At this point you may be wondering how spending 5 nights trekking through the jungle trying to sight hairy and taking part in various activities with the Ibans could possible help stop big companies and loggers with their sight on $$$ out? Well…it is in fact the only and ultimate way of protecting the forest, as the true power is held in those who LIVE on the land CURRENTLY and have done for hundreds for years. They hold the rights and final decision making for anything involving “their” area. Therefore we, as partakers on this specific tour act as a link between the tribes and environmental decisions. By encouraging them to stay living on their land and not be “bought out” by the offers of money from these companies we can assure that their culture lives on and so do the trees and hairys. These tribes have lived so closely to this land and hairys for such a great amount of time that they know the most about the animals. It is through groups visiting this area and supporting their lifestyle that we can stop the rainforest being logged. Staying at the purpose built longhouse just opposite the river from the Ibans also means we can interact daily and integrate activities. With Alvin as mediator this answer holds so much hope for the hairys survival. It is the last chance for Pongo pygmaeus, pygmaeus.
Now just to touch on what this part of the trip involved more elaborately…The only way to reach Jinging is by a 2 hour longboat journey, which if were a car ride between my hometown and city would be a bore but instead was like riding through a documentary that’s come to life! The wide river that narrows to a stream towards the longhouse is encompassed by divine glorious rainforest. Trees towering over and growing amongst one another either side of the river is the most blissful image eyes could lay sight on while we pass through calm waters into upstream rapids which the Ibans tackle with ease. We go on a walk a day to take our chance with hope at the prospect of spotting just one hairy in the wild. Keeping silent with Alvin, Christina and a couple of Ibans scattered towards the front and back of our group they thoroughly use all senses to find traces of a hairy. We look out for trees swaying where they possibly are or nests sitting where they’ve been, Alvin shows us fruit thats been half eaten or engages us in the smell of the plant they like to nibble at which wafts through the air in places. We are all eyes and ears as we quietly take each step up around and through the jungle attempting to manoeuvre ourselves while keeping watch on those swinging trees-hairy? Or the wind? A difference in movement we learn before departing on our treks. Unfortunately for me I haven’t had the chance on my two trips to see hairy in the wild, even though it has been recorded that there are 1000 in the area surrounding Batang Ai, where we were. I will also take this opportunity to make a point of the fact that only 150 are said to be in the space inside of the national park-which is actually a greater number of hectares than the surrounding. This just shows how ideal the habitat must be in areas such as Jingin as they favour this part of the rainforest so highly over the national park. For as much as i would love to see hairy in the wild and will persist to do so as in some cases groups have witnessed mother and baby not moving for up to an hour, the top priority is in knowing that they are living safely and naturally.
While walking we learn a great amount about the other living beings in the rainforest, listening out for hornbills and sighting cleared spaces where pheasants have been doing their elaborate courtship display. This trip we had a particularly exciting and unexpected discovery: day-old sun bear markings, a species that was believed to be extinct in this part of Borneo. Deep scratches on a tree where they had been eating an ants nest was hopeful news that we rejoiced in taking back to our friends at Matang. Our walks took us to waterfalls and around small mountains on slippery edges with soft sand. We navigated our way through wet leaves and hanging vines while keeping ever observant.
Other than trekking we spent our time with the Ibans on the longboats in further searches for hairy; on the pebbled beach with a fire bbq and freshly caught fish; rice wrapped in bamboo leaves, all cooked in the branch; exchanging skills such as bamboo weaving, and other cultural traditions or games by the riverside. Our longhouse had electricity from a generator turned on in the evening for light and gas for Christinas famous meals. Our longhouse had an open roof which allowed for the outstanding abundance of insects inhabited in Borneo to be found on your bed so our first task was to set up the necessary “mosquito nets”. If these are not closed properly they may fail to work at keeping the spiders out-which one of our members experienced!
Between the walking, heat, humidity and intense darkness experienced in the deep jungle, falling asleep was hardly ever an issue although i did find myself reaching for headphones and meditation music one night before stopping to realise the heavy sound of the river metres away was soothing enough to sedate myself.. Time spent in this environment brings a whole new level of enchantment to the connection of humanity and nature. You get used to the leeches sucking your blood and discovering insects you’ve never seen before in surprising places such as your bag or toilet, but these things one could say will be less missed. I can assure you that the morning routine of bathing in the river following a session of yoga cannot be replaced with any other form of mind clearing activity. On the journey back we kept our eyes peeled for the chance of spotting hairy in our final hours but had no luck so sat through our euphuistic “real life documentary screening” back towards civilisation.