A Monkey Stole my Bra – Bako National Park, Borneo

We’ve spent three days in Bako National Park, and it’s hard to imagine a more jurassic, a more alive, or a more astounding place in the world. As I write this, the tree canopy is swaying, signalling the early morning arrival of the local long-tailed macaque tribe on their breakfast foraging expedition, and the air is alive with the sound of a hundred different species of bird and insect getting busy with the day. I know that if I look hard enough, somewhere in the tree opposite there’s a perfectly disguised winged lemur folded up and pressed against the trunk, sleeping vertically after being up all night hunting. And a massive bearded pig has just strolled casually from underneath our house, he probably slept there last night.

We’ve been staying in a formerly lovely lodge, a hundred metres from the beach, and right on the edge of some serious jungle. It’s a bit like Center Parcs, but with none of the amenities or comforts, and with a strong smell of gecko wee. After being attacked by the macaques yesterday when Floss tried to recover her bra which had been stolen from the washing line, I’m sat here on our slightly ramshackle porch armed with a big stick. The scenery is amazing, but it’s not the most relaxing place to be trying to do some creative writing.

But what it is, is a fascinating place to just sit down and watch animals in their natural environment. There are so many layers to look at. Within the macaque troop, there are definite hierarchies, even amongst the babies. There’s a very small fellow, with a poorly hand, and he’s clearly right at the bottom of the food chain, roundly shunned by everyone else in the troop. Size doesn’t seem to as important as I’d expected, it’s more about attitude. I’ve just witnessed a scrap over who was going to sit on our washing line and wipe their feet on our washing, which was won by a tiny chap with a very loud voice and big teeth. Armed with my stick, I went to try and get them off the washing, at which point they stopped fighting amongst themselves, and turned their attention to me. I backed off, they’re clearly not scared of people. But they are scared of the bearded pigs. Three of them arrived and with a single, Paddington-esque hard stare, scared the macaques off the washing for me. Does this mean that I should be more scared of the pigs than the macaques? Being so rapidly demoted to the bottom of the food chain is a sobering thought.

We went on a night hike on our first night here, and saw many other amazing things that emphasised how far removed from our personal “normal” we currently are. Ten metres from the “restaurant”, calmly sat in a bush, lurked a green pit viper. Pretty small, but highly venomous.  One good bite from him, and you’ve got three hours to say your goodbyes. Further into the jungle, a tarantula sat in its nest at the base of a tree, patiently waiting for dinner to walk past. But to balance the snakes and the spiders, we saw a couple of sleeping kingfishers, all beautiful and serene, snoozing on a palm frond. And the sunsets are just amazing.

It’s impossible to catalogue all of the amazing things that we’ve seen. All of the treks that we’ve done have taken at least twice as long as we’ve expected due to the number of amazing things that we need to stop and look at. It’s been like living in a David Attenborough documentary for three days.  The place is crawling with life.  We walked to a mangrove beach yesterday, and found a couple of horseshoe crab shells. These monstrosities date back from before land was colonised, so predate the dinosaurs and everything. There were mudskippers as big as my foot and hermit crabs as big as my fist. That ten minute stroll along the beach took well over an hour. I thought that we’d seen the “real Borneo” a couple of days ago on a kayak tour, but that was nothing compared to this place. I love it.

Oh damn it! The macaques are back. Time to bring the washing back in, and hide in the room for ten minutes. After three days, I know where I fit in around here, and it’s right at the bottom of the food chain.

Love travelling. Really love Borneo. Properly scared of macaques.

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