If you had told me a year ago that I would be sleeping in a bungalow in the middle of the jungle in Borneo next April, I would have laughed at your foolishness. I am not a jungle person. Jungles have big bugs, poisonous plants, and dangerous animals; why on earth would I want to go visit?
Well as it turns out, jungles have lots of wildlife that you cannot see anywhere else. So despite my strong misgivings, we decided to do a nature tour in Malaysian Borneo in search of orangutans. And we were not disappointed.
As soon as we arrived at our nature tour campus, I realized that I had set my expectations so low that you could trip over them. We would not exactly be roughing it. Our campus featured a river boat jetty, a cafeteria building, a reception building, bungalows and dorms woven together by concrete paths and an elevated boardwalk. This was jungle luxury, minus the air conditioning. (Don’t judge me for wanting air conditioning. It’s super hot and sticky this time of year in this part of Asia, and A/C offers a much needed respite.)
Our first activity was a river tour. It was super successful; we saw macaques, Proboscis monkeys (pictured), water monitor lizards, and lots of birds – eagles, hornbills, kingfishers, egrets, and more. The water was lovely (if a little silty) and we really wanted to swim, but because you cannot spit without hitting a crocodile in those parts, swimming is frowned upon. The sunset was spectacular; big white thunder clouds backlit by red, orange and purple sunlight. We returned for dinner, and then did a night hike. I didn’t have a flashlight, so I bumbled my way over tree roots and through plants, with the only reward being some kind of raccoon-like mammal. A disappointment for sure.
Day two was incredible. On our morning cruise, we found a dead monkey hanging in a tree, a victim either of a sudden heart attack or a snake bite. Dying up there is a hazard of tree-climbing. (Makes you think twice about building that tree house, huh?) After that, we saw the largest crocodile I could imagine- larger than any I had ever seen in a nature film at about 4m long. He was just hanging out in his pad, a nice muddy spot where a creek ran into the river. All he needed was a New York Times and a coffee to complete the picture.
We returned to campus for breakfast and a short day hike to Oxbow Lake. Our group was too large to really see any wildlife on these hikes, since we made a lot of noise, but we appreciated the little exercise they offered and talked to our fellow travelers. We managed to see beautiful butterflies, and one landed right on Rebecca’s hat. A fellow trekker, from Denmark, remarked that she liked Rebecca’s “buddy,” only she pronounced it “body.” We all laughed and it became the group’s running joke.
The rubber really hit the road on our evening boat cruise. After our usual sightings of macaques and Proboscis monkeys, we saw a few black langurs and a beautiful blue and orange kingfisher close enough for my telephoto to capture in full detail. Finally I had a nature photograph worth hanging onto, so I was happy. Then, just around the corner, the coup de grace: a mating pair of black orangutans, a male and a pregnant female. Rebecca’s head nearly exploded as I struggled to zoom far enough in to get a good photo. I took about 200 shots only to realize later that not a single one was in focus, an unavoidable consequence of not enough light in the jungle sunset setting. I was crushed, but buoyed by Rebecca’s joy; she had seen what she had come all the way across the world to see. We had one more river boat ride the following morning in which to see some wildlife, although by that point, it would have taken an orangutan riding a wild boar while being eaten by a crocodile to impress us.
The final morning offered more water monitor lizards, crocodiles, monkeys, and a mating pair of hornbills. We saw one just hanging by himself on top of the tree, later joined by his mate, who proceeded to Eskimo kiss her hubby as we ogled from afar. We were happy to be invading their private moment, which was much more G-rated than the Proboscis monkey’s private moment we had invaded the previous day. (It’s hard to find privacy in those monkey condo complexes.)
It was a wonderful trip that we won’t soon forget and may never surpass. But we have another month left, so we’ll keep on trying. Wish us luck, and enjoy the pictures on Flickr!