When my heart nearly stopped in Borneo

orang utan jorge franganillo unsplash

I’ve been on a jungle trekking expedition in Sabah – the furthest outpost of Malaysia, way out on the eastern edge of Borneo.

We spent our time either cruising down the river looking for wildlife, or manfully hacking our way through the jungle on what were euphemistically termed ‘jungle walks’.  I managed to rip two pairs of trousers to shreds and slide down a jungle-covered slope at high speed, rather than the slow and dignified descent that I’d planned.

The river cuts through the jungle with wildlife coming right up to the water’s edge, and we soon got to know the drill – when you see another boat that’s stopped, with everyone looking and pointing in the same direction –

– make a beeline for them, barge their boat out of the way and try to see what they’ve spotted.

Using this method, along with the phenomenal spotting skills of our cool dude guide –

– we managed to see proboscis monkeys, hornbills, pig-tailed macaques –

– not as elegant as the long-tailed macaques, but then they don’t seem to have the same thuggish tendencies either.

We saw a civet feeding in a tree on a night cruise, and even spotted a couple of wild orang utans, who are notoriously shy and difficult to see.  But one of them was apparently building a nest high up in a tree, so I think it must have been having an identity crisis – or else there’s a chronic housing shortage in the jungle.

It’s rather difficult to photograph the animals as they’re small and keep moving, but I did take a picture of a blue-eared kingfisher, as it was fast asleep  just a metre or so from our boat.

The sky changed constantly … from blue and serene –

to romantic –

to downright dramatic –

– I half expected the Angel Gabriel to appear from this cloud, wreathed in fire.  And if he had appeared, I would have sent him off to deal with a boatload of Russians, rocking precariously on the edges of their boat as they sat and smoked, ignoring the seats, which obviously weren’t macho enough for them, and who launched a drone at an orang utan.  Then when they were told it wasn’t allowed, they sent it whizzing off at top speed down the river, frightening everything within earshot.  If Gabriel had hurled fire and brimstone down on the drone and its owners, singeing them around their pot-bellied edges, justice would have been served.

This huge crocodile swam alongside our boat for a while –

– it’s apparently a caiman, and according to my new American friend Blyth, they make excellent handbags.

On our night hike the guide caught a firefly and it sat quite happily on my hand, glowing away –

It’s a female, I learnt, as it was flashing twice a second, whilst males only flash once a second.  Typical, I thought, the women working twice as hard as the men, but just getting on with it with no fuss.

And now to my heart-stopping moment, which didn’t involve crocodiles, poisonous millipedes or any of the other venomous creatures we came across.  It happened when I got out of bed in my little jungle cabin yesterday morning.  I was just adjusting to being vertical, when I noticed an ominous brown shape on the sheet where I’d been lying –

I shrieked and leapt into the farthest corner of the room.  How long had it been there?  Had I slept with a cockroach in my bed all night?

I knew I’d have to trap it before I did anything else – I draw the line at having free-range cockroaches in my bedroom.  I inched forwards with a cup to slam over it, but ready to take off like a gazelle again if need be … those things can really move.

But as I got within cup slamming distance, it slowly dawned on me that it wasn’t a cockroach after all … it was in fact an Australian smoked almond –

I thought almonds had all kinds of health-giving properties designed to prevent heart attacks – but now I’m not so sure.