Journeys with Sonia

My Travels Around the World

Bornean Sun Bears – Sepilok

Aug 25, 2022

This is a continuation of my stories about Borneo. My friend Ruthi and I traveled to Borneo with Natural Habitat Adventures (; @NaturalHabitatAdventures) in August of 2022. Our expedition leaders were Harsha Jayaramaiah (@walk_with_sufi; @kaadupapa) and Bedley Asun (@BedleyAsun) and we could not have asked for better guides. I hope you already read the posts about the orangutans and the Proboscis monkeys. Here is my story about the Bornean Sun Bears.

Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve

Early that morning we flew from the Kuching area to Sandakan, Sabah with our final destination being the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve where we would stay for two nights at the beautiful Sepilok Nature Resort. The first day was spent at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center – which I already wrote about (please see that post).

The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center

We began the second day at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center (BSBCC) ( and were welcomed (selamat datang) by Dr. Wong Siew Te.

Dr. Wong is a wildlife biologist with a PhD from the University of Montana. He came to Borneo in 1998 and was one of the first to study sun bears, who are some of the least studied bears in the world. In 2008 he founded the conservation center, the only one of its kind in the world. Dr. Wong sees the BSBCC as a half-way house for confiscated and orphaned bears before they are released back into the wild. The aims of the BSBCC are to provide care and rehabilitation to rescued sun bears and to increase awareness about them around the world. Their mission statement is “to promote sun bear conservation in Borneo through animal welfare, conservation, rehabilitation, education and research – giving captured sun bears a better home and restoring their right to live in the wild, by creating the capacity to confiscate, rehabilitate and release suitable orphaned and ex-captive bears back into the wild, providing an improved long-term living environment for captive bears that cannot be released, educating the public and raising awareness about this species, achieving increased protection for sun bears and their habitat through ongoing research, increased knowledge and awareness, and further protection of habitat.” They BSBCC has many partners around the world, one of which is the San Diego Zoo.

The sun bear is very endangered. Because they are so cute, the cubs are often poached and sold as exotic pets and then held in small cages. Most of the bears at the BSBCC were once “pets.” The BSBCC uses holistic approaches to rehabilitate them with the hope of releasing them back into the wild. So far, 11 out of 67 rescued have been released.

Sun bears are mainly diurnal and do not hibernate. In the wild they build nests in trees to sleep in. But at the BSBCC they are kept in large cages at night to keep them safe and the six acres of the grounds are surrounded with fences.

The Bornean Sun Bear

So who is the Bornean Sun Bear?  Many of you may never have heard of sun bears and most likely have never seen one.  The first question to ask is, “Why are they called sun bears?” Keep reading for the answer.

The Bornean sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) is the smallest bear in the world, half the size of the Malaysian sun bear. They are true tropical bears and are the second rarest in the world, after the giant panda. They stand about 28 inches high and weigh between 55-140 pounds. Their fur can repel rain and their ears are very small which keeps them from filling up with rain water. They have a short snout. But their claws, relative to their size, are huge. Their claws have bones in them which means they grow with the bear, and the last digit is large and strong and can contract. They use their claws as a tool and to help them climb trees.

While they eat mostly fruit, they will eat anything. One of the things I noticed was that they have very long tongues. Their tongue can be up to a foot long which helps them extract honey from bee hives and insects from the trees.

Because of this, they are sometimes called the honey bear (beruang madu). They also have very strong teeth – better to bite termites.

So why are they called sun bears?

The name comes from the pale horseshoe shape on their chest, which is said to resemble the setting or rising sun. No two markings are the same. The orange to cream colored chest patch really stands out against their black fur.

Why do sun bears matter?

The sun bear’s natural behavior helps ensure the health of the forest. They help disperse seeds and keep termite populations down, helping tropical tree species. They dig for invertebrates in the soil, which enhances the forest’s nutrient cycle through the mixing of rich and poor soil. And they create nesting sites for animals such as hornbills and flying squirrels, by tearing open tree trunks to reach the honey inside.

Our visit

After introductions were made all around, Dr. Wong taught us about the sun bears and walked us around the different exhibits that lined the staircase.

We made our way up wooden stairs to a wooden walkway high above the gound where the sun bears wander. There were one or two that were right below us eating fruit that had been left for them by the keepers. But others were hidden behind trees and leaves.

