Borneo: Danum Valley Conservation Area: A Weekend in the Wild.

Asia Days 12,13 and 14

This was now our 6th day in Borneo and already we’d seen wild Orangutans, Probiscus monkeys, Tarsias and as of yesterday following an absolutely epic ride into the valley (Danum Day One) Pigmy Elephants and an incredibly rare Pigmy Rhino!
However our experience at Danum was altogether different from anything we’ve experienced not only through Borneo, but across our entire travels. Arguably this tops the lot!

The entire Field-Centre complex couldn’t have been inhabited by more than 50 people- most of which were either scientists or on-site volunteers to maintain the research facilities in the middle of a vast, mostly undiscovered rainforest. The lack of people and knowledge of what exactly was out there made this experience all the more special.

There are two dorms on site- one male, one female- both able to hold about 30 people and come complete with mosquito nets. This sounds pretty chaotic, but our minibus of 8 people occupied the entire dorm. We were literally the only tourists here and had the whole dorm to ourselves!

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Rhino Ridge Trail

On our first morning, we rose at dawn and started along the Rhino Ridge trailhead. There are only about 3 or 4 forged trailheads throughout the valley and this was the longest one with a provisional time of 5 hours to complete the circuit. We took a mental note of the map and a picture for further reference.

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The 8 of us slashed our way through the thicket, not sure as to which was a trail and which was just mud. In the end we ended up following elephant tracks, which had managed to establish a far more visible route through the forest.

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Just as the sun began to rise through the treeline, a troop of Gibbons howled their way across the trees above. These apes (not monkeys)- are tanked! Their arms are absolutely huge! They’re also lightening quick and although we all got a good glimpse at them as they sounded out their alarms, they just as quickly vanished through the trees in lieu of our best efforts to follow them and track down their calls. Sadly no decent pictures.

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We continued our march and it didn’t take long for us to realise that we were getting eaten alive by leeches. Literally, every 5 minutes one of us would have one of these little fuckers attached to our legs sucking away through our socks!

But this wasn’t to deter us from our hike and we had plenty of time for some fooling around, before reaching a pool known as Rhino Pool.

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Located just next to the pool was the Danum River- the main river that runs through the valley. We spent a long lunch here, where some of the other lads went proper Bear Grylls, trying to use empty tin cans as fire lighters. They managed to get a fire going, but it wasn’t hot enough to boil our stash of insta-noodles…Peanut butter and bread went down far better than half cooked noodle broth!

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When we were all relaxed out we continued our hike- not sure exactly where we were going, we just followed the river. Eventually we came to a bridge, which we weren’t sure whether it was under construction or awaiting remedial work, but either-way we decided it would be a wise idea to cross it!

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As we returned back to more familiar grounds, nearing the river basin around camp, we again continued the river and set out to find the Tree Observation Deck- a small platform located some 30 metres above the canopy.

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Along the way we bumped into a tribe of red leaf monkeys, something which would become a common appearance during our time around the campsite.

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Finally we found the ladder, which ascended way up along the stem of a huge tree. It was a hell of a climb!

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The view at the top was incredible, but it was the noise that sits as the fondest memory. We sat here for the rest of the evening, watching and listening as the forest fell silent and then came to life as troops of monkeys swang through the forest, tropical birds courted among the highest trees and flying squirrels jumped into the valley below. As quickly as the forest grew in energy, it would just as rapidly fall very silent, still and insecure as people and other predators walked below, creating a paranoia about the wildlife.

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Night Safari

As the cloud-line dropped and rain began to fall, we saw it wise to retreat from the tree and back to the dorm to cook up some dinner- more noodles obviously!

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Our final venture for the day was on a night Safari tour, which we had booked earlier in the day at the Ranger desk. This cost about 250MYR/ $60 to hire the car and guide out for the hour long trip- so between the 8 of us only set us back about 30MYR/$10 each. The experience was truly amazing- perhaps made even more special by the fact that the rain had now lifted and animals were therefore out in full hunting mode.

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Even driving back along the track towards our dorm- where we had just walked, there were whole herds of deer, which, due to the complete blackout during the nights, went completely unknown by us.

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However it was when we got further away from the camp that things got really interesting. First we saw a Leopard Civet Cat- a real stunning small cat. 3 more civet cats followed, each bouncing away into the bush as we approached closer.

