A local bus ride this morning proved to be more comfy than most in Asia. I had images of the herd of goats I saw on the top of a bus in Nepal as it swung round mountain passes but in the end ours turned out to be local 'business' class and seemed better than most I've taken in England. Five hours and the novelty was wearing off so I was glad for the bus to pull over by the side of the road and deposit us in what looked to be the middle of nowhere. Aldrin assured us that our final destination was only 15 minute away and with the rain just starting to fall we shouldered our packs and set off after him. We walked into the village of Mengaris which is home to part of the the MESCOT project (model ecologically sustainable community tourism). We were warmly greeted at a very open plan wooden building, which looked a cut above the surrounding village, by the MESCOT crew who were to be looking after us during our stay. Over the next couple of days we were to be spending a night out in the jungle and then a night with a local village family. However, more immediately was a drink with donuts while being given the introductory talk by a very nervous girl who was doing it for the first time.
Having packed up for the jungle we stared out at the rain steadily coming down and heard rumours that we might be swapping a night in the jungle for our homestay a day early. After a little debate it was decided that the jungle was a go so we all jumped into our waterproof kit, and leech socks for those of a squeamish nature, and jumped into the boats to be taken up river. The boats were fairly sturdy affairs but were long and thin with a single out-board motor at the back. We were to learn over the trip that this was all the fashion on Borneo waterways so obviously a tried and tested construction. There was little to recommend our landing spot except for the trail in the forest heading off to the camp. In between this and ourselves was a very slippy muddy bank to carry all our gear up with only a few bits of wood to use as steps. With plenty of potential for a Laurel and Hardy sketch passing bags, cooking gear and hammocks up the line of people I'm disappointed to report no such incident. With a short walk into the jungle we found the camp, consisting of a wooden table and bench to eat at, a couple of pits dug for a toilet and plenty of trees to hang our hammocks. The first job was to assemble the hammocks and shelter and after a demonstration where the words 'how hard can it be?' was on every ones lips we tried it out for ourselves. The main hindrance being trees inconveniently spaced just too far apart and cord on the shelter sheets being just too short. Still this only slowed us down a little and soon all hammocks were up and it was time for afternoon tea. Looking around it was obvious we were in the jungle - easy to spot, lots of trees everywhere. But it would be equally obvious if you eyes were shut, insects are very noisy neighbours it turns out. A reminder of the sheer landslide of biology that relies on these jungles, making all thoughts of clearing these trees to make way for palm tree plantations all the more depressing.
After a cuppa we were back on the boats for a trip up the river to spot animals. The rain had eased off by this point so we were hopeful we would see something - animals generally have more sense than to make an appearance in the rain. By the end of the trip we the highlights included a wild boar having a quick drink, an eagle flying overhead, lots of monkeys and even some Proboscis monkeys in the distance. Not a great haul but with an outboard motor to announce our presence we couldn't expect much more. Back at camp we had time for some food while the sun went down and prepared ourselves for a night walk through the jungle. At this point I should mention that with a damp jungle comes lots of leeches and we weren't immune. Despite leech socks suddenly becoming all the rage, plenty of determined blood suckers found their mark much to the amusement/horror of those concerned. During the walk our guide seemed a bit agitated by the amount of noise we made with those at the back not getting the message passed down for silence. Eventually the noise levels dropped off as the guide pointed out snakes, geckos, leeches (!), spiders and centipedes. The quiet was broken by Aldrins phone ringing which got the tuts and sighs it deserved. However, when looking down to silence the offensive object he spotted the floor was covered with fire ants and started to shoo us down the trail. Fire ants are wisely named being red with a vicious bite which I had the misfortune to sample.
When we had reached the furthest point in the jungle the guide was going to take us he instructed us all to turn off our torches. With a canopy of trees above the moonlight didn't penetrate and it was dark with a capital D, real can't see the hand in front of the face stuff. Remind me to always pack spare batteries for jungles, a night like this would test the nerves to say the least. On the way back to the camp our guide decided that we hadn't seen enough and started to poke a tree with a stick, out of which popped a scorpion. He seemed fairly non-plussed and tried to pick it up, I can't say I was so relaxed when it almost ran over my foot as I was trying to take a picture! Back at base we faffed around for a bit an saw a Civet cat lurking around the camp looking for scraps. We were all looking forward to jumping into our hammocks, a surprisingly tricky task if you want to hang up your shoes after getting in, and after a bit of swinging around most people had it cracked. Wesley on the other hand had hung around the camp table with an evil thought fermenting in the back of his mind. Once we had all settled down for the night Wesley decided to crash his way into the camp doing a most convincing wild boar impression. Given his ability to snore like a horse I wasn't surprised to hear that he can also grunt like a pig. Once the ruckus had been identified and Wesleys name suitably cursed by those taken in we got on with the job of dozing off for a surprisingly good nights sleep in the jungle