I’ve been told I haven’t written enough about Borneo. Probably because I haven’t written anything about Borneo. So, here it is folks – the true story of what happened when we went looking for orange monkeys…
We found them, of course.
They were down the back of the sofa. I ALWAYS said we should look there first…
No. These guys were swinging happily around the most amazing animal enclosure I’ve ever seen – over 100 hectares of primary rainforest, trackless and unsullied by human-kind. On the edge of the preserve is a series of feeding platforms, and that’s where we waited to see the orangutans.
Orangutans are over ten feet tall, live for hundreds of years and eat anything smaller than themselves – including humans. Or maybe that’s dinoasuars? To be honest I had a fit of laziness (something to do with me writing this on the beach, no doubt) – so feel free to insert your own orangutan facts here via the magic of Wikipedia.
One thing I will say is that Orang-utan means ‘Man of the Woods’, and the word ‘Orang’ – meaning ‘man’ – is one of the most commonly used words in the Malay language. Seriously – it crops up in every conversation I hear around me, leading me to believe it’s used like ‘bloke’ or ‘fella’ – as in, “So I was playing pool with these three orangs in the pub…”
The apes, when they showed themselves, moved slowly and effortlessly, not scampering like monkeys but sort of draping themselves across the trees and letting them bend down and deposit them where they wanted to go. Seriously, if they were any more laid back, they’d have been horizontal. Peace-loving vegetarians with brown, soulful eyes, they definitely qualify as the hippies of the animal kingdom. I think I saw one wearing a Bob Marley t-shirt.
We were lucky enough to be there before the feeding, when a younger orangutan was strolling along the boardwalk fence, beckoning us to follow him, and to stay until the bitter end, by which point we’d seen about ten of the scruffy beasts.
And a little while later, we met their closest human relative.
For three incredible days and nights we cruised on, and hiked around, a massive jungle river called the
Kinabatinanangananagana… ananagan… agan agan… a nanna again? …an anagram game? Anyway, the point is, it’s a river. With a ridiculous name. And while we were there, we found evidence that not only was there a Missing Link between apes and humans in the distant past, but that the Link is alive and well today (and, apparently, lives in Maui). Oh yes – short, dumpy and slow-moving, our strawberry-blonde cruising companion Annabel was a dead ringer for an orangutan. She had the kind of intelligence level where, if she were caught waving a stick in the air, you’d be tempted to say, “Aw, look! She’s learning to use tools!”
But don’t worry! I’m not going to be needlessly mean to a defenceless woman. I’m going to tell you what she said, and let you decide…
A good example came on our first dusk cruise. We’d been lucky enough to see several orangutans in the wild, nesting in trees just back from the riverbank, and several troops of macaque monkeys, who swarmed around us as though we were invisible on their way down for an evening drink.
But when our guide pointed out a crocodile gliding silently on the surface of the water, Annabel asked him for his binoculars. “Wow,” she said, after a few seconds studying the creature, “it almost looks like a little reptile…”
I couldn’t help myself. “That’s because it IS a little reptile,” I told her.
“Yeah…” came her reply – not only blithely unaware of my sarcasm, but clearly not appreciating she’d said anything stupid in the first place.
Her ignorance was matched only by her ability to be so annoying it made my hands twitch with the desire to choke her.
Next morning, on the dawn cruise, we were all staring at a bird our guide had spotted. Roo (my wife) was checking it out in the bird identification book.
“Hey, can I see that?” Anabel asked. But rather than leaving it there, she did her trademark trick of asking again – and again – without pausing for breath. “Hey, can I see that one from yesterday? You know, the one we looked at in the evening? That little bird? Is it in there? Can I see it? The one from yesterday? Remember? Can I see that one? From yesterday? I want to look at that one. The little bird, from yesterday? Can I see it? Can I—“
At which point Roo just shoved the book at her and said “Take the damn thing.”
Quite unaware that she’d done anything out of the ordinary, she started flipping through the pages. “Oh, there are lots of little pictures in here! Lots of little birdies!”
She flipped a few more pages. “Wow, there’s more pictures! That’s amazing! The whole thing is pictures! And they’re all birds!”
She closed the book to study the cover in wonder.
It was called ‘The Borneo Book Of Birds’.
Now, in case I didn’t make it clear, this was not some eleven-year-old child; this woman was clearly in her late forties. On the one hand I feel I should applaud her spirit, to be traveling at that age, and all alone. Well done her! On the other hand, I think it’s quite likely that she was alone because in all her forty-odd years on the planet, she’d never found anyone who could stand to be in the same room as her for more than an hour.
She was at her worst on our last morning, when, just as the sun was rising, we spotted a big male orangutan, sitting with his back to us in a tree about thirty metres from the boat.
“Oh my goodness!” Annabel exclaimed. And then it began. With her eyes glues to the screen of her camera, her whining voice ratcheted up several notches in volume; “Oh, you beautiful creature! Please turn around! Pretty please! Say hello to us! Say goodbye to us! Hello there! Oh please turn around! Please? Turn around! Say hello! Say goodbye! Give us your blessing! Please say hello! Say goodbye! Say hello! Please turn around! Please say hello! Please turn around! Say goodbye to us…” And on – and ON – for the next five minutes.
I had to do something then which I’ve never done in my life (other than, occasionally, to my long-suffering sister). I put my hand on Annabel’s shoulder and said rather firmly, “Shut up.”
But I was sorely tempted to push her into the river.
When it came time to leave, Roo and I were gutted. We’d had an amazing experience, staying in a little wooden hut, seeing giant monitor lizards, endangered hornbills and monkeys a-plenty, trekking the jungle day and night, feeding our fingers to fish (some kind of perverse justice there) – and we didn’t want to leave. As we sat enjoying our last breakfast in the rainforest, Annabel stood up to go.
“Well everybody,” she announced, “I’m Oh-Eff-Eff!” She glanced around smugly, quite pleased with her joke – but she couldn’t resist letting us in on it. “Off!” she explained, beaming with her own cleverness. And then, thank God, she was off – leaving us all to bask in the warm glow of her wit.
People wonder if I make these characters up, and I’m both shocked and ashamed of the answer: no. Not a word of it. Sad to say, these individuals really are out there – and are at least partially derived from the same genetic material as the rest of us.
And now, here’s a couple of Roo’s fascinating pictures to further illustrate our adventures!