16 April 2010

Danum Valley

Danum Valley Conservation Area is a 438 square kilometer tract of relatively undisturbed lowland dipterocarp forest in Sabah, Malaysia Borneo. This incredible patch of rainforest holds unique status in the sense that before it became a conservation area there were no human settlements within the area, meaning that hunting, logging and other human interference was non existent.

Established in the year of my birth, 1986, for the purpose of scientific research and biological conservation of the rich lowland dipterocarp forest, a once common but now increasingly rare tropical rainforest eco-system that has been systematically degraded by rampant logging and clearing for palm oil over the past few decades.

More than 120 mammal species are found within Danum Valley, including all ten of Malaysia Borneo's primate species, from the red leaf monkey to the graceful Orangutan.

So after arriving in the nearest town of Lahad Datu, we took the 3 hour min bus through quite heavily logged secondary rainforest. With a continuous stream of logging trucks loaded with recently felled trees of a significant width, it was a stark reminder of Borneo’s high rate of ecological degradation.

Finally we arrive at the Danum Valley Field Centre right on sunset. After a delicious dinner and introduction to another group of Australian naturalists, we head out into the rainforest around 8PM.

As we cross the foot bridge into the Primary rainforest, our first sighting is of a Malaysian Civet with a single young who at first looks a lot like the marsupial possum from back home in Australia.

The sound of the forest is absolutely mind blowing, a complete symphony of more species you could poke a stick-insect at. On our way back to the Dorm we spot a fish owl up in the tree. It is immediately clear this place is over-flowing with wildlife, testimony to its pristine and untouched nature.

Just after 5AM I awake to the most incredible sounds of Bornean gibbons calling off in the distance, the very same primate species we witnessed trapped in a cage at the crocker range ‘mini-zoo'

What a beautiful sound that echoed throughout the forest for kilometers. I couldn't lay idle a moment longer, packing my gear and crossing the foot-bridge over the river into the living, breathing, mist covered, lowland rainforest.

An incredibly grounding experience.

Walking through the forest during pre-dawn is as close an experience to landing on another life-bearing planet I could possibly imagine, making the movie Avatar truly seem like a lame computer generated cartoon.

The sounds are verging on scary and many completely alien to anything I have heard before arriving in Borneo. This is the pre-dawn insect symphony, mixed perfectly into the birds and gibbons, celebrating the twilight transition where nocturnal species take rest, hidden within the foliage and the diurnal species wake to greet the beginning of another rainforest feast.

As breakfast nears I return to share a meal with Tony and our new Australian comrades, a few ecologists from Canberra, some Herpetologists from Sydney and their extended friends and families, totaling about a dozen Australian’s who all share a love and passion for the natural world. On top of this we have two American teachers currently living in Chiang Mai and of course the surrounding community of people who make the running of this research area possible.

After breakfast, Tony and myself feel drawn to climbing the tree tower platform, an established viewing area with two canopy vantage points, at 20 and 40 meters above the ground. This is where the action is often centered in the rainforest canopy.

We notice from up above that many of the Dipterocarp species are in flower, a mast event that has most likely been spurred into action by the recent dry weather, resulting in the sweet subtle smell of nectar permeating the humid air.

After about 15 minutes, I look out across the canopy and see a most unforgettable scene, a young Orangutan stretched out, arm to arm, peering over at us from her tree-top flower garden.

“Tony! An Orangutan!!!”. (pronounced by the Aussie contingent as Orang'a-TANG)

What a beautiful moment, a wild Bornean Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) just 30 or so meters away watching us. She is foraging on the Dipterocarp flowers, a complete feast of delicious nectar infused goodness.

We observe her for about half an hour, as she slowly moves up and over to the next tree, effortlessly climbing from branch to branch in search of the freshest flowers, until finally disappearing out of view.

Within a few minutes a much larger Male appears at the base of the same tree. We watch him climb vertically up the trunk to around 40 meters above the forest floor, in direct view of our top canopy platform. He too is engulfed in the abundance of flowers, munching on them continuously, with a stream of white flower petal debris falling from high up in the massive canopy emergent, we were truly in Orangutan heaven!

After about half an hour watching the life of Pongo, our American friends join us and observed their first Wild Orangutan sighting from the perfect view of the 20 meter canopy platform. Such excitement watching a species that has 96.4% the same DNA structure as ourselves. One of the four grape ape species, and the Earths largest arboreal mammal.

