24th January 2011
The phone nearly flew across the room when the annoying alarm noise sounded at 5am and it felt as though we had only just crawled into bed! Nonetheless we dragged our weary bodies out, although Jen was feeling quite unwell this morning. We quickly got dressed, making sure to wear long-sleeved tops to keep the biting bugs at bay as much as possible. We didn’t know what to expect this morning or where we were going as we were unable to find our guide last night, so went in search of information and coffee. We got to the lounge area just before 6am and a very nice member of the bar staff, with the very Bornean name of David, made us a fresh cup of life-giving coffee before we went down to the lobby to find Lister, our guide. Sure enough, he was there and told us we would be off to the canopy walk in search of early morning birds and beasts. Again we were told we wouldn’t be needing the famed leech socks on this walk as we wouldn’t actually be going into the jungle itself but walking across a long rope bridge high up in the canopy of the rainforest. We were joined by one other couple and set off on the short walk to the bridge at around 6:30am. It was a lovely, bright morning and the early morning sun was twinkling through the trees while we crunched along the muddy, gritty path, jumping the puddles and navigating our way round the thick, sticky mud until we came to the few wooden steps that signalled the start of the canopy walk. Standing at the beginning of the bridge, it was an impressive sight and definitely was not for the faint hearted. High in the trees, it stretched out in front of us for what seemed like miles. In fact the bridge stretches for a total of 300 metres with varying lengths of the bridge interrupted by an octagonal viewing platform before the next span starts again at a different level.
The long, magnificent canopy walk in Danum Valley
A misty morning start on our canopy walk
One of the lookout platforms along the canopy walk
The canopy walk stretched for 300m
The stream way below us from the canopy walk
Stepping onto it was a sensation in itself, as the whole structure wobbled with each step and the ground below looked a long way down! We inched our way to the first lookout platform and studied the trees around us. A thin mist veiled the top of the tallest trees and the calls of the birds were surprisingly few and far between. We were both a little disappointed with this, but were still enjoying the wonderful view from this unique vantage point. Unable to see any form of wildlife we carried on to the next viewing point where we stood and watched a fast flowing stream far below us, watching the brown waters turn white as they swirled around rocks and tree trunks. It really was stunning, but still the shy inhabitants of the rainforest refused to make an appearance. We finished the rest of the walk with our guide giving us the lowdown on various tree species and some of the incumbent fauna in the area before stepping back onto firm ground and walking the path back to the lodge. Again treading through the mushy mud and missing the puddles we started the trek back up hill and happened across the truck that had taken us on our ill-fated night time safari last night. We were shocked at the state it was in! Quite clearly elephants had charged it and left their indelible mark! The padded seat cushions had been speared by tusks and ripped to pieces, the metal frame on which they were bolted to the chassis had been peeled back like paper, while the thick, solid steel mud guards had been folded back like they were made of cardboard! Dents galore decorated the side of it and the whole truck had been pushed into the foliage! Thank God we were not in it at the time. Our guide last night was right to be cautious of following the elephants too closely! We carried on towards home once again, the thought of breakfast quickening our pace, took some photos at the base of the stream we had been watching from the canopy and walked into the lobby area a short while later. After giving our boots and shoes a hose down and a scrub we were informed about our next adventure, sprinted upstairs and sat down to a wonderful breakfast. We ate our fill, and more, while looking out over the wonderful grounds and to the river, watching birds and butterflies of all colours flying around us while we ate. Even some of the insects here were the size of small birds! We barely had enough time for our food to settle in our bellies before we were donning our freshly cleaned boots and, for the first time, our leech socks! We were off on a real jungle trek to the Viewpoint, an hour and a half away through thick jungle but along a well trodden path. We were told the climb would be fairly arduous as it was mostly uphill so were a little worried about our fitness levels. Jen still wasn’t feeling too great but we rather hoped that the heat and exercise might sweat some of the cold out of her! We were joined by a young man and we had a new guide with us as the couple from this morning’s trek had decided they would rather do something different and our original guide accompanied them. We were handed a walking stick each to help us get a better purchase on some of the more slippery areas and, fully kitted up and looking like a couple of badly dressed Morris Dancers, we set off at a leisurely pace, our guide immediately pointing out trees, shrubs and flowers, filling our addled brains with