in the Jungles..
( 4.4 ) ( 15 votes )
Malaysian Borneo (Sabah),
Malaysia May 18, 2003 12:19
Pros: Amazing jungle experience,
Selemat Datang from Borneo. Sometimes I think I have the best job
in the world. Three days in the Borneo jungle and I'm still smiling.
Three days and two nights that make even bedbugs, untimely movements
(bowel and otherwise) and being blonde simply minor irritations
in my amazing journey.
For the first-classers amongst my readership, close your eyes now.
The accommodation was basically, erm, basic. A mattress. A roof.
In keeping with the true spirit of low-impact building, our huts
in the jungle had no windows or doors. This could have been a cost-cutting
exercise or an experiment to see just how much discomfort a backpacker
will actually endure. But as a "Greenie" I like to think
it was just superbly planned, leaving the thousands of insects undisturbed
in their natural habitat and giving them 24-hour access to us, even
in our beds. This was helped along further by the massive holes
in our mosquito nets. The nets were technically more hole than net.
And animals further up the taxonomic tree also liked to invade us
at night. Instead of counting sheep to sleep, we were literally
Dining was al fresco, in the true sense of the word. The mossies
had some secret reciprocal deal - we feasted on the local food courtesy
of the jungle and they feasted on us. The mosquitoes got the better
half of that arrangement.
For those virgins to jungle life, you should know that a barrel
of rainwater and a bucket make a fine shower. Its open air and drip
dry (which the exhibitionist in me has to admit is strangely compelling...!).
The toilets were up to Asia's usual high standards i.e. a hole in
the floor. Visiting the toilet at night is quite exhausting, as
you have to perform a strange wriggling and arse-slapping dance
whilst squatting, fending off the vicious attacks from mosquitoes
on every side, all drooling over your glaringly white bare bum cheeks.
It is all a little too painful and energetic for real ablutionary
I remember this and scoff at those executives recruiting for Survivor
last year in the UK, who failed to put me through to the last round,
with the prize of a few weeks surviving on a desert island. I thought
I was an ideal candidate. Compared to this experience, thrusting
through the forest like a modern day Livingstone, it would have
been a holiday. I was desperate to get to wrestle with the native
wildlife, believing myself to be the female re-incarnation of that
mad Aussie Steve Urwin. We did spend a morning stalking wild elephants
and cats but saw only their tantalisingly fresh footprints in the
mud or heard the odd elephant trumpeting nearby. We just never quite
saw the real thing. Unlike Steve, I did manage to change my clothes
once during my stay, favouring camouflage green rather than Steve’s
head-to-toe beige look. My hair however, did not stand up so well
to the jungle treatment of daily monsoonal drenchings followed by
The days and nights were spent trekking or gently river rafting
in the stunning primary forest. Dawn on the last morning was incredible.
As the sun was burning off the last of the cool forest mist, a mother
orang-utan and her baby came swinging lazily and noisily through
the treetops. She was completely unbothered by our frantic photographing,
100% wild, 100% free and a rare privilege to see just 30 feet above
our heads. Thankfully this appearance was natural, without the food
bribery circus that the orang-utan rehabilitation centres here are
in danger of becoming. The baby cried, the mother reached over and
beckoned to it and then pulled it to her breast and hugged the poor
little thing. Then I cried.
If you want further evidence, were any needed, of primate intelligence
then here it is. A few days ago a group of orang-utans pissed from
a very high height all over some important tourists (Government
officials and the like) visiting the forest. Which is some small
justice really. The Malaysian government has been pissing all over
the orangs for years with their hopelessly inadequate and almost
non-existant restrictions on logging in the forests. These forests
are shrinking faster than the "Wild men of Borneo" can
possibly cope with. Eagles, otters, kingfishers, proboscis (big
nose!) monkeys, macaques, owls, egrets, hawks, hornbills, crocodiles,
spiders, butterflies, elephants, wild cats, wild pigs, orang utans...I
saw and heard all of these in just a two night visit. Maybe in ten
years time all you will see is open grassland. All you might hear
will be an unnatural silence or the devastating sound of chainsaws.
We are in danger of watching all this unique wildlife being destroyed
as their habitat is traded for furniture, firewood and more palm
oil plantations. It’s a unique and inspiring place - and a
But back to the beginning of this trip...
