Time to leave Davao City and fly back across the Wallace Line – the third country on this trek around south-east Asia awaits.
Borneo. The name is so intensely intertwined with restless wilderness that even the view from the skies is evocative of untamed jungle. Muddy rivers and towering tropical trees shelter some of the richest wildlife hotspots on earth.
Silk Air have landed us in Malaysia, or to be precise, Kuching – the City of Cats. It feels a huge saucer, rimmed by impossibly rugged tropical mountains and pouring out through the mighty Sarawak River.
Even in a city of a third of a million people, reminders of the natural world abound. The rhinoceros hornbill is the state bird of Sarawak and was traditionally considered the chief of birds by the Dayak people.
There are cats here, but also mostly of the concrete kind – the name might be a play on the Malay for feline, but it is oddly fitting considering what prowls Borneo’s heart. The ubiquitous posters warning of penalties for poaching are also reminders that the most secretive cats on earth are sheltered by Borneo’s rugged wilderness.
Seeing a cougar or leopard is a once in a lifetime event for most wildlife watchers – but that’s a trifle compared to the elusiveness of bay cats. Until the 21st century, less than a dozen records existed, and they are still largely a mystery to science. No one knows for sure how many even exist, but all of them are in Borneo. Somewhere.
I’m headed out to the jungle in due course, but firstly, there is Kuching to ponder. In a continent jammed with towns of noteworthy history, this one takes a worthy place. In the 1840s, the Sultan of Brunei gifted Sarawak to a British adventurer in gratitude for his help in suppressing a rebellion. James Brooke – the White Rajah – was one of Kuching’s building blocks. So were the Chinese who worked Sarawak’s mines in the same era, and left their own imprint on the skyline.
Kuching is also home to many Malay settlers, along with Borneo’s indigenous ethnic groups. And Melanau people fish in the rivers.
Of course, they are not alone by the warm water. This beauty is a stork-billed kingfisher.
We drive half an hour to a jetty, and a speedboat is soon painting white froth on the grey salty river. We’re headed around the peninsula to Bako National Park and whatever wild things decide to cross paths with us on its trails.
The jungle is waiting…
5 thoughts on “City of Cats”
Wonderful pictures, Adele … the renderings are especially nice. The high ærial photo reminds me of my collection of photos from the Gemini Missions.
It’s a strange business observing the world from an aeroplane. You feel like you’ve nearly been there but not quite. I’ve flown over countries that I’m unlikely to ever visit (Iran, Iraq, etc) and it is illuminating, yet incomplete. Like looking at a cover without reading the book.
I had the same feeling while flying over Nunavut and Northwest Territories. And Siberia. Although, I might visit Canadian territories, it will probably never be thorough enough, just some small parts.
Yes, it would take a lifetime or more to explore the NW Territories. Although flying over them does help to bring home the sheer scale of the place.
P.S. Have you read Lovecraft’s “The Cats of Ulthar”?