On Sunday morning we headed off early towards the school in Tampasak. This was the site on the scouting trip in August we’d taken an interesting ‘long-cut’ to get to, however this time, guided by Louvis’ expert navigation we took a route via Tongod using a bridge what even Google Maps didn’t know about. At the school, even though it was Sunday, we had lots of willing helpers to help us set up the station! The teacher and some of the children from the school also cut down some fresh coconuts for us – such as refreshing drink in the hot sun. We got back to Telupid quite early as we had to switch over our car for a new one where the 4 wheel drive would work, which involved quite a bit of loading and reloading, but it was done in the end.
Team 1 had worked hard on Sunday and deployed two seismometers, so were able to have a day off on Monday. Nick was very kind and swapped with me in team 2 meaning I was able to join Emily and Brandon at the Rainforest Discovery Centre at Sepilok in the morning. We enjoyed a wander on the canopy walkway, seeing some huge trees, a giant tree squirrel and some hornbills. Down on the ground we went through the forest on trails to see the Sepilok Giant – another very large tree. I managed to get bitten by a tiny leech, but a squirt of smidge got it off.
After lunch we met up with some of the others and went to the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. I’d expected the Orangutans to be quite elusive, but on our way to the feeding platform there was one just playing around very close to the walk way, which was really exciting! We saw more Orangutans and other monkeys at the feeding platform, and then went to the outdoor nursery area where they have ropes and a climbing frame to learn skills they’ll need in the jungle. It was getting close to closing time, but on our way to the exit one of the Orangutans was on the walk way, right in front of us! We had to wait while it headed in a different direction, with the encouragement of the staff – it was quite amazing to be so close to one, if a little scary! It was then on to Sanakan to spend the night, where we had a very good meal at an Indian restaurant.
The next day it was back to deploying seismometers. Our site for the day was on the Syarimo estate, a reasonable distance along gravel roads though several other palm plantations. As we pulled up to the office there was a cobra slithering across the track, but thankfully none of the mosquitos that my notes from the scouting trip warned about. We were lucky to have our hole to put the seismometer in dug for us by some of the plantation workers, and we were able to get the site deployed quite smoothly. Lahad Datu was our base for the next couple of nights.
On Wednesday we headed to another palm planation to the site that was the first one we had scouted last May. The road was a bit worse than I remembered it being but we got there fine. Once again we had our hole dug for us, which does generally mean the deployment can happen a bit quicker as we can be getting on with putting together other things. The main concern about this site is the elephants that come in October, however the people there promised to build us a fence and keep a guard there when the elephants are around.
We left Lahad Datu on Thursday morning, eventually heading into another palm plantation. We had to make sure we took the right turning rather than go to the gold mine. The site was by the plantation managers house on top of a ridge, and when Omry started digging, half way down he got to bedrock. We picked another site a few meters away where luckily it was possible to dig and with the assistance of the manager’s husband we got the site set up. The monkeys around meant this was the first one we had to set up a fence for but this was pretty easy. We stayed the night in Tawau, a town I hadn’t been to before, which had one of best roads I’ve seen in Sabah going to it and a nice sunset from the promenade. While there we got some of the outreach sheets I’d made printed – hopefully they will be useful for explaining the project to people.
On Friday we we had a site quite close to the main road, which made a nice change. We had to wait around for a while until the manager came but eventually we got going. Originally we had planned to put the instrument a short distance from the guardhouse, but with the mention of elephants – and seeing fresh footprints – we decided to put it as close as we could to the building in the hope that the elephants wouldn’t trample it. The ground here was incredibly hard and we again were lucky to have people to help with digging the hole. The main issue we encountered with being so close to the building was that the solar panel was going to be in the shade for part of the day. We moved it as far forward as we could and it seemed to be producing a decent enough voltage, so hopefully the battery will keep charged.
The main road to the Maliau Basin was a particularly poor example of road building having alternating stretches of tarmac and gravel and some quite big potholes, however the road from the entrance to the Maliau Basin Studies Centre where we were staying was excellent. We waved Felix and Epip goodbye at the entrance as they were doing an speedy round trip back to Kota Kinabalu to pick up more kit. After some rehydration I headed out for a run back along the road just in time for it to start raining. About 2km along I saw a car parked up and people standing by the side of the road. As I got closer they mouthed “elephants” to me, and sure enough there was a herd of them in the forest a short distance from the side of the road! I was so excited to have seen them, however when I saw them much closer to the road on my way back, I was a little more scared. Returning to where I’d last seen the people’s car I managed to get a lift back from them to the centre. After eating we started to get all the kit together for our hike into the Maliau Basin to deploy a station. Even by reducing it somewhat by burying it directly in the ground there was still quite a lot, and we were glad we would have porters.
After breakfast, acquiring leech socks and putting on quite a lot of DEET, we drove around to the (Agathis) Camp to begin our hike. Me and Emily decided to risk just tucking our trousers into our socks rather than wearing the leech socks, and this turned out okay. The first part of the hike was very steep, making our way up into the basin. There were ropes to help on some of the steeper bits and in a few places ladders. After a couple of hours we finally reached a much more gentle gradient and upped our speed a bit. The thing that slowed us down here was the leeches. These made their way off the ground onto our shoes in search of something to eat but we got pretty good at thwarting them before they made much progress. Eventually we made it to the Nepenthes Camp where we were spending the night, and had a while to relax before the porters arrived, then it was back out again to deploy the station.
The site we had was at a weather station about 1km from the camp, where the vegetation changed to being almost familiar – rodedendrons, sphagnum – but also included a large number of pitcher plants. The deployment proceeded very quickly – it only took us about an hour! Clearly we’ve become much more efficient over the last couple of weeks! Before dinner at the camp nearly all of us went up the long ladder up a huge tree behind the hut (Omry and Connor had been up earlier). It was a surprisingly tiring climb but the platform at the top was quite a cool place to be. The food in the evening was very tasty, although the boiled river water wasn’t that pleasant to try and drink. We sat around for a while enjoying the evening air and made friends with some wild cats that lived around the hut before heading to bed.