names and information! We entered the jungle for real this time, and were soon shown our first leech! It is a clever, sly beast and sits on a leaf and waits for the host to brush past and attaches itself to the skin. It then makes its way to the best vein it can avail itself of and starts burrowing into the skin and then injects the victim with an anticoagulant to start the steady flow of blood before drinking its fill. Our guide pointed this out by sticking his finger close to the leech and as soon as it felt the warmth it stretched itself out as far as it could, desperately trying to latch on to the finger! It grew to about 4 centimetres in length. The leaf it sits and waits on has a long tip and it is this tip that it emulates so that the host cannot see it! As soon as Jen saw this little display, she was immediately paranoid and, despite the extremely sticky heat, the rain mac came out and went on, along with the hood just in case they fell from the trees above her! From that moment, all 3 of us were constantly checking our clothes for leeches, with our guide being pretty blasé about the whole thing! As we moved deeper into the jungle, the canopy closed overhead, the light dimmed and the heat increased. We were sweating profusely and in no time at all Jen’s face was strawberry red under her hood, but she refused to remove it! The chatter from our guide was almost constant and he was so informative that the walk was not only fun and beautiful but interesting too. We followed the path through the mud and reached our first stop off point – the ancient burial site of a now extinct local tribe. We knew we had arrived because the first thing one sees is a skull and some bones marking the spot. We climbed some steps that have been erected at the site and were shown the burial chambers of the dead which were holes dug into the rock face.
Skull and bones at the ancient burial site in the Danum Valley rainforest
A burial chamber cut into the rock face
There was even the remains of a one hundred year old coffin made out of iron wood, an extremely hard wood, plentiful in the rainforest. Most wooden constructions are made from it here. Nearby there was a hunter’s blowpipe still in good condition for its age. We spent a little while there before continuing our trek to the viewpoint which was still some way away and it was all uphill from here! We were soaked to the skin and more than a little tired but were really enjoying the walk and the company. Our guide pointed out a Red Monkey in the distance, something it took us both a while to see (these guides have amazing eyesight!) and every now and then we’d hear the call of “leech” as one of us found one of the disgusting things on our clothes or on our boots, immediately despatching it by rolling it up and flicking it off! We spotted a flying lizard, numerous other lizards and a spider that looked like a small, white flower!
A Red Monkey hanging about in the rainforest
Is it a weed? Is it a flower? No, its a spider!!
An iguana clings on to a tree in the rainforest, Danum Valley
We were exhausted and soaked through by the time we reached the Viewpoint and what a view it was! We looked down on the valley and could see the whole lodge spread out below us sitting in the middle of mile after mile of nothing but trees. Our guide suddenly pointed to something somewhere in the distance. We all looked but couldn’t see anything. He uttered the word orang-utan and we all strained our eyes to see where he was pointing. He passed us the binoculars and we still couldn’t see it! After a little while of searching we found it – our first wild orang-utan! It was miles away, climbing up and down a tree and how our guide saw it in the first place was a complete mystery. He could see with the naked eye what we couldn’t even see with binoculars! The binoculars were passed around in turn so that we could all get a glimpse of the orang-utan as he lazed and played in the huge tree, albeit from a very long distance away! We sat and rested for a while, giving Jen the opportunity to remove her rain mac for a time, and to take a much needed drink of water as well as to give herself a complete inspection just in case a slippery leech had found its way in somewhere!
The lodge as seen from the Viewpoint high in the rainforest
The lodge nestles in a small clearing in the rainforest
At this point, after a discussion between our guide and our fellow traveller, we were given the option of the long or short route down to the waterfall, the longer route adding around an hour to the climb down. As we were enjoying ourselves so much, apart from the dreaded leeches, we opted for the longer route and, grabbing our stuff, with Jen immediately putting her dripping wet rain mac back on, we set off once more. This part of the walk wasn’t so clear cut as the first as the path became less obvious and we had to use our walking sticks more often to clear the way, Jen having devised a game of leech golf where, upon spotting one sitting on the end of a leaf she clubbed it as far into the forest as she could! It wasn’t long before the inevitable happened and she found one up her sleeve! Jumping around everywhere as though something was about to explode from her insides, the guide came over and calmly pulled it off her before it managed to get a proper hold. That was the worst thing that could have happened because from that moment on, leeches were supposedly getting in everywhere!
