His steely eyes stared back at me intently. Was it curiosity I saw in them? Uncertainty? Irritation? Maybe he was still waking up, adjusting to the light of the sun as it burned away the mist lurking over the murky river.
It was almost unsettling how human he seemed in that moment. A macaque monkey hanging out on the banks of the mighty Sungai Kinabatangan river, eating his breakfast of leaves and scrutinizing the rag-tag group of travelers floating just feet away in a wooden boat. In that mesmerizing moment, I wouldn’t have been shocked to hear him admonish us for disturbing his morning bliss. “Yah, what d’you want? I’m trying to eat my breakfast in peace, man. Time to move along.”
But of course he didn’t. And of course we did – move along, that is.
This felt like the “real” Borneo, the Borneo of your imagination, full of dense jungle, exotic animals and winding, earth-brown rivers. We were on day two at a jungle lodge (they called it a “resort,” a rather large stretch if you ask me. But the staff were incredibly friendly and gracious, so I suppose I could allow them that liberty).
The night previous we cruised the river for over two hours, and had the privilege of seeing an orangutan in the wild (after having seen them semi-wild in two different Borneo rehabilitation centres – there are only 4 such centres in the world!) We also saw a whole host of oddly adorable proboscis monkeys, macaques, silvered leaf monkeys, kingfishers, hornbills and more. The stress of making our way to this isolated corner of the planet had long faded away.
We’ve been in Malaysian Borneo for almost three weeks, crossing the full length from Sarawalk through Brunei, and into Sabah. Our time here has included a 10 kilometre hike through one of the world’s largest caves (where some of the oldest evidence of human habitation in southeast Asia, including cave art dating back 40,000+ years, was found), snorkeling off the coast of Kota Kinabalu and many more activities. It’s been tough to ensure the blog keeps pace with our travel experiences, so we’re going to sum up our time here in photos (thanks, Karl!)
So why does the title reference “the mundane?” Well it’s the reality of traveling, isn’t it? For every breathtaking experience, there are hours sitting on a bus, navigating in a car, waiting at an airport, and searching for a laundry mat, among other less-than-scintillating pastimes (like sweating).
Plus, there is another side to Borneo – the complete antithesis of jungle vines and ancient river ways. Developed cities and large malls filled with multinational companies such as Nike, KFC, The Body Shop and Sketchers; women sporting Gucci sunglasses and carrying Coach handbags.
For the last two nights we’ve stayed at a modern hotel attached to the largest “lifestyle hypermall” in Borneo. There is nothing unique about it; we could be anywhere in the world. But I must confess after weeks of bare basics living (we’re talking bare, bare basics – nothing “hyper” about it), it’s been a nice change of pace. Comfy beds, easy internet access, and best of all, a shower separate from the toilet!
Tomorrow we fly to Singapore – land of hyper-everything – for 2 days, connecting on to Cambodia afterwards.
More to come…