Well it's non-stop ... Again ...... And after a not "too" late night it's a 4 am wake up for a 5.15 am pick-up to the airport.
Our 7 am flight takes us Sandakan, where we are picked up and taken to the port to go by boat up country close to the Phillipian border in the Sulu sea to Seligan Island and Turtle Island.
This is a big highlight of the trip. I have in my mind, as with all conversation type projects, will they have drawn an acceptable balance between the likes of us .. who are desperate to get close access to these creatures.. and the welfare of the creatures themselves as part of the wildlife of the world. Either way I am not going to let this spoil the experience of the trip, even if the balance is not quite right.
Like clockwork.. our guide is waiting with transport to take us to the port.. he is not from Borneo Adventures (who have been terrific so far) but is a sub-contract to them from a company called SI tours. Its early .. and I am not famous for my sense of humour with jet lag still hanging around from the trip long trip over, time zones all over the place, and a 4 am start. He is no comedian. Its quite difficult to relate in text .. but imagine the way the person who meets you is trying to tell you, on your return from holiday, that your cat is dead, your goldfish has been knocked over by a bus, and your dog have been impounded for biting the local policeman, your wife has run off with your best friend and your kids are in social care. That stuttering in their voice, the hesitation and lack of focus on what they are saying, jumping from kids in care but not to worry as wife wont know so its OK, and cat does mind either ... without any facts or completion around the comments .... That's how our first conversation started with our new guide.
"(stuttering etc ..) well you need to know, as I suppose you should, but its not bad really, well I wouldn't be going if it was, believe me .. its safe - and it all happened a long long way away .. so don't worry, you will see lots of fully armed military, but they keep to their own side of the island ... its safe really .. I have lived here most of my life and ....."
At this point, or somewhere around this point, we started to ask .. WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT !! he muttered on - but by now all politeness of allowing him to mumble around various topics without finishing a sentence had gone. Unable to really pin him down, we drilled him to something about kidnapping, phillipians, pirates, yacht, death was an accident, not near here, fishing boat but only took his engines, and some people have cancelled, but its OK they obviously did not take his word that it was safe... GO FIGURE I thought ... but still had no real idea what exactly he was talking about.
By now we had arrived at the drop point early, and we had an hour of free time, so its to a cafe, with internet, and our old friend GOOGLE .... Long story short .. OK shortish ... there has been a few months of kidnapping incidents, most recently a yacht, not far from where we were, the owner taken hostage, a killing or two, and even though this was further down the coast, it was all pillipian pirates, and we were at the closest point to the pillipian boarder in the country. I could see utter panic on the face of Sandra .. a total loss of humour, and Turtles being off the menu (so to speak). She started trying to debate the potential risks of the trip, fleeting in and out of the movie we had recently seen ... Captain Phillips. Good timing Tom Hanks !!!!! She could see herself jumping into shark infested waters whilst numerous failed attempts to save her by Navy Seals left her at the mercy of barbaric Somalians ... I did try to take this seriously.. but inside I .. well I needed to nip to the loo as my bladder was popping trying to hold in the laughter...
I am not sure if it is SI tours - or the fact that they recruit idiots - but the guides from this company were all the poorest, unhappiest, and least professional communicators I have ever encountered. His language was more like an adult talking to 10 year olds on a field trip. He would repeatedly tell us details of how to turn lights on, what the door nob looked like at our cabin, and how to use the key to open the door, validating his detail with a long story of how a recent tourist had NOT UNDERSTOOD how to do these things. These are two examples of the 400 I could give here. How he lived this long is a mystery.. how he lived past telling Sandra about the kidnapping is also puzzling. His copy book was not improving... Sandra wanted to go to war, I was being patient .. at least for a while, but that changed.
The fact that I am writing this now, from a cell somewhere in the phillippines shows how ... oh Ok I'm not. We got to the island, trudged through the sand flies, and went to our cabins, the contents and direction of which, took more than 20 mins for our guide to explain ! (I am not going to be able to hold off much longer..).
