I’m not quite sure what it is, but ever since I was a child I have wanted to go into the rainforest. I think I was encouraged to think about such things by my adventurous mum, and the days spent playing our self-named game, Intrepid Adventurers. Or maybe it was that, at primary school, we did a play on the Amazon rainforest. Either way, the prospect of thick undergrowth, of weird and wonderful flora and fauna, and of animals only previously real in books, made a deep and lasting impression, and I officially wanted to go to the jungle.
So, when my boyfriend Jack and I started to read up on Borneo, it sounded like we had hit the jackpot. At some point in the reasonably vague future, the plan is to ride off into the sunset and travel, but for now I have a two week window and a job to go back to, so my adventures will have to be short and sharp, and factor in some time for relaxation. Jungle and beach it is.
It’s probably time for a disclaimer here; this adventure is everything but everyday. It’s possibly the trip of a lifetime, and we’re definitely going to be flashpackers with all the gear and, you know how it goes.
Borneo is in South-East Asia, the third largest island in the world; a lush and tropical island on which can be found the world’s oldest rainforests. It is home to around 200 mammals, 44 of which can only be found in Borneo; including the Pygmy Elephant, the Slow Loris, the Sumatran Rhino, flying squirrels, and is the (only remaining) native home of our closest relative, the beautiful Orangutan. Along with the Orangutan, more than ten other species of primate can be found, including the ugly but fascinating Proboscis Monkey.
Borneo is also home to more than 600 species of birds and over 15,000 species of plants, including huge, carnivorous pitcher plants that lure their prey to a slow and unfortunate fate. According to WWF, more than three species of animal continue to be discovered every month. I simply hope to catch a glimpse of even a fraction of all of this.
In addition to the wildlife, Borneo’s rainforests are home to around 18 – 20 million native tribes-people, who were (and are, to a lesser extent) famous for being headhunters. Warriors would collect the heads of rival tribes as a token to the spirits of the forest, to honour the dead, to gain supernatural powers and as symbols of prowess. There is simply so much to read about the people of Borneo; I have been reading a book called Espresso with the Headhunters by John Wassner. John’s tales have taught me perhaps another reason why I always wanted to go to the jungle. When he is with some Penan, and they are looking for their people in a new part of forest, they tell John to fear not as they can follow their feelings to find the settlement. And this is basically what I’m doing when I drive anywhere; I follow my feelings (and often get lost). So maybe I was Penan in a past life? I’m kidding, of course, but maybe a bit not really.
As if all of that wasn’t enough, Borneo boasts white sandy beaches, some of the best scuba diving in the world, and a beautiful archipelago of islands to the Northern coast, where turtles come to lay and hatch their eggs.
On a serious note, I’m not going on a moral crusade or asking you to, but as a soon to be visitor to Borneo I think it’s my duty to highlight that animals, plants and people alike are losing their homes and lives at an alarming and unchartered rate through mass deforestation and other activities. There are so many causes to support, and before I go I’m going to donate to The Borneo Project – their site is definitely worth a visit.
What I’ll be doing….
So with only two weeks, where was a girl possibly to start? In the jungle of course! But before that, we fly into the capital, Kota Kinabulu, and stay for two nights. I have a serious street food obsession, so I can’t wait to visit the night market and sample the Indonesian, Phillipino, Chinese and Malay delights on offer. I’ll be making a beeline for the Laksa and the fresh fish and shellfish, including langoustines as big as my arm. Excuse me whilst I wipe the drool from my face.
After our stay in KK, it’s jungle time!! We fly into the Danum Valley Conservation Area and spend two nights in Borneo Rainforest Lodge. Here, we’ll do day treks, night treks, visit ancient burial grounds and swim in tropical pools. We’ll also be able to get a bird’s eye view of the canopy from the 300 metre long and 26 metre high canopy walkway. Eeeeek!!!! This is shaping up to be the highlight already; we’ll trek for 3 hours at a time, and go so deep into the jungle that we’ll need leech socks. Wowsers.
From there, it’s a boat ride up the Kinabatangan River in search of Proboscis Monkeys, and another night in a beautiful lodge on the side of the river, in Sukau. The following day we visit Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary, and stay overnight in Sepilok Nature Resort. I was a little concerned that the sanctuary is going to be a bit commercial, but have it on good faith that it is lovely, and more importantly that it’s a vital lifeline for homeless Orangutans; I will report back.
The night in Sepilok Nature Resort will round off our stay in the jungle, and from there we fly back into Kota Kinabulu where we are staying for 7 nights in what looks like paradise, paradise such that I’ve never experienced before, at the Rasa Ria beach resort. It is set in a tropical nature reserve with views of the jungle, has five amazing looking restaurants, including Teppanyaki (yes sashimi!), and even here there will be four resident orangutans, who live at on-site Orangutan Education Centre, and are apparently very well adapted to their hotel based home. Apparently though, the best thing about this place is the lovely staff. When I emailed them with a question, they replied straight back with ‘Greetings! We cannot wait to welcome you to our little paradise’. Aaaaahhhh…
I’ve got a few good books for beach reading, and we’re hoping to do a day’s scuba diving too, but relaxation, cocktails, and sunsets will be the order of the day. As I write this I am actually fit to burst with the magnitude of what is about to happen, feeling thankful that I’m so lucky, and proud that I’ve dreamed it and we’re doing it. Wow, it is actually real.
I cannot wait to see what it is actually like, and report back with jungle tales and stories from this unique, precious destination.
Watch this space for jungle packing list!
With love, insect repellent, and butterflies,