Sukau, welcome to Borneo

Indonesia did not want to let us go. First we missed the ferry then there was no connection available. This is when adventure starts and it is a test for our pack. Dealing with the unexpected and dealing with frustration – ours and our kids’. “What now? I am hungry! Need to toilet! I am bored! My backpack is heavy. How far is it? I want to go back! Do you even know where we are supposed to go?” – and the list of complaints continues…

Our stay in Indonesia was long enough to make us tired but it was also long enough to leave a mark in my heart. I do not know how about the rest but I want to come back. This amazing diversity of islands, religions, nature – landscapes, volcanoes, plants, animals, diving spots. Amazing! We spent here 5 weeks and we barely scratched the surface of what Indonesia has to offer.

We crossed the border with Malaysia in Tawau and are now moving across Borneo east to west. Our first stop – Sukau in the Kinabatangan river area. We stayed with a local family and just after we arrived and had dinner they put us into a boat for a night cruise. Life jackets, torchlights and off we go! My city-born ass did not even had a chance to say that this is one of craziest things I ever did – on a tiny boat in the middle of the night, with fog rising higher and crocodiles in the water. Tadaaa! The first thing that came to my mind was what my mum woud say and how many curses we would hear if she would accompany us on this boat.

Big eyes gleam in the darknes awoken by our torchlights and suddenly my mind starts to create all possible dark scenarios. Nevertheless it is a great experience! We come back to our place, get some sleep and there is another cruise at 5 a.m. Daylight comes almost in a blink of an eye and the morning mist makes the moment truly magical.

Night birdwatching




Our home in Sukau
Dawn by Kalibatangan river



Both river banks are covered by thick forest which is inhabited by lots of animals – macaques, orang utans, proboscis monkeys, hornbills, kingfishers, eagles. But as soon as we set off to explore one of the narrow creeks we realized that in fact the jungle ends after a few hundred meters. Then there is a fence, usually with elecric wire separating this narrow patch of green from palm oil plantations. Actually for the most part of the road from Tawau to Kinabatangan river this was the only landscape we saw – endless plantations. Palms, palms, palms eveywhere stretching to horizon. Plantations use a lot of fertilizers, which then end up in rivers and kill fish. Local fishermen are therefore struggling to meet ends and crocodiles food sources are depleted, which led to some sensational accidents. I never imagined palm trees could make for such a depressing landscape.

Proboscis monkey
Proposcis monkeys
Local macaques, contrary to those in Bali, do not harass visitors


In between boat cruises, we go for a walk into the jungle. Drenched in mosquito repellent, socks waist-high. Tightly covered against leeches we go into the wild. It is wet, muddy and slippery after whole night of rain and I wonder if the stickiness is because of humidity in the air or my own sweat. This is nature on steroids, all living creatures in a wild race to bigger, higher, greener.

There is plenty of leeches in the forest, from 1 centimeter small to few times bigger.


There were bats sleeping inside this tree. Our host Mus has a gift for spotting animals.

We wanted to find Pygmy Elephants, which live only on Borneo. They are smaller than those we saw in Africa yet similar to Orang Utans are equally endangered. On the first day we saw one but it was well hidden behind trees and did not want to come closer. We only heard cracking of trees and roaring sounds of its companions. As dusk was already approaching we decided to go home and come back next day. At dawn the surface of the river is mirror-flat. Monkeys jumping tree to tree complete the landscape. Sadly no sight of elephants except for footprints on the river bank and strong smell of elephant poo.

We eat breakfast on the boat – pancakes with sweet beans and boiled eggs. Szymon says this is the best breakfast he ever had. And a moment later, when we are about to go back, we hear the roar again. First on one side of the river, then on the other one. Then some tree cracking noise, hoofing, humming and.. here they are! Two of them waiting on the bank. Then more are coming, including baby elephants… and then even more. After a brief moment, they decide to cross the river and we can see more than 10 of these beautiful animals move slowly but with determination to the other side. We stare at this spectacle frozen and after a few minutes it is over.

After coming back home we carefully examine our bodies for leeches. They can sneak in, attach to any part of the body not willing to leave. A bite does not hurt but it bleeds heavily. Yet what we saw was worth every bite.

On haggling in Indonesia<< >>Sabah and Sarawak

About the author : Maja