Saturday, 28 March 2015

borneo part two: jungle

Bella and I walked into the airport in Kota Kinabalu at 5AM. We were so focused on not being late for our flight that we arrived a full hour before any of the other passengers. None of the shops were open yet, so we had a picnic with the snacks that Bella had packed from England. We sat in the waiting seats and ate raisin bread, popcorn, and mentos for breakfast. A Canadian couple from New Brunswick (whom we had met on our tour the day before) were some of the first passengers to arrive after us. We laughed and learned that we would be on the same tour for the next four days.

We flew into the city of Sandakan and from there, were driven away from civilization down winding dirt roads surrounded by green. This was the first time that I became aware of the palm tree plantations. The trees are so dense and so endless that they almost look natural and— at the beginning— we were nearly fooled into thinking that these were real forests. They stretch onward for as far as the eye can see, extending over cresting hills and gentle slopes. I never could have imagined the size of that overgrown destruction. I still don't think that I have fully grasped the scale.

We visited an enormous cave filled with swallows, cockroaches, and bats. Bella and I took silly pictures, I tried my best to terrorize her with cockroaches. And then we were on our way again, this time heading to a lodge on the Kinabalu River where we spent two days relaxing and going on river cruises. Bella nicknamed me "Eagle Eyed." I spotted monkeys jumping into the bushy trees across the river and birds with crowns flying in distant, rosy skies. We were incredibly fortunate in that we saw TWO WILD ORANGUTANS. A male and a female. A man and a woman. It's times like those that make me wish that I had a zoom lens instead of just my trusty 50mm.

I remember the storms vividly. I am so grateful for the jungle rain that drummed down with such great force and left us brimming with emotion. Bella and I stood on our front step and watched it fall. Earlier, when the thunder had just started to roll in, I declared that if it rained— really rained— I would dance in the water. It rained. It really rained. I danced in the water. Bella documented. She danced as well though under the protection of the cabin roof. We laughed until our sides hurt. The air felt so good.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

borneo part one: kinabalu

It was raining when Bella and I arrived in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. We had just come from Nusa Lembongan in Bali where it had not rained for three months and where the heat had been dry and intense. While Malaysia was still hot, it was also incredibly humid when the skies weren't flooding.

We only had one full day in Kota Kinabalu before flying to Sandakan and we spent that day on a tour that took us to a local market, the Mount Kinabalu lookout, Kinabalu National Park, the canopy walk, and Poring Hot Springs. But I think my favourite part of the day was simply driving through the mountains and jungles and getting to witness the enormity of Borneo. On the drive back to the hotel from the national park, the sky clouded over and a heavy mist began to wash over everything. On one side of the road, thick jungle trees rushed out of the Earth and on the other, a forested valley opened up surrounded by green mountains seemed to go on for eternity. And fog all around. Bella asked our car to pull over so we could photograph the low clouds that were floating against the body of Mount Kinabalu and the mist that was following our vehicle. There was a small waterfall in the distance.

It was a perfect moment. Looking back, I know that it was one of the defining instances of my experience in Borneo: sliding from one window of the van to the other, clutching my camera, my eyes so wide and my heart so full, one of my best friends doing the same dance in the row in front of me, knowing that she is feeling the same great sense of awe and appreciation. Nature the likes of which I had never before witnessed unfolded around all us. The wet air faded into fog and chased us as we serpentined through the peaks. This is the true Earth. It's almost like we were never really there.