My words for the day are:
Hilang dalam hutan, lost in the forest.
The rainforest in Danum is my first real taste of bornean forest since two years ago, but it is not comparable to the one I walked in around Gunung Kinabalu, with its relatively tidy paths, or even Mulu. Here the forest seems thicker, dark and claustrophobic. Perhaps it is just that it is easy and quick to become unaccustomed to this environment. I go for a short walk with one of the rangers, which I think gives me enough reference points to navigate on my own. Then I start wandering by myself (even if it is technically not allowed).
My senses are overloaded. I have very visual memories of the forests I have been in before, but this time it is a full sensorial experience. There are the smells. Here it is sweet, there, flowery. Here it smells of wild animal and elephant dung, there it’s just an indefinable scent. And the sounds. The forest is loud. Back in KL, when I was about to leave for Borneo, somebody asked me what I was looking for and I said: “silence”. But there is no such a thing here. Insects chirping, birds calling, monkeys howling and shaking branches. And the hornbills, that make the noise of the wind when they fly, and a screeching barking sound when calling each other. The ‘soundscape’ change with the time of the day, with many more sounds that I cannot even interpret. Then, obviously, there is the view. The view is filled with trees large and small, giant “buttress roots”, lianas overgrowing trees, more lianas overgrowing other lianas. It is like a slow, unrelentless fight for light and resources, and I have to find my way into it. Check the foot step, check where you put your hands, check the surroundings to navigate and look for animals, repeat. It soon becomes an automatic behaviour. Some scientists suggested that the attention deficiency syndrome is an ancestral human feature, legacy of a time when the environment required continuous attention.
Perhaps such instincts are not so deeply buried under the layers of civilization as we like to think.
At this point I start to loosen up, enjoy, feel confident. Perhaps too confident. I meet Roger the Aussie, also wandering like me in the forest. We head together to the Timbaling Falls, a few kilometres away. On the way back, Roger heads to camp on the known way, while I opt for trying a different path. There is no complete map of the park available, and the partial maps depicted on the signs seem approximate to say the least, but as I said, I’m feeling confident. I think the next junction to camp is nearby and it’s early afternoon, what could possibly go wrong? It comes out, the maps are even less reliable than they seem. Some of the depicted paths do not exist anymore or have been deviated by fallen trees, and some of the existing paths are not on the maps. So I walk and walk, and instead if finding the junction to camp I end up on the “Rhino Pool” path. Fine, I read this name on one of the maps, let’s go for it. A creek crossing (on the maps) and a big bridge (incredibly not on the maps) later, I’ve been walking for a long time and it’s almost four. Two hours before dark, and no sign of camp. I start seeing the signs indicating the research plots, and according to the maps they are located close to the research centre, but at this point I doubt it very much. Basically, I have only few sips of water left, and a very vague idea of my location. I decide to turn around and walk all the way back, racing the darkness (it goes without saying that my head torch is safe in my rucksack, back at the research centre). And I do the one thing not to do: I panic. I’m running in the forest (also ranked quite high on the list of better-not’s), dehydrated and sweating like a pig. When I finally get somewhere near the research centre it’s about six and I am imagining the path more than seeing it. I walk the last 500 m in the dark, and I spend the night trying to sleep in spite of the cramps due to dehydration.
I guess the lesson for the day is “don’t mess with the forest”.