A travel moment in Borneo

We move like wraiths, more through desperation than necessity, he already knows we are here, we can’t see him yet but a rustle of bushes, a snapped twig, he’s there. Mike points to the top of the path and we move like snails up its slight incline, baby steps.

10 feet tall, his hulking grey mass appears as if he had stood on that crest forever. He stands slightly shielded by a few stray bamboo shoots, his tusks 4 feet long shining like a beacon of warning. ‘Stop!’ the command from Mike, as if it was needed, the shock and awe stops you like a wall.

He stands confronting us, daring us to come closer, ‘back. Slowly’, Mike whispers. We edge back down the slope. Seeing this, the leviathan starts trotting forward, towards us, sounding his battle cry as he comes. People have described this before; those descriptions all seem horrendously inadequate.

Suspended animation, one half pure undiluted fear, the other euphoric adrenaline fuelled joy. Combative and meek at the same time. ‘Please God don’t let him charge’. ……‘Sod that, bring it on!’ People talk about the thrill and euphoria of cocaine, surely this was the hit and the comedown all in one. The invincibility followed by the fear and unsurety.

The monster stops and so do we, ‘forward’ is the strained cry from my Bornean guide, five feet nothing of jungle hardened muscle standing next to 6 feet of, currently, highly schizophrenic teenager, his only protection a hopelessly useless camera.

The stand off is fine with us, the lesser beings of this freakish encounter. My camera snaps, far too loudly in my opinion. The beast contemplates us, clearly debating the pros and cons of human jelly, which is what we may end up as, if he decides to come full tilt.

He makes up his mind, and this time Mike orders me to stand and not give an inch. All of a sudden I know how the battalions at Rourke’s Drift felt, this is not a case of overwhelming odds, more a case of outright suicide. Well, people always talk about a good way to go.

Then a miracle, the dust cloud as the king of this particular jungle comes to a grinding halt and proceeds to beat a hasty retreat. 10 feet and 2 tons of Bornean elephant shambling into the jungle leaving Mike and I in complete silence, adrenaline numbing our speech.

‘He was juvenile and we looked intimidating’, Mike tells me, much later. Quite clearly a reassessment of what is and what is not intimidating is required for my Gurkha-esque guide.

1 and a half men and a Canon 450D turn aside a charge of one of the biggest animals that wanders this planet today, all because of the exuberance and uncertainty of youth. Maybe today’s young aren’t so bad….

J Lloyd

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