A River Trip Into Borneo in 1986 (Video)

Anthony Bourdain took a boat ride up the Skrang River on the island of Borneo for his TV show “Parts Unknown” recently. It looked quite different than the steamy place I visited in back in 1986. Here is a video I shot when things were more jungly and wild.

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Descending into the Borneo Underground

AUDIO STORY

 “…a terribly jungly place”
Somerset Maugham

This is my kind of background music. Insects prattling like powertools. We are walking through the Southeast Asia jungle. I love the sss ss steam heat, as long as I don’t have to do too much. I would have been one of the first ones kicked out of “Survivor.”

This is Borneo, home of some of the world’s oldest rainforests, an island that houses a freakshow of flora and fauna unmatched on earth: 1500 species of flowers (170 types of orchids), 262 brands of birds, monkeys, flying lizards and, should the jungle floor look at times as if it were moving, 458 appellations of ants.

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Return to Sarawak


“A terribly jungly place.”
Maugham
“They don’t call it a rainforest for nuthin.”
Johnson

I am back in Borneo. I first visited Sarawak in my childhood imagination. It was giant lillypad floating on the map of Oceania with a reputation earned from Victorian tales of headhunters, missionaries, orangutans, tic-toc crocs and cuddly pythons. When I saw Sarawak for myself, in the 1980s, it lived up to my dreams. Sure, penis piercing and the flattening of women’s heads in vices (a beauty treatment) were history as were the headhunters (even though ceremonial skulls still hung from the rafters), but the jungles still steamed, the macaques still screeched, the hornbills still displayed their magnificent schnozzolas, and Sarawak still had a faint aura of danger. Going there gave one bragging rights as an adventurer. So what if you stayed at the Holiday Inn, chicken feet were on the menu.

Today, Sarawak is still “terribly jungly” and exotic and inscrutable enough to evoke Walter Mittyish dreams of being one of the Rajahs who one ruled the place. There is a big difference, however.

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