Kinabalu Park, the final 1.5 days

Perry Malouf (
Sun, 1 Jan 1995 20:56:41 -0500 (EST)

Kinabalu Park, The Final 1.5 Days

After a hearty breakfast, I met my guide in front of the Old
Administration building on Thursday at 9 a.m. Today we were
going to visit a small village outside of Kinabalu Park, whose
Malaysian name translates to "White Sand". It took us about 45
minutes to drive there, at the slow jalopy speed, and again the
drive was filled with beautiful mountain scenery. We passed many
mountain-side farms where Chinese immigrants were growing
various vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, hot chili peppers). One area
had several structures that looked like greenhouses, except glass
panels were replaced by black cloth. This was a mushroom farm,
and the structures provided the perfect growing conditions--dark,
warm, and moist. Many of these farms are owned by Chinese but
are tended by Indonesian immigrant workers.

We arrived in the village of "White Sand", and drove by
several groves of cacao, betel nut, and durian trees. My guide saw
an elderly gentleman walking along the road and asked him where
we might find "periuk kera", the monkey's cup plant (Nepenthes).
The gentleman said that he could take us to some, so I let him have
my seat in the jalopy and I climbed into back of the flatbed. We
drove along the road for another kilometer and parked at the gate
of someone's house. The gentleman let us onto the property, past
the house and into some fields--we were following a cattle trail.

Immediately I could see why this village was called "White
Sand", because that's exactly what we were walking on. In places
where the few centimeters of topsoil were washed away, there was
nothing but clean, fine white sand. On either side of the cattle trail,
growing in the topsoil, were several plants of N. gracilis. These
appeared like those we had seen the day before, only the plants
were larger and had clambored farther through the tall grass and
saplings. Pitchers measured about 10 cm high at the most, and
were a light green with plenty of red mottling. We continued
onward, over a wobbly cable suspension bridge that crossed a
creek, and into a wide grassy plain. Here there were more N.
gracilis plants, about one every 10 meters on either side of the
sandy trail. I found this natural growth of N. gracilis to be very
attractive. The plants wound their way upward through the tall
grass, securing themselves by coiling tendrils around twigs and
branches, and these tendrils produced pitchers which hung from
the twigs in clumps of two or three together. There were also a
few young plants growing as small rosettes in places where the
grass was somewhat sparse.

These were the only Nepenthes I saw that day. With the
time we had left (most of the afternoon), my guide offered to take
me where we might find some Rafflesia. Although I'm mostly a
Nepenthes freak, the possibility of encountering the rare Rafflesia
was quite tempting, so I agreed. For those who don't know about
Rafflesia, I'll mention the few facts I learned about it. Rafflesia is
the largest flower in the world and has no stems or leaves. It has
five fleshy petals, can grow to about 1 m in diameter, is usually
orange-red in color, and has a stench of carrion. It is a parasite,
and grows on the roots of a certain wild shrub. The seeds need to
be trampled into the earth by some large animal (e.g. a deer) near
the roots of its host in order to germinate. On the rare occasion
that Rafflesia is found, botanists have a field day. If the flower
blooms on private property, the lucky owners make some money
by charging admission to those who wish to see it--and most
people are willing to pay the price because it is indeed a rare find.

We drove to another location outside of the park, near a
village whose name I have forgotten already. After parking the
jalopy we hiked through some vegetable farms, started along a
trail through a forest, then diverted off the trail into that thick
forest. This was bush-whacking at its best. There was no trail, the
growth was dense, and I didn't have a machete (which is standard
equipment around there--every outdoorsman carries one).
Fortunately my guide had all the "standard equipment", and he
hacked a meager trail for me to follow. I took a moment to look
around; every direction seemed exactly the same. There wasn't
much light filtering through the treetops, I couldn't see the sun and
there were no other reference markers. It must be easy for the
inexperienced hiker to get lost in those woods! It wasn't raining,
but everything was dripping wet. After a 20 minute hike my
guide found a patch of Rafflesia. Unfortunately we were too late to
catch one flower at its peak--it had already turned black but still
retained its shape. Other flowers were almost completely rotted
away. Very close by were some unopened Rafflesia buds, the
largest of which (15 cm dia.) was about two weeks away from
opening. It was shaped like an oblate spheroid, and the thin black
membrane which wrapped it had separated along the top to reveal
the enclosed light-orange bud.

