What years were you in Borneo?
2008, 2010, 2011
What areas of Borneo were you in?
Kuching, Talang Satang Island, Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan, Kundasang, Bilit
What brought you to Borneo?
Borneo has always been the one place I wanted to visit since I was a child — I learned about Borneo through the stories I heard from a relative in Sabah. Unfortunately, I never had the means to make the journey and it continued to elude me until my undergraduate years. I saved up my education loan and decided to spend it on a sea turtle conservation program for one week in Sarawak and that was the first time I set my foot on the land.
I returned to the Peninsula, wanting to go back as soon as I could and I did just that — after finishing my studies I treated myself to another week trip to Sabah. This time I wanted to conquer Mt Kinabalu (this was my first major mountain hiking experience). I was completely taken away by the breathtaking beauty of Kundasang and the surrounding natural wonders. The third time I was back for more jungle adventures in a small village called Bilit along the Kinabatangan river. I still want more and can’t wait to get back again!
Borneo will captivate you with its mesmerizing charm and beauty. The tall trees that make you stretch your neck all the way back, the way the river bends and turns, the calmness you feel as you go along the river on a long boat, the mysterious creatures and natural wonders hidden within the thick jungle, the shyness of the animals and the ever hopeful heart looking for signs of any animal movement when you are hiking the land.
You will experience child-like excitement at the smallest glimpse of Borneo’s inhabitant, the gentleness of a female orangutan carrying her baby, the rejuvenating tropical downpour, and the sound of the first cicadas at dusk – a mark of the daylight coming to an end, yet life is just about to start in the rainforest. The beautiful people and communities who have lived and learned to co-exist with nature and their enchanting stories will inspire you. I am not able to describe the beauty of these people, but read “Stranger in the Forest” by Eric Hansen and you will understand what I mean. I can go on and on about Borneo.
However, the story of this world is a sad story. All the beauty I described above is just less than 10% of what actually used to exist. Today, despite being one of the regions of the world with the highest biodiversity, habitat destruction (due to logging and expanding palm oil plantations), poaching and illegal wildlife trade are just some of the threats facing this beautiful island. Undisturbed forest as a foreign concept here as most biodiversity on the island is now supported by secondary forest as more (close to 60%) of the old forest has been logged away with more destruction still to come. It’s doubtful that the remaining pockets of forest “refugia” is sufficient for regeneration and this is coming from someone who has only spent less than one month in Borneo in all my trips there combined. Try listening to someone who was born and raised there! Capitalism and unsustainable development driven by consumption, greed, corruption and profits, has striped this land of its natural beauty. If there is one thing that could help the situation, it’s putting Borneo on the eye of the world so that everyone will see the destruction and speak up against it.
When you talk about Borneo and your trip there what is the thing you always are sure to say?
You must go to Borneo at least once in your life. To me, Borneo is the sum of all the small things that make it beautiful, from the smallest leaf and flower, to the proud natives who inhabit the land, to the smell of the air, the mountains, the rivers and the islands. I think Borneo has different things to offer to different people. For me, it’s the natural wonders.
How have your experiences in Borneo impacted your life outside of Borneo?
I have always been passionate about the environment, but I never really had proper experience until I went to Borneo. My trip to Borneo happened at a time when I was about to start my career and my experiences here made me re-think what I wanted to do. Over the years, this feeling grew stronger with each visit to Borneo and I questioned what was most important to me. After 3 years of working in different fields and experimenting, I’ve decided that conservation was my calling and I made a life-changing decision to pursue my career in that field. I’m currently pursuing my postgraduate studies faraway from my home and I’m missing the tropical warmth and the refreshing rain and can’t wait to get back to Borneo to carry out my research and start a new chapter in life there.
My ex-girlfriend and I planned a canopy walk at the Rainforest Discovery Centre in Sepilok. As we walked up the hill, we encountered a teenage orangutan sitting on top of the tree above me looking upset by my presence. He started breaking and throwing branches and made kissing sounds by pursing his lips together (this is a squeak vocalization made when orangutans become annoyed).
We continued up the hill and the stairs leading up to the 40-60m high canopy walk just before dusk. Then, the cicadas started and we waited for the show to begin – flying squirrels! Ten, twenty or even more squirrels were climbing up the tallest trees (Dipterocarp) and jumping into the air, gliding their way to another tree, which was at least 40m away. Some of them were going just past our heads. This is just another wonder Borneo has to offer.
As we sat there on the platform watching the squirrels, we heard movements on top of the tree that was level with us. We went absolutely still seeing we didn’t want to give away our presence to whatever was making the noise. At the same time we were very curious about the visitor, yet cautious not to drive it away. I strained my neck for a better look and it was our orangutan ‘friend’ we saw earlier! I didn’t expect to see him again. He was still squeaking, only this time to himself, and he hastily started making his nest at the top of the tree as dusk was setting in. He must have been really annoyed with himself for not planning things very well that day; it was getting very late and dark and he still have not made his bed yet. Eventually he settled in and we crept out of there slowly.
That was my first time up there and I got to see an orangutan building it’s nest in the wild, which is not a common sight. Orangutans are a very shy and solitary species that are hard to spot in the jungle and this one was less than 15m away from me! I will never forget this, I told myself as we walked away, hoping that he would have a comfortable night’s sleep and awaken less grumpy the next day.