Dispatch: Borneo, Indonesia
A trip to Borneo forces awareness long buried in the clutter of the everyday. I journey inward.
Orangutans abound and command a response when their eyes gaze to the soul of the lost cousin I am. Fellow travelers check lists of exotic birds found only here in Indonesia with names like Lavender cuckoo, black tailed hornbill, and kingfishers that display all the primary colors on one little body. Gibbons and proboscis monkeys strain the branches of slender trees. So many types of ferocious ants and snakes that I can’t remember them well enough to be afraid, cover the rotting leaves on the floor of this cathedral made of trees.
Orchids, vines and carnivorous flowers strangle tree trunks and search for light and air, the essence of survival in the dense forest that drips with daily rain showers and 95% humidity. Wild pigs with high heel hoofs create trails and termites grind up what remains so that it can all begin again.
I wear a long cotton scarf to mop the sweat from my face before it drips onto my sunglasses or the viewfinder. I smell. Of the DEET that keeps malaria, dengue and zika-carrying mosquitos away for seven hours, or so the package alleges. My signature scent includes days without a shower since I fear the river water from the shower head more than the social rejection of a sweat covered body. The DEET package says to wash the product off when inside. Indoors is a developed-nation concept. Here the mosquitos enjoy gaps between the doors and windows that create a Wrightonian blend of in and out.A cooling jump in the ocean cleansed by currents left my skin covered in salt water and my legs stung by jellyfish.
By now you are thinking what I ask: why? Why put yourself through this?
The question becomes a mantra. Why leave comfort and safety, abandon the familiar to face the unknown? A slog through a drenched forest where my boots sink six inches into the mud presents a challenge I can easily avoid on my home turf. Doubts about my ability to continue onward grow with the primordial ooze that flows over the top of my footwear. No hope of staying dry. I pray leeches cannot attach to my skin through the Frida Kahlo embellished socks.
You expect me to provide some insight, some revelation about the meaning, something like getting back to basic human struggles, become humbled and release control over… well … over everything, anything. Maybe this journey’s purpose tells the tale when I return, maybe to say I took it on and survived.
The answer may be serendipitous. I fell into this, a path opened and I took it. Like much of life—it’s the Whitman road taken. Maybe to find out that it was hard, that I was weak and whiney and got smacked in the face with the reality my mud clogged boots and soggy feet had to walk me out of there. Complaining wouldn’t make it better or any easier.
Or the answer may be I don’t know.
Like other challenges whether the devastation of an election, losses and disappointments in friends and family, there is no choice but deal. Deal with the questions, the pain, the discomfort, the heat, and the misery. The truth remains once your boots fill with mud, stepping in the next puddle won’t matter. Pick up that soggy foot and trudge ahead.
Maybe that’s what brought me here. Physical wretchedness awakens and deploys dormant strength in a way internal struggles do not. Quitting is not an option when rain pours down and shelter lies elusive in the shadows. Keep moving. The lights shine somewhere.