E-Travels With E.Trules.....wild man of bornoe, Malaysia, S.E. Asia Travelogues

wild man of borneo

july 5th

(happy US of A post independence day; sorry i didn't have the annual party this year; otherwise engaged) --

kuching, malaysia

dearest homo sapiens--

damn. i tried, but i couldn't quite get myself to the idyllic island of bali high - indonesia. not yet. so… i just had to come to -- sarawak - east malaysia - otherwise known as northwest -- borneo. how could i not come to - borneo? remember all those wild man/headhunter stories they fed us american baby boom kids about the savages of borneo? well, i do. so lusting for savagery -- and beauty -- and adventure -- and pristine jungle greenery -- and... and exotic wood carving, phallic totem poles, vengeful head-hunting, primitive wild man tribes, and the rest --- here i am--

at the sarawak museum - in kuching, malaysia, capital of sarawak, largest state in the country. not ka-ching. or badda boom, badda bing. but ku-ching. lovely, over-developed, hilton-waterfront-mcdonald's borneo. is their no savagery left?

well check out this museum, reputed to be one of asia's finest. due in large part to this eccentric and ornery british curator, tom harrison, about whom i read – stumbling across an obscure but inviting title called “the most offending soul alive, tom harrison and his remarkable life”. seems this misanthropic, misogynistic genius was a well known ornithologist by age twenty, a muck-raking, self aggrandizing journalist by thirty, an outcast and jealous bohemian by forty, a north borneon world war two hero by fifty, and a drunken, womanizing, obsessively dedicated curator by sixty. sometimes i like to think of myself that way……

anyway -- back to said sarawak museum – where mr. offending harrison and his previous and subsequent curators have stuffed cases full of some of the following species and artifacts under one ambitious and beautifully designed roof: flying lemurs, promiscuous porcupines, rat deer, sun bear, python, cobra, mongoose, 92 species of bats, orangutan (translation: jungle people), proboscis monkeys, white breasted eagles, rhinoceros hornbills, water snakes, crocodiles, shark tooth amulets, hair ball charms from the stomachs of female deer, flattened skulls, hunted, smoked, & collected heads (most recently of japanese soldiers also from the 2nd world war), ornately carved ivory bone handled hunting knives, carved coconut masks, gigantic carved dark wooden totem poles to scare off the sick and/or evil spirits, pierced penises, tattooed everythings, kumchongs, barangs, varongs, sailing ships of every shape, size, and dimension, long houses on stilts, basket weaving, rattan making, multi gong ensembles, drums of every size, shape, and dimension, strange games, bare breasts, magic, ritual, other times, other worlds, other concerns....

me, holed up in the borneo hotel. overpriced, but cushy. spoiling my lingering cold. reading somerset maughm's collection of stories from the dutch and british east indies (where i'm at) and the isle of capri. just retuned from bako national park - two nights - went with a dutch girl into wild life preservation and parks administration – came back alone. yet another beauty w/ a boyfriend - traveling solo. what the hell are these boyfriends doing for six months while their “girlfriends” travel and see the world? they'll soon have a museum devoted exclusively to this rare species of 20th century fox.

in any event, the trip to bako was fantastic. easy to get to by bus and barang (local boat). arriving there midday, you have to take your shoes off at low tide and carry them ashore, walking the last fifty yards through the sapphire south china sea. walking another hundred yards to parks administration, where after you sign into a hostel room of four bunk beds for five bucks a night, the first thing they do is -- give you a “monkey stick” – to beat off the aggressive macaque monkeys who are marauding the park grounds in gangs, ripping backpacks, plastic bags, anything off your back or shoulder – even out of your hands – looking for food. the macaques have signed a truce with the huge, long snouted bearded pigs (wild boar), who also rumble around the camp grounds, feeding off the ever-suppliant, unwilling, but photo-clicking campers. all in all, an excellent touro eco-system.

