Tales From Traveling Through Borneo - Part 2
Updated: Dec 23, 2022
The second part of our journey through Borneo was what we’d been dreaming of, the real heart of the Borneo rainforest in the Danum Valley Conservation Area. From research I knew that this was the crown jewel, the place above all places that we wanted to explore. The dipterocarp forests of Borneo are thought to be some of the oldest in the world, maintaining an ecosystem that’s been around for 160 million years and boasting some of the highest biodiversity on the planet. So, yes, I was excited.
Aside from the tropical research center there is only one main lodge in this area – Borneo Rainforest Lodge - an incredibly beautiful and comfortable place to reside. On the first night a large male Orangutan made his nest in a tree next to the lodge. We watched for hours as he meticulously prepared his sleeping arrangements next to our well stocked chalets.
One of the best features of Borneo Rainforest Lost is the abundance of hiking trails. I loved putting on my boots and leech proof socks (you read that right and I'll come back to this), slinging my camera over my shoulder and trudging off with our guide to see what we could see. The large buttresses of the trees dwarfed us minuscule humans, dripping with strangler figs and creating their own complete micro habitat of ferns, orchids and vegetation rising high into the sky. On our forest walks we’d sometimes catch a glimpse of a primate but to be honest the true beauty for me was in the plant and fungal life. So many orchids and interesting looking plants that I’d never seen before. Our guide’s encyclopedic knowledge was ready to fill our brains with tidbits and facts.
Now I mentioned leech-proof socks, and yes, that implies a defense against leeches. They are a thing in Borneo and we were a little freaked out at the thought of them at first. But like most things, you get used to it. It turns out that leeches are just there… little terrestrial heat-seeking blood suckers in search of food; be it wild boar, deer, monkey or human. Their bite was only about as irritating as a mosquito bite. We quickly learned not to stand under palm fronds for too long (because they base jump down on you) and to always check your boots when you stop for a water break. We even found it fun, tempting them to chase our heat with their heel-toe inching form of walking.
One of my favorite memories at Danum was rising before dawn, heading to the mountainside watch tower and listening as the rainforest slowly came alive. The gibbons are first, starting with a hooting call as the last twilight stars fade and the mist rises with the aurora of morning unfolding. (That's what is pictured in the video at the start of Part 1). It was one of those moments that made me feel connected to a different rhythm of life that felt foreign but also familiar deep within me.
After Danum we prepared for an even deeper dive into the jungle. Something that had caught our eye on google maps during our initial research. A massive dark green crater in the middle of a carpet of green. What is this mystery?
Upon further digging we learned of the Maliau Basin, one of the more remote areas of Sabah where some universities were conducting field research. If field researchers were there, then it’s got to be good! Accompanied by two local guides we were permitted access for a 4-day backpacking trip into the green crater. We were told that there wasn’t as much wildlife in this area, apparently due to the nutrient poor soil that doesn’t support many fruiting trees, but we didn’t care. What this type of soil does support is a heath forest, unique to Borneo and supposedly hosting a wide variety of Nepenthes pitcher plants, epiphytes and other plants unique to the area. Plus numerous rivers and waterfalls cascade into the crater, and I’m a sucker for waterfalls.
Maliau Basin isn't for most travelers. There are a series of old field stations with basic dorm accommodations and a simple kitchen but you have to pack in all your own food and supplies. After arriving, our guides would open up the place, start a small fire and begin preparing dinner while we played cards, looked through our photos from the day or poked around. One night we were awoken by what sounded like a thunderous earthquake and discovered in the morning that a massive old tree had fallen near where we were staying. One of the many sounds of Borneo that I’ll never forget.
For our final adventure we opted to explore the underwater world in the Celebes Sea off the Eastern edge of Borneo. This whole area was called Sundaland in the last ice age and only slipped underwater in the last 20,000 years, creating hundreds of islands from the Philippines to Indonesia. There is an abundance of marine life and the reefs make for excellent SCUBA diving. We stayed at Kapalai Island Resort, about an hour from the mainland and fully supported on stilts. You could simply flop out of our room and be snorkeling with a cuttlefish (true story) in no time. We also had the privilege to dive at Sipadan Island which has limited permits and requires that divers have an Advanced Open Water Certification. It’s not so much the the mega fauna here but the small stuff like nudibranchs, multitudes of fish species and stunning coral gardens that make it a truly special dive site. Spending a few days relaxing and exploring the marine wonderland of the Celebes Sea was the perfect way to end our trip through Borneo and chill a bit before a long journey home.
And that concluded my first adventure in Borneo! I returned again, later, to escort a group of 8 travelers. The tales on that trip are many as well and may involve a chipped tooth, lots of pygmy elephants and a king cobra swimming down a river that I told everyone was safe to swim in. But those are tales for another time. Now who’s ready to go on an Adventure?! It’s a long haul to the other side of the world but Borneo is a destination that any nature lover MUST add to their bucket list and one of my favorite places I've traveled to. Contact me when you're ready to learn more at email@example.com.