I first heard about this volunteering project from a friend I’d made whilst volunteering in Zambia. She has been here and absolutely loved it. I was initially a little put off as volunteers have to commit to 8 weeks, but after seeing the place on the ‘Paul O’Grady, Animal Orphans’ T.V programme I decided it was time to stop thinking about doing it, and actually book it. That was 18 months ago! There are only 12 volunteers here at a time, and everyone books through the same company, Travellers Worldwide. Shortly before coming out, they asked us if we’d like to receive each other’s email addresses, and we all connected on Facebook and WhatsApp a couple of weeks before. That was a really nice thing to do, because we could then introduce ourselves before we got here, three of us stayed at the Premier Inn at Heathrow the night before, and six of us booked on the same flight so we all met up at Heathrow.
Fast forward to the week before departure, and the UK was hit with a huge snowstorm, named ‘The Beast From The East’. The SouthWest also then had ‘Storm Emma’ and between them they managed to bring the country to a standstill. At home we occasionally see a few flakes of snow each winter, but this time it snowed solidly for a day and a half, and high winds created drifts in my garden that were up to my knees in places. The day before I was due to travel to Heathrow, all National Express coaches from Bristol were cancelled, as were the trains. Checking the National Express website on the day I had to get to Heathrow, it initially still said coaches from Bristol were cancelled, and just as I was checking the trains (which would involve 5 changes, lugging a heavy suitcase) I refreshed the National Express page and breathed a big sigh of relief to see that my coach would be running. The temperature had risen overnight and the roads were clearing, and at lunchtime my taxi driver confirmed that he could pick me up to get me to the coach station. By the time I left at 5.45 p.m. everything was fine and the journey here was long but uneventful 🙂
There is an 8 hour time difference between the UK and here, which meant that our flight from London was at 10.00 a.m., and we arrived in Kuala Lumpur at 07:00 the next day. We then had a 3 hour wait before flying on to Borneo, arriving at 1.10 p.m. Because we had so long to wait for our connection we went and sat down in Starbucks and about an hour before we were due to start boarding we went to check which gate and terminal we were going from. Our hearts dropped when we saw a massive queue to go through immigration, which appeared to be moving at a snail’s pace. Having stood in the same spot for over 5 minutes I knew that we weren’t going to get through in time, so, with the benefit of having been in the same situation at Johannesburg before, I said that we should all just go round the ‘snake’ and basically push in near the front. With lots of apologies, smiles, and showing our boarding cards some people grudgingly let us in, and we turned our backs on everyone else to ignore the looks and grumbling behind us! You need a thick skin and a lot of nerve to do that, but sometimes you’ve just got to do what you’ve got to do!!
Needless to say that we were all pretty tired when we arrived at the Guest House, but we were allocated our rooms which are as expected – basic but perfectly adequate. I’m sharing with another English lady who is as tidy as I am thank goodness! After lunch, we walked over to the rehabilitation centre which is right next door. We aren’t working for this first week as we are all in quarantine, ensuring that nobody has brought any germs with us before we get close to the Orang Utans. They share 97% of our DNA, so we could easily pass on an infection to them because we will be ‘hands on’. Sepilok is open to tourists, so we are also able to see them from a distance in the outdoor nursery, at the feeding platform, on the boardwalk and in the trees. Seeing the young ones in the outdoor nursery confirmed what an amazing experience we are going to have here. We are not allowed to take any ‘behind the scenes’ photos when we are working, so unless I see some babies that have been born to released O.Us I won’t be posting any baby photos 😦 Here are some that are around the centre.
Day 2 was our induction, but for a couple of hours beforehand we went back into Sepilok to go looking for the released ones. I’d been warned that the humidity is dreadful out here, and they weren’t wrong. At 7.00 a.m. it was 24º and 94% humidity!! Just taking photos made us sweat, so physical work is going to be a challenge. The thrill of seeing these critically endangered animals though makes it all worthwhile.
These next two photos make me smile. I think the OU was stealing some more fruit whilst the ranger wasn’t looking, and then as soon as she was spotted, even though her hand was still in the basket, she looked away as if to say “I’m not doing anything!” Even though the ranger is wearing a face mask I can tell that he is finding it funny.