On the eve of my last jungle excursion in the Borneo rainforest, at least for the foreseeable future, I feel like I should tell the story of my arch nemesis.
Danum Valley Field Center is a two hour drive through wide dirt roads and lush rainforest from the nearest city of Lahad Datu. The field center sits on the outer parts of the 409 square kilometer pristine rainforest of Danum Valley. I remember my first time heading in, I gave myself a sore neck from cranking my head upwards like a first timer in New York, instead of skyscrapers I was zoning out on Mengaris trees. All 200 feet of those giant white trunks shooting into the blue. My eyes were glued to the window for the whole two hours, because I was told of the good chance to see Pygmy Elephants on the way. It took more than a few times to finally spot one, but it was amazing nonetheless.
There was one particular guy I spotted crossing the dirt road one of these first days driving in. A stalky, grey Pig Tailed Macaque and his troupe of female monkeys. As I watched it avoid the van and jump into the brush I could see a glaring set of eyes staring deep into my soul.
Oooohh look at that Mengaris tree!
I forgot all about it. Until one early morning, when I was trying to eat some breakfast before a long day of trekking… Those eyes met mine once again.
It’s about six in the morning and I’m casually strolling to the eating area, about five minutes from the hostel beds, wiping the cold out my eye, trying to wake up. When all of the sudden I hear some wrestling in the bushes, which is very common with all the wildlife in the area, so I take a second to look around. Nothing. I take just a few steps more and BAM! this large male pig tailed macaque jumps out of the bushes about 20 feet in front of me.
I stop in my tracks, thinking “OK just let him pass, he probably wants nothing of this anyways.”
He stares me down, rapidly lifting his eyebrows like he was a long lost brother from Night at the Roxbury. Any other situation one may feel flattered about that, but those weren’t eyebrows of seduction, those were killin’ brows. Next he begins showing off his pearly whites, another terrifying situation.
I can’t turn around, that would be suicide. He would jump me the second I wasn’t looking… And I was kind of hesitant to continue forward, because you know, fangs and stuff.
Instead I stood my ground and picked up a sizable rock. Making sure I wasn’t making eye contact I started to take steps forward to my delicious breakfast of chicken heart nuggets.
I see the monkey also takes a few steps, and bursts into a sprint towards me! I stand still with my rock raised as he closes in and jumps at me, landing about 10 feet away. Once he lands I chuck that rock right at his feet. — Because this is a conservation area, even if it’s self defense I would get arrested for harming a wild animal.
The rock made him retreat to about where he started, so I move closer. He turns right around and runs straight at me again, and again another rock whizzes by his head.
This back and forth happens for 30 damn minutes, and I only gained about five feet. I decided I wasn’t all that hungry anymore, and my life was more important than those chicken heart nuggets that morning. I slowly backed away to the chatter of female monkeys in the bushes and went back to bed.
My next deadly encounter would happen a month later, this time IN the jungle, his domain, where the trails are narrow and the jungle thick.
I was trekking with clients to Tembaling Falls, this beautiful waterfall with a nice natural swimming hole at the base. The trek there is about 3km, and we were halfway when we hear a noise coming from the bushes. “ooOOO oooOOO.”
My clients behind me spot him, 10 feet off the trail at most, with his clan of female followers perched in the surrounding trees, staring angrily.
Now, Im no GQ model while I’m in the jungle. I stink. I’m rather hairy in general, in Malay they’d say “Kamu ada banyak bulu.” My untrimmed beard grows and grows by the day, and I have the shoulder set and long arms to have my friends call me a gorilla in high school. So its no wonder this male pig tailed macaque gets all defensive when he smells me coming, he thinks I’m a monkey and he’s worried about his females groupies leaving him!
I wish I could tell him to quit worrying, they’re all his. Unfortunately I get nothing but flinching eyebrows and fangs flashing my direction.
However this time was a little more worrisome, as my clients wanted badly to sit there and photograph as he advanced, I had to make sure they understood how not to get eaten alive. We start walking backwards as he emerges from the trees, he’s bobbing his head up and down, another tactic to get me to back the F up.
Clients behind me, we get to a section that’s a little more exposed and higher up. As the pig tailed macaque hangs back 40 feet or so, bobbing his head and flashing his teeth, I pick up a giant branch that had fallen from a tree.
My aim in this was to smack that branch so hard against the giant dipterocarp tree, it would terrify him, make him bow down and accept me as his master, and I’d be on my way.
Unfortunately, everything on the jungle floor is deteriorating. When I went for this manly gesture of making a thunderous noise to make any monkey weep, I came out with a crumbled tree branch all over the ground, and a rotting nub in my hand.
Shiiiiiiit. He’s going to kill me.
Instead of hanging around and letting him close in on us, I pretend like that was supposed to happen and we keep moving. Luckily to have never seen him on that hike again.
These are two of the three encounters I’ve had with this same pig tailed macaque and his lovers. I keep thinking the next time I see him, its either him or me, and like the movie, there will be blood.
Well that next opportunity happens to be tomorrow, and the following week while I spend my last week in Borneo trekking around my favorite place, Danum Valley. Who knows if I’ll see my arch nemesis again, but I know I kind of hope I do.
It would really be some full circle shit if we ended up meeting on a trek, and who knows, maybe even making up over some durian and rambutan.
But man, it’s come to this? I never thought my arch nemesis would be a pig tailed macaque.