I arrived in Kota Kinabalu (KK to us locals). If Kota means "town"
then Kinabalu must mean “unexciting hole”. The Colonel’s
been busy proliferating KFC's at every corner, which does little
to improve the town's standing. From inauspicious starts do great
disasters grow. KK had little to recommend it in the beginning except
some fair-to-average diving and the fact it’s “borrowed”
a nearby mountain as a claim to fame. In reality Mount Kinabalu
is 80 kms away and a bit of a pain to get to. After a nightmare
at the airpoirt, it had even less to recommend it. Firstly, Tourist
Information was a misleading title. They seemed to know nothing
about anything vaguely useful for tourists. Their SAS training to
withstand interrogation was working out well for them but not for
me. I asked where the bus stop was. They didn't know. They also
did not know where a hostel was. Or possibly couldn't be bothered
to tell me. Either way, I was praying for Scottie to beam me up.
Luckily a knight in shining armour, aka hostel owner Jimmy, was
beamed down instead. Imminent bloodshed was avoided by offering
me of a cup of tea and a free lift. It doesn’t take a lot
to make everything right in Aitch’s world.
The hostel is comfy. The first day I sank into the usual jet-lagged
coma. When I woke up I had a million (possibly a slight exaggeration
but....) tiny bites running in lines across my chest and stomach.
I suspected a squad of malicious or hungry mosquitoes. But after
slumping onto the floor, I found out that the culprits were masses
of tiny marauding ants. They had munched their way across me first
before munching on the much more attractive rotting apple under
my bed. I moved the apple to the bin and hoped they would re-route
My other welcome dorm buddies included a silent Irish girl (a rare
find indeed). Her waking hours were early mornings and late at night.
Any other hour of the day would find her asleep. There was also
a lovely Leeds bloke. He was unfortunately recovering from the dreaded
3 D's - Dengue Fever, Dehydration and Depression (= homesickness).
You wouldn't wish it on your worst enemy. We had a few short conversations.
He definitely had the makings of good company but shortly afterwards
he found himself a cute Malaysian girl to nurse him back to full
fitness. I saw very little of him after that. Luckily I was doing
my Rescue Diver course anyway and after a day in the water wasn't
usually up to scintillating conversation.
Having now passed my Rescue Diver qualification, should you ever
be drowning or in a diving accident somewhere near me, it would
really help if you are
a) at least 20kgs less in weight than me
b) the size of a very small child
c) still breathing
d) in trouble in a flat calm waveless sea and
e) only 20 metres from the shore.
Otherwise it might take me a while to rescue you, with no guarantee
of success (if my trial runs are anything to go by). I persevered
and got the hang of it eventually but it was absolutely knackering.
My instructor assured me that the rush of adrenaline in a real-life
situation would upgrade me to "Wonderwoman". I hope the
leotard and boots are optional (sorry boys...). Not that the idea
doesn’t appeal to me, but simply for logistical reasons. It
would waste valuable time to put them on and the cape might cause
even more drag in the water than my boobs and bottom do already,
slowing down my rescue timeeven further!
If I had two more days here I would try to tackle Mount Kinabalu,
highest peak in South East Asia. When in Rome and all that. From
the air it's certainly impressive. I was flying over it on the way
in to KK. There's a vista of just clouds and then suddenly this
towering vertical black granite slab rises imposingly out and upwards.
It stands dark and bleak, 3500 metres above the patchwork countryside
below it. From the ground it probably looks much the same, only
distinctly less inviting!
Judging by the traumatised faces of the returning conquerors at
the hostel, it is NOT the gentle afternoon stroll that the Lonely
Planet might have us believe. Judging from their stories, its something
closer to a gut-wrenching, oxygen less slog in minus degree temperatures
up sheer vertical rock cliffs. This is done in wind and usually
rain at this time of year. And its all for fun! It takes an average
person a *memorable (*substitute harrowing or painful as applicable)
8 hours to get to the top. They then mostly sit imagining the sunrise,
which you can't see because of the thick clouds and smoke (its tree
burning season in neighbouring Kalimantan). And then its a knee-shattering
3 hour slide down again. But I’m told, and sadly am foolish
enough to believe, its one of those "must do's" that I
must do (some other time) at the end of a trip up through Sarawak
and all its amazing parks and caves and mountains. I’ll put
it in my diary.
I have now showered out of respect to my fellow air passengers but
worry about the (self) walking boots slowly stagnating in my daypack
- Eau de rotting feet 2002. I've hatched a cunning plan to leave
them in overhead luggage at least ten rows from my seat and watch
the drama unfold. Meanwhile it’s Brunei-calling tomorrow.