There are estimated to be around 500 Orangutans within the 478 square kilometer Danum Valley Conservation Area, which equals about 1 Orangutan per Square kilometer. Despite the abundance within this reserve, their population has plummeted more then 90% in Borneo over the past few decades alone, and due to increased clearing of land for Palm oil and Logging activities, their population continues to decline.

With day 1 of our Danum Valley experience starting with two close encounters with two Orangutan’s, we both felt it was the perfect choice to spend our last week in Borneo within some of the last preserved Primary lowland dipterocarp forest, home to an astounding diversity of lifeforms. This is one of the jewels of Borneo, one of planet Earths ‘Biological Hotspot's’, a prime example of an eco-system that contains more then half the terrestrial species on Earth.

Over the next few days we continued to observe the young female orangutan, building her nest on 2 occasions and waking early to join her amongst the canopy as she feasts on the flowers of the forest.

We also saw the glowing ‘Red Leaf-tailed monkey’ and long-tailed macaques in small troupes cruising through the mid-canopy, unafraid of our presence but still wild enough to keep their distance.

The gibbons were a regular sound during the pre-dawn walks, but no direct sightings for us.

The forest floor was an exciting place to observe the myriad insect life, and on occasions stumbling across Mycillium fungi networks that would have totaled 100 square meters, a single organism spread out in vast networks breaking down the left litter and converting the flower debris into more base elements.

We even came across some Pygmy Elephant Dung, an endangered species of Elephant found only in northern Borne. The fungi was again feasting on the excretions of another species, a perpetual cycle of nutrients and energy as the entire eco-system functions as one interconnected whole, harvesting light from the sun and perpetually recycling its nutrients.

We spent hours delving into the micro-cosms found in many of the forests nooks and cranny’s.

During our stay we saw two beautiful speies of Owl, one a fish owl

            one of the many giant moths that fluttered by the food area

These forests have some massive seed pods

And of course, the giant fungi breaking down the lignum (wood).

So that concludes the Borneo Journey, big thanks to Brother Tony Allison for sharing in the adventure and all the other travellers and locals we have connected with.

I am certain I shall return to Borneo and can see a massive need for ecological restoration aimed at habitat connectivity between the remaining patches of forest..

Some sad news to share, the death (and rebirth, and then again death) of my Canon 400D Digital SLR camera...  a camera that has been through the swamps of Hinchinbrooke Island, all through the Border Ranges back home, through Sumatra and Borneo and now it rests in India.

Am currently trying to find a replacement body asap so I can photograph this incredible county and hopefully some of its remaining wildlife, I still dream of seeing a Tiger.. and considering its the Year of the Tiger and I am a tiger... maybe, just maybe... ?

Lots of Love for the plants & animals, including of course the people, of planet Earth.




8 April 2010

Crocker Range & Sepilok


 "There is need for awareness that the mountains and rivers and all living things, the sky and its sun and moon and clouds all constitute a healing, sustaining sacred presence for humans which they need as much for their psychic integrity as for their physical nourishment. This presence whether experienced as Allah, as ...Atman... or as the Buddha-nature or as Bodhisattva; whether as Tao or as the One or as the Divine Feminine, is the atmosphere in which humans breathe deepest and without which they eventually suffocate."


  With only a few days before our trail-bike hire expired, Tony & I decided to head inland from Kota Kinabalu into the Crocker Ranges. At an average height of 1800m above sea level, it is the highest mountain range in Sabah.

 Up in these ranges, One is truly amongst the clouds 

(and at times, above them!)

  A small shack on the edge of the mountain road, complete with vegie garden
 I was as shocked as you may be now experiencing the contrasts of the freedom found in the high mountains with this utterly sad scene of our first primate sighting, a Bornean Gibbon.


Just outside a guesthouse and restaurant in the high ranges, this 'mini-zoo' was home to two Bornean Gibbons, a couple of high energy squirrels and a fruit bat. The zookeeper claims they were all orphaned and he lets the Gibbons out once a week. 

The whole scene was suspiscious and apparently these dodgy 'zoos' are quite common all around Malaysia, with wild-life trafficking receiving little law enforcement attention .

