There’s nothing like watching the sun rise over the canopy of a primary rainforest, and it’s even better if you don’t have to walk up a massive bastard hill to do this. We were picked up from the dorm room at some god awful hour in the morning and driven to a shed on stilts which we clambered up for what turned out to be some breathtakingly epic views over the jungle. Fucking hell, guys. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again; don’t come to Borneo without a camera that costs more than a month’s rent. As the sky grew lighter we were treated to the canopy peeking out through a blanket of mist which danced and swirled as the sun rose. Okay, so it rose behind cloud, but I was still more than okay with what was being poured into my eyeholes.
As we were all gawping the opposite way there was a civet wandering around on the ground too which was a nice little bonus once we did finally spot it. Not sure if it’s the coffee-shitting kind, in fact I doubt it is unless it’s nicking the 3-in-1 sachets from the kitchen, but look at the markings on that little stunner. After one last bit of civet bothering we were driven back to our dorm where I appeased my stomach which was starting to think my throat had been cut.
Anyway. Despite the fact you wouldn’t want to meet one in a dark alley, tigers are wonderful, majestic creatures, and the word “tiger” is often used to describe something of a species that is way bigger and more badass looking than it should be; tiger prawn, tiger mosquito, tiger leech. Fucking tiger leech. I’m not even shitting you, I wish I was. So we need to talk about leeches because leeches are basically our lives now. We went on a big old walk to a waterfall with a guide and it took fucking hours, largely because I’m roughly as quick as a crippled sloth on ketamine, but also because we spent a lot of the first part of the walk panicking every time a leech got on us. You get over this pretty quickly, you lose count after the first fifteen or so and resign yourself to it.
They. Get. Everywhere. Loads of them end up writhing around in your shoe laces. They get in your fucking pockets and you can’t get the horrible little fuckers out. You’re checking your flies every ten minutes to make sure there aren’t any making a break for your tender parts. There are two kinds; the aforementioned tiger leeches and the smaller brown leeches, but I give no fucks that they’re smaller, I don’t want them on me. They perch on the edge of leaves and wave at you as you walk past, just waiting for an opportunity to grab hold. I crouched next to one to take a photo and it swung around to point at me, it knew I was there, the creepy little shit.
Aside from the frequent leech-related squealing, the walk was uneventful. The thing you need to know about Danum Valley is that it’s vast. Wildlife has a lot more room to move around in than Kinabatangan River and you’ve a lot less chance of seeing anything. That combined with the break-neck speed our guide wanted us to move at and we didn’t see a bastard thing apart from some creepy-crawlies and a lot of incredibly impressive trees. They’re pretty awesome to be fair. He did stop for long enough to point out some bona fide primary rainforest across the river though. It looks exactly like the rest of the rainforest to the untrained eye, but yeah, we’re having it. It’s some of the oldest rainforest in the world around these parts.
We got to Tembaling waterfall, took photos and promptly turned around to head back. Well that’s that then. I mean, it’s not like there was anywhere to sit to enjoy it without becoming riddled with leeches in seconds. I did struggle to get back up the hill we’d just half walked, half slid down. I was starting to feel a bit faint, possibly because I’m unfit as fuck, possibly because it was so bloody hot we were starting to take liquid form. It wasn’t raining (yet) but we were still sodden from oozing sweat from every available pore.
Three and a half hours after we left the dining room where the walks start from, we were back. We trudged back to the dorms to perform the obligatory leech check. The best way to get them off, we’d discovered, was to spray the little shits directly with DEET then pull them off if they don’t fall off. One girl told us we had to then roll them in our hands to kill them. Ha, righto, you fucking roll them, lady!
We settled into the communal area for a spot of lunch and watched the weather roll in. I have literally never seen rain like it, and I’ve seen rain. It was biblical. I expected a bloke called Noah to show up and start loading two of everything onto a truck bound for a boat he built in his back garden. We were meant to be doing another walk in the afternoon but that was well and truly rained off which I was secretly happy about, I don’t think I was emotionally prepared to deal with any more leeches.
There’s not much to do here in the rain, it’s very much an outdoor place. Make sure you bring a book or three. We killed a few hours and Nat and Laura who’d stepped up as the official chefs knocked us up more rice and vegetables for dinner in the company of the various creatures that lived in the kitchen. Fortunately it stopped pissing rain in time for the night drive.
This was very cool, we saw quite a lot of stuff but none of us had the equipment to photograph stuff up trees in the pitch black. Our guides had powerful torches they shone into the jungle, picking out sambah deer, an owl, flying squirrels and a civet. There are fireflies around here too and I do love a firefly. But yeah, I reckon one full day is enough here unless you have your little heart set on seeing way more wildlife. There’s not much to do apart from the guided activities and when it rains there really is nothing to do bar gaze forlornly out into the mist. I’m very glad we came here but I’m also very glad we only opted for two nights.
The following morning we went leech bothering one last time along one of the shorter trails you don’t need a guide for and saw a troop of red leaf monkeys which was pretty cool. There’s a tower you can climb up where you can sit in as much silence as is possible when you keep finding leeches on you. Then that was it, the end of our Danum Valley adventure. We paid our bill for the walks and drives at reception (we’d paid for our accommodation in Lahad Datu) and were loaded into the shuttle bus at 8.30am for the journey back.
Now, I wouldn’t refer to Lahad Datu as the shithole that many people call it, it’s just non-descript. Once we were back at the Danum Valley Field Centre office I asked Suzan if there was anything we could do whilst we waited for our buses out of here. She broke into a huge grin and chuckled, shaking her head. Nope. There was nothing. Tarrant, Laura and Nat would be heading back to Kota Kinabalu and I was heading to Semporna for some diving. The fun thing about buses here is that they don’t always show up. Fortunately, after much waiting and kitten bothering, my bus did arrive and I bid goodbye to the others and went on my way.
Danum Valley, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia
Stayed at: Danum Valley Field Centre (scroll to the bottom of this post here for all manner of getting to and staying at Danum Valley Field Centre related shit.)