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Buffalo Soldiers: Living for Death in the Tana Toraja

2 Sep Funeral buffalo sacrifice, eyes open, throat slashed, dying in a pool of its own blood on the grass. Tana Toraja, Sulawesi, Indonesia.

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“Are funerals like this in London?” asks my new Torajan friend.

The dead man’s drum-shaped coffin emerges from the matrimonial bedroom where he has “slept”, preserved in formalin, with his family for the last eight months. Continue reading

Turtle Island, Indonesia

26 Aug

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Pulau Derawan, a tiny palm and sand island off the coast of Indonesian Borneo, is famous for sea turtles.

Now, in general, when it comes to sea turtles, it’s wise to keep your expectations low. Maybe, just maybe, there’ll be a glimpse of a reptile or two sculling in the blue yonder, when you’re diving. Maybe, just maybe, over a long enough night, one will lay her eggs on shore.

Sea turtle grazing amid coral. Pulau Derawan, Indonesia.

The first words we heard in our guesthouse on Pulau Derawan? “Can you see the turtle?” Continue reading

Walking Fish & Long-Nosed Monkeys

20 Aug

Orange, long nosed proboscis monkeys sit high in the mangroves. Tarakan, Indonesian Borneo.[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]We were in two minds about whether to stay in Tarakan, Indonesian Borneo, today. But I’m extremely glad we did.

Because 300 metres down the road from our hotel is a little mangrove sanctuary. Home to two weird and wonderful creatures. Proboscis monkeys, and walking fish.

Ever seen a fish walk?! Us neither. For video, read on. Continue reading

Of Canopies and Caves

9 Aug

Green leaves explode from the lower canopy, above clusters of tree tops. Mulu National Park, Sarawak, Borneo.

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]This is the view down over the lower storey of the rainforest canopy, in Mulu National Park, Sarawak, from the longest canopy skywalk in the world. Nigh-on 500m of suspension bridge rattles and sways above the tops of the lowest trees, pinned to the sleek trunks of emergent giants.

It’s a place where I discovered that the nine year old’s theory of repeated exposure curing vertigo holds some force. And the nine year old, in turn, discovered a fear of heights.

Well, not so much heights, exactly. His objection, to be precise, was to the skywalk, and in particular the plastic packing tape which held the creaking boards together. Continue reading

Three Million Bats

6 Aug

Stream of bats swirl across the twilit sky. Deer Cave, Mulu National Park, Sarawak, Borneo.[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]Deer Cave, at Mulu National Park, is one of the largest cave chambers in the world, and home to as many as three million bats. Towards twilight, on evenings when it’s not raining, they swarm out to hunt in the forest around, consuming as many as fifteen tonnes of insects every evening.

They follow a crazy, spiralling, swirling route, fizzing up in a stream of smoke, more like hornets, locusts or bees than mammals. The aim? To frustrate the hawks, which hover above the limestone crags which mark the cave entrance, diving into the morass in search of prey. For video, Continue reading

So Long and Thanks to (All) the Fish

5 Aug Z in orange lifejacket in longboat en route to Mulu National Park with his grandparents.

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]Yesterday was a rite of passage for the nine year old. And one that I can, with hand on heart, say that I am glad to have missed.

He caught… Drum roll… His first fish!

And who was there to share the precious moment? The triumph of the successful bite? The joy as the catch is, finally, reeled in? The squirm-inducing process of torture by which one rips the hook from the soft palate of a living, suffocating, flopping creature, exterminates the last vestiges of consciousness and transfers it to a receptacle to await its ultimate fate?

Granny and Grandpa! Continue reading

Women of the Woods

21 Jul Orangutan mother cradling her one year old child: Semanggoh Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]The Malay name orang utan means “man of the forest”, and, after a visit to the Semanggoh Orang Utan Centre, it’s easy to see why.

30-ish kilometres outside Kuching, Sarawak, Semanggoh is, technically, am Orang Utan Rehabilitation Center. Not some kind of, erm, “rest facility” for the Lindsay Lohans of the primate world. But a place where illegal pets or babies orphaned by loggings are enabled to live in the forest, semi-wild. Continue reading

Penguins in Bangkok

9 Jul

African penguins exploring their rocky home, behind glass at Siam Ocean World Aquarium, Bangkok Aquarium.

African penguins come to Thailand.

We didn’t come to Thailand for the penguins.

But there’s something surreally magical about stepping out of 35 degrees of sweaty, humid heat and coming face to face with these little fellas.

Nestled below the designer mecca of Siam Paragon, Siam Ocean World is the largest aquarium in South-East Asia.

It takes the aquarium concept and stretches it to its very limits. From penguins to beavers, from Amazonian predators to fossil fish, right through to a jacuzzi of pedicuring fish. Continue reading

Elephant Artists

25 Jun Elephant at an easel, using his trunk to paint. Mae Sa camp, Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Elephant at an easel, using his trunk to paint. Mae Sa camp, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Elephant artist painting. Mae Sa, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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Elephant artists? Now, that’s something you don’t see every day.

The painting pachyderms of Maesa Camp work with an incredible concentration… Continue reading

A Tiger Petting Zoo

22 Jun Z petting sleeping baby tiger, Tiger Kingdom, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Z petting sleeping baby tiger, Tiger Kingdom, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

My baby boy with a baby tiger. Chiang Mai, Thailand.


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A petting zoo — with tigers? Truly, only in South-East Asia. But few children would pass up the chance to pet and stroke a real, live, furry tiger cub… Continue reading