Sunday, 8 November 2015

Day 370: Going loopy

I got up before the others this morning – at about 6.30am – and headed out with my camera for a bit of a look around. I headed up to the mangrove boardwalk first and as I got close to the little concrete bridge, I saw a proboscis monkey swing across the path in front of me. When I walked up and stopped to see if I could figure out where it had gone, a cloud of particularly vicious mosquitoes descended on me, so I decided to retreat back to the relative safety of the room. When I got close, however, I heard the distinctive grunting of some proboscis monkeys coming from the screen of trees between the accommodation and the beach, so I changed direction and made my way down a little path to the water. Looking along the beach towards where the sound had come from, I noticed a French family we had spoken to yesterday with their guide. They were looking out to sea, so I followed the direction of their gaze and spotted a dark shape in the water. Bringing my camera to my eye, I saw the distinctive outline of a rather large saltwater crocodile slowly swimming parallel to the beach. 

I snapped off a few shots and then turned my attention to the trees, where there was quite a large group of proboscis monkeys feeding on handfuls of leaves fairly close to the ground. As I stood and photographed them, one, a large male, climbed all the way to the ground and casually walked along the beach to a tree on the other side of a large gap and slowly climbed up it. 

While I was photographing the monkeys, I noticed some movement on a log protruding from the water. When I looked closer, I saw that it was covered in large mudskippers, which were climbing on and then fighting their way to the top, where they were invariably pushed off by others coming up from below. When they got annoyed, they flashed their orange-patterned dorsal fins at each other – a fitting visual signal of their ire. 

Back at the room, I gathered the others up and we walked down to the café for breakfast, passing the proboscis monkeys on the way. On offer was an Asian-style buffet, with various dishes of fried noodles and rice. I grabbed a few spoonfuls while the others opted for some banana cake and fresh watermelon. As we headed back to the room to get set up for today's outing, we were called over to a tree near the café, where a guide pointed out a small viper sitting on a branch. I took some photos and then noticed one of the bearded pigs chasing something next to a nearby tree. When I went over, I found a small monitor clinging to the trunk.

After grabbing our stuff, we set off on today's walk – the only loop trail on offer. The first section took us along the path we took yesterday afternoon and when we reached the general vicinity of where we saw the proboscis monkeys, we heard some grunts and some branch shaking and sure enough, they were there again. We watched for a while as they moved between the trees. Proboscis monkeys are quite large and in addition to having a whopping big nose, they also have a big pot belly. They look a bit ungainly and this is reflected in the way they move between the trees. Where the gibbons we saw in Sumatra swung with an effortless grace from branch to branch and tree to tree, the proboscis just launch themselves into the air, apparently working on the assumption that whatever they land on will hold their weight – which mostly it does, although we did see a few crash straight through and down into the next layer of vegetation below.

As we left the moneys behind, the path began to rise and we soon reached a set of steep wooden stairs, which proved to be the first of many, as we gained a lot of elevation in a short period. As we climbed higher, the vegetation changed from the thick, closed rainforest to a more open forest of thinner, shorter trees. We soon reached a lookout over the sea and forest below, but we couldn't see a great deal thanks to a combination of haze and inconveniently situated trees. But there was a seat, so we stopped for a while to catch our collective breath.

When we reached the top of the plateau, the vegetation really thinned out, turning into a low heathland broken up by outcrops of sandstone and tannin-stained creeks. Kate and I both noticed a real similarity to the Australian bushland of our childhoods, albeit populated by a wide variety of different pitcher plants and a range of other oddly shaped plants.

At roughly the halfway point of the loop walk, we came across some benches, so we decided to stop for lunch. As we ate our tuna and cucumber sandwiches we were joined by a very, very sweaty Frenchman who was doing the walk in the other direction – at speed as he was only in the park for the day. He soon set off and we did the same soon after, crossing creeks and alternating patches of heath and rainforest until we made it to the other edge of the escarpment, where the path headed steeply down and into the coastal mangrove forest.

When we finally made it back to the café we stopped for some beer, Bingo (a local fizzy drink) and water. The macaques were hanging around the area, and although we sat outside, we did so warily, and at one point I had to jump up and chase one off with a chair. While we sat, we were joined by the sweaty Frenchman who had finished the loop from the other direction. I showed him the viper and then he headed off for his boat back while we went back to the room, where Kate and I had short naps while the girls read.

After another dinner at the café, we went out onto the boardwalk for another night walk. We saw a few frogs and toads, and then Kate and the girls headed back while I continued further into the jungle. I spotted some more frogs and found a pool filled with moderately sized catfish. On the way back, I stopped to photograph some more frogs. After a while, I saw torches approaching and was soon joined by a group of tourists on a night walk. They stopped not far away from me and when I looked over, I saw that one of the guides was holding up a stick, from which was hanging a very large black scorpion. I waited until the paying punters had all taken their photos and the group had moved on before moving in to get a few shots of my own. It was a very impressive arachnid, at least 15 centimetres long with a pair of nasty looking pincers at the front. 

I then went back to getting shots of the frogs I had found earlier. As I was photographing one of the loudly calling tree frogs, I could hear a fainter call coming from a few spots nearby, on the ground somewhere, but when I went looking for the frogs that were making it, I couldn't work out quite where they were. I spent some time moving from call to call and finally my torch beam lit up a moderately sized brown frog calling from the muddy ground among some fallen branches. Now that I knew what I was looking for, I went back to where I had heard another frog calling and sure enough, I spotted it straight away. I slowly made my way over and crouched down near the second frog and started taking photos. When I was done, I stood up - straight into a palm stem covered in enormous needle-sharp spines, several of which jabbed extremely painfully into my forehead. I stepped back in shock, jamming my shoulder into another set of spines. Time to go back to the room.

On the way back, I took the 'back way' – along another boardwalk that provides access to a second row of bungalows that tourists can hire. As I slowly walked along, scanning the trees and ground with my torch, a woman called out from the balcony of one of the bungalows. I stopped and she came over and pointed up into a large tree beside the boardwalk, where a flying lemur was resting on the trunk.

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