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Jacek Palkiewicz

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Borneo from coast to coast

Jacek Palkiewicz In the hell of Borneo

Year of expedition: 1986

Part 1/4

euroasia

In 1986 the expedition of the Survival School of Jacek Palkiewicz has succeeded in crossing the Borneo along the line of the equator from Samarinda to Pontianak. On board of canoes and by foot, six men have covered 2.500 kms in 31 days of impenetrable forests bringing to end a trip never succeeded to the white man.

Borneo 1986 photos

I had entered into the largest temple in the world: the jungles of Borneo. Everything was green: the plants, the sky itself, the rivers, the earth. Greens of every shade, breached every now and then by shafts of light from the cloud-filled sky and by the yellow smears of the mud-banks in the river. The immense solemnity of this work of nature is the as unique as a work of art and can inspire similar emotions. In the jungle man feels insignificant. There is no comparison between him and the opulence all around.

There a man can put himself to the test, in a place where the silence is so profound that one can almost hear oneself think, and where it is possible to shout one's thoughts out loud safe in the knowledge that no-one will reply. Each rustle or squeal make us leap with fear, since there are many dangers. snakes, scorpions, spiny tree creepers can all cost the unwary their lives. At the same time, I have often thought that I ran fewer risks in the jungle than a Daicco Indian would in the centre of one of our traffic-congested cities.

I followed my gaze up the soaring heights of a nearby tree, but high as my eyes climbed, I could not see the top. In its upper reaches, where there was light, the slender, pale green trunk of the tree opened into spreading branches, free at last from the forest below. For a magical moment I forgot about the insects tirelessly stinging me and watched the butterflies fluttering and dancing in a patch of light.

Palkiewicz Borneo coast to coast 1
Palkiewicz Borneo coast to coast 2

The smell of rot was overpowering. The trees live as long as their roots can grip in the mud and soft soil of the forest floor. When a tree falls, another quickly takes its palce, while the humidity rapidly decomposes the trunk. The termits invade it, giant ants build their nest there, larvae, fungus and moss live off it. Before long it is as if the tree had never existed.

Heads! Hanging before me from a charred beam, with their empty eye-sockets playing host to spiders, like grapes dangling from a vine. I looked at them with pretended indifference, but my heart started pounding and the hairs of my neck began prickling like an animal at bay. Were there still head-hunters in the jungle?

I looked at the men sitting around a huge caldron of tuac, a somewhat sour drink made from fermented rice. Their faces were impassive. The women were preparing a meal, while tirelessly chewing leaves of sin, a light drug which produces an dopey smile and reddens the teeth and gums.

I was a little ashamed at not feeling any pity for the men whose heads were dangling around me, but for the moment I was too worried about my own safety. I had been assured that head-hunting no longer went on, but who knew what might happen so far from the nearest city! I sought to calm myself down and remembered that Vittorio G. Rossi had written several years previously that most of the heads in the "long houses" belonged to Japanese soldiers who had invaded the island during the last war. The head-hunters believed that by possesing the heads, they retained the courage and vigour of their former enemies and at the same time paid a tribute to their foes' valour.

Palkiewicz Borneo coast to coast 3
Palkiewicz Borneo coast to coast 4

Slowly the tension ebbed away and my campanions and I began to relax a little. We had brought gifts which the natives accepted with dignity: a little medicine, an electric torch, a multi-bladed knife, fishing line and hooks. These common products of civilization are beyond price in the jungle.

Going to Borneo had been a dream of mine for years. It became a kind of disease; everything I did had this obsession as its final goal. I always knew, however, 1 would succed in overcoming all obstacles to organize an expedition