Where The Wild Things Are

The Danum Valley, Sabah, Malaysia May 28th - 30th

This.  Is.  Cool. 

I am sitting on my balcony overlooking a river and trees that are hundreds of years old in the middle of a rainforest that is older than the Amazon.  Apparently the climate shifts that wiped out dinosaurs and changed the world didn't have as great an impact here.  Who knew?  It is 130 million years old compared to the Amazon's 60 million years.  Dinosaurs, per the very wise and never inaccurate Wikipedia were alive between 230-65 million years ago.  

I’m in the Danum Valley of Sabah, Borneo. To get here I flew through airports that would probably make you raise an eyebrow.  Kota Kinabalu.  Lahad Datu.  Need a map visual?  Perhaps one that is questionably pixelated and poorly doctored in PowerPoint?  Me too.  From Lahad Datu we took a 4WD car into rough roads for 2.5 hours.

   The luggage area at the Lahad Datu airport.

The luggage area at the Lahad Datu airport.

And now, for roughly the past 24 hours I’ve been trekking through damp rainforest looking for animals that roam free, as they are meant to.  This is not a zoo. This is protected land for orangutans, rhinos, spotted leopards, elephants, monkeys, gibbons and enormous lizards to bee bop through life.

Rainforest Lesson #1 – It does not always look like a Disney movie.

The largest lesson I’ve learned thus far is that a rain forest does not look like this:

It looks like this:

   I don't know why I was expecting tropical plants and brightly colored flowers.  Maybe that is the Amazon.  The name means it, this place is a thick forest that has never been inhabited.  Trees that are so dense they sink in water, that offer wood to make your ebony dresser and piano keys... they are all here.  Hence, a pesky illegal logging problem....

I don't know why I was expecting tropical plants and brightly colored flowers.  Maybe that is the Amazon.  The name means it, this place is a thick forest that has never been inhabited.  Trees that are so dense they sink in water, that offer wood to make your ebony dresser and piano keys... they are all here.  Hence, a pesky illegal logging problem....

Rainforest Lesson #2 – Palm oil causes problems.

Palm plantations are a problem.  The Brits brought the palm oil industry to Borneo in the last century and since then, the rainforest has been ripped out and thousands of acres have been planted.  Turns out that this is just one of the fun factors impacting animals – as without a jungle they have no home.   Better regulations are now in place, but you can’t exactly grow back a rainforest as old as time.   I hear that Brunei has some of the world’s most protected forests because they have a natural source of oil.  So, Brunei hasn’t had to turn to palm oil for profit.  Lucky Sultan of Brunei.

Rainforest Lesson #3 – Leeches exist en mass. 

When I got here, one of the first questions I was asked was if I remembered to bring leech socks.  I am quite confident that my eyes grew wide and there was some sort of pause before I answered.   I did not remember to bring leech socks.  I didn’t even bring enough bobbi pins.  Or small packets of Tide.  So, leech socks certainly didn’ t make it in.  This means that I have acquired the poor mans leech socks while here which look like the stockings the Jolly Green Giant hangs at Christmas time.

Rainforest Lesson #4 – I’m inappropriately dressed.

There is a dress code here.  And it is not my purple Nikes, Lulu Lemon pants and Athleta pull over.  If you wear these things, you will look like an idiot.  You certainly will not look as if you are serious about things such as birding.  Somehow, carrying binoculars, wearing a headlamp, zip off pants and a hat with a chin strap is more desirable in this particular venue.  I embraced it and wore my hot pink dry pack meant for a dive boat proudly.  I don't think anyone would actually take me for a bird person anyway... do you?  My fellow trekkers only wished they had built in thumb holes in their shirts.

  This is what everyone else looks like. 

This is what everyone else looks like. 

Rainforest Lesson #5 – Wild animals do not want to be found.  Shocker.

Hunting down animals is hard!  Turns out they (specifically orangutans) are scared of humans which makes your job of finding them and taking a snazzy picture is just a little bit complicated.  For example, this is the first orangutan I saw.  He emerged from his nap for a snack in the shadows and then crept away.

   I see you!!

I see you!!

But, seeing animals up close or not, this is still ridiculously cool and this is coming from not the most outdoorsy person you ever met (I hear you all laughing, you know).  I’ve spent the last few days on 6 hour hikes, walking through the rain forest canopy and wondering how exactly I got here, to this swinging bridge, watching enormous birds soar over me and silver tail monkeys fling their bodies through trees.  

   Home in Borneo.

Home in Borneo.

   Backyard view

Backyard view

   Tweet Tweet.

Tweet Tweet.

   Spotted!

Spotted!

   Just one of the many reassuring markers along the way.

Just one of the many reassuring markers along the way.

Next stop?  Another Sabah rainforest location to hopefully get closer to wildlife ... by boat!