It was 5:30 am, a time when the jungle shifts its consciousness between night and day. Cicadas pierced the dawn with their screeching whine like a siren that would have you believe you were still in a city. But this was no urban jungle, it was the real thing.
Located at the end of a two-hour drive over an earthen road, Danum Valley lies amidst a 438 sq m timber concession – a natural rainforest in the heart of Borneo. Here, scientific research unravels the environmental impact of logging – a key industry in this part of the world – which decades ago created the world’s only long-term project to consistently replant rainforest.
But as the mists of morning still shrouded its secrets, our minds were on something more immediate. The comforts of our lodge were a far cry to the path we were on, following our guide through the humid, Borneo forest towards the canopy fly-over. And I was filled with anticipation.
We brushed past thick ferns, flowering creepers and an assortment of exotic vegetation. Trail-side mimosas curled up their leaves at our touch. Then the trail narrowed and ropy vines and roots criss-crossed our path, daring us to stumble.
“Ninety feet isn’t so high for a canopy walk-way,” I thought to myself as I clamored up the wooden towers towards the platforms. From here, poised like some trapeze artiste, I studied the bridge more carefully and began to have second thoughts. It stretched before me as a series of long wooden slats bound together with twine, enclosed waist-high with ropes and mesh, and suspended above the trees for about a city-block. As our group started to file across, I noticed that with every step, the bridge, ropes and mesh bounced, tilted and swayed in different directions like some surreal trampoline contest. I was at the end of the line and slowly my bravado began to wane.
Curling my fingers around the rope railings, I joined the line bobbing and swinging their way to the other side. The boards, set at haphazard intervals of three, five, sometimes eight inches apart, creaked and groaned under the weight of every step, however gingerly I progressed. Ninety feet was suddenly feeling a very long way up.
I had passed a large round mattress of flattened leaves “that’s an Orangutan’s bed,” explained our guide, strolling back towards me along the boardwalk as if he were on a seaside promenade. “They make a new sleeping nest every night, usually overlooking an open area and always near breakfast.” He pointed to a neighbouring tree covered in red fruit about the size of beefsteak tomatoes. “See? Look closely.” And there they were, two orangutans about 20 feet away, and three manacque monkeys, swinging at the edge of their limbs, grappling for the fruit and chasing the fallen berries to the ground. It was a magical sight …. as were the three rhinocerous hornbills, the pair of orange billed toucans who skipped from tree top to tree top, and several more exotic birds flying at eye level as if staging a show especially for this troupe of early morning voyeurs. By now, the jungle was shrill with the whoops and whistles of birdcalls. It was a birdwatcher’s paradise.
With such rewards, the walkway seemed less daunting. By 6:30 am, the steamy mists were melting towards the sun and now, looking down I could just about see the jungle floor, obscured by a tangle of leaves, vines and dangling taproots. “What an extraordinary art of nature this place is” I exclaimed under my breath. Instantly, there was the click-click-click call of the Gecko. Local folklore believes the Gecko calls only when it hears an absolute, universal truth. And here above the jungle canopy, it had just confirmed to me that this was, indeed, one of nature’s wonders.