This one day in Borneo...

I considered writing about all manner of self-knowledge related topics tonight, but none compared with the glory that has been the past couple of days. This day in particular has been amazing and because I have felt so present and aware for it, I simply had to celebrate it with a blog post, if only for my own records. We've been in Sukau, a small village in the Sabah half of Borneo, for the past couple of days. Sukau is right in the jungle, set along the banks of the Kinabatangan River. After days of schlepping from one small and somewhat underwhelming city to the next, Sukau held great promise as a haven of jungle adventuring, and it has delivered.

Today begin with breakfast in the lodge restaurant overlooking the river. Afterward, Phil, Will, Kelly and I joined a group of fellow foreigners for a trek through the Kinabatangan rainforest. I'm trying really hard to adjust to a backpacking lifestyle, but I will freely admit that I was grossly unprepared for this part of the adventure. I ended up wearing two pairs of leggings, a linen hoodie and fuzzy socks with white tigers on them to wander the rainforest. Perhaps not the most practical get-up, but it sufficed.

The trek began with a boat ride out to the path we would take. By the time we stepped into the boat that carried us to this jungle path, we were a motley crew: one of us had just gotten sick, presumably from the food or the excessive amounts of mosquito and leech repellant with which we had been dousing ourselves; one looked the part of the consummate tourist, down to a cheerfully silly hat purchased in one of the aforementioned Borneo cities; one wore enormous garbage bags over his shoes instead of rubber boots because the lodge had none big enough to fit him; and one (namely me) had just slipped and fallen down a set of stairs, leaving me a little embarrassed, slightly bruised and a lot wary of how effective my boots were going to be in the jungle mud if they couldn't withstand a slippery staircase.

Nonetheless, we were a cheerful bunch. And the jungle trek was incredible.

Because it had down poured during the early morning, the mud was thick and the water reached calf-high in some places. My boots did indeed fail me, but not because the terrain was too slippery. They simply weren't tall enough for this trek, and I ended up with several inches of water in my boots, which did nothing to ease my fear of being sucked on by leeches.

We didn't see much wildlife, though our guide did point out elephant tracks, some interesting and sweet-smelling insects, and some fascinating types of fungi. But just being in the rainforest, sloshing through the mud as it sucked at our boots, navigating our way through the vines and trees, was amazing. I'm not sure I fully appreciated the moment just then, but the thought occurred to me that some day, I will look back on this trip and remember that time I walked through a Borneo rainforest and be quite happy that I had this opportunity.

Later on, we went on an afternoon cruise down the river — the lodge where we are staying does a lot of these — and saw gorgeous birds and families of proboscis monkeys. The highlight of the trip for me was seeing an orangutan swinging through the treetops. I absolutely love orangutans, so seeing one in the wild was wonderful.

As if all of this were not enough, we enjoyed a great dinner of curried beef, basmati rice and fresh fruit, followed by an evening cruise that was almost equally as excellent as the afternoon one. The boys passed on this one but Kelly and I decided to go, and I was so glad we did. We saw owls and kingfishers, and then, just before heading back to the lodge, we spotted a yellow and black striped cat snake. This was particularly cool because we watched it slither up and down branches, its forked tongue darting out every few seconds. It was beautiful, and fascinating. That alone would have made the cruise worth it, but on the ride back, the early evening clouds parted enough for us to catch a glimpse of stars that perfectly ended a wonderful day.

The day was full of beauty and wonder and excitement and color and vibrant life that by the end of it, I felt, "Today is a day when I have truly lived." I'd like to live in a way that allows me to feel that every day.

The only downside to all of this came as I was changing for bed, when I noticed a rust-colored stain on one side of my my pale pink bra. That doesn't seem right. What happened there? Turning to face the mirror, I spotted three small red bite marks beneath my right arm.


It appears the little bastards got me after all. The leeches we saw today apparently feast until they're full and then fall off their prey to be on their way, but since I obviously didn't catch them while they were sucking my blood, I think it's safe to say that they made a good meal out of me. But thanks to Kelly's quick research on the danger of leech bites (it's minimal) and the tube of triple antibiotic ointment Will carries in his travel bag, crisis was averted and I'm confident the bites will be nothing more than a good story in the end.

There's also a nice welt on my lower back from my tumble down the steps, and a slight rash that's broken out beneath my chin (which I now realize could be leech-bite related). But somehow none of this bothers me. In fact, it only seems right to leave Borneo with a few battle scars. It's a small price to pay for all the wonder I've experienced while I've been here.

Arriving in Borneo, gaining some peace of mind

We arrived in Borneo today, and for the first time since departing from Beijing Sunday morning, I can finally feel myself relax. Before going on, I should clarify that when I say "we," I will most likely be referring to my travel companions and close friends Will, Phil and Kelly. Anyway, we left Beijing Sunday morning, took a train to Tianjin, and a flight from Tianjin to Kuala Lumpur. After spending about a day in KL, we hopped another flight, this one to Borneo, and now it feels that our vacation truly begins.

The entire month of January, and first two weeks of February, were extremely chaotic for me. I was wrapping up projects and starting others, and began writing for some great new clients. But I was also trying to pack up my apartment, tie up loose ends in Beijing until I return at the end of this trip, and maintain my friendships and the great momentum I had developed in terms of my self-work.

This was all well and good until about the beginning of February, when everything came to a head. In the turbulent first two weeks of the month, I worked an insane amount of hours and survived on almost no sleep. For five consecutive days before leaving for vacation, I was up working until 5 a.m. every day, allowing myself to pass out only when I had begun to hallucinate from exhaustion, then waking up four hours later to do it all again.

My diet consisted mainly of double cheeseburger meals from McDonald's and noodles from the local Xinjiang restaurant in my neighborhood, washed down with large doses of Diet Coke and strong coffee.

In short, my lifestyle had become extremely unhealthy, with a horrible work-life balance. I actually went three days in a row without showering because "I didn't have the time." If I wasn't working, I was sleeping. There was almost no time for anything else.

I promised myself that all of that would change once vacation started. First thing on the agenda: give my brain a break. When you start hallucinating due to sleep deprivation on a regular basis, wake up every morning confused about where you are, and your short-term memory, including about what clothes you have on your body at the moment, begins to fail you, you know things are not good.

And now that I have arrived in Borneo, I feel that pattern beginning to unravel. While the first two days of the trip have been exciting and interesting, they've also been full of travel, planning and a sense of anticipation for arriving in Borneo.

This afternoon, sitting on my hostel bed, gazing through the broken shades at pink building across the alley, I felt an oddly giddy sense of relaxation. The view from our room is nothing spectacular; this is a budget backpacking trip.

But finally getting to sit with the quiet, with nothing on the immediate horizon except indulging whatever whims and interests I want, up to and including a long nap, I felt I was on vacation at last. My brain, though tired, has stopped hallucinating and already I am feeling more alert and clear-headed, which is good since I don't want to miss any of the storied wonders Borneo is supposed to offer.