At the end of our steamy days at jungle camp, Afiq loaded us back up into his boat and drove us away. I left most of the beer behind because Afiq said he would take care of it and that’s fair.
We traveled two swerving heaving hours to a village called Telupid. Afiq explained that only two restaurants in town have air-conditioning: the 7 Café, and Kentucky Fried Chicken. He said since more people like the 7 Café, he’d drop us there.
We ate lunch (fried rice), practiced our balancing skills using a tiled-hole-in-the-floor toilet, purchased more $3 flip-flops because the Brunei ones broke, and stocked up on fresh snacks at the 8 Super mart.
It took three partially awestruck/partially disgusted shopgirls to pack all our snacks into one bag at the Super 8.
We have found that buying untranslatable junk food in foreign countries is as entertaining as playing slot machines.
On this round we selected the usual array of egg salted Pringles and hard salty peanuts and some treats we’d never heard of before like Snickers with oatmeal (Do), and green tea KitKats with red bean flavor filling (Don’t).
I didn’t buy any beer, though. Fool me once is all you get.
Afiq handed us off of to our new guide from the Deramakot Forest Reserve, who asked us to refer to him in this blog and trip advisor reviews by a pseudonym, like say, maybe, Dave. He explained the request for anonymity is because of his Visa status, but I suspect he likes to fly under the radar for his own entertainment.
Dave is originally from Scotland. He’s been in Malaysia for six years, long enough to be married to Malay woman, own a house, father twin toddlers and collect a few religiously lapsing brothers-in-law who sneak into his house to drink alcohol.
Before Malaysia, Dave was in Egypt, then with nomadic herdsman in the desert of Ethiopia where he got so dehydrated that his defecations shrunk to goat-poop-sized kernels, and he got so hungry that he ate the meat from an days old goat’s corpse.
Perhaps not in that order.
(Does that anecdote have ANYTHING to do with Borneo? No. But try and convince me to leave it out. I won’t.)
The next few blogs are going to have a lot of paragraphs that begin with the phrase “Dave said” which is funny not only because that’s not his name, but also because it makes him sound like a Magic 8 Ball.
(He kind of is. Afiq refers to Dave as “Mr. Dave” because I’m pretty sure Afiq wants to BE Dave when he grows up, even though Dave is from the civilized streets of Edinburgh and Afiq was born and raised in an honest-to-Pete Bornean jungle village on the banks of a crocodile infested river.
Some people (Dave, Hans Solo, The Rock) have swag the rest of us (Afiq, the Dentist, I) can only dream of.
Dave loaded us into two tricked-out four-wheel-drive Toyota pickups with
oversize tires and snorkel fittings. Tavish and I climbed in the black one which had a tiger painted on the hood and flames racing across the doors and we hit the road.
Deramakot Forest Reserve is 55,507 hectares (about 137,000 acres) of protected forest land in Sabah, owned by the Malaysian government. 10% of the land is conserved and 90% is used for sustainable logging.
Wildlife spotting in Deramakot is mostly guided drives down logging roads late at night and early in the morning while perched awkward and awestruck on benches in the back of a safari truck.
Deramakot is an absolute fabulously glorious shitload (scientific term) of birds, animals and insects including wild orangutans, pygmy elephants and clouded leopards as well as other crazy stuff like slow Loris, flying foxes mouse deer, six kinds of civets and bentang, the rare Bornean cow.
I asked Dave how a COW could come to be an endangered species.
“Tastes good,” he summarized.
To get to Deramakot from the 7 Café we drove a few hours down dirt roads into nowhere and nothing, past palm oil plantations and, after the second security gate, into government-owned forest land. The tiger truck was comfortable and its diesel engine grunted in a satisfying bass.
Towards the end, the road became dotted with huge circles of what could be nothing else but elephant droppings.
For you doubters, it is impossible to second-guess elephant manure identification. Nothing else can be that big. If it can’t be a boulder because it gets flattened by cars driving over it, then it’s elephant poo.
Once we got to the reserve, Dave showed us our lodgings: our very own cabin up a paved hill from the dining hall and nestled into a trees bordering a forest where the boys will soon spot an orangutan.
The cabin had 3 bedrooms, a small common area and behind a closed door, a kitchen stacked to the ceiling with mattresses. The showers had hot water heater boxes on the walls; the kind that promise more heat than they deliver, but we appreciated the gesture.
The floors were made of cool white tile squares and every time we dropped a crumb from a snack, ants marched out of the walls and covered the scrap in a dense brown ball that we would sweep outside.
The cabin had electricity and with it, air conditioning, although neither working when we checked in because a logging truck knocked over a light pole.
“They’ll fix it,” Dave assured us. “Probably. In the meantime, open the windows or go outside.”
We didn’t mind.
We went for a walk then we slatted the windows wide enough that the sounds of the forest came in—mysterious hoots and howls and hums.
Then the sky darkened and rain came down in cooling torrents and what else was there to do but take a nap?