Borneo Bound

Thomas and I have finally taken the leap… out of mainland Southeast Asia, that is. We’ve made our way to the Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo.

When people hear the name Borneo, they envision a vast wilderness shrouded in dense jungle – a 21st century “heart of darkness” which has somehow fended off the plague of modernity engulfing the rest of the world. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, Borneo is the ultimate battleground in the war between environmentalists and commercial interests seeking to harvest the world’s resources. Much of Borneo has been devastated by these interests – and we come here fully aware of that fact.

I have been to Borneo before in 1991 and that battle was in full swing even then. Large-scale deforestation and conflict with native peoples presented scenes far more devastating than any fictional scene in Avatar. In some ways, the war is over now and the commercial interests have won. So why do we come to Sabah knowing that?

Because Borneo still offers up scraps of the past. Pieces that have somehow survived intact. One of those remnants is Sipadan island, consistently ranked among the top ten diving destinations in the world. We also hope to give Thomas, who has never been to Borneo before, a glimpse of the island’s once stunning natural heritage. In Sabah and further south in the Indonesian state of Kalimantan, we have also made it our goal to spot some of the island’s remaining orangutans in the wild. Some pretty sensational attractions for an environmental disaster, no?

Every post we write here could read like a tirade on the destruction of Borneo’s wilderness – lord knows we’ve been harping on that throughout Southeast Asia. But we have made it our goal for this portion of our trip to pull back from the proselytizing and focus a little on the beauty we find here. We’ll see if we manage to bite our tongues.

6 responses to “Borneo Bound”

  1. avatar Lisa Nunn says:

    Something about your phrase “scraps of the past” that I like a lot.
    I wish we had some scraps of the past lingering around here. Seems like the best San Diego can do is preserve missions as museums. That’s right, shrines to colonialism. Ugh.

    • avatar Tony says:

      They are nice scraps – but I’m still a bit traumatized by the extent of the deforestation. I’m trying to bite my tongue a little because we can only bitch so much about the environment before people tune out to our complaints. I’ll try to pick and choose a little 🙁

  2. avatar Eef Wouters says:

    Why not get from the Malaysian part of Borneo to the Indonesian (much bigger) part! OK, part of what you see in relation to environmental threats can be found there as well, but there is much more unspoiled beauty to be found!!
    Enjoy yourselves,
    regards from a fellow traveller
    – was in Borneo in 2010 –

  3. avatar Volker Abels says:

    Hallo Tony,

    I traveled to Sarawak and Kalimantan in 1991. I heard about the problems. I met a few Punan who were in prison. They asked me to help.

    But what could I do? Back in Germany I spoke with people and environmental protection groups about this problems. It helped? – No.

    I read and heard about Bruno Manser and his hopeless struggle, I think you know what happened – he is dead.

    I flew from Sarawak to Kalimantan and together with some people, I crossed the island. “The Trans Borneo Eploration” – was the motto. Some Students from Indonesia, who accompanied us, wore T-shirts with this print.

    It was great. I started in Pontianak, came to Putussibeau, crossed the Müller-Range and arrived in Samarinda.

    We went through primary forest – but we also saw destroyed areas.

    I think today there are much more destroyed areas.

    If you travel to Kalimantan I would be interested if it is still worthwhile to travel to kalimantan.

    I think you’ll report on it.

    All the best

    Volker

  4. avatar luke says:

    Nice blog, thanks for sharing. I got lot of information from your blog.

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