I spent three weeks living in the heart of the rainforests as part of my
school's nature appreciation field trip. It was a fascinating an magical journey
through one of the last remaining unexplored regions of the world.
exploratory expedition started off from Kuching, which was the largest town in
the state of Sarawak. I can still remember the breathtaking sight of an endless
expanse of green treetops as our plane flew over Borneo. It was truly awesome to
witness one of the last frontiers that had yet to collapse from the onslaught of
modernization, which has destroyed much of the beautiful forests in the world.
From Kuching, we traveled northwards towards the Rajang River. It was our
intention to conduct a riverine expedition of the rainforests as any attempt to
explore on foot was bound to fail because of the denseness of the forests.
The bumpy journey to a small river town on the banks of the Rajang took us
about one full day to complete. I experienced my first night in the rustic charm
of Borneo. As darkness descended, the jungle around the town came alive with
strange and terrifying sounds. I peered out the window of my hut, but it was
pitch dark outside. Coming from brightly lit Singapore, with all its street
lamps, I had never thought that some places did not have such a comfort; it was
something I had always taken for granted. There was a soft splash in the river
and I saw two faint green lights staring listlessly from the river's surface.
That was my first encounter with on of the inhabitants of the jungle -- the
Before dawn, we boarded the wooden boat that would carry us through the heart
of Borneo. The sun was just beginning to ascend from the tree line and the mist
that shrouded the surroundings started to rise slowly. As the boat chugged into
the mist, I felt like Alice, entering Wonderland, a mixture of wonder and dread.
The first creature that the guide pointed out was a parrot with its bright red
body. It was perched on a branch, peeking at a strange-looking fruit that hung
above it. As we progressed deeper, down Rajang, the river narrowed and trees
from either side of the bank interlocked overhead, creating a tunnel.
As we made our way down the river, I realized that what I had learnt about
the forests in movies was more myth than fact. It was virtually impossible to
catch sight of any animals easily. Without the trained eye of the guide, who was
a Dayak -- the native inhabitants of Borneo -- we would not have been
able to spot other creatures like the tapir, the civet cat and wild tusked pig.
Our guide was a gentle and kind-hearted person. I realized that the
stereotypical view of natives as savages was totally fallacious.
Throughout the journey, we would anchor at a cove and explore the interior of
the jungle. it was at one such stop that I saw the native Malayan rhinoceros,
which was only rarely sighted. It was drinking at the opposite bank as I stood
there transfixed. I never knew that it was so different from its African
counterpart ! It was much smaller and its tusk was shorter and more blunt.
Another unforgettable encounter was the family of orangutans that were basking
on the banks of the river, unaffected by the intrusion into their habitat. In
fact, they appeared to be oblivious to the strange contraption, with gawking
humans on board.