I was excited as I was going to Mulu National Park. Proper rainforest. Proper Borneo. Up to this point, the Borneo I had experienced had been a disappointing excess of shopping centres and not enough trees. The aim of this trip was to redress the balance.
I was not so excited, however, about the prospect of flying in a small, propellered plane. The tiny plane that sat on the runway looked like it would not respond well to cross-winds, turbulence, or even being looked at in the wrong way.
As I walked towards it to board, I half expected a child to be stood there checking the batteries on his remote control unit. “Your captain for today is seven-year old Thomas. He has taken the controls for three flights – two of which were in his local park”.
It is at this point that I need to reiterate how much I truly hate flying. I fear it with a passion. This fear usually manifests itself as profuse sweating and a tendency to hyperventilate. I am absurdly compelled to watch those air crash investigation programmes on the television just to see the different ways I might die during the journey to or from my next holiday. I know it’s irrational and I am well aware that statistics suggest flying is the safest method of travel, but if something goes wrong, you don’t tend to have the sort of accident you can just walk away from with a bit of whiplash. I am overwhelmingly scared of flying and profoundly wish I didn’t have to travel on aeroplanes, but I recognise they are a necessity if I want to see the world.
The plane was like one from an Indiana Jones film. I was, however, hoping that I would be afforded the luxury of leaving through the door on a tarmac airstrip and not via an inflatable dinghy into a raging river, down a waterfall and into the clutches of a human-sacrificing, devil-worshipping cult.
As the propellers fired into action and the plane taxied down the runway, I took a deep breath, shut my eyes and grabbed hold of whatever was within reach – I don’t know what it was – my eyes were closed. No-one screamed (except me, a lot, internally), so it can’t have been a fellow passenger. This was a relief. A relief amongst a sea of worries… Well, a sky of worries, but I hope you know what I mean.
I felt us lift into the air as the propeller whirred outside my window – only slightly louder than my heart trying to thump its way out of my chest.
With eyes still firmly closed, I felt the compulsion to breathe. This was good as it meant I was still alive… Thirty-seconds in and we hadn’t crashed. As miracles go, this was up there with Westlife’s popularity.
As I cursed myself for placing my life in the hands of what was essentially a child’s toy-sized plane, I rated my chances of survival at fifty-fifty. Either I would die or I would not. In my irrational head, my survival was potentially at the mercy of a coin-toss.
I decided to open my eyes and was greeted by the magical sight of mile after mile of untouched rainforest and meandering rivers, snaking through the landscape. It was the Earth at its most beautiful. For a moment, I was overcome with a feeling of awe… But only for a moment.
In the distance I could see flashes of lightning and a sky full of menacing black clouds. The awe that had temporarily superseded my fear dissipated and cowardly squirreled itself away under my seat next to the life jacket I had checked was there on a number of occasions. My thoughts returned to those of imminent death.
Kindly, as a farewell gift, nature had put on a bit of a show… A rainbow had been rustled-up by the prevailing weather conditions shortly before they were going to destroy us. Shortly, we were going to fly over a rainbow – Soon, however, we were sure to be underneath it, in lots of little flaming pieces.
Little Thomas skilfully navigated us through the storm and, like all other flights I have endured, the plane landed safely on the runway.
I consider all flights to be truly terrible experiences, but this was the worst – I hadn’t fully taken the opportunity to revel in the views of what is possibly the most beautiful place on Earth.