When the Grigers started planning their Malaysian vacation, we knew it was a good opportunity to get something really fun on the calendar.  We’d spent the last few months not traveling, so the anticipation made for a lot of excitement and high expectations.  This was our second visit to Borneo, and what we experienced greatly exceeded our high expectations.

We flew from Penang to Sandakan, a city on the north east coast of Sabah and famous for being the starting point of the Australian death marches during WWII.  We didn’t stay in town long.  Our guide picked us up early the first morning and took us to Sepilok, an orangutan rehabilitation center about 40 minutes drive from town.  We spent a few hours learning about the apes and walking out to a feeding spot.  Unfortunately, only one of the long-armed primates met us there, but he impressed with his yogic poses and acrobatic feats.

From there, we drove down a construction-site studded highway (Miles was in heaven) to the Kinabatangan River.  This deep red muddy river was previously heavily logged, but recent times have brought rehabilitation to the jungle along with protection for the virgin areas remaining.  It is said to be the highest concentration of wildlife in Southeast Asia. Our accommodation was a 5 minute boat ride across the river to an eco lodge built on stilts in the jungle.  There were just 12 huts and they served all our food.  The staff was great, the rooms spacious and cool, even when the power was out at night.  We couldn’t figure out how it was so cool in the jungle, but it truly was pleasant.  Even the mosquitoes weren’t horrible. Each day, for 2 days, we took a morning and late afternoon cruise along the river, it was almost as if our schedule was planned around naptime.  For me, there is nothing better than being on a boat first thing in the morning.  Miles called our wildlife guide “driver man” (this trip proved there really is a “man” for everything).  Driver man was a serious birder, and knew all the secret spots for finding animals.  Luckily, another rider on our boat (half a couple who had to join us – sorry for them) was also really good at spotting.  We saw proboscis monkeys, pig tailed and long tailed macaques, lizards, birds (so many birds), snakes, and fish.  I loved how the animals seemed just as fascinated at seeing us as we were seeing them.  There was no aggression from the monkeys that I expect in Penang, which was a great change of pace, and they were so fun to watch.  Amazing to me was how into wildlife spotting even the kids were.  Miles is obviously at an age where he gets excited about animals, but even Hazel found herself entranced watching the monkeys play in the forest.  For us parents, watching the kids rivaled watching the wildlife.

Our next stop was the highly anticipated “Turtle Island”.  Actually called Lankayan, this tiny spec out at sea can be circumnavigated by foot in 20 minutes.  Sea turtles had been coming here for centuries to lay their eggs and that is just what we came to see.  I was nervous about the boat ride, but the 90 minute trip out there was smooth.  I don’t know how, but all the kids fell asleep on the ride.  They pretty much fell asleep every time we got on a boat or in the car, which was nice.  Anyway, we got dropped off at the end of this jetty that had a dive shop and a helipad.  The dock was built out over a coral reef.  The sun was shining, the water clear clear blue and we felt we landed in paradise.  The little cabin we had was privately secluded in the jungle, but just a step to the beach and 5 minutes walk to the gorgeous new open air restaurant out on another long jetty.  The resort itself wasn’t very ready for kids (in fact, we had to sign waivers to get our under-2s out to the island), but with a beach and sea turtles, who needs high chairs?  The three days we spent were filled with playing on the beach, eating delicious food, snorkeling and of course sea turtles.

The first night, we were feeding the kids dinner around 6pm and a staff member came to inform us a nest was hatching.  We ran to the hatchery and saw not only one, but 4 nests of about 90 turtles each hatch at sunset.  Miles was over excited, exclaming “another baby turtle!” “so many turtles” and “my babies!”.  The staff were sweet and let him get right in front, touch a turtle, help carry the bucket of scurrying turtles down to the sea, and help tip it out to watch them make their way to the ocean.  These little guys are amazing to watch; they know where to go.  I won’t mention the baby reef sharks that patrol the shoreline at dusk.  This amazing phenomenon happened each night at sunset and two mornings at sunrise.  We did not tire of it.  We also had a very similar experience to the turtle book we’d been reading for a few year (thanks, Auntie Elaine!).  In Baby Turtle’s Tale, one turtle hatches late and has to make it down the beach and out to see by himself.  One afternoon, Miles was having a rough patch so we went to see the nests.  Lo and behold, a late baby turtle!  We called the scientists and they helped us release the turtle.  I splashed around to avoid reef shark incident.  Miles saved a turtle (and it saved his mood)!  Unfortunately we never saw a momma nesting (after dark, the beach was off limits unless you put out a sign asking the staff to wake you.  We did not put out the sign), but one morning we did wake to find an obvious track from  a momma turtle right in front of our cabin!  I realized then why everything is built on stilts and there are raised walkways. A walk around the island that morning showed at least 10 turtles who had come ashore the night before.  Then the best part – I donned my snorkel and mask and went out for a little swim, and ran right into a huge turtle!  I followed it for 15 minutes until I tried to swap with Tim and lost track of her.  Still a highlight.

Finally, it was time to go home.  We were all pretty ready for our routine again.  Amazingly, every transfer by car, boat and plane was on schedule and there were no major meltdowns or illnesses (Hazel gave us a scare with a throat infection the day before we were scheduled to depart, but we were able to get her in to the doc in time and she was fine).  We had such a good time traveling with our friends and having all the kiddos together.