I could really feel their pain, Gibbons being even more closely related to humans than monkeys. They just wanted to swing free in their forest, which was sadly within view of their tiny caged prison.

These poor mammals are apparently no longer found in the Crocker Ranges, 
hunted into extinction or possibly sold to Zoos like this one?

Continuing on our journey through the ranges, 
we suddenly came to a turn-off with a sign that says ‘Poring 10km’.

Thinking this meant ‘Poring Hot-Springs’ the famous hot springs at the base of Mt Kinabalu surrounded by lowland dipterocarp forest, the vision of resting our weary bodies in the warmth of the Earths thermal waters was too good an opportunity to miss.

The other factor calling me to hot-springs was the idea of being in the warm lowlands, as my jacket had fallen off the back of my bike a few days earlier, riding in the cold rain was exhilarating at first, but quickly became a shivering affair.

The dirt road quickly dropped off into the valley below, weaving hairpin corners with steep gradients. The mountainside covered in a combination of primary and secondary montane forest, and at  times purely bare sections of recently cleared land. 

As we began to weave our way down into the valley floor, the rain began and the road seemed to melt away beneath our feet, turning into a sticky clay substrate. 

Our dirt-bikes now starting to slip and slide much like riding through butter, and as the rain increases, our traction decreases.

Tony reminds me to be careful what I wish for, having set the intention of ‘adventure’ earlier in the day, a goal so open to universal interpretative ambiguity.

At this stage we believed the bottom of the road would connect us to a main road system and hopefully just a few more kilometers before our savior, ‘Poring Hot-Springs’. 

Although the lure of the spring was strong, our traction on the roads was starting to become non-existent. It became a mud-skiing adventure, trying to balance the front and rear brakes without dropping the bikes.

As long as we make it to the bottom our problems will be solved?

So we thought.

The road got worse and worse and it became apparent that it had only recently been cut out of the mountain, making matters much more difficult, the very few villagers would respond to our queries of ‘Is this the way to Poring Hot-springs?” with the familiar embarrassed smile that meant ‘me no speak English’. Strangely just pointing back up the hill and then laughing!

As the road turned into a goat track and eventually we wound our way down into the valley, the path turned into a gushing creek that would make the most travel hardened trail-biker smile from ear-to-ear.

We eventually made it over and came to a T-intersection with a group of villagers nearby huddled around a fire in a make-shift bamboo camp covered with a tarp.

This was the moment we hadn’t expected. 

Although they spoke no English, it was clear by their hand signals that the only way to civilization was back the way we had arrived, back up that steep slippery-dip of a road all the way up nearly 2000m in elevation into the Crocker ranges.

We turned around and tried to get back up, but after making it no more then 500 meteres.
Tony got bogged and we could see up ahead a four wheel drive was also ‘stuck-in-the-mud’.
The road was literally melting away before our very eyes.

The rain was getting worse and we quickly found shelter in an abandoned bamboo shack, resigning ourselves to the life of a lowland villager, in a forgotten corner of the Crocker Ranges on the Island of Borneo in far eastern Malaysia. 

Our fancy plastic cards and Australian Tax File numbers wouldn't get us out of this situation.

Tony and I were both exhausted, so we decided to surrender and have a nap. I was glad to be out of the rain, although knowing nightfall was only a few hours off seemed to circle endlessly around in my mind as I drifted off into misty sleep.

After waking, the rain had mostly cleared. It was 4:30 PM

The energy had shifted, birds singing songs of joy over this sacred forgotten moment, and it seemed maybe we could make it out alive!

Before heading off I sang an OM and prayed to the mountain, please guide us to somewhere high, dry and warm (I should have been more specific and asked for a Jacuzzi and some dinner waiting other then chicken and rice!)

Incredibly, it was much easier going up then it had been going down and we made it to freedom, back on a sealed road in the freezing cold Crocker Ranges, right on sunset.

My new challenge was the chill factor of riding through the mist without a jacket. We quickly found the closest accommodation available with 'hot showers'.

To my frozen shock the shower didn’t work, I stood there in all my naked, shriveled up glory, desperately trying to work this strange electric shower, and thus kick start my circulatory system!

Unfortunately it was broken, so they offered us a kettle which I warmed and mixed in a big red bucket before pouring it over myself repeatedly I began to thaw out.