Some of the paths we trod took us through small streams and down slippery slopes which became quite tricky to negotiate at times, with us having to climb rocks and jump over obstacles here and there. It was very hard work but great fun and we were absolutely drenched in sweat. Eventually we came to the waterfall where, to our surprise and relief, a couple of workers from the lodge had prepared a light lunch for us, laying on ice cold drinks and fruit, sandwiches and cakes. They had even brought down some chairs and towels for us to use if we wanted to take a cooling swim in the crystal waters. We drank thirstily as our guide cut up fresh mango, dragonfruit and pineapple for us and we tucked into the delicious sandwiches and cakes. And then, the highlight came when our guide suggested we remove our shoes and socks and wade a little way into the cool waters to receive our free foot spa treatment! We wondered what he was talking about but did it anyway. To our amazement loads of fish suddenly appeared and started nibbling on the skin of our feet and toes! They were like cleaner fish, and were feeding on the dead skin on our feet! It was excruciatingly ticklish and not particularly pleasant it must be said, but good fun. Jen lasted about 5 seconds before squealing and running out of the water! Stew stood there for about 15 minutes, eventually getting a chair from Jen so he could just sit and let them eat him alive! It was a really nice break and we dried ourselves, put our muddy socks and boots back on (after thoroughly checking them over for leeches!), thanked the guys for a lovely lunch and returned to the jungle to continue our trek back to the lodge.
The "fish spa" waterfall in the rainforest!
Carefully crossing the stream and climbing back up the muddy slopes we traipsed on until we came out from the cover of the trees and found ourselves back on the main path to the lodge where our guide told us that, as we were so late back and had missed lunch, a special one had been prepared for us! We were still full from the sandwiches, cakes and fresh fruit we had just eaten down by the waterfall and had assumed that had been lunch! Apparently our guide had radioed ahead to tell them we would be late and they said they would cook for us when we returned! Once back, we quickly washed our boots and checked each other over thoroughly for any signs of leech activity and went up to lunch. We were served with five different courses of food! Although absolutely delicious, we seriously struggled with the sheer quantity of food put in front of us but did the best we could! What made it even more difficult was knowing that in less than an hour we would be embarking on a deeper trek into the jungle, off the beaten path, in search of wild orang-utans! All we actually wanted to do was to take a nice hot shower as we were both still wet through, but time did not afford us any such luxury. We just about had time to run back to our room and change into fresh shirts before we were back down in the lobby strapping our leech socks and boots back on our weary, aching (but amazingly soft!) feet. As we started off, our fellow trekker told us that he had returned to his room after lunch and found he had been “leeched” on his backside, and he couldn’t stem the flow of blood! He turned round and his trousers were red where the blood was still soaking through the material! He wasn’t sure whether or not there was still one attached to him! Our paranoia levels increased tenfold and we were checking for leeches before we had even reached the jungle!
The easy bit of the trek...