63 62 60We continued our drive through the damp forest, just as amazed at the safari guides ability to spot a nesting hawk some 20ms high in the canopy or a pair of flying squirrels clinging to the ends of tree bark.

Suddenly a boar was caught right in our headlights, unsure as to whether to go forward or run back. It stood their dazed and startled before eventually retreating to the bush. Further up a trio of Peahens ran from our truck, guiding us for a good few minutes further up the road.

After half an hour of driving we had reached the outer extent of the Valley campgrounds and turned back on ourselves, repeating the same process as more birds and small mammals were seen resting along the road ridge. One of the real highlights in Danum!

A Wild Orangutan

Of course, everyone across the camp was fixated on spotting a wild Orangutan. We had already seen a couple during our time in Borneo- but another encounter wouldn’t have gone a miss and would have more than completed our time at Danum. Whenever we returned to the main camping lodge to rest or for food, everyone was eager to know if there were any Orangutans spotted. There had been no sightings for a week or so!

We figured our best chance would be at dawn the next day- our last in the valley.
At 6am, with the fog blanketing our camp grounds and in minimal light, we hiked back to the Tree Platform tower and climbed up for a panorama of the valley watching as the sun eventually rose through the mist- epic!

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The forest very quickly came to life and, even high above the canopy, we were still somehow being attacked by leeches!!

After about an hour or so, the fog had cleared and the rest of the gang headed back down the tree and went for another short walk. I opted to stay up on the tower for another couple of hours, taking some personal time to read, have a nap and generally soak in the complete wilderness- its one of my greatest memories from the adventure!

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Animals in the trees below came and went and birds became brave enough to perch up on the platform with me. It was awesome!

I retreated from the canopy at around lunchtime, heading back to the camp food-grounds. A couple of groups on guided safari tours had just returned from their morning hikes and again the questions over an Orangutan sighting was the forefront of all conversation- alas nobody had seen a thing.

Heading back to the dorm for a kip and to meet up with the rest of our group, I spotted an orange rustling in the trees- and there it was- just to complete the collection of wild animal sightings- a wild Orangutan! 
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I sat for about 10 minutes as it fed, wanting to shout out across the lodge, but fearful that I might frighten it away. In the end I decided that it wasn’t going anywhere fast so ran back to the lodge to alert the others. The various groups came sprinting after me but when we returned the rustling was no longer where it had been previously…Instead, the Orangutan had now descended onto the valley floor and was eating away just metres from where we all stood.

74 73 72We all spent the next hour here, sat with a completely wild Orangutan as it fed, shifting up and down the tree line. How many people can say they sat with a completely wild Orangutan for the afternoon?
Word spread quickly through the camp and everyone had their chance- our full army of about 15 people- to see and sit among the Orangutan.

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It must have been nearly two hours when I decided to part ways with the wild primate and head back to camp for a well earned kip- but not before stumbling across a small snake and a large patrol of mischievous macaques.

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Final Night

At sunset, we once again found ourselves back at the tree canopy, not wanting to miss a final sunset over the forest. It added great symmetry to the day, ending as it started with the dark now looming across the valley, forcing the fog to drop and the lights of the field centre to pixelate the land. Once again however it was the noise that was most spectacular and at a point became laughably deafening, as the howls of monkeys were drowned out by cicadas and other insects that created a wave of noise so loud we could barely hear each other. It was honestly astonishing how such small creatures could make so much noise!

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With complete darkness bringing a silence to the valley, we once again took the night safari trip and although we saw more birds and deer, there were no civets or bigger animals. It was less eventful, mostly due to the dry weather. But we weren’t complaining- we’ve had the most amazing trip imaginable in the valley.

Our final night entailed us sipping on a short reserves of whiskey on the deck and watching a thunder storm in the distance. This is one of the amazing things about Borneo- and something I had never previously experienced. To see the most powerful, striking thunderstorms but to hear absolutely nothing. Its both bizarre and an incredible thing to witness!

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Leaving the Valley

We were to get the 8.30 am bus in the morning, but for our last night we slept well, knowing we had one of the luckiest and most amazing experiences imaginable; A wild orangutan, herd of elephants, endangered rhino, troop of gibbons, leopard civet cat and handful of other wild mammals and birds…its not a normal weekend!

Of course, one final stroll across the fog-drenched river was the best send-off to such a memorable trip. Danum Valley- perhaps the best experience of the trip so far!

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Danum Valley: Total  spend 340 MYR/ $90 for 3 nights: *****

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