Borneo has long been a platform for adventurers and naturalists to immerse themselves into the tropical rainforest life. Below are some snippets of personal accounts taken from the book entitled Stranger in the Forest – On Foot Across Borneo, (Eric Hansen 1988 First Vintage Departures Edition), which we at BEX find truly inspiring and we hope that you will too.
“We had entered a community of plants, insects, and animals that has remained ecologically undisturbed for millions of years. The interwoven tangle of branches, lianas, ferns, and orchids found in the Borneo rain forest sustains one of the worlds most complex and least-studied ecosystems. The diversity of tree species alone is estimated at a staggering twenty-five hundred. In one ten-hectare sample plot of Borneo jungle, the Royal Geographical Society has identified nearly eight hundred species of trees. This is more than twenty times the total number of native tree species in all of Britain. This forest would be my home for the next eight weeks. We moved through the damp jungle air, and the first sensation that returned to me was the mad, erratic, echoing cacophony of sounds, seemingly played by a group of quirky, invisible musicians. I ‘m referring to the insect hum, bird warble, animal cry, wind rush, tree-branch sigh, and the incessant patter of water droplets on broad jungle leaves. In this 24-hour, 7-day- a-week, primordial music hall a deranged orchestra played Laconically without the need for a conductor or audience. At unexpected moments a succession of incongruent single notes would come to me from all sides, producing incomprehensible musical phrases. Discordant harmonies blared from high up in the jungle canopy only to be obliterated by staccato bursts of nearby insect sounds. The ground was alive with rustling sounds, inaudible to the human ear, of millions of foraging insects (up to two thousand termites per square yard). The quietest activity of all came from the bacterial funghi, which steadily munch away at fallen leaves, gradually reducing them to perfect gauzelike skeletons.
I was spellbound by the dramatic interplay of shifting light and mysterious noises. One of the few bird sounds I could identify from the bewildering jumble of chitter-chatter, hoots, and whistles was a babbler (genus Malacoptera) known as the Beethoven bord because it sings the familiar four opening notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Apart from this bird, and the by-now-familiar, frantic electronic buzzing of twenty species of cicadas, the origins of the sounds were a mystery to my untrained ear. There were literally hundreds of them, and I was to learn that each one held a special message for Bo’Hok and Weng”. (Page 122 & 123)
“The jungle, in contrast to what we had so recently passed through, was spectacular. Two hundred foot hardwood trees were draped with orchids, ferns and moss covered vines. Bright orange bracket fungus grew in fan shaped steps on dead logs, and the buttressed tree roots grabbed the steaming earth like giant webbed fingers. Occasionally we could catch glimpses between trees of long, green valleys and sheer rock walls. The air was thick with brightly coloured butterflies, and at one point we stopped to watch hundreds of large flying foxes settling in the mass of overhead branches. Flapping and wheeling with leathery wing beats, their chattering shrieks finally subsided as each creature found the right branch to hang. In the air they looked prehistoric.” (Page 157)
In spite of the rapid pace of development and modernisation, similar experiences can still be had by the intrepid traveller to Borneo. With the many-gazetted National Parks, Forest Reserves and remote areas, the heartland of Borneo remains virtually untouched by the modern world and runs at its own pace and time. To truly experience the wilds of Borneo, one has to be prepared to leave the modern creature comforts behind and invest time and effort into ‘discovering’ the least trodden paths. Awaiting out there is an experience of a lifetime.