Our guide received a message on his walkie-talkie from a fellow guide telling him that he had just seen an orang-utan and that there was a small herd of elephants close by too. It was great news about the orang-utan but not so good about the elephants because, although it would be great to see them, they would more than likely get very aggressive towards us as they had some young with them. The two guides kept in contact with each other, passing on up to date information on the whereabouts of the orangs and the elephants as we left the path and started beating our way through the bushes and trees towards the area where the orangs were. Jen was not at all happy with this as pushing our way through trees and bushes meant that leeches would be more prevalent. She wasn’t feeling too well as it was, but this latest development was making her feel much worse! The smile disappeared from her face, the hood was pulled tighter around her face and she was constantly checking her feet and legs for leeches. One thing she hadn’t anticipated, though, was the leeches using her walking stick as a means to get to her hands and she very soon tired of holding them and handed them to Stew to carry for her! She really was not a happy bunny as she struggled to keep up with the pace set by our guide, with Stew hanging back with her to make sure she didn’t get lost. Every now and then we would hear the whoosh of the walkie-talkie and the jabbering conversation between the two guides. After almost an hour of fighting our way through the thick undergrowth and bushes, we spotted the other guide who beckoned us over. Our guide gestured to us to be quiet and we made our way over to join him, Jen more interested in looking at the floor of the jungle than in the canopy above! Looking up we saw a large orang moving slowly from tree to tree. We only caught a fleeting look at him as he was soon engulfed by leaves and branches but just seeing him so close was magical! Once he’d left the scene we were all ready to vacate the premises and return to the lodge! We ended up, though, on a long rope bridge across a river, and stayed there for a while because the herd of elephants had returned to the area and our guide was being extra cautious, making sure we stayed safe, and nowhere was safer than on the rope bridge! Danger averted we entered the rainforest cover once more and made our way back towards the lodge. The three of us couldn’t get back quick enough! We were hot, thirsty and absolutely drenched with the exertion of pushing our way through the jungle. At one point our guide must have had about ten leeches on him in one go and just seemed to be pulling them off himself almost non-stop, which did nothing to allay Jen of her fears of being “leeched” before we’d finished the trek back, and Stew caught one just picking a prime spot on his wrist and flicked it off just in time! The second we entered the lobby, we sat down and pulled our shoes off, being sure to inspect them thoroughly and carefully and, sure enough, found some of the slippery beggars hiding! Making sure we pulled them off and re-checking our entire bodies, we were satisfied that we had got them all. We started to use the brushes and hoses to clean our shoes thoroughly and noticed a number of the horrible beasties waiting on top of the taps ready for some poor, unsuspecting hand to reach down and turn the tap on! Shoes all cleaned we dragged our tired, soaked, bedraggled bodies up the stairs, through the lounge and along the boardwalk back to our room, stripped off the second we entered and turned on the hot shower. It felt so good letting the hot water cascade over our aching muscles and we felt a whole lot better coming out of there than when we went in! We dressed in some clean clothes and made a coffee while waiting for dinner to be served. Our boots were soaking wet from the cleaning we had just given them and should really have left them outside the room, but knew that if they went missing, we would be in a spot of bother! So we kept them in the room in the hope that they would dry sufficiently for the morning. We had an evening safari to get ready for, but Jen had had enough for the day and just could not face going out again! Stew went to find Lister to tell him we wouldn’t be taking part in the evening bird watch. We both headed up for an early dinner so that we could get a decent night’s sleep and another wonderfully prepared feast was enjoyed by us all. We bumped into our trekking buddy, (whose name we never asked!) and asked him if the leech damage was ok. He said it had finally stopped bleeding and the offending creature had disappeared, but that the wound was quite deep and painful.
Hunger and thirst slaked, we drifted back to our room, stopping to say hello to our friendly praying mantis that had made his home on one of the boardwalk lights, obviously awaiting a moth or other insect attracted by the light. He was a brilliant green and quite handsome in an extremely ugly kind of way!
What you looking at?!!
Back in the comfort and safety of our room Jen immediately hit the sack while Stew broke out the laptop, deciding to hit the internet in the lounge and check on some emails. Jen suddenly said “Oh my God” and stared up at the ceiling. There, making its steady way across the wood was an orange and black leech! It had obviously been in our shoes or on our leech socks and we had missed it. The horrible beast was directly over Jen’s head and she was out of that bed in a flash! Stew grabbed a towel and knocked it from the ceiling and onto the bed, grabbed a tissue and wrapped the creature in it before flushing it down the toilet! That wasn’t good news for Jen as she was now paranoid that an entire army of the things was in the bedroom, and would not turn off the lights! Stew’s internet attempt was thwarted as the internet connection was down, so we both gave up and gave in to the sleep we both desperately needed in readiness for our final adventure here tomorrow morning at 8am.