“Hope to see everything and expect to see nothing.”
Our guide at Borneo Rainforest Lodge, Ned, spoke these few words to us when we first arrived and this phrase stuck with me throughout my stay. I kept replaying it in my mind, over and over again. Some people travel with a checklist of what they want to see and then get disappointed when they don’t get to see it. I try to travel with an open mind and take in everything I see as a gift, a blessing, a wonder. It is wildlife after all, it’s always in the small print… there are no guarantees!
Driving down the bumpy unsealed gravel path, I struggle to keep my eyes open after the 04:00 am start that morning. “Look, look” the driver yelled. Suddenly wide awake and alert I spot the elephant right in front of the vehicle. “Wow,” I remark out loud, my eyes transfixed on this beautiful creature. It looks so healthy and happy, chomping away at the shrubs at the side of the road. We sit waiting patiently just watching, excited to see its next movements. “Look, look” Again? What now? Behind the car this time, a mother and her baby. We clarify with the driver. These are pygmy elephants however, there is nothing pygmy about them, they are huge! I must admit of all the animals I expected to encounter on venturing into Danum Valley, an elephant was not one I had in mind. Luck perhaps, or just a wonderful case of being in the right place at the right time.
Throughout my time in the Danum Valley, we trek through the untouched primary rainforest. I feel like a child with eyes wide open on the lookout for new, fascinating sights. When I first ventured out with the guide, he pointed out all the wildlife. I was bewildered as to how on earth he spotted it all. By the second and third day, I found myself looking out for any spot of movement in the trees and listening out for every unfamiliar sound. Either of those things meant a sighting, which meant a rush of excitement and an intriguing desire to learn more!
My checklist, not that it was ever my intention to make one, starts to grow every minute. Pygmy elephants, red leaf monkeys, otters, slow loris, tarantulas, monitor lizards and snakes, to name just a few. As my journey takes me to the Kinabatangan River, my list expands further. Proboscis monkeys, macaques, orangutans, owls, flying lemurs, kingfishers and hornbills, such an abundance of wildlife!
I begin to realise that watching their behaviour from the boat on the river is my favourite way to learn. The orangutan is a solitary creature in the wild and makes a new nest every time it rests. The male proboscis monkey has many wives and the bigger the nose, the more attractive the wives find him. The macaque is cheeky, and you should never look it in the eyes or show your teeth in front of one. So many fascinating habits to learn by observation and by constant quizzing of my guide.
A night cruise gives a whole new perspective of the Kinabatangan River. Although feeling slightly on edge after observing crocodile swimming in the waters, it was so quiet, so peaceful. The stillness was broken only by the odd cry of the ‘what what’ frog as all the other animals were sleeping. Suddenly all the torch lights are switched off. We are in the pitch black. Our eyes slowly adjust to see the river bank light up like a Christmas tree. Thousands of fireflies glow in the mangrove trees; again I feel like a child, eyes transfixed on this magical display. It was a moment in time that I will never forget.
Goodnight Kinabatangan, I hoped for everything and you did not disappoint!