Borneo provides plenty of eco-tourism opportunities for those travellers prepared to put the work in, this huge island is draped in red tape and protected areas that can make independent travel quite difficult and costly. The fragile environment is highly sensitive to the actions of humans and it is crucial to ensure that the money you spend is going in to the right pockets and is used to conserve its beauty.
The rainforest is Borneo; once covering the island entirely the rich land is home to many weird, wonderful, endangered and truly wild animals. It is the reason we are here and we were eager to get into it. We arranged a 3 day stay in the forest exploring by foot and by river. We slept in a tiny wooden hut just big enough for 2 beds and our bags, basic but dry. Our guide Mohammad had grown up in a small village on the edge of the jungle and had spent his life learning about the native flora and fauna and was eager to share that knowledge with us.
Borneo is home to the endemic Borneo pygmy elephant the smallest (relatively) elephant in the world. The elephants had migrated south which while unfortunately giving a zero chance of us seeing them did mean that we could use their trails that they have carved through the trees. Hiking through the forest was demanding. The canopy top provides shade from the sweltering sun but locks in all the moisture that makes the place so lush, 100% humidity and shin deep mud gives you an intense workout that is far more interesting than any gym.
Walking through the jungle you can appreciate the size of this wild landscape, it isn’t the best way to encounter the rare mammals as they will generally see you coming and give you a wide birth; We did however get acquainted with tiger leeches. The leeches sit on the leaves waiting for vibrations to tell them that some food is walking by. They then stand to attention reaching out to grab on to you as you walk past. Once they get hold of you they use their suckers on each end of its worm like body to crawl to somewhere soft and warm before they sink their teeth in and plump themselves with blood.
Typically, Laura was the first to come into contact with the monsters and with a hike stopping shriek "THERE IS ONE ON MY BOOT!" I wasn't far behind her with one dead set on getting to a particular warm area, luckily we evaded donating any blood.
Most of the other critters in the undergrowth were more submissive; Chunky millipedes curl up into concker sized balls, mud crabs bury themselves deep in the thick mud and bright multi coloured snakes miraculously disappear into the fallen foliage.
A lot of the animals in the forest are nocturnal which meant if we wanted to see as much as possible we had to go for a hike at night. At dark we left the light of camp and headed into the trees. The thick trees block out any light from the moon that might have helped navigate leaving the jungle floor pitch black; if your torch isn’t shining on it, you can’t see it. The mud and leeches are still present creating quite an obstacle course through the trees in the dark. On our first night walk we saw... Nothing.
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