Another half hour of walking brought us out of that forest
and back toward the farms we had passed earlier. We boarded the
jalopy and headed back toward the Park, where we arrived at
around 4 p.m. The next day we would take a trip to Poring Hot
Springs, another research station in the Park, and look for
Nepenthes there. This time the Park head botanist would
accompany us, and we would have the use of one of the Park's 4-
wheel-drive vehicles.

On Friday morning I met my guide, the Park head botanist,
and some other workers and we drove off. Before going to Poring
Hot Springs, we had to drop off the other workers at one of the
other field stations where they would go searching for some N.
rajah plants. They were going to bring them back for use in an
exhibit. Although the Park vehicle was more comfortable and
refined than my guide's jalopy, the nasty construction road made
for a very tough ride. I regretted having had breakfast, and I was
holding tightly onto the vehicle's roll bar along the roof in an
attempt to stabilize myself against the jostling. We made it to the
field station, dropped off the workers, headed back down that
terrible road, and proceeded to Poring Hot Springs.

Upon our arrival, the head botanist showed us around.
There is a building under construction which will house some
brand new tissue culture laboratories. Nearby are some "open
greenhouses" where orchids are kept. There were many, many
plants collected from various locations in the Park, some of which
were in bloom. We departed the orchid collection in time to see
four deer stroll by the trail on their way to higher ground. They
seemed abnormally tame--perhaps the Park employees feed them.
There were no Nepenthes at the research station, but after leaving
Poring Hot Springs we found some along the roadside. There were
several N. gracilis plants similar to those I had seen in previous
days. Nearby was a another rather large Nepenthes vine with
pitchers that looked just like N. mirabilis var. echinostoma, a photo
of which I had seen in Nature Malaysiana. Each pitcher was about
12 cm high and 2.5 cm in diameter, uniformly green, and the
peristome was rather wide and formed a shelf all the way around
the mouth of the pitcher. It was the peristome which helped me
identify the var. echinostoma.

We had to pick up the workers who were dropped off
before, and I asked if I might be spared the ride on that
construction road. Amusingly, everyone else had the same idea.
We all got out at a market place, and the driver went on to pick up
the other workers. For a half hour we mulled about, and I was
getting quite a few stares from children and some adolescents. I
guess they don't see many tall Caucasians around there, and I tried
to be on my best behavior so that the locals wouldn't get any bad
impressions. In other words, when they stared at me I didn't flip
them the finger or stick out my tongue. :)

Finally our vehicle came back to pick us up. In the back of
the truck were two very large N. rajah plants in a bamboo basket,
and one Paphiopedilum orchid which is endemic to Mt. Kinabalu. I
noticed that the triumphant workers' trousers were filthy from the
thighs down, and this made me feel pretty good. Why? Because I
had to bust my fanny to see N. rajah in the wild, and I felt better
knowing that even the experienced Park employees had to go
through the same misery to find their plants. Okay, call me Petty
(instead of Perry). One of the N. rajahs had a male inflorescence,
and both had sizable pitchers--one pitcher was 30 cm from tendril
attachment to lid attachment, and the lid was almost as long again.
These plants were brought inside the new Administration building,
to be potted up for the exhibit.

With that, I returned to my room and packed my belongings,
settled accounts at the Administration Office, and boarded one of
the tour buses bound for Kota Kinabalu (the tour buses visit the
Park every day). The bus stopped at a farmers' market along the
way where wild honey, fruits, and some locally made souvenirs
were being sold. After 10 minutes we were off again. It started to
rain and continued until we arrived in Kota Kinabalu. In the first
installment I made reference to the Hyatt Hotel being a welcome
haven after my stay at the Park, and so it was! It was very nice to
be in a dry, climate-controlled room with unlimited hot showers
and no insects crawling around the floor.

Upon some reflection, I realized that this trip fulfilled all of
my expectations. I had seen and photographed Nepenthes: rajah,
villosa, kinabaluensis, fusca, edwardsiana, tentaculata, lowii,
burbidgeae, gracilis, mirabilis var. echinostoma, reinwardtiana, and
one species which Kurata's book lists as "unidentified". Of these,
only the edwardsiana and the "unidentified" species were not seen
in their natural habitat (they were in the Mountain Garden). Also,
I had a chance to see the rare Rafflesia flower (though it was past
its peak), and I saw a lot of beautiful scenery. The Park staff were
cheerful, friendly, very helpful and generous. If I am lucky I'll
have another chance to go in my lifetime, hopefully while I'm still
able to endure the hikes.