I love this photo of myself, taken by one of my Borneo travel mates Jenny. You have to know that this is all genuine. This was my reaction. There is nothing staged about it. If you’re talking about unexpected, this was a moment that came as a surprise to my whole travel group. Just at the moment Jenny was taking a photo, I turned around and it resulted in this awesome photo that captures the core of this adventure. It is so pure and real, full of emotion and excitement and I love it!
And now the story. After a stay in the Headhunter village and an adventurous journey in a longboat that left me with this wet bum, we were at the start of the Headhunter trail, a track that leads through the jungle of the Mulu national park. There are no more Headhunters to worry about, but that was replaced by leeches. We’d had a lot of rain in the past few days, and like a true jungle, everything was soaking wet. The route was more like a water slide in big parts.
When got to the head of the trail, we met some people who’d just finished it. This is where the horror stories started. According to them the water was at hip height and you couldn’t avoid catching some leeches on your way. The leeches that group had just dropped on the shelter, indeed tried to latch onto us before we could put on shoes and long socks to protect ourselves. Our legs covered we started our walk. Only 100m into it we encountered the first puddle of water The stories from our fellow hikers in mind, this photo shows my reaction.
In the end the water reached about as high as my knees. You couldn’t avoid it. The path was wet and slippery and we used branches as walking sticks to help us get through the jungle. We didn’t even try to stay dry anymore. If it wasn’t the water on the ground that got us, it was the water dripping off the trees, or just your own sweat. This was the jungle. It was incredibly humid and hot. Camera lenses kept fogging up and clothes didn’t dry one bit overnight, even though the temperature was high.
The sounds of the jungle were just amazing, yet different from what I’d expected. We heard the chirping of crickets, loud, like we were on a race track. There was the dripping of water and the squealing of dozens of insects. The Mulu national park doesn’t have many other animals, at least not in this part of it. It still felt like any moment now Baloo the bear from Jungle Book could come around the corner. The path we walked on was marked by a row of stones on each side. It was like the jungle wanted to keep you there, with sticky plants everywhere and roots sticking out to stumble over.
We continued like female Indiana Jones’, racing through the jungle because it would be dark soon. We reached Camp 5 in time. Where I’d expected a primitive jungle shelter, there was a big building with mats and mosquito nets. There was a kitchen and cold showers. I cleaned my shoes and tried to dry my stinky clothes in vain. I fell asleep to the sounds of the jungle. The next morning was the worst. Our clothes stank, were very damp and muddy and waiting for us to put them on.
To our surprise the jungle was very resilient. All the rain had been absorbed. We finally saw the path. 9km to go. Lianas were falling down from the gigantic, moss-covered trees.. In the tops grew plants, making it impossible for the sun to penetrate the canopy. The ground was covered by the biggest leaves I’d ever seen, their brown a big contrast to the green in the sky. Throughout the whole walk I kept checking myself for leeches. They didn’t get me, but the feeling that they could get you makes the walk awkward.
At the end of the Headhunter trail, a boat was waiting to take us to Mulu village. Suddenly we were in a luxurious and touristic area. Seeing the real jungle was an experience I’ll never forget.