It was Monday, and I was dumbstruck.
Now, you and I both know that Mondays suck. No matter how much you might like where-ever you wind up at the beginning of the work-week, it still marks the end of the weekend and the resumption of drab responsibilities.
Any other Monday, I might be in the office, twiddling my thumbs and reading travel blogs and staring out the window until the clock finally hit 4:30.
But this Monday, I was sitting two meters away from a herd of wild elephants.
We first saw them as rustling movements in the trees, and heard them as low trumpeting on the river bank.
The elephants in Borneo are pygmy elephants, which means that they are significantly smaller than their Southeast Asian or African cousins, and a touch harder to spot from a distance.
As our boat approached, we saw that some of them were only a meter tall.
They seemed completely nonplussed by the approaching boat, and continued tearing through the reeds and stalks on the riverbank as we stared on.
Earlier that day, in the beginning of our river cruise, we’d already passed a family of silvered leaf monkeys in the trees. They strolled over branches, balanced precariously, their fur stuck in sharp grey mohawks atop their heads.
Then, a minute or two down, a crested serpent eagle appeared in another treetop, brown and white against a darkening sky.
A Rhinoceros hornbill passed overhead next, one of the largest hornbills in Borneo, black with a massive red and orange horn atop its beak. Silhouetted against the sky and paired with those spindly, primordial jungle trees along the river bank, it looked positively prehistoric.
In another tree, after turning the boat to chase the sounds of elephant trumpeting from one of the river banks, we passed a family of long-tailed macaques pulling food from the branches.
Later, in the afternoon of our final day, one would sit on the lower branches and watch us pass without a movement.
And, though we didn’t see them until the next day’s dawn river cruise, we would later spot two massive harems of proboscis monkeys.
Their faces look so human, that it was truly creepy to see them sitting in the trees.
However, silvered leaf or long-tailed or big-nosed or mohawked, there was one primate which we saw that really stole the show.
Orangutans. Wild. Four of them, by the end of one dawn river cruise.
Before I came to Borneo, one of the oldest jungles on the planet, I made a mental checklist of the animals I had hopes of seeing – some of which, like the proboscis monkeys, are endemic to Borneo.
By the end of my time on the Kinabatangan river, I’d seen nearly all of them.
And so, it was on this weekday afternoon that I sat, utterly dumbfounded, staring directly into the tiny, blood-shot eyes of a wild pygmy elephant, after already encountering macaques, monkeys and truly baffling birds.
I turned to my travel companions, smiled in spite of myself, and said,
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