Insects and monkeys - main reasons to travel to Borneo
Usually when I plan my next trip my first question is: where haven't I been yet? Followed by: is there anything urgent on my "To see" list? Of course the answers to question one are still plenty, but with question two I got to a point where I need to check the time of year best to travel there or have a specific amount of leave from work. Not to mention sufficient amount of money on my account. Borneo caught my eye because years ago I read about it in on of Jacek Pałkiewicz' books. I thought at my age it's last minute to do something hard core. Or actually "hard core" as I did book a tour. A walking one. Through the jungle. In hindsight the trip was amazing but while it was on I had some battles to fight.
I should probably start with my mistakes. I grew up in a dry continental climate, I did visit a jungle before, in Latin America, but this was a different kind of jungle. And rain season. So of course I had completely wrong clothing. All cotton, once it got wet it didn't dry again. And with 90% humidity I was sweating just by being awake. Luckily after the first trek we went back to Kuching so I've done some shopping. Other complete miss in my judgement while packing were my trekking shoes. Perfect for Machu Picchu, definitely too heavy and thick for this climate. My feet didn't breathe at all so after the first walk I was peeling my skin off my heels. Lesson learnt, for my next trip to this climate I'm already shopping for the right shoes. The solution in the meantime was a very courageous style in fashion: socks and sandals. And that also solved the leach problem. They tried but they failed to feed on me.
But let's get back to the beginning. We started off in Kuching and went to ....National Park on an island/peninsula. I have a healthy respect for water so the boat trip was rather exciting for me. First down the river and then through the back to the park entrance. Due to high tide we had to unload about 20m from the beach. Great, adventure starts. Just like in the movies. The National Park is a sanctuary for the proboscis monkeys. We were lucky to see one just as we entered the park, but it was the only one we saw. I was told they are very shy. As opposed to the other monkeys which were just waiting for us to turn around to steal the food or anything resembling it. I also had my first encounter with wild pigs that day, with their little beady eyes, beards and crocked smiles. That was also the day of our first trek, only about 3h and I thought was gonna die after the first. The combination of heat and humidity made me dizzy, I had a feeling as if I was about to faint the whole afternoon. And the shoe problem arose so no fun for me. That is until our night walk.
Ay, our guide is a specialist when it comes to little creatures living in the jungle. The walk was fascinating, and not only because of tiny frogs quacking "what???" constantly. Also because most of those little things turned out to be bigger than the size of my palm. And the spiders. I'm not one to shy away hastily from a spider, don't really have an issue with them, our encounters on the inside end up usually with them at the bottom of my slipper. On the outside they can crawl where ever they want. But these guys were big. And creepy. And many. One look at them and my skin would itch as if something was taking a walk on my extremities. Every now and then I felt as if something was falling on my head and getting tangled between my hair - also a highly recommended sensation. As a group we have discovered that no matter which part of the world you come from your primary school teacher's favourite pet was the stick insect. Although the ones we saw were triple the size of the ones I'm used to.
All in all we have done few of these night walks and we saw some incredible critters. One of my favourites, even after I saw a praying mantis and a very hairy (poisonous) caterpillar, was a "cotton bug". It's the "nymph" of a Fulgoroid plan-hopper insect. It looks like a little white fluff and when touched it hops away onto another leaf or plant. In its grown form it turns into an insect of a completely different shape and size.
On our many other jungle treks I had an opportunity to get to know one more member of the creepy family: the leach. Luckily for me we didn't get personally acquainted. It got close few times but we never got intimate. It was fascinating to watch them follow you with an incredible speed for such tiny things, just because they felt the heat of your blood and needed to feed.
I think what people mostly connect Borneo with are Orangutans. It was the first time for me to see them in their semi-natural habitat. I write "semi" only because we saw them in a sanctuary where they are used to seeing tourists and being fed at regular times. Amongst others we saw a mother with a young and I must say it took me by surprise how much their behaviour resembles that of humans. Of course they belong to the Hominidae family as we do but knowing and seeing are two different things. Observing the young was so much like looking at a two, maybe three year old hiding behind his mother's skirt. Eating a banana, pulling faces, playing shy just to show off few minutes later.
I could stay there for hours and keep taking pictures but so would about 100 other people visiting the Semenggoh Wildlife Center, at some point they just started kicking us out. There are quite few of those rehabilitation centers across the island as orangutans are an endangered species. I always considered Borneo a very wild jungle covered island, but from a plane you can easily see that logging, road building and conversion of forest into palm oil plantations have decimated the tree count considerably and so the orangutans loose their habitats.
Even if just for those reasons it is worth visiting Borneo. And although I didn't do Jacek Pałkiewicz' survival tour of Borneo I felt I had an adventure I won't forget.