Q & A

I get asked a reasonable number of questions about my travels. These usually revolve around places to stay, prices, wildlife, etc… Here I have compiled a list of them and will add to them as they appear. They’re organized by country visited. If you have questions that aren’t answered here please feel free to post directly to the blog or else email me at pbertner@gmail.com.

Borneo Q & A

Q:

Hi there, I am thinking about trying to maybe do the hike
independently as well. Could you please tell me what each part of your
hike cost? Was it relatively easy to organise?

A:

I’m happy to help. Keep in mind that the shorter the time period that you go for the less savings you will get by doing it my way. Having said that, even going for a week, you will still pay significantly less than the tour groups.
I take it you are planning on doing the typical 3 day loop. Starting in Agathis camp on day 1, you go to camel trophy camp on day 2. From there you go to Ginseng camp and then back. Along the way you visit maliau falls and another waterfall.
As soon as you decide that you don’t want a tour group, you are reconciling yourself to carrying all of your own gear without porters. Your will also need to bring all your own food. This really shouldn’t be too much of a problem though. At each of the camps they have a small kitchen. Agathis is the best set up b/c it has road access. So you can make whatever you want there. But the other camps basically only provide boiling water. You are required to pay for 2 guides to accompany you at all times, whether you need them or not. So if you’re in the business of saving money then any additional days would best be spent at the research station where you can walk by yourself or can hire just one guide for 100RM/day.
Besides these costs are the nightly camping fees. The remote camps are a bit cheaper because they have less amenities. The price difference is negligible though, around 5-10RM/night. If you are able to bring your own stove and cutlery you can further save, otherwise they will charge you for the gas that you will use at the camps which is a little steep at around 30RM/day.
The other large single cost is the transportation. This is frustrating to organize and you must be pretty flexible in order to organize this cheaply. Basically to take a private car will cost you about 600RM each way, so 1200RM total. I don’t recall if this is per person or for the entire car, so it might be worth carpooling if you can. The other way is to leave from Tawau with the park itself. Departures are once or twice a week, you will have to email them for the exact days. You can ride with them and you pay 300RM each way. So you save 600RM total. But again this needs to be organized in advance and is subject to change.
Last real expense is the park fee. I don’t recall the exact amount but when I was there it was about 100RM, but may have increased since then.
If/when you arrive in Tawau you can go to the national park’s office and talk to them in person to arrange everything. This was the last contact person I had, but she may not still be working there;  rosejkj@icsb-sabah.com.my.
This is directly from the horse’s mouth:
 “We have no objection for you to take your own food and of course you have to bring them yourself. We will provide cooking utensils for you on rental basis at RM20/day. Accommodation at the satellite camps is RM60/night, hostel at RM70/night, transportation is RM600 one way. Other activities like night drive RM50/pax, canopy walkway RM15/visit etc. if requested have to be paid in Maliau Office.”
Nb. The drive cost didn’t take into account a carpool ride with the staff.

 

The necessary fees that you will pay are:
-guide fees: 2 guides, 100RM each/day.
-Each night at a remote camp: 65RM
-Park entrance fee: 100RM
-Transportation to and from the park: 600RM
-Use of kitchen/cutlery: 30RM/day
-Tips?
-Research station: -Canopy walkway:15RM
  -Per night camp: 20RM, per night cabin: 70RM.
Hope this helps and if you require any additional information let me know
Ps. If you are considering Danum Valley field center this is also a very good option, cheaper and has a much vaster trail system.
Q:
Hi there, thanks heaps for all the information. Im still pretty
undecided about what to do-guess Ill just have a think about it for a
few days. Was the hike super hard with all your gear? So did you go to
Danum Valley too?
Hi there, I was also wondering where you stayed if you went to Danum?
At the scientist centre there? If you did, did you have to book well
in advance?
A:
Making a decision between the national parks really depends on what your objective is. Maliau definitely has better hiking, you also pass through several ecotypes so you get a range of habitats. I found both to be pretty rich in terms of animal life. However, if you want to spot larger mammals your better bet is Danum Valley. Some pictures of some of the flaura and fauna from each park can be seen here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/31137609@N08/sets/?&page=4

I pack pretty light, so l could still fit everything in a daypack. It was just a few packs of instant noodles really. The hike is relatively hard the first day as it is pretty much all uphill and you need to get above the rim of the basin. After that it is relatively easy. You ditch your pack for the day hikes to the 2 waterfalls in the area.