After watching them for a bit, our group crossed the street to go back to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center. I went along, but after a short while, Harsha asked if anyone one wanted to go back to the BSBCC.  I was the only one who said yes, and so back across the street we went.

Climbing trees

And boy was I glad that I did. This time there were bears climbing trees. And they can climp 120 feet up! There was one in particular that I watched for a long time. He was having a grand old time eating something. I couldn’t tell what, but I could see that long tongue. (photos above).

After watching for quite a while, it was time to head out. But then, on the way out, there was another sun bear walking along the log on the ground. He sat down and started cleaning himself. First, he licked all parts of his body. Then he used his claw to either scratch or comb his fur. I couldn’t tell which. And he did this over and over again. And then he got up and walked away.

After watching him for a while we headed out again. This time there was a bear just lying on the platform. I was so excited and happy that I had come back to see all this.

Birds and lizards

While I was watching the bear in the tree, Harsha quietly whispered, “Turn around.”  I did and saw this magnificent bird, a White-crowned Shama. And as we walked out of the BSBCC there was a lizard in the tree. And a winged insect on the ground.

Sepilok Nature Resort

Just a few words and pictures from the Sepilok Nature Resort. The entrance to the resort is all wood in the midst of the forest. For some reason, there is a statue of a rhino there.

You walk up some steps and find yourself standing at the foot of a beautiful lake.

The whole resort is in the midst of what feels like a forest of tropical plants and grasses, trees and orchids everywhere, alongside many other blooming flowers. And butterflies. And all sort of insects (I’m just showing you the leaf insect). And birds – but the birds will come in another post.

Each room is a bungalow, all wood, with a hammock on the balcony, and the strangest key that I had a hard time figuring out.

We had both breakfast and dinner here, on their outside patio by the lake. The food was good, but the kitchen staff had a hard time with the timing of our food (although we were not that large). So we would pre-order breakfast the night before and preorder dinner during breakfast.  That worked out well.

We did have opportunities to walk around the grounds. One morning, Michael, my new friend, saw an orangutan on the roof of one of the bungalows. Wish I had seen that!

And although we drove to see the Orangutan Rehab Center and the Sun Bear Conservation Center, they were walking distance from the resort.

Final thoughts about Sun Bears

I had seen a sun bear before as they are found in most zoos. But to see them in the wild, even in a fenced-in enclosure, was inspiring. I guess I feel that about all animals I see in the wild. I feel so lucky to have been able to experience these beautiful bears.

Borneo and the Proboscis Monkeys

August 21-September 1, 2022

My friend Ruthi and I visited Borneo in August-September 2022. We traveled with Natural Habitat Adventures (@NaturalHabitatAdventures) and our fabulous expedition leader Harsha Jayaramalah and local guide supreme Bedley Asun. We spent 12 days traveling around the country from the south to the north seeing wildlife that can only be found right here in Borneo. I was mostly in charge of photography with my two OM Systems OM D-E M1 Mark III and my Olympus 12-100 f4 and my Olympus 100-400 F5.6. Ruthi also shot with the OM Systems, but she was more responsible for videos.

There is so much to write.  So much to tell. So there will be multiple posts, some focused on specific wildlife, some on the cities and the rivers and the amazing resorts we stayed in. But this post is on monkeys. But not just any monkeys. This post is about monkeys you may have never heard of. The proboscis monkeys.

Proboscis Monkeys

The proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus) is also called the long-nosed monkey, because, of course, the males have a very, very large and long nose (note the females have small noses)! It can only be found Borneo and is one of the reasons Ruthi and I wanted to travel here.

Borneo – Orangutans and more

August 22- September 2, 2022

There are lots of reasons to visit Borneo. But one of the main reasons is to see orangutans. Those big, furry orange/red creatures. My friend Ruthi and I traveled with Natural Habitat Adventures (@NaturalHabitatAdventures) exactly for this reason, I with my two OM System D-E M1 Mark III camera bodies, one with an Olympus 12-100 f4 lens and the other with an Olympus 100-400 f5.6 lens. It was a 12-day trip all around the country, guided by Expedition Leader Harsha Jayaramaiah and local guide Bedley Asun. There are posts on Kuching and other cities. There are posts on other animals we saw. But this post is all about orangutans.

