In the Jungle in Borneo

September 27, 2017

Borneo is a destination that was not on my wish list until a few months ago, when Daniel mentioned that he wanted to go there on our long trip, and thus realize one of his childhood dreams. Although I knew next to nothing about this island, how could I stand in the way of him realizing one of his dreams?

So, a few months after that initial conversation, here we are, on the island of Borneo, and in the middle of an actual jungle! We’re surrounded by dense rain forest and by hundreds of species of animals and plants. Some of these animals can be deadly (hello, green pit viper!), others just unpleasant if they decide to attack you (hello, cheeky macaques!), and others I have a phobia of (hello, all kinds of big spiders!). Yet, here I am, not very far from any of those animals, and I even went trekking into the forest, and got closer to them. I even went on a guided night walk, where all these animals were pointed out to me, not that I miss seeing any of this stuff that scares the **** out of me. But sometimes you just have to “jump over your shadow”, as it’s said so nicely in German, and do the stuff that scares but also excites you.

So let me explain a bit better where we are and what we’re doing here.

The Bako National Park and Our Accommodation

After reading online that Bako is one of the most exciting national parks in Borneo, where you can see lots of wildlife and do many beautiful treks, we decided to spend 2 days here. The park also has the advantage that the trails are well marked, so we could easily go trekking on our own, without a local guide.

The whole accommodation and information complex around the national park HQ is nicely done: the lodges are spread out and somewhat integrated into the forest, the terrace of the canteen overlooks the beach, the alleys and bridges are easily walkable. Lots of wild animals hang out around the canteen – I guess they know by now where they can easily get food.

We’re staying in a lodge close to the headquarters of the national park, where there is also a canteen with very basic (and apparently always the same) food. The accommodation is… also basic, to put it nicely, but ok for 2 nights. We have a shared bathroom (with a cold shower) and our own 3-bed room, where our backpacks are happy to share the extra bed. There is no air conditioning in our room, but there is a fan (and this is the first time on this trip that we are staying in a place without AC). I would estimate the temperature inside is constantly around 35 degrees Celsius. We’re paying about 25 CHF/night for this room.

The Animals

As soon as we arrived in the national park, we saw a rare proboscis monkey. He was just hanging around and eating leaves close to the park HQ. Then a bearded pig appeared, also calmly looking for food. Then Daniel crossed paths with a big (about 1m long) lizard just behind the park HQ building. And then of course there were lots of macaques, hanging around the cafeteria and sometimes even stealing pieces of cake and watermelon off people’s plates.

On the 2 hikes we did on our own though, we only saw very few animals. I guess part of the reason is that we are not trained to see them, while they are “trained” to go out of our way as soon as they hear us coming. The only close encounter I had was with a rather big spider, which unwisely chose to cross the path exactly when I was also on it. We were both so surprised and scared, we tried to run away from each other but ended up running towards each other, and I really scared Daniel with my screams, who understandably thought something was seriously wrong.

We also went on a guided night walk, which started at 9 PM from the park HQ , lasted about an hour and a half and cost us about 2.5 CHF/person. We had 3 guides for our group and they were fantastic at spotting animals, birds, and insects. If we had done that walk on our own, we probably wouldn’t have seen any of the animals that they noticed.

The Hikes

We did 2 hikes in the jungle: a short one on the day we arrived, going to a secluded beach; a longer, circular one on the second day, recommended by the staff here for seeing all the 4 types of vegetation that are found in the park. Both were really beautiful, and also challenging, given the heat and the humidity here, and also because of the rough terrain in the forest, where you are constantly stepping over and on big tree roots and stones, trying to keep your balance and not twist your ankle. But it was definitely worth it and, even though you’re always on a marked path, it does give you a feeling of wading through the jungle and of being really in the middle of nature, with all its sounds and its small and big inhabitants.

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