Where do I start? I am so reeling from the memories of this place that I am almost overwhelmed.
The Danum Valley is a conservation area of 438 square kilometres of primary rainforest in the state of Sabah in Borneo. We took a (very early) 45 minute flight from Kota Kinabalu into Lahad Datu, where we met our driver and embarked on the 2.5 hour journey to Borneo Rainforest Lodge; the only place tourists are permitted to stay in the whole area. 77km of this journey was off road, along dirt roads and past check points that let us know when we were entering secondary, and then finally primary rainforest. All that we passed along the way were nature research centres and smatterings of houses and small local communities; not longhouses but traditional, wooden houses, built on stilts. Our driver kept stopping us along the way to point out kingfishers and hornbills, and was so enthusiastic about the forest. I knew we were in for something really special when we caught a glimpse of the 30 metre high canopy walkway on our way in…
We were greeted on arrival with a lemongrass juice (my new favourite drink!) and a garland made of bamboo leaves, and this set the tone of the hospitality for the entire stay; the staff here really could not do enough for you. The Lodge itself is an impressive wooden building that leads to individual lodges where the guests stay, along raised wooden paths. In the dining and bar area, you look out over a river, right into the rainforest. The first time we sat there it literally took my breath away; I mean wow.
We stayed here for 2 days and nights, and in this short time clocked up five day treks, a night trek, and a night safari. Our guide, Farah, was brilliant, and could spot wildlife in the jungle out of nowhere. When she found out we were only there for a short time she was genuinely concerned, and quickly doubled our trek schedule! It’s hard to know what you’ve imagined of somewhere you always want to go, but that is so very different to anywhere you’ve ever been. I think I somehow imagined there would be Orangutans swinging all around me, Rhinocerous Hornills flying all around my head, the jungle dancing with wildlife in front of my eyes in some kind of Lion King-esque tropical nirvana. This is, kind of, the case. You just have to spot the animals, and without a guide we’d have had no chance. Here’s a few pictures of some of the animals we saw. Some were too quick;
Red Leaf Monkeys: This was one of the most magical moments of the whole stay. We had gone really deep into the jungle, off the paths, and they were literally all around us, three babies and two adults, just playing in the trees above our heads.
I am so happy to report that we saw also Orangutans, on three separate occasions! No picture, as they are always so high up in the trees in the wild, but within five minutes of our first trek we had seen a mother and baby, Lina and Kate (after the Duchess, of course). One of many incredibly cute facts that I learnt about them was that they build a new nest every day to avoid predators. They build three layers into this nest, the final one being the next morning’s breakfast. Cute cute cute.
We walked along the Canopy Walkway at dawn, and this was (as I seem to keep saying about everything, but it really is the only word) just magic, and breathtakingly beautiful. It was almost surreal watching the mist still hanging over the tops of the trees. Apparently this is also a good place to spot Pygmy Elephants, but we weren’t lucky enough that morning. I could have stayed there for weeks and just trekked around every day.
On one of our longest treks, we climbed 1000 metres up through the jungle to a viewpoint, where you could see the entire forest. We visited an ancient burial ground on this trip, and learnt all about what the tribes believed. They buried people as high up as possible, because the closer they were to the sun, the easier it was for them to rise to heaven. They even sacrificied their teeth to get a better action on the blow pipes for their poison darts! We went to a tropical pool with some ridiculously big cleaner fish that nibbled your feet, and I officially become Jane of the Jungle, because I found my Tarzan branch.
On the night trek we went out into the dark with headtorches and lots of insect repellant (my tips on not getting bitten worked, by the way), and saw tropical tree frogs, a monitor lizard, a green leaf lizard, huge tarantulas, and caught a glimpse of a Bornean Bay Cat.
I cannot even begin to put into words how special this place was. Even if you never left your room, just hearing the sounds and how they change throughout the day is pretty incredible. In the Jungle, I really felt as if I could see the universe in action. Everything in the rainforest has a delicate, distinct, purpose. Everything is intertwined and connected. Like fruit that the ancient tribes could throw into the water to stun fish and make them easy to catch, or moss that takes away a fever, trees that will naturally repel mosquitoes. It was really quite spiritual.
I’m feeling full of love and pretty accomplished; I have fulfilled my childhood dream of going to the rainforest. Sob. And there was still so much to come at this point…