Orangutans are great apes, of which there are three types: Bornean, Sumatran and Tapanuli. We, of course, were searching for the Bornean. But before I get into our adventures, here is some background on these magnificent apes (as usual, probably more than you ever wanted to know…).

Orang Hutan

The name orangutan comes from the Malay language and means “man of the forest” (orang meaning person and hutan meaning forest).

The Bornean orangutans are critically endangered with only about 105,000 left. Bornean orangutan populations have declined by more than 50% over the past 60 years, and the species’ habitat has been reduced by at least 55% over the past 20 years. The severe decline in the population is primarily due to us humans who poached them for bushmeat (a practice which decreased once children were taught in schools about the importance of conservation and they then educated their parents), killed them in retaliation for consuming crops, illegal pet trade, and perhaps most importantly, due to habitat destruction and deforestation for logging and palm oil cultivation (more on this later).

Churchill, Canada – Baby Beluga in the Deep Blue Sea

July 10-14, 2022

If you or your children are of a certain age, you know all the words to Raffi’s song, Baby Beluga.

Baby beluga in the deep blue sea
Swim so wild and you swim so free
Heaven above and the sea below
And a little white whale on the go
You’re just a little white whale on the go

Well, my friend Ruthi and I got to see baby beluga along with a few thousand of his/her family and friends.

We traveled to Churchill, Canada with Natural Habitat (, a company devoted to travel and conservation. If you follow my blog, you know that I’ve traveled with them quite a bit. And if you follow my blog closely, you will recall that I’ve been to Churchill once before. In fact, there are three reasons one visits Churchill, a town of about 900 people in the arctic along Hudson Bay. The first is in January-February when you are very likely to see the aurora borealis (that’s what my other Churchill post is about). In October-November, you go to see polar bears as they migrate over the ice on frozen Hudson Bay. And in the summer, you go to see beluga whales who swarm into Hudson Bay – approximately 3500 of them. And so that’s just what we did in July 2022.

90 Countries and Counting

This post is a bit different than my usual ones. I was invited recently to give a talk about my travels and my photography. It took me hours to find just the right photos and decide what I wanted to say. In the end, it turned out to be a pretty good talk, if I say so myself.

So instead of a post about my latest adventures, here is my talk. Hope you enjoy it.

Escondido, California – Queen Califia’s Magical Circle

June 16, 2022

As you, my readers and followers, know, my posts are generally about my trips around the world. During the pandemic of 2020, when all travel stopped, I began exploring my native San Diego and posted about those adventures. In 2021 I started traveling the world again. But I find there are still discoveries to be made in my own backyard.

Last week, my friend David, and his friend (and my new friend) Gail, drove up to Escondido to the Kit Carson Park to see the Queen Califia’s Magical Circle. I loved it so much that I returned a few weeks later with my family.

Kit Carson Park

But first a word about the Kit Carson Park. The park is named after Christopher (Kit) Carson who was a famous scout who guided Captain John C. Fremont over the Sierra Nevada Mountains during a government exploration expedition.

The park itself in in a valley just five miles from where Kit Carson fought the Battle of San Pasqual. And should you be interested, there is a historical monument commemorating the battle on Mule Hill, one mile southeast of the park.

The park has its origins in 1967, and there is lots to see and do there. But many people come to see the park’s newest addition, Queen Califia’s Magical Circle, the only American sculpture garden by the internationally acclaimed artist, Niki de Saint Phalle.

Amsterdam – Keukenhof and the Tulip

May 1, 2022

My friend Debby and I spent two weeks in The Netherlands and Belgium on a Viking Riverboat Cruise. The main motivation for going this time of year was to see the tulips. It was all about the tulips.

Now you might wonder, is there really that much to say about tulips? Well, if you have been following my travel blog, you know I always find lots to say. And yes, there actually is a lot to say about tulips.

But let’s be honest. This post is really an opportunity to show you the photographs of the gorgeous tulips. Armed with my Olympus E-Mi Mark III and my Olympus 12-100 zoom, I set off to try to capture that beauty.