first night, after getting my bearings, i half-organize, half join, a night walking safari. about seven hearty backpackers, one sharp-eyed native guide, eight torches (flashlights), and one well-known-to-be, anti-outdoorsy gringo american. hell, i figure, how many times will i be in the jungle outback of borneo? so – we proceed. slowly. squishing our way past the wooden planking into the muddy mangrove forest. i’m sticking close to the guide, while the other more ambitious backpackers are flicking their beams into the trees in smaller groups of twos and threes. “look! over there!” everyone’s beams funnel up the crown of a giant rattan tree. “what is it?” “a flying squirrel?.” “no, a flying lemur.” “no, a hanging bat.” what do i think? i can’t see anything. it’s like trying to see the 3-d picture pop out of the flat magic color maze book. “there. see the branch sticking out near the top of the dead tree?” “no.” the guide is standing next to me, holding my wrist, and trying to focus my beam on the damn whatever it is. “see it? it just moved.” “oh yeah! yeah, i see it now. it just moved again.” “riiiiight,” all the backpackers chime in indulgently. “let’s keep moving.” “yeah,” i say, “let’s go. no problem.”

turns out that we decide it was a sloe loris, the most rare and unique local animal to spot at night. makes us feel better – ‘cause that’s about the only mammal we actually spot that night. lots of insects, a scorpion, one hanging green viper, but no more mammals. some of the backpackers are disappointed, but not me. shit, i saw a hanging sloe loris.

the next day, after failing in my negotiations with the dutch girl, i hike about seven kilometers (three miles – a long way for me), alone, out to an almost naked and abandoned beach. i climb up and down through the native rain forest – rattans, mahoganies, bamboos – thinking, “ohhh, so this is what they make those native longhouses and los feliz rattan chairs out of.” these giant trees - battling each other for survival - reaching up to the sky for light – creating this sealed canopy of beauty – here in bako national park in northwest borneo. ain’t i a lucky guy? making my way out of the forest down to the beach, i strip off my sweat-soaked clothes and swim au naturel, the way people have swum in this sea for ages.

then i get the bright idea to take a short cut back to base camp, via the sea, walking along the shore, instead of sweating my way back through seven kilometers of rain forest. i begin implementing my plan. the first two hours or so go fine -- scenic, cool (by southeast asia standards), productive – i’m saving myself a lot of time and energy -- but then – one false step – and i fall through what appeared to be a solid wall of sea rock. i’m completely soaked. boots and all. in the middle of the south china sea. alone. the salt water drying on my skin in the heat of the day. not a pretty or comfortable sight. i sit down and wait. i swim for another hour. i wait. i can’t climb up the shore embankment to the forest trail, it’s too steep; and i can’t imagine walking back two hours and then another five on the trail. i wait. the sun is sinking and telling me it’ll be dark soon. around the equator there is almost no dusk. just sun set, then dark. night. i’m scanning the horizon with my hand over my eyes – i think that’s the way you do it – wondering if any hostile animals or malarious mosquitoes will allow me to survive the night – when – i see it: a speck on the horizon… that after about half an hour, clearly becomes a boat… which, after another half an hour becomes a small motor boat with a single driver… who, in another ten minutes, after seeing this robinson crusoe scraggly-haired gringo waiving frantically at him for a very long time, mercifully comes to my rescue, picks me up, figures out where i want to go thru some very basic international sign language of desperation and gratitude, and delivers me back to base camp in another fifteen just-around-the-sea-corner-see-i was right-after-all minutes.

still eating like a poor man in paradise - giant garlic prawns, crab, lobster, mixed vegies in oyster sauce, plain old nasi goreng (fried rice- delicious) - indian curries and roti (bread), malay stews and delicacies (not too hot for my tender digestive tract), mandarin, cantonese chinese food - just like gam wah back on long-island.

seeing the end of the picture. if i can ever make it to bali........

time for dessert--


wm borneo