Where the Wild Things Are is a place only familiar in the zoo to a city mouse like myself. Coming face to face with a herd of wild Asian elephants grazing along the banks of a Borneo jungle is one of those life instances when you had to be there.
At first, I had no
fear. Being a foreigner to the jungle, a young coat of ignorance protected
me from danger. But, the boatman knew the wild in wilderness. As soon
as a baby elephant turned our direction and came closer to munch on grass,
the boatman in fear, turned, ran and jumped off the bank plunging into
the river missing the canoe by ten inches. No sooner afterward, the ruckus
he made scared the migrating herd of elephants into the dense bush.
We made our way back
along the Kinabatangan to the jungle camp. We squinted into the canopy
for Probuscis monkeys(AKA The Dutchman for their enlarged noses resembling
Walter Matthaw), mischievous Long Tailed Macaques, Silver Leaf Monkeys,
shy crocodiles, snow white cranes, Rhino Hornbills with red and yellow
casques above their bills, crying White Bellied Eagles and the rare chance
to spot an Orang utan, Borneo's solitary orange ape.
The sun was setting as we passed a yellow Catepillar transporting resources from the vast plantation of palm that has quickly replaced the virgin jungle. The supply of timber, the once main industry of Malasia, was quickly depleted once the hundreds of years of jungle growth, including the buttressed trunks, covered in tangling liana and the pillar roots of the strangling fig, were all cut and carted away for national prosperity. A second planting left the existing wildlife to be partially camouflaged. Subsequently, young growth poses as a great benefit for the telephoto lens of the occasional tourist on a safari. Nonetheless, this is a place of what is left of heaven on earth.
Ten species of butterflies
fluttered around us. My favorite, the Tree Nymph Butterfly of translucent
polka dots floats freely like rice paper in the wind. A Stick Insect camouflaged
in the branches sat in front of my nose while a Green Fence Lizard awaited
for a tasty insect and a Skink Lizard shuffled under the decomposing leaves.
A giant beetle rolled up like a football in my palm slowly exposed its
hundreds of legs. An arachnophobia's nightmare describes the colors, shapes,
sizes, and textures of the jungle spiders covered in thick fur, glazed
a shiny plastic yellow or wearing a pair of horns upon its head three
times the size of its red rectangular body.
Confidently, I briskly
walked behind my guide as he lit the path with his torch. A sudden noise
alarmed the guide to step back and quickly turn, causing my heart to skip
a beat. Immediately, my reaction was to run in the opposite direction.
False alarm. It was gone. Just the wild Bearded Pig, a hairier pig sporting
beard and sideburns, harmless to humans with the exception of her tick
tag-alongs. Like the crocodile sprinting into the water with a plunge
and glide, Ms. Piggy ran off upon hearing our sounds or sniffing our odors.
'You can swim' said the camp owner. Man eating crocodiles 15 feet in length and giant Monitor lizards although harmless they grow to an alarming 2 meters-'No thanks,' I replied.
Nighttime is the next best time besides sunrise in the bush. The surround sounds of cicadas, frogs, geckos and monkeys performed a symphony under the stars. Dinner was served by candlelight on the picnic table. The smell of stir-fry, fresh earth, and mosquito coils wafted in the air. (Not to mention the pervading smell of fungus on our bodies and clothes after 3 days sans shower.)
A midnight boat ride
allowed for the chance to see the Buffy Fish Owl sitting along the bank,
a couple of Spotted Wild Cats on the hunt, the iridescent eyeballs of
the crocs below the water surface peaked above as the moths and bats played
in the darkness and the Orang utan slept in a nest of twigs high in the
Stars out, moon on the rise,
good food, slight breeze, a hammock under the open sky, heavy on thoughts,
light on life, it will all stay in memory at least for a while.