Later that night I rested my feet in more warm water and read up on how to speak Bahasa Malaysian.
All in all it was quite an epic adventure, and any day that ends with your feet in a giant red bucket full of warm water, is a grand day indeed.

The following morning we had planned to meet a Spanish friend doing research on the Indigenous peoples around Tambunan and the effects of Palm oil expansion on their land entitlements. 

We spent a lovely morning riding through the west side of the ranges, and discovered a gorgeous waterfall nestled in the foothills just 12 kilometers from Tambunan. 

Unfortunately we got the call later in the day for our dental work to be completed and so had to abort the mission and return to KK before flying out to Sandakan.

So we are now on the East Coast of Sabah just near Sepilok, an Orangutan Rehabilitation Center. 


The Orangutan feeding at the Center is quite a popular tourist attraction and there were more then 50 people gathered to see the 'Man of the Forest' (the literal translation of 'Orang Hutan' in Malay)

Although it was great to see my first Bornean Orangutan in real life, (The Orangutan in Sumatra, although similar, are a different species), The most exciting experience was watching a flying squirrel glide over 30 metres through the canopy to another tree. 

Borneo has the highest diversity of Gliding animals in the world. Snakes, Lizards, Frogs and Squirrels have evolved species that take advantage of the maneuverability benefits of being able to cruise from tree to tree.  
So due to lack of response and complete inability to make contact with the ecological restoration group known as “MESCOT” we have decided to spend the last week in Borneo out at the Danum Valley conservation area. 

A research site in the interior of Sabah for scientists, ecologists, botanists and the like.

This is said to be the most untouched Primary Tropical Rainforest in Sabah (Mostly Lowland Dipterocarp Forest). It has never been logged and there is no evidence of indigenous people inhabiting this area (although i do find that hard to believe?).

After Danum we'll fly out of Borneo to KL where Tony will head north to Vietnam and I shall travel onwards to India for one month.

After India I will finally be re-united with my Love, Gemma, in Thailand
whom I miss like the caged Gibbon must miss its forest...

Stay awake, keep breathing


4 April 2010


From the very first moment I heard about the Island of Borneo, in South East Asia, I dreamt of one day exploring this exotic world with my very own senses. To hear the forest as the sun rises over the canopy, smell the earthy rainforest moisture, touch the base of the forest giants, taste the pure water from the mountain streams and see some of the many species that call the tropical rainforest home.

Borneo is the the 3rd largest Island on Earth.
 seen in the middle of this map, it is divided in to 3 countries;
Indonesia (Kalimantan), Malaysia (Sabah & Sarawak) and Brunei.
Maybe it was the many David Attenborough documentaries?  the astounding variety of flora and fauna found within the Bornean rainforest always evoked a feeling of awe that would resonate deep inside... does this really exist? on OUR planet ? what an amazing ecological system !

... or maybe it was the feelings of injustice surfaced by watching the doco in highschool of the nomadic indigenous Penan people of Borneo whom had there forests cleared and land stolen in the name of modern development and progress, just like the Aboriginal peoples of Australia and most of the indigenous peoples of the Earth.

The dream just seemed to grow and evolve, and die and get reborn again...  and years and  years of dreaming and envisioning I am now actually writing from the Island of Borneo...

As much as I'd love to set the scene of myself camped up in the canopy with a wireless internet connection, drinking water from lush tropical leaves and hanging out with orangutan and Hornbills, the reality of modern Borneo is worlds apart from our many preconceptions, I am actually in an internet cafe overflowing with young Malay boys playing computer games and speaking a language that I am slowly beginning to recognize.

And the reality of Borneo's seemingly endless tropical rainforest is that they have shrunk at a rate of 300 acres every hour for the past 50 years. Although I was aware of this reality, to see it with my very own eyes has been utterly confronting...

the deforestation rate of Borneo.

And so it has been 2 weeks since I flew into Kota Kinabalu, the Capital of Sabah, Malaysia Borneo. This part of the journey has been shared with my good friend Tony Allison

For those who don't know Tony he is a truly unique creative being who's list of 'what-he-does' would be larger then this entire blog.

We met at a bush doof about 7 years ago and made an instant creative connection, having exhibited our photography in two solo exhibitions and spent many hours exploring the natural world and drinking water from the pure mountain stream.

