching ~Photo credit: Rachel Zhang

Henry and Rachel snacking on BBQ and sporting matching cat shirts in the City of Kuching, meaning "cat." ~ Photo credit: Rachel Zhang

Henry and Rachel snacking on BBQ and sporting matching cat shirts in the City of Kuching, meaning “cat.” ~ Photo credit: Rachel Zhang

Days 10-11: Only in Borneo: exploring the Kinabatangan River

Cruising on the Kinabatangan and its tributaries

Cruising on the Kinabatangan and its tributaries


Kehan and Owen scouting for monkeys at the front of the boat.

On day 10, we all probably didn’t have to set an alarm since we woke up from the loud noise of the rain falling onto the cabin roofs. Like the day before, the sky didn’t seem to clear up and the rain just intensified the humidity. It was exactly how the rainforest would have been described to someone who didn’t know what it is: humid, green, and full of noises from animals that we have never seen before.

The main activity today was to see animals and plants on the river cruise that took us on small boats down the river.
We were about 16 in each long but narrow metal boat and protected by rain coats and armed with cameras and phones to document the experience, we started with the cruise.
Since we had already learned some things about Proboscis monkeys during the orientation days before the actual field academy, I already knew how they looked like which made it easier to look for them.
Proboscis monkeys are endemic to Borneo and can be easily identified because of their very large nose. Since the number of existing Proboscis monkeys is decreasing because of their habitat loss, which we talked about during our days at TRACC, they are totally protected by law in every region in Borneo.

In the first few minutes of the cruise, we didn’t really see anything, mainly because we had cruised a rather large river with a lot of boat traffic and loud noises from the motors.
But as we went more towards the jungle, the river’s branches started to become narrow and we started to see untouched nature.
The most impressive thing we saw that day was a tree full of Proboscis monkeys next to another tree with a huge amount of Long-tailed Macaques. They are both very easy to differentiate between each other since the Macaques are smaller and have more of a grey fur.
It was also very interesting to see the difference of their behavior and attitude towards us, the group that could not stop to rave about the monkeys’ babies.
Compared to the Macaques, the Proboscis monkeys were very calm and they looked heavier or slower even though they showed multiple times that a jump between tree branches was not a challenge at all for them.
Macaques seemed to be rather aggressive and our river guide told us multiple times, that they are known amongst the locals to be naughty, and always on the hunt for some human leftovers. Some were telling that they heard them dancing on the roof at night, or that they stole their slippers.
The river cruise allowed me to see animals that can be only seen in Borneo and it was totally worth it to cruise in the warm rain to experience this part of nature where animals and plants, not humans, rule.


Day 10: Rain and Orangutans and Sun Bears oh my!

Today was such a good day, we woke up around 7 in the morning exited to start an amazing day with Orangutans and Sun bears. (Orangutans exclusively Asian species, native to Indonesia and Malaysia, are currently found in only the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra similar as the Sun Bear, the sun bear is a species of bear found in tropical forest habitats of Southeast Asia). After an amazing breakfast, our group got on the bus for our first adventure of the day directly to the Sepilok Orangutan Center, even with a very strong rain, the clime did not affect anyways our desire to learn and get super close with these incredible animals.

Our first stop was with the Orangutans, we learned that Orangutans, the animal that shares the most DNA with humans. The word Orang Utan is derived from “orang” meaning man, and “utan” meaning forest — “Man of the forest.” Orangutans at this moment are one of the most endangered primates, listed as critically endangered is one of the most protected species in the world with up to 30,000 ringgits in fines and up to 10 years in jail if killed or caught as pets. The orangutan’s biggest threat is deforestation due to palm oil which is used in almost anything today, what palm oil industries due is burn the rain forest and grow palm trees to get the palm oil from the fruits palm trees produce. To help and learn about orangutans we visited the Sepilok orangutan rehabilitation center were we saw wild orangutans in their natural habitat. Although the weather was conflicting we still saw 4 orangutans wandering around the rainforest looking for food and in the middle of the park we saw a 14 year old orangutan who got up close to us. This experience was topped off with the ross school adopting 4 orangutans.

Later on, we had an unforgettable opportunity to obverse the Malayan Sun Bear (Helactros malayanus). Named for the golden crescent on their chest, the Sun Bears are mostly black with smooth and short fur. At the center, we observed semi-wild Sun Bears from a platform while they were climbing trees and eating fruits. Unfortunately, the Malayan Sun Bear is also in endangerment. As well as other bears in Asia , the Sun Bear is hunted for their gall bladders and other body parts for medicinal uses that have been proven scientifically inefficient. Another big threat to the Bornean biodiversity and the Sun Bears is the environment destruction caused by clearance for plantations development, such as palm plantations. This remarkable experience reinforced for me the importance of environment conversation and how small efforts end up making a huge difference.

~Rodrigo, Pedro, and Memo

Meeting Ceria is closest we’ve gotten to the Orangutan in Borneo. Ceria translates to “cheerful” in Malay, however, the group was explicitly told to stay clear of Ceria as he’s prone to give painful “love bites” in the past, resulting in 18-20 stitches.


Photo credit: Kieran Ryan

At one point as the large group surrounded Ceria, he stood on his two feet, walked towards an onlooker, and attempted to grab at her rain poncho. For better or worse, I don’t think that individual will soon forget the close encounter.

Day 8: Visiting the Bajau on Kalapuan Island

Today was a very powerful day. We went out of our comfort zone and learned about how other people live. It was amazing. The difference between our life and theirs was extraordinary. At 10 am we left Pom Pom Island and traveled to the island of Kalapuan to visit a community of people called the Bajau. [The Bajau are sea fairing people who have no official citizenship, the result of land division by outside nations.] It was heartbreaking to see so much garbage in such a beautiful place. The beach was piled up with trash. In some spots you could not even see the sand. Once we landed on the island we got some local kids together and started to do a beach clean up. We only had a certain number of garbage bags, so when we filled them up it looked as if we didn’t even make progress. My favorite part of the day was meeting this really awesome local kid. He stuck by my side and I tried to speak to him in Malay. I said some common phrases such as “Se-la-mat Pa-gi” meaning safe morning/good morning, “A-pa Kha-bar” meaning how are you? To which he answered by saying “Ba-ik” which translates to good. Some people bought the kids food from the local shops and they all swarmed. It felt so good giving back to these kids who live with very little.
~Ally Friedman

Here is a picture of me and my new friend!

Here is a picture of me and my new friend!

Here are a few of the amazing kids I met on this Island.

Here are a few of the amazing kids I met on this Island.


When we were in the community we helped Joe and Nathan from TRACC build bottle reefs. Bottle reefs are bottles placed in a cement base and then placed in the water to be a habitat for small fish. We helped by shoveling and mixing the cement together, as well as placing bottles in the correct spots on the soon to be reef. After we finished building the reef we got back on our boat and went to a beautiful spot to swim and snorkel. Everyone was very hot and sweaty because on the island it had to be 100 degrees or so.
~Mendi Reed


After the amazing visit to the Island we traveled by boat around to the other part of the Island to cool off and relax until we headed for a walk across the whole island. We started to snorkel around the Island for a bit and we saw amazing animals like sea stars and sea urchins. After a while in the water we headed out to the shores and I collected sand dollars near the shore with Ally. After this we headed on a walk to see the mangroves, it took around 2 hours as we headed back to the dock. After getting back to the island we had a barbecue and a bonfire to end an amazing stay on Pom Pom Island.
~John Saldana

Exploring the shores of Kalapuan.

Exploring the shores of Kalapuan.