Jungle. Two full days of travel to get here, including four flights. Now I know why Attenborough’s got a gravelly voice. You can bet our National Treasure didn’t spend his first afternoon in the jungle getting a pedicure, but I did….. a FISH PEDICURE! *Alan Partridge nose tap* Yes the photo above, where we’re giggling and gurning like it’s all been set up for the cameras is, in fact, us standing in a pond while fish nibble our feet a la Camden Market (except these fish are bigger, there are more of them and fewer goths).
This ‘natural pool’ was sold to us as somewhere to bathe by our guide Daryl, as a nice way of keeping cool on our two-hour trek up to the Coffin Mountain vantage point. But seriously, what a sicko: like my husband would let some manky whoppers nibble his tiddler! (I might have got that the wrong way round). As we walk, he explains how he’s from a family of Headhunters, and by that he doesn’t mean his folks place people in Management Consultancy and spend Friday nights at Corney and Barrow: they’re an ancient Borneo tribe who chop off the noggins of their conquests, preserve them, then stick them up on their gateposts to show how hard they are. Now Daryl seems nice enough but suddenly climbing Coffin Mountain with him doesn’t sound quite so fun. We don’t go further than the pond.
We then hang out waiting for orang-utans and fail to spot any, despite the ministrations of the resident researcher, Noko (and her cute kid Hikari, who loves John) but we do see some Red Leaf Monkeys that are Bowie-ginger and pleasingly weird, and they keep at bay the growing, nagging feeling that I’ve travelled two days solid for a load of leaf mulch and some lizards.
To be fair, if you like trees/leaves/insects (and I do), there are endless beautiful specimens: butterflies with wings like coloured hankies, tiny ferns which spontaneously ‘wilt’ when you touch them, massive, bossy-looking ants the size of chess pieces. Except there’s a catch: like Bond girls, they’re beautiful – but nearly always want to kill you. If it doesn’t nibble you, it bites you stings you or sucks your blood. Nothing in the rainforest, even the leaves, leaves you the f**k alone. There are lacy, bug-bitten leaves which emit vicious sap that burns, a particular centipede that causes pain like banging your hand with a hammer for a week and vines with fish-hook thorns that work their way further into your skin, the more you wriggle. And even if they don’t want to hurt you, they sure look like they do. I mean check out this bee: an encounter with this beast is like being buzzed by a Chinook. It’s DARTH BEE.
By far the most in your face (legs, arms, back) of all Borneo’s fauna however is this chap:
This is the tiger leech. Eddie fell upon it when we arrived because he’d just seen them on Deadly 60. They dab dab dab around with their free end until they find a nice patch of skin to drill into, then they inject you with anti-coagulant and fill their boots. And they’re everywhere, falling off leaves, brushing onto your legs as you walk through ferns. They’re the reason for our natty outfits here – leech socks are both practical and extremely sexy:
In fact the fashion has been one of the unexpected highlights of the virgin rainforest for me. Family Knight has managed to look utterly inappropriately dressed at all times, like those families on ski slopes that wear jeans and cagoules – and, like those families on ski-slopes, we also look extremely nonchalant therefore totally ace. Everyone else is in ‘safari gear’ (full length everything, walking boots, hiking socks) including a large group of twitchers who, with their button-up khaki shirts and ferocious concentration faces, I swear came straight from an audition to be the next member of Kraftwerk, They’re a group from England and they’ve come all this way for the hornbill, a rare bird. Just shows doesn’t it: I’m not sure I’d even get out of bed for a bird.