I was hoping to update the Blog at least once a week to keep everyone posted. Unfortunately my computer is having a few issues and our travels have taken us beyond the reach of internet and telecommunications. It is only now that we have returned from the wilderness.

So, Although the past 2 weeks feels like more then a month. Here is a quick recount ...

Upon arrival I checked myself into the local dentist and received truly first class root canal treatment without any pain what so ever and the Dentist even gave me a contact in WWF for the river of life project for when we visit the East Coast of Sabah.

When Tony arrived he also needed some dental work and had a root canal in sympathy. At just $250 Australian dollars it was an affordable alternative to the 1000 plus job it costs back home.

We spent a couple of days at a local backpackers, Tropicana Lodge, and have since called it our home whenever in Kota Kinabalu.

Highly reccomended at $7 a night including breakfast, it is also the only place in town that backs onto forest with a hammock to chill out in.

We met a Spaniard, Adrian, who has called Borneo his home for the past 3 months doing research into the effects of land entitlement and palm oil plantations on the indigenous peoples.

We shall soon travel up to the villages where he has been working and try to get some perspectives of the indigenous peoples efforts to claim native land entitlement and to keep up with the pace of modern society.

One of the must-do's in KK is to visit the night market. Rows of Fresh fish and Produce that seem to really go on for ever and ever. 

Some of the local Malay food.

 After a few days finding our feet, they began to get itchy… so we decided to hire trail-bikes (sorry mum and dad! It’s really the best way to get off the tourist trail and meet the locals… we never traveled for more then a few hours per day and never ever went over 80km an hour.

We began our motor bicycle journey with a recon mission up to the base of Mt Kinabalu and Poring Hot Springs. Mount Kinabalu is the highest peak in South-East Asia with a range of eco-systems from Montane cloud rainforest down to the incredibly biologically diverse Lowland dipterocarp forest.

One of the many Dipterocarp trees
A species that is abundant in many of Borneos lowland forests. 
Large emergent species, typically reaching heights of 40-70 m tall.

With a pretty hefty price to climb to the peak, we chose to explore the lowland rainforest and experience the tree top eco-system by doing the canopy walkway on sunrise. What a splendid introduction to the jungle of Borneo.

The sounds from the forest are like nothing I have ever heard before, even in Sumatra. We have connected with a like minded soul, John from Melbourne, who is recording the Malaysian rainorest with high quality audio gear. John has a background in film sound I can't wait to hear what he produces, and maybe we can put some on the blog to give you an idea of what a tropical rainforest eco-system sounds like.
Looking down from the canopy walk-way

After a few days on moped's we traded up to trail-bikes and continued our journey riding along the south west coast of Sabah where we eventually passed through an astounding 10 Immigration Border crossings!!!

Our trusty maps of Sabah & Sarawak

 Tony rigged up the my HD video camera onto the back of his bike for some action shots.
 Big thanks to Joel, Noah and the lads down at GoGoSabah (http://gogosabah.com) for for setting us up with these two awesome Kawasaki KLX-150's and kitting us out with occy straps and raingear. They were incredibly fuel efficient using just a few dollars of petrol per tank (getting us about 250km).

We're going to contribute photo's and video footage to help them promote their new business. They have great energy and younger brother Noah is being trained up by Joel to start another shop in Sandakan on the East Coast. 

Crossing one of many ferries into the kingdom of Brunei.

From Sabah into Sarawak across the river on a ferry into Brunei where stayed in beautiful Tamburong, a small river town surrounded by lush rainforest (Brunei still has 70% primary rainforest coverage).

Life on the river

From Brunei we crossed into Sarawak again and then back into Brunei and then across the border BACK into Sarawak!!!

I was good fun at first, we even went behind the scenes of immigration control.. But frustrations at the bureaucracy grew when they forgot to stamp upon re-entry from the south and eventually we spent more time sorting the Visa issue out then it took to get through the friggin’ country !

Mansil, the Brunei Immigration officer who personally attended to our many visa requirements.
If you ever find yourself intending to travel through Brunei, 
please get a multiple entry visa and save yourself the many hours of paperwork.

Tony finding his visa at one of the many immigration checkpoints

Brunei, officially the State of Brunei Darussalam or the Nation of Brunei, is a country located in the north of Borneo. Apart from its coastline with the south china sea it is completely surrounded by the state of Sarawak, Malaysia and in fact it is separated into two parts by Limbang which is part of Sarawak.