Amsterdam – The Floriade

Amsterdam – April 22, 2022

The Floriade is an International Horticultural Exhibition, a large fair , an expo – sort of like a World’s Fair, but all about flowers and trees and protecting our earth. It is about negotiation and the exchange of ideas about how we use our earth so that we don’t exhaust it. Experts from all over the world come together at Floriade to present green solutions that make our cities more enjoyable, beautiful and sustainable. It is a celebration of green and sustainable technology with exhibits on new technologies for greenery, food, energy and health.

The Floriade occurs only once every ten years, and we, my friend Debby and I, were fortunate enough to be here to experience it. We were in Amsterdam for a Viking Riverboat cruise through The Netherlands and Belgium,  choosing this time of year primarily to see the tulips blooming. Keep an eye out for more posts from this trip.

If you read my post about gorillas and chimpanzees, you know that I was in Uganda with my friend Debby in December of 2021.

My posts are often day-by-day descriptions of our adventures, but this time there are three posts, one on the wildlife of Uganda, one on the Batwa people, and this one on life in Uganda. There are LOTS of pictures as I tried to capture life here. I hope you will click to enlarge them so you can see the vibrancy of Uganda.

We were traveling with Natural Habitat (Nat Hab), an organization devoted to saving and protecting wildlife and the planet. We were only a group of three, with just Matthew M joining Debby and me, along with our wonderful guide, Paul Kirui and our amazing driver, Sulai Iga.

Flying into Entebbe

We flew into Entebbe in the early morning and the view from the plane, including sunrise, alerted us to what this country will look like. Lots of mountains. Lots of water. Entebbe sits on Lake Victoria and it was beautiful seeing it from the sky.

Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend and More

My friend Ruthi and I were supposed to be in India, but due to COVID, that trip was canceled. So instead, we decided to visit Antelope Canyon, along with Horseshoe Bend. Once again I was awed by nature.

We decided we did not want to drive, so we flew to Las Vegas and connected with Mad Max Tours. Our guide supreme was Ted Caudle and we traveled with eight others.

Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon, which is estimated to be between 8-60 million years old, is located near Page, Arizona. It is located on Navajo land in the LeChee Chapter of Navajo Nation.

Because of the location, one has to use one of the Navajo guided tours. We went with Ken’s Tours.

There are two parts of Antelope Canyon that are often visited, the Upper (The Crack) and Lower Canyons (The Corkscrew). But there are also three other slot canyons here, the Rattle Snake, the Owl and the Mountain Sheep Canyons. They are all slot canyons which means a very narrow gorge with steep and high walls made from basalt or sandstone. Slot canyons are deeper than they are wide and are very prone to flash floods which can make them dangerous.

And why is it called Antelope Canyon? Once long ago, pronghorn antelopes roamed here.

The Upper Antelope Canyon is called Tse Bighanilini by the Navajo, which means “the place where water runs through the rocks.” The Lower Canyon is called Hazdistazi which means “spiral rock arches.”  We visited the Lower canyon.


One can’t help be interested in the geology of this place. It was formed by the erosion of the Navajo sandstone by the flash floods. Rain runs into the basin above the slot canyon, and because of the shape of the canyon, gets faster and faster as it flows, picking up sand as it rushes into the narrow passages of the canyon. Over time, as this happens over and over again, the passage ways erode, making the canyons deeper and smoothing out the hard edges to form what we see – the flowing shapes of rock.

Lower Canyon

We met our guide, Rod, and headed with our small group of six towards the entrance. Entrance? All we could see was the flat land heading to the foothills. You can’t see either the entrance or the exit until you are just about on top of it.

We did get to the entrance and headed down our first flight of narrow stairs. These were the last stairs we saw, as the rest of the ups and downs were on ladders. This part of the canyon is about 1,335 feet long so there was lots of walking to do.

And immediately, my breath was taken away. Literally. The beauty of this place is indescribable. I could not stop looking, up, down and all around. And of course, I couldn’t stop taking pictures.

And that was just the beginning. We walked through, in all going up five flights of stairs (ladders), walking through long, narrow areas over sandy floors.


There were often small openings to the blue sky which let light in and at times the light was magnificent, creating amazing displays of color, light and shadow. I am posting more photos than I usually do because each one shows the beauty of the canyon. I highly recommend clicking on the pictures to enlarge them and then look at them one at a time.

But for me it was all about the light.