You have free time until 6.15 when you must meet me here. I will take you to a presentation, and then you will eat at 7.30 (I was not sure what would happen if I still chewing at 7.31 but hey). You may swim during your free time, or walk the island you are not allowed to swim outside of the designated areas. If you swim outside the designated areas the life guard on duty will blow his whistle at you, he will blow it twice like this, and that's not a good thing. (I'm going to push this idiot overboard on the way home - after removing his life jacket!!)
Later - Our slide show was OK - it was a DVD no different and less quality than the wildlife ones we see on TV. they had an exhibition hall, where it was a good idea to pass some time after dinner, as the only thing you can do after dinner is sit around and wait to be called to the beach by the reserve guides .. in what we were told is a call of "turtle time".... our guide tells us .. "when we hear that" .. I wont carry on with how our guide described the process, but again it took 20 mins for him to describe even how to walk down the steps, as "a woman tourist had not UNDERSTOOD WHAT HE TOLD HER and..... " well anyway ... I was getting pretty good at zoning out by now. LaLaLaLaLaLa still buzzing around my head .. it was time for dinner.
After Dinner we get a run down again of the process by our guide.. "I am here - I am not far" he says .. "now do the exhibition hall as it has been as late as 3 am in the morning before you are called, but sometimes its as early as 10 pm, and .." LaLaLa had not worked this time. I had some sleep and it was time to try to get across to this chap that we were not children... the exhibition hall is not optional then? I asked .. "yes its up to you" he said.... that's good to know. I was trying to relate back to him that his words were not phrased correctly, but it failed. I did this a few more times, but failed each time. Best then to interrupt him - its appreciated but as people who have travelled the world, if we want you, we will find you. " OK - I am only out here - just there" I got up and said thanks, before I beat him to death with the salt.
We sat in the dark for a few hours, offering ourselves as food for every hungry insect that came to the lights and fancied a snack. The we heard "turtle time " shouted around the dark. I thought it was an example, not really what they shouted...
Our guide made sure we put our shoes on in the right order, had our cameras, lights, etc. LaLaLaLa .. and off to the beach.
I was impressed with the way this was done. The turtle was almost at the end of her egg laying, any earlier might disturb her. We were kept out of
line of sight, with only 1 light used to illuminate the nearly empty hole where the eggs had been professionally removed by the staff, into a bucket as soon as they were laid to be sure of maximum success. Once, and only
when all the eggs have been removed, we are allowed to be in line of sight of the turtle, as she attempts to close the hole before heading back to sea. About a meter long, and half a meter wide, she was a previous layer (tagged) Green turtle, one of 35 who visited the island that night.. She and 22 others had laid eggs, and her 85 eggs were part of over 1800 eggs laid that night.
With care to the preservation of the Turtles sensitivity, we are only allowed to engage one turtle. This one. We see other in the moon light heading up the beach, and don't need to be told that any interference may cause them to abandon their laying and head back to sea. Its a sight I recommend. In the torch light she looked a shimmering blue, with huge eyes. In turns we get to take remarkable photos, before leaving her to head back to sea. Our programme is
not over. Taken to the hatchery we are then shown how her eggs are stored, labelled, and will hatch in about 50 days to be one of a batch released into the sea that evening.
It is now our turn to finish the evening and release some hatched turtles from 50 or so days ago. Its amazing how small they are, and as they flop around trying to get to the water, they head off in every direction. Two end up on my sandals, flapping away, and we are told we have to gently direct them towards the sea if this happens. I did, whilst trying to get a snap or two of the
experience. One turtle keeps heading back to my sandals .. this one is not up for a swim tonight .. but eventually I get him going in the right direction. Its now about 12 - and time for bed.
Just amazing, and I was both impressed and pleased to be part of a preservation process that is well organised and caters for the needs of the Turtle and the tourist.