The main mosque in the capital, Banda Seri Bagawan, 
complete with full external sound-system for your early morning aural delights

It is a muslim country and we were blessed with some fine meditation chanting at 5AM each morning, the dogs and chickens were all in on the act and before the sun was up, the whole town was praising Allah!

The city of Miri was our first stop south of the Brunei border, known as the Las Vegas of Sarawak for all the Brunei locals who like to party south of their border (alcohol is prohibited in Brunei).

The next morning we made our way south through what was an endless forest of Palm oil in every possible direction, or freshly cleared land that had just been planted out.

Coupled with the incredible pollution haze, I thought of the dinosaurs and what they must of endured when the sun glazed over some 65 million years ago after a meteor hit the Earth.

The little forest that remained in areas was heavily logged, fragmented and degraded. Testimony to the fact that Borneo supplies more then HALF the worlds tropical hardwood timber supply. Sadly there is very little Primary (Old growth) rainforest remaining.

An ongoing practice of land clearing to fuel economic growth

Lambir Hills National Park

About 30km south of Miri we stopped for the afternoon at Lambir Hills national park for our first swim in the Borneo rainforest under a lush waterfall! A total grounder and energy cleanser after having rode through the never ending apocalyptic palm oil wasteland.

A close relative of the common Mango (Mangifera genus) had germinated and was stretching for the light. 

After spending the afternoon around the waterhole we continued on another 89km to Niah Caves National Park right, arriving to another stunning sunset thanks to the wonderful light dynamics fueled by a combination of forest fires and general south-east Asian pollution.

Utterly magical.

No need for guides, just pay the $3 entry fee and 30 cent ferry crossing into the park where a boardwalk leads you through Mixed Dipterocarp Forest into the incredible system of limestone caves.


Tony on the bottom left trying to capture the truly uncapturable
An Iban Longhouse just inside the great cave entrance

A truly astounding system of massive caves, full of bats and swiftlets, with 40,000 year old paintings from Neanderthals and the Iban people still live within the park and are allowed by Sarawak Forestry to collect the birds nest for soup, which sells for $50AU.

Unfortunately the park was too small to provide habitat for Orangutan and although a few gibbons and monkeys are said to survive, we never saw a single primate, maybe they ended up in the birds nest soup?

There was a section of the caves that was completely dark for 600 meters. After venturing halfway with our head-torches we stopped, sat within the peaceful darkness and Tony recorded me playing some American Indian flute with lush water dripping in the background

The reverb was incredible and a few other cavers from Japan stopped and thanked us for the vibrations, with a broken English comment ‘Ahh, that vewy soul searching music, thank you thank you’ indeed it was a special place to sing a song from the moment. (we'll upload soon).

And so after experiencing Niah, we began to seriously consider making our way to into the world heritage national park, Gunung Mulu, containing the worlds largest cave. (The one in David Attenborough’s Planet Earth series where over 3 million bats exit the cave each night).

Our intention was to ride through the logging trails and take longboats up into Mulu from Miri, but the rivers were low and the journey was said to take over 12 hours.

So we rode into the Miri Airport early sunday morning and booked our flights for the afternoon.


Found within the Interior of Sarawak, this park has the highest protection in Borneo and is also the heartland of the once nomadic Penan people who have almost totally been settled into longhouses and converted to Christianity, although there are still a few nomadic Penan within the park boundaries.

As we launched off the runway on our MASwing flight, almost instantly the Palm Oil plantations that have replaced once lush rainforest appeared. Rows upon rows of one single species, Elaeis guineensis, feeding the insatiable global demand for this high yield oil that is found in 10% of supermarket products.

Eventually palm oil gave way to heavily logged secondary rainforest, and many areas that have been recently cleared for palm oil. Along the rivers were hundreds of logging camps and into the forest a network of roads and tracks. I can only imagine what a 40 year time-lapse satellite photography would look like as this Island is cut and leveled so that the economy can ‘develop’ (but at what cost?).

As we flew further into the Interior, on the horizon Mulu National Park was a sight to behold, covered in mist, the creation of its own regional micro-climate. Cloaked in the lushest of lush lushness…

After landing in the tiny airstrip, Tony, myself and 4 German travellers jumped in the back of the local taxi
(a 4x4 ute) and made our way to the home-stay, a longhouse on the river complete with chickens, ducks and a pig that was eventually sacrificed for the Easter celebration.