We hiked through for about an hour, of course stopping often to take pictures and have our pictures taken.

Rod, our guide explained that the Navajo like to find shapes and objects in the rocks and he pointed out all sorts of shapes like the growling bear, the lion, the buffalo, the Indian Chief (that one really looked like an Native American chief in a headdress), the shark, and the US Postal Office eagle.

At the end, we climbed up the last ladder and out through a narrow opening. Looking back at it, you could hardly see where it was. Eerie.

Upper Canyon

The Upper Canyon is about 660 feet long. Although we did not visit the Upper Canyon, I will briefly tell you that it is an easier visit than the lower one. The entrance and the entire hike is at ground level so there are no stairs or ladders to climb. Since it is higher up, there are more direct sun beams, but mostly in the summer.

Horseshow Bend

Our next stop was Horseshoe Bend. As the name suggests, it is a horseshoe shaped part of the Colorado River, also near Page, Arizona. It is a fabulous example of water following the path of least resistance. Some people call this the East rim of the Grand Canyon. Horseshoe is thought to be one of the most unique geological phenomenon found within the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.  The sheer cliff rock walls are dense Navajo sandstone which act as a natural barrier to the flow of the river, forcing the Colorado River to turn sharply and travel through softer rock.

It was a long hike on a paved path down to the bend. But we were surrounded by beautiful desert in all colors so there was always something to look at.

We finally reached the top of the bend and looked down. The sun was not that high in the sky, so there were lots of shadows on the water. Nevertheless, it was still beautiful.

Ted showed us all the spots to take the best pictures, including ones that made it look like we were falling or flying.

Most of the group climbed up to the very top to get a bird’s eye view, but I stayed below.

And from up there, Ruthi got a great picture of Horseshoe Bend and me.


And while I did not climb to the very top, I did do a bit of climbing with Ruthi.

Glen Canyon Dam

On the way we passed the Glen Canyon Dam.

The Glen Canyon Dam is only five miles from Horseshoe Bend. The dam rises 710 feet above the bedrock within the steep, rust-colored sandstone walls of the Glen Canyon. It harnesses the power of the Colorado River, thus providing water and power to millions of us living in the West.

Lake Powell

Many years ago, my family and I rented a houseboat on Lake Powell. It was one of our favorite trips as we tried to navigate the boat among the beautiful canyon walls. But climate changes have taken their toll, and there is hardly any water left here.

We stopped on our way back to Las Vegas, after leaving Horseshoe Bend. What is Lake Powell? It is an artificial reservoir on the Colorado River, the second largest after Lake Mead. It was created by flooding Glen Canyon and is named for John Wesley Powell who was a civit war veteran who explored the river area back in 1869,

But the drought on the West Coast has resulting in very low lake levels. In February of 2022, the water level was at only 25% capacity, the lowest it has been since it was first filled in 1963.  Although beautiful still, it was very depressing to see.

Big John’s Texas BBQ

We stopped for dinner before heading back to Las Vegas. We each chose our own place to eat in Page, Arizona. Ruthi and I chose barbeque at Big John’s, described as “a BBQ joint with a retro vibe slinging brisket & other slow-smoked eats in a former gas station.”  And it was delicious as well as indeed, retro.

Tiramisu Mountains

As we drove along the Utah Scenic Byway (SR-12), we drove through the Escalante Mountains, within the Dixie National Forest. They reach as high as 10,500 feet and look like the are layers of chocolate and crème, sprinkled on top with cinnamon. And for that reason, Ted called them the Tiramisu Mountains.

 We had passed through Arizona and Nevada and Utah.

And we stopped at a Sinclair gas station, which I had not seen in years and years. It made me smile.


Virgin River

Our last scenic drive was through the Virgin River Canyon in St. George, Utah. It is a long canyon carved out by the Virgin River, which also created the topography of Zion National Park. At this point we were on Interstate 15 and we crossed the Virgin River a few times as we wound around the canyon. I was glad I was not the one driving.

And then the sun began to set and gave us another light show.

Back in Las Vegas

We got back late in the day, exhausted but exhilarated. And then we noticed the lights of the Las Vegas Strip from our window and sunrise the next morning.

Flying home

As we flew home, happy about our quick 4 day trip, we had one more sight of the desert and river below us.

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