I did go to Danum Valley as well, I stayed there for 3 weeks or so. They have a camp which has camp beds, a roof, electricity and showers. The cost is pretty cheap around $3/day not including food which again costs quite a bit. This is a nice option b/c they have a fairly large trail selection. Danum also has a basic hostel which is a bit more expensive at $10/day. The only prerequisite for Danum is letting them know with regards to transportation. The cost is something like $70/each way. And they leave once or twice a week from Lahad Datu. A week in advance was all the notice I had to give them. Whatever their website says, it is much easier to deal with them in person. That goes for Maliau basin as well.
Q:
Hi there again, I was actually wondering if you have an email address
for Danum Valley? I tried to call but my connection was bad and they
couldnt understand me!
A:
It’s worth putting in an open ad in some travel forums giving your dates of travel. Hopefully you can organize a trip to maliau to do some cost sharing. It opens some options and you aren’t committed until you actually meet your traveling partner. Danum Valley is a great option and is definitely more economical. They may insist on using guides at all times but the trails are clearly marked so don’t be afraid to do a little wandering. They have a rotation schedule for the staff so whatever email contacts I had will be long since outdated. I believe the email I had is that referenced in the lonely planet borneo book anyways which dates back quite a few years. I looked on the site which looks like it is being led by a new organization from when I was there several years ago. Unfortunately their website didn’t list any contact info. Danum and Maliau are run independently from the other parks in Sabah but I would recommend contacting sabahparks@sabah.gov.my and see if they can give you some contact info for the offices of Danum Valley staffers.

Q:

I read your post in the Lonely planet forum regarding the trip to the Maliau basin. I wanted to ask when exactly you went there and what weather you found. Did it rain every day? Are the trails very muddy?
I’m asking because I visited the Danum valley a year and a half ago. It rained a lot, there was deep soft mud on the trails and my footwear got completely wet. It wouldn’t dry because of the humidity.
Are leeches a problem in the Maliau basin? There were lots of them in the Danum valley.
When doing the trek, is it possible to leave the big luggage somewhere and only carry around a small backpack? How much gear do you need to carry with you?
Can you provide a split of the costs?
By the way, what camera did you use for the shots you posted on Flickr?
Can you provide the cost split?

A:

I went there in March of 2009 and I was pretty lucky with the weather, I don’t recall a single day of rain, at least not extensive rain. But always bring and wear rubber boots on the trail in  case I want to check out water pools. The trail on the first day from Agathis to Camel trophy camp climbs quite significantly and so while it is steep, the water generally runs off and so you don’t get super muddy trails. Second day the trail levels a bit and so you might get some muddy spots, but I wouldn’t worry too much.
No leeches in Maliau, at least I had no experience with them.
I left a substantial chunk of my gear both at the main research station, and at the Agathis base camp. I took all of my food with me, enough for 4 days, backpack, camera, knife, rope, flashlight, lots of extra batteries since there is only a generator provided at Agathis for 2-3hrs/night, and at the main research station. An umbrella is a good idea since it will allow you to take pictures even in the rain, where the rain jacket won’t. I managed to fit all of this into a daypack and camera bag though, so don’t overdo it. The hike is moderate-challenging. First day is 4-6hrs, second day 6hrs, 3rd day 4-6 hrs. Depends on your pace.
Recent pictures were taken with a canon 5D mark ii. But all of the Borneo pictures were taken with a Pentax K200D and a dedicated 100mm macro lens (pentax manufacture).
I’ll have to root around for the receipt with the cost breakdown, so I’ll get back to you on that one.
If there’s anything else, I spent 7 months in Borneo and did pretty much all the national parks in Sabah, Sarawak and a little bit of Brunei. So ask away…Mulu was exceptional!

Q:

thanks a lot for the extensive reply. Since you mention that you did all parks in Malaysian Borneo, may I ask if you have been in Kubah and Batang Ai (Sarawak), and Tabin (near Lahad Datu). Did you also visit the Imbak canyon ( http://www.borneoforestheritage.org.my/imbak/view.htm )? If yes, how were all these places?I noticed that in your Flickr page there are no photos of mammals, only smaller animals. Didn’t you see any mammals or larger animals while in the Maliau basin?