This was a place where the river is the main artery of everyday life, including having a bath !

Gunung Mulu National Park is the most lush tropical rainforest I have ever seen, the sounds that emanated day and night was a completely alien aural experience.

 So many different varieties of flora and fauna, beautiful Raja Brookes bird wing butterlfies in their dozens, stick insects of every shape imaginable, some beautiful tree snakes with intense psychedelic patterns, Gecko’s that are striped like a zebra, Hornbills with there big horny looking bills and of course the mass exodus of over 3 million bats on sunset, a swirling whirl of collective consciousness.

Out the front of our home-stay where we saw over 3 million bats leave on sunset.

However we didn’t see a single primate and eventually discovered Orangutan were hunted to local extinction in the 1950’s. The flora was astounding, 1000’s of species all co-existing to create an eco-system that generates 70% of the local rainfall and is home to more species than you could poke a stick-insect at.

Birds Nest Fern

Raja Brookes Birdwing

Clearwater Caves

Where clearwater caves comes out into the rainforest,
an underwater river system that suddenly emerges from underground.

Looking out into the surrounding rainforest

amazing holes in the roof of the cave would reveal where the light is penetrating
and forming suitable conditions for plant life to begin.

The Mulu Canopy Skywalk at 480 metres is the longest tree-based walkway in the World.

Some of the trees were absolutely mammoth!

Raja Brookes Birdwing Butterfly

Our only issue with Mulu National Park was the need for guides and the timing of some of the tours (for instance there was no way to do an early morning canopy walk (which is the best time for wildlife and the light is perfect for photography). There were a few other issues raised, including the discovery that the park, although world heritage listed, is actually run by a foreign company outside of Sarawak Forestry.

Swimming in the river next to our longhouse was a major highlight and listening to the amazing sounds from the forest at night was a sound to behold. This is a place that one must spend at least a week I feel, as our 3 nights and four days seemed to fly by like a Hornbill on heat.

The flight back revealed more forest destruction, huge areas of land that were freshly leveled for palm oil expansion, the indigenous peoples that once lived sustainably within these eco-systems now moved into settlements struggling to survive.
After riding back to KK we totaled 1500km on trail bikes in the north of Borneo, an incredible way to get off the tourist trail and meet every day local people, who have been a constant source of hospitality and warmness. We’ve even been learning a little Bahasa Maleyu (the Malaysian language).

Under the surface of it all there is a darkness that is hidden which I cannot ignore.

Unfortunately in the governments eagerness for economic development (the driving force and ultimate goal of modern civilization) there is an ongoing story of not only ecological but also cultural devastation.

The indigenous people of Borneo, especially the Nomadic Penan peoples, have been almost totally displaced from their land by the cronyism of government and big business interests. Logging companies and Palm Oil companies, backed by the Malaysian army, have been at work behind the scenes in the interior of Borneo.

Bruno Manser was a swiss activist who lived with the Penan people for 6 years in the 80’s and returned to the west to raise awareness of his peoples plight. A fearless activist who put Borneo on the map, he returned to Borneo in 2001 and completely disappeared; obviously a major threat to continued logging and clearing of the Penans rainforest home.

Along with Bruno, a series of Penan activists have disappeared over the past few decades under suspicious circumstances.

This is a story that is not confined to Borneo. My own country Australia has a black history with an equally devastating path, stripping the heart out of the Aboriginal People, their connection to the spirit of the land.

Plans are underway for a massive dam project in the heart of Sarawak in northern Borneo that will displace thousands of indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands!

The paradigm with which the government and big business view the world around them leaves little room for compassion or justice.

As Chief Seattle says,

This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself. 

And the Indigenous people are apart of this web too.

However there have been some positive stories surfacing in the past week, with the Malaysian court honoring indigenous connection the land and granting them Native Entitlement in a win against a foreign owned palm oil company.

Check out some the links below and educate yourself on these issues.


We will add some more of our own video soon, just working out file conversion and other technical challenges at present.

The next stage of the journey is the East side of Sabah where we contacts in a variety of conservation fields, everything is unplanned so as to allow the flow of this path to create itself....

Keep it real and follow your bliss.