Monday, December 22, 2014

Facing my Fears in Borneo Rainforests, Brunei

At the start of 2014 I made a promise to myself to overcome my fear of creepy crawlies. While in the back of my mind I hoped this resolution would pass, when it came bundled last minute with a once in a lifetime opportunity it was impossible to say no to.

This last minute opportunity came from Microsoft Lumia with their #makeithappen campaign who promised to fulfill my unmet resolution by sending me deep into the rainforests of Borneo which, when it comes to creepy crawlies, few places are quite as terrifying.

So the challenge begins in Brunei as I touch down in the capital of Bandar Seri Begawan. I have one night to prepare myself before I am dragged kicking and screaming to my potential doom…

Far, Far Away

I was surprisingly calm on the first morning. I wake to a beautiful sunrise on the Brunei coast, I settle my stomach with my ‘last supper’ of fish and chips and I then travel in minivans, speedboats and longboats to reach my destination in the Borneo rainforests.

The journey takes roughly four hours following winding roads and riverways through mangroves and dense jungle. At the end I find my base at Ulu Ulu Resort, which translates from Malay as “far, far away”.

This is exactly where I am, now surrounded by so many creepy crawlies that the thought of it would normally bring me to tears. We are located in headhunter territory, home to the infamous Borneo Iban Tribes, who fortunately have abandoned their gruesome traditions in favour of more amiable work here at the resort preparing food, manning boats and being warm and welcoming.

A nice bunch. Anyway, having my head chopped off was the least of my worries now as I can no longer escape the constant siren of creepy crawlies which surround me.

Scared of the Dark…

At the resort I manage to control my fears by staying in well-lit areas and near to the comfort of my room. It isn’t until I am forced through rainforests in pitch black darkness that my nightmares become reality. The biggest fear for me is not knowing what surrounds me and even the slightest brush of a falling leaf clenches me up, ready to run home…. but obviously I can’t.

So this was on an early morning trek which starts at 5am and follows seemingly endless steps up into the rainforest canopy. This in itself is grueling but there is at least a handrail to help pull myself along. I ask the guide “Am I okay to use the handrail on the way up?”. His reply, “It’s best not to. Sometimes there are spiders and snakes on them”… “You’re joking right?” He shines his torch across the wooden rails to find a venomous huntsman spider on the post.

While every inch of my being was saying RUN!!! I continue to brave on, and after an uphill clamber of almost an hour I find myself at the bottom rungs of metal scaffolding with more ladders up. At this time the sun was now rising and my fears of the rainforest fall behind with the new challenge ahead. “Has anyone failed to go up before?” “Last month a girl got to here, then started crying”.

The height of the canopy is in itself terrifying, and the scaffolding to reach it doesn’t look the safest. But the higher I go, the further I am from creepy crawlies so I push on. When I reach the top, the pride and relief I feel is only outdone by the magnificence of the view. I now realize just why I pushed myself so far in conquering this fear. The views over the canopy are like nothing I could imagine.

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