The Student Tourist

Recently I spent three months backpacking in Southeast Asia. It was a trip made up of great experiences but the one that stands out most was my visit to the Bornean jungle.
I spent three days at a basic jungle camp by the Kinabatangan River in Sabah, Borneo. The camp could only be reached by an hour’s boat ride from the nearest village.
I was part of a group of twelve other travellers. On arrival we were greeted by Yan, who would be our guide. He gave us an introductory speech, making it clear what we had signed up for. We would be staying in huts, six people to a hut. We were told to take anything that had an odour out of our packs (cosmetics, food, sweaty clothing) and store it in the plastic buckets provided outside the huts. Why? Yan casually explained that jungle rats sometimes came in at night and chewed through people’s belongings. It was easy to sleep after hearing that. Then we were taught how to use the facilities. For the toilets it was simple: fill yourself a bucket of the chocolate-coloured river water and use it to manually flush. For the showers it was even simpler: fill a bucket of the aforementioned water and pour it on yourself. Easy.

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With housekeeping taken care of, we were shown to our huts. They were wooden, roofed platforms on stilts. They were open to the jungle and furnished only with three thin, double mattresses on the floor and three mosquito nets.
Later that evening we had our first river safari. The aim was to (hopefully) spot some nocturnal animals. We were split into two boats with two guides per boat; one to steer and one to shine a spotlight. It was a surreal experience floating down the river at night in silence, intently following the beam of light in case something was spotted. We saw a crocodile peeking from the shallows, sleeping orangutans and an owl on the hunt.
On our first morning safari we saw eagles, hornbills, crocodiles and proboscis monkeys. These big-nosed monkeys are endemic to Borneo and can’t be seen anywhere else in the wild. Long tailed macaques were everywhere. Yan called them the ‘jungle mafia’, because of their habit of coming into camp to steal things.
Another night, armed with torches, we trekked through the jungle in the dark. It was not for the faint-hearted. We spotted a rare Bornean blue tarantula, tree frogs, giant centipedes and more. We had been provided with rubber boots to protect our feet because one bite from a fire ant would “make us cry”. Other fun things our guide said that night were “don’t touch that it’s poisonous” and “keep an eye out for snakes”.
On our last night, the staff conjured up guitars and beers and a sing-song began. It was a perfect end to the experience with the best moment being when we all sang “In the Jungle”, while in the jungle.

Kate Donoghue

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