A:

Sorry I couldn’t get around to this sooner. Unfortunately I haven’t been to those places. I heard mixed reports about Tabin, some saying that it was great for wildlife, others saying that it was another one of those parks sandwiched between palm plantations.
As for larger animals it mostly came down to the lack of proper equipment ie. telephoto lens. I saw Orangutans, a civet, Samba deer, rabbit and a porcupine in Danum Valley. A saltwater crocodile and a civet in Similajau. And a Felis bengalensis in Gunung Gading. The larger animals you will catch a glimpse of, but they are shy and quickly run from humans. Larger animals are more often seen on the Kinabatangan river, but it’s really just a slice of rainforest caught between palm plantations.
Q:
I see a lot of your pics where made in Borneo…..im planning to go aprox 16 October till 6 of November when rain season starts….If you could please tell me wich are the best places to make macro´s (i have the 100mm+Kenko+Raynox and the Mpe-65+Metz anular flash) and places to avoid….
You have very interesting pics there!
I will take with me: 7D+Mpe+canon100mm+Kenko
Plus non macro rig: Canon 100-400mm / Panasonic G1 (14-45mm)
Thanx in advance! 😉
A:
Glad you like the blog, at the time it seemed normal, I suppose it is just one of those coping mechanisms. Rereading it when I’m back home I am a little baffled at some of the things that happened! 😉
Really great to hear that you are making it out to Borneo, an AMAZING place! I really wish I had gotten a chance to visit Kalimantan but even 7 months was only enough to visit the malaysian/Brunei side.
I would skip Brunei, it is overpriced and you won’t find much in that sliver of rainforest you won’t find elsewhere. Highlights of my trip were definitely Mulu national park, and Bako in Sarawak. Mulu has incredible diversity and so many great adventure activities at relatively good prices if you can latch onto a group. I spent 3 weeks there. I did two spelunking trips, Mulu summit hike and the pinnacles. Pinnacles are a little overrated in my opinion but the others were awesome. Spend time around the main area as well. There is accommodation just outside the park that is $10 or less per night, a much better alternative than the 30+ you’ll pay for dorm rooms in the park.
In Sabah, my favourites were Kinabalu park, and Danum valley. Danum valley is cheap if you use the military cots and bring your own food. They won’t tell you about this option unless you ask. I pay equivalent of $15 or less per day. Otherwise you may pay as much as 40-60 for basic accommodations. Kinabalu park you should again stay in a hostel outside the park. I saw almost no one on the trails, everyone comes to climb the mountain but there is such a huge diversity! If you do climb the mountain the administration wants you to go up and come down by the same route. However you can take an alternative route down which will take you to another lodge from which you will have to walk several km’s and then hitchhike to the main highway. It is definitely more scenic than the normal path though it requires pretty good fitness.
No facebook unfortunately, just flickr/blog. If you have any specific questions I hope I’ll have internet in the cloud forest village I’ll be in for the next month.
Q:
THANX A LOT for your interesting advices! I also heard about problems with humidity and lenses, so will try to swap them only when in the hotels or airconditioned places, i will carry the panasonic G1 camera with the 14-45mm as an allroad and the Mpe almost fixed to the 7D (hopefully i will not have problems!)
They also told me that its very secure to go around everywhere in Malaysia so having all my rig with me wont be a risk….
Just one more thing……where did you stay? Hotels, hostals? wood houses? backpackers rooms? they tell me its really cheap compared to europe……but, are there nice acomodations in the middle of the jungle?
Thanx again for your tips, i will follow them for sure!!!
A:
Great to hear you finally made it out! Malaysia is a place you won’t regret. Endau Rompin is much less visited and ecologically diverse place. I seem to recall that the authorization was a little odd. You can go without, but you will have difficulty getting a tour organization to take you in that case because they will be fined. In this case you basically need someone to take you in independently and organize something on the side. It is basically just an additional way for these guys to make money and regulate travel. A guide is advisable, but once you make it to the main ‘lodge’ you can usually walk marked trails without their assistance. I think I organized my trip out of Rompin but organize ahead otherwise you will probably get stranded. Unfortunately I can’t find my contact in my email archives but there are a few tour groups offering things, just bargain and you should be fine. Hope you have a great time.
Guyana Q & A
Q:
Hi Paul!
I read with great interest over two days, your blog on Guyana.  I learned a lot about insects and other critters thanks to your wonderful writing and pictures.  Thank you so much for taking the time to write about it all!!  I came across your post just now on LP which had your address in it.  I plan on visiting there this year for a couple of weeks (first time down there).  Of course, I’m in shock over the cost.  In your opinion, where would my time be better spent to see wildlife…Rewa or Surama?  I may have to choose between them to lower the cost.  I was planning on Karanambu but only 2 days because of cost then 4 days at Caiman.  I’d appreciate your input.
A:
Thanks for the compliments I’m just glad that people find the information and useful and can learn something. Cost is truly an issue down there and while there are methods to scrimp and save they usually involve being quite uncomfortable. Do you plant on bringing along tent and camping gear, how self sufficient are you? There are some really great and adventurous options just because Guyana really doesn’t have a good tourism infrastructure and so you really do get a more authentic local guide as opposed to the more ‘trained’ and expensive guides you might find in places like costa rica and peru. Of course there is the latter in some of the expensive lodges but if you’re aiming to reduce costs, local  is definitely something that you should look into. I might be able to dig up some email addresses of people you can contact down there as well. As per your questions:
Madagascar Q & A
Q:
I’m going back to Madagascar at the end of the month and I’d love to see a pelican spider. Since you got quite a few pics of them would you say they are easy to spot?
Also I’d like to hear about your experience in Madagascar national parks. Last time I went I visited Andasibe NP, Ranomafana NP, Anja Park and Kirindy forest. I found a bit frustating that in each park you have to choose a circuit with time constraint and that you can’t go off track. Moreover, night walks are sometimes done along the road and not within the park (e.g. Ranomafana). Did you experience the same or was it different for you?
This time I’m going back to Kirindy and will travel north-west and then to Masoala Peninsula. Have you done any of these areas? Any recommandations?
Your answers will be greatly appreciated.
A:
Re. Pelican spiders: They are relatively easy to spot given that you know what you’re looking for, where to look and what your expectations are. They are typically found suspended several inches below branches and leaves on long silken lines. They are mostly found on chest high plants though this could simply be that these are the easiest to see as I have also seen them higher up. They are long and gangly, hang upside down and are fairly small1/2″ or smaller. If they are disturbed they drop to the ground, sometimes using a safety line, othertimes not. I found them mostly one dry nights, and might see 1 or 2 during a 6-10 hr night hike (so expect to spend several nights looking before you see one).
In 4.5 months I visited Ranomafana and then up to Andasibe, Vohimana reserve, Mantadia, Analalava reserve, ile Ste. Marie, Mananara Nord, Nosy Mangabe, Masoala peninsula 7 day hike through reserve from Maroansetra to Antalaha, Marojejy, Mt. d’Ambre, Ankarana, and Ankarafantsika.
In Mananara Nord, Marojejy, and Masoala there is less infrastructure and you can generally go on night hikes by yourself. Ask your guide (and give a little extra tip) once you are already within the park, and don’t mention it to the park staff who will generally tell you that it is not permissible. All the other parks they will straight up refuse.
During the day you can prolong how much time you wish to spend viewing if you pay extra. Generally 2-3 hr circuits in well established parks are about 10,000 Ar/hr and a full day from 60,000Ar-80,000 not including the park entrance fee. In less established parks you may pay as little as 10-15,000 Ar for the entire day. If you pay for the entire day then you govern where you get to go. In established parks you generally can’t wander off the main trails, however you can organize the circuits any way you choose and can choose smaller, less well known trails, even animal trails. In Mananara Nord which receives very few visitors I was able to wander off trail both during the day, and at night anywhere I chose with the tacit approval of my guide. Honestly if you want to go off track in established parks like Ranomafana then you have to go without the approval of the Park service so if you get caught then you might be kicked out of the park. For me this was a permissible risk since I generally spend 8-10hrs doing night walks which no guide would agree to and even if they did, would either cost a small fortune night after night. Of the parks that I have visited those that are easiest to night hike in besides the lesser visited ones are Andasibe, Ankarafantsika, Ankarana, Vohimana.
Ankarafantsika is an excellent site with very good camping facilities and good wildlife viewing opportunities. Ankarana is good for the tsingies and landscape though less for the wildlife. I was disappointed in Mt. d’Ambre in which I saw little due to elevation and colder climate. Marojejy was by far the most rewarding, both in terms of the natural, intact beauty, trekking and wildlife. Masoala I would give the hike a miss since you will spend the majority of the time hiking through degraded, farmland. And when you do reach the park you will be tired and not in the mood to take full advantage. Instead you might try Tampolo though this can be expensive. Nosy Mangabe is a fantastic little island, worth at least 2 nights. Leaf tailed geckos are easily spotted (once my guide spotted 11 in one day), tiny brookesia spp. and yellow backed mantellas. Mananara Nord was great for trekking though you need to get pretty far in before you start to enjoy it, so not for people with time constraints.
Hope this helps, and any other questions I’ll be happy to answer.
Peru Q & A
 A:
Glad to hear you’re traveling to the Amazon again. I haven’t been to Brazil so I can’t comment on that, but I loved Peru, been there twice for 6 months total. Depends on what you’re after. Amphibians, especially an excellent array of poison arrow frogs are best found the Loreto department, Yurimaguas probably the best. Skip Iquitos, a cool city but you need to get pretty far into Pacaya-Samiria before you see any real wildlife. Manu has to be the best location. Takes a day to get there but you will see the most animal life by far. Try Pantiacolla lodges for the most reasonable rates. As soon as you want to travel into the reserved zone the prices jump up, and frankly you don’t see much there that you don’t see outside the boundaries. Are you looking for anything specific on this trip? Are you on a cheaper budget? Did you plan to incorporate something like Macchu Pichu?
Q:
Hopefully you don’t mind the question, but I’m researching where to go when I travel to Peru next April. After doing Machu Piccu, I’m heading towards Manu for probably 8-9 days. I saw that you tagged and went to Pantiacolla and wondered what your experience was like there. It looks like you and I have similar interests in what to shoot. I just wondered if you had enough time to explore on your own (or were allowed to) and felt like you had plenty of time there to go out and shoot.
After exploring all the options, seems like there’s a lot of travel and not a lot of time actually hiking and shooting. I would love to find as many herps as possible in addition to the myriads of birds/mammals that I’m guessing are there.
A:
Re: Pantiacolla… It is a great place, good people and the most reasonable of the bunch. I splashed out and spent a good deal more money than I should have with Manu tours. Spent a month in the reserved zone and frankly I saw just as much at Pantiacolla.
The operator of Pantiacolla is a very personable and friendly Dutch woman. I told her that I just wanted to go to the lodge and do my own thing and she was very amenable to that. I organized my date around the tours that they had going so that I went in and left with a tour group. This is kind of at the whim of the scheduling of other people though and I don’t know how flexible you are. Getting in should be no problem, usually you take the long drive down to the river and then it’s a couple hours upstream to their lodge. It was direct as I recall, just stopping for lunch breaks (whereas the more expensive Manu tours had a mandatory overnight stop at their cloud forest lodge to see the cock of the rock (San Pedro I believe if you’re interested). Though if you’re interested there is a lek that is active around that time. I think Pantiacolla might have stopped there for lunch though I don’t recall the details.
Just talk to the owner and if the scheduling works you could probably enter with a tour group and do a short tour, hang out around Pantiacolla for a few days and then come back with another group. Or else arrive with one group see if you want to spend the entire time at their lodge and either explore the area surrounding the lodge or else join on with another group mid-way through and then return back with them. In any case there was enough to keep me occupied their for a couple of weeks (Ranacocha might be of particular interest to you, especially for a night hike.)
Mammal-wise I saw white lipped peccaries on several occasions, though I don’t recall the birding, though there are a couple of trails that were relatively open and I seem to recall there was a group of birders while I was there. Anywhere you go mammals are going to be hard to see. Within the reserved zone you are more likely to see giant river otters and possibly a jaguar. I personally didn’t see one in my month there, but a group that came for just a few days did.
My best advice is to talk with the owner and see what she says. If you have any other questions don’t hesitate to ask. I don’t recall the names, but if you ask which guides are there then there was one herpetologist that was really great, a short guy (Dino maybe?) and I had an awesome time chatting with him. He works for several companies but Pantiacolla was one of them.
Q:
Sweet, thanks so much. That helps a lot. All of the other sites talk about how much there is to see, but the Pantiacolla site actually had some very good photo examples of snakes, frogs, and mammals which made me think it would be a good choice. I did Ecuador/Galapagos and the cloud forest in Ecuador was so good, so I know what to expect on that leg, but it will be nice to be somewhere where I can really find some good rainforest stuff. I’ve done Costa Rica 3 times but it’s nothing like what you see down in Peru it seems.
Thanks again for the info. If you check my page and see anything you want info on, feel free to ask and I’ll load you up with anything you need, but it looks like you’re pretty well versed everywhere.
A:
Hi, I’m glad to help in any way I can!
Pantiacolla was awesome. Frankly I probably saw as much there as further into the national park (ie. reserved zone) and it is much cheaper. I opted to do activities by myself which were no problem with management as long as you let them know where you’re going generally. Lots of trails to hike, long and short. A really good standing pool of water that attracts lots of herps (Rana cocha trail). A good 3-4 days to explore most trails, 1 day travel there, 1 day back. And you always find lots of new stuff rewalking the same trails. Especially at night when most herps are out.
Animals are always tough to find and shoot. I saw some white lipped peccaries while I was there, but not much else. Apparently there are a few good open spots for birding opportunities but that is just on the gossip that I caught amongst birders since I don’t have too much interest in ornithology.
Hope this helped and if you have any more questions ask away.
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