Traveller Tales: The Forster’s do Camp Leakey

Ali and her family Zach, Chloe and Chris just returned from a trip we organised to Camp Leakey  followed by another week in Malaysian Borneo swimming up a storm. Ali wrote a beautiful account of their trip, which was chosen as their next holiday destination due to their son Zach’s love of the orangutan. This is a tale of orangutan, fireflies, baby crocodiles and spiders! I loved reading this – it brought a tear to my eye! I hope you enjoy it, and the pics below, too. –Zoe


Thanks Zoe! Or as Bain would say, “Jhoey” and Zach was “Jhach” – just gorgeous!}

Well after a few days back in the real world (and sadly, the freezing cold!), I’m finally able to sit and type up a more detailed reply to you as to how our trip was. In summary – it was fantastic and exceeded all our expectations!!!

We also all agreed that the Camp Leakey part of our trip was indeed the highlight, and we were very glad that we did that part first. Everything that you arranged for us worked very well, very smoothly thank you Zoe – and you gave me the confidence to work out and book the rest of the trip on my own.

But back to Camp Leakey. First of all, Dewa was amazing and we all loved him (we are still arguing amongst ourselves about how to say his name properly). From the minute his smiling face with his sign saying “welcome to Borneo” greeted us at Pangkalabun airport, he was a delight and a joy to have as our guide.

His English was excellent, he was such a happy man, and he was always great for a chat. Sometimes he would come and perch alongside us on the boat and just seem to be happy to be with us, other times he liked to chat. When we would arrive at a feeding station, he was always very quick to offer us water. He was hilarious a couple of times, like when our daughter asked if she could go for a swim in the river.

His very dry response, “No. You going to diiiieeee!” still makes us laugh when we think about it.

One thing I would say however is that I wish he had introduced us by name to all of the crew when we arrived. But that is a small thing, and eventually we came to learn their names as well and appreciate how wonderful they were.

Our two cooks ( X and her pregnant sister in law, X) did a simply amazing job. We were blown away by the cooking, from how much there was (we never went hungry), to how wonderful it was. From lunch on the first day (beautiful fresh fish was a highlight), to the unexpected afternoon tea when we arrived back from the first feeding station and discovered when we were handed the banana fritters, that we were surprisingly STARVING. I don’t even like bananas, and yet I loved the banana fritters!

The crew was great, not only guiding the boat up and down the river and stopping when they spotted wild orangutans, prosbicious monkeys, hornbills and even a crocodile, but especially stopping the last night next to a tree lit up by fireflies. It was like our own special xmas tree! And each night they would so quietly and efficiently go about setting up the bedding, pulling down the awnings etc, making the boat ready for the night, all while we feasted on our dinner.

We went on a night jungle trek and a day jungle trek, and the guides on both were also great (if a little too keen for my liking to show us spiders!). Once again Dewa came along and entertained us whilst keeping an eye on our safety. Our daughter didn’t come on the day trek as it was 2 hours long and she was suffering an ankle injury. So Dewa walked her back to the boat from the feeding station, then ran (yes, ran in the heat and humidity!) back to the rest of us so we could start our trek.

He also asked the captain to stop at both the Eco Lodge and one of the villages on the river on our last day, as he was trying to help the kids in their hunt for the right sized t-shirt! (the little ‘shop’ at feeding station 1 did not have right size or colour). We were successful at the village, but only after Dewa had run around hunting up the right lady to open the shop for us.

Bain arrived on his little speedboat late Saturday morning and was around for a little less than 24 hours. We nick named him (not to his face!) ‘the rock star’, as he would make what felt like guest appearances every now and then. He would just arrive on the boat or next to us on our way to a feeding station, take lots of photos and have a bit of a chat, and then disappear again for a while. He also met us in Kumai for the taxi ride back to the airport.

The highlight of his visit was when he found a baby crocodile that he brought to show us on the sat night, and then when he encouraged us to go in the water the next morning with the croc for some snaps. I mean photos!. Although Chloe couldn’t be persuaded to venture in the water – I think she was still hearing Dewa’s warning about dying in the river in her mind!!

Bain has sent us photos he took during his visit with us, and they are of course amazing, we feel very privileged to have them.

We learnt so much over the 4 days, including the complicated politics of the local people like Bain and his group who are clearly fighting hard to save the forest, vs the jobs provided to locals by the palm oil plantations.

We are now all determined to do our small part to helping preserve the forest, particularly by not buying products with Palm Oil in them. Because, quite simply, we were completely blown away by those beautiful and magnificent creatures.

The first afternoon when we came across one of them on their way to a feeding station, we were so close (and I swear, he was posing for the cameras) that I was overwhelmed and started crying. Dewa couldn’t believe it, and was mystified by my response!

Our son Zach, (who you might remember, was the original reason we looked into this trip) was equally blown away and would often tear up and tell me how happy he was, how he didn’t think he has ever been happier!!!

We saw so many orangutans and experienced so much, including what the kids termed “a rape” by big Tom of one of the (very reluctant) females.

We were sooooo close to them it was amazing; Bain told us if there hadn’t been so many people at Camp Leakey when we were there, he would have been happy for us to cuddle Siswi as she sat on the bridge near the boats. I think maybe that was the only disappointment for our son (that he didn’t get to touch them) – but I was perfectly happy with how close we were, sometimes feeling almost too close! (Especially when Percy or Atlas was baring his teeth at us. Dewa kept telling us he was tired. We weren’t convinced!)

The Camp Leakey experience was magical, I think perhaps the only suggestion I would have for possible future travellers is not to bother to bring the sleeping bags if going around when we did – extra luggage and we all ended up sleeping just in the silk liners! Although maybe the weather isn’t always as warm as we had it….

The rest of our trip was also really good, I will send you a brief email with some of those details in the next few days but wanted to send you this part now. Please let me know if there is anything in particular you would like to have our thoughts on? By the way, we have been signing your praises and the Camp Leakey experience,  to anyone and everyone that asks us about our trip!


Photos copyright: Arbain Borneo