Borneo rainforest lodge has a spectacular canopy walk, 300m in length, 26m high at its tallest point. The swinging bridges are tied to great menogaris trees. Their trunks feel like concrete. At 6:30am, to the songs of gibbons, we headed there. Shortly after sunrise the forest is eery and misty and clouds dangle in the treetops, waiting for the sun to set them free. The red and green bridges swung as we walked across, resonating with our footsteps, unsteady but secure. The handrails feel precariously low in the middle, and Samantha braved her vertigo, going last and stepping slowly. We crossed to the end and back again. Our only spotting was a small blue bird, possibly a rufous winged philentoma. On the road back we passed some birders, a telescope was setup in the road, and we narrowly missed seeing the rare Bornean bristlehead through a scope, instead it flew overhead and out of sight. Though we did see two large bushy-crested hornbills, some land crabs and a large black-feathered bird with red under its wing, but I haven’t a clue what it was.
The 8am breakfast felt like lunch, especially when you’re eating fried rice and noodles (a habit I’d like to continue in London if anywhere sold that sort of thing so early). By 10 we were off out again on the longest of our treks, the ominous sounding Coffincliff trail, still only 3km but mostly up. “My friends are waiting for us”, Faezen said, pointing at the leeches dangling from the trail signpost. “They detect your heat”, he demonstrated by waving his hand underneath, the thin tip of the leech swaying to and fro as his palm went by. Ahead of us a group of pig-tailed macaques crossed, “That’s Judas and his family”, Faezen warned us to keep our distance, “they’re dangerous and may attack, don’t stare at them”. Wildlife spottings were otherwise sparse, mostly millipedes and strange fungi, with the occasional pygmy or black squirrel. We did pick up on the scent of monkey piss at one point, “either someone has a really bad UTI or there’s a monkey about”, Ed, a medic, noted. Half-way we came to the coffincliff, a vertical wall where tribes buried their dead in ironwood coffins, human bones still littered the area — dislodged from their resting place by monkeys, sunbears and the like.
Beyond the cliff we climbed to a viewpoint which overlooked the lodge and hill after hill of million year old virgin rainforest. When it’s gone, it’s gone I thought in a brief but sombre moment, how much longer will it last? We continued on to the fairy waterfall, another 10 minutes down a steep hill, and then all the way back to a jacuzzi pool. By jacuzzi pool they meant a natural pond with waterfall and hungry fish (and no leeches, at least not in the water). “In the Amazon the piranha take flesh and bone, here they just nibble”, that’s how it was sold to us, they weren’t Piranhas (they were Perulean fish), but they did give a good pedicure, nibbling at the dead skin on our feet (and elsewhere if you got in deeper and didn’t move).
As per usual in the rainforest the sweltering hot sun gave way to dark clouds and rumbles of thunder. And just as everyone came out of the pool, to dry off, the heavens opened once more. We all crammed under what little cover there was in the wooden changing rooms, protecting our bags whilst changing out of swimwear. In the dripping wet we clambered back to the lodge, thankful to have both wet weather gear and an umbrella.
Between activities, and as the rain fell, I reclined out on our chalet’s veranda watching the river and the few birds that flitted about between the raindrops. A little spider-eater fed from wild ginger and banana flowers, and a small lizard scuttled up a tree. Despite the storm it was peaceful, the sound of rain patting leaves was calming.
In the afternoon the group split between two activities; Sam, Jamie and Darren went tubing down the river while Ed, Faezen and I did another short walk through the forest. The tubing was apparently great fun, in swimwear and flip-flops they left with huge inflated rubber rings. The river took them downstream where they saw red leaf monkeys and Sam had a special encounter with two playful yet enormous moths; possibly an atlas moth and a moon moth. But beauty is fleeting and in the river she didn’t have a camera. Still, the guides with her were jealous. At the shallow points they hoisted the tube to their waste and walked downstream, the river not really deep enough at low tide. Ed and I followed the Hornbill trail again, from the river view point we saw the same red leaf monkeys. We walked for about an hour with our guide, periodically checking socks and boots for intrepid leeches. In a leafless dead tree the black ruffled feathers of a crested eagle were unmissable. Down by the river, where we expected to meet the others, the pig-tailed macaques were back. Judas watched as a group of 12 or so ate, groomed and played on the riverbank before climbing away in the trees.
The rain continued until nightfall, and we waited it out in our river-view outdoor bath. It stopped just as our night time trek began. Armed with torches, some good, some pathetic, we ventured into the night in search of the nocturnal. We furiously shone light up and down tree trunks, into dark crevices, into the foliage; hoping to catch a glimpse of something, maybe two bright eyes reflecting back at us. But like before, dripping water and moving leaves thwarted us. At the frog-pond we located the croak sounds of a five-horned frog and stumbled on a scary palm sized huntsman spider above our heads. Near the staff quarters we found a brown wood owl and a family of grazing sambar deer. Faezen pointed to a tree with his torch, “look here, in the hole”, a female tarantula with babies. They all sat perfectly still, waiting for their meal to wander by.
Sam and I were staying for three nights, but the rest of our group were leaving a day sooner, this was their last night. Beneath large wicker lamps at the lodge we drank cheap cocktails and wine together. Amidst the noises of rhino-beetles crashing into things (they really are awful fliers), we reminisced about kids TV shows, and shared our onward plans. Heading back to our chalets later than we ought to, we had a close encounter with two large deer, grazing beneath the wooden gangway in the dark — they were a little too close, and we and the deer both nervously backed away.
With our muddy and damp walking boots on the porch, green leech socks spread over them to dry, we nestled in for the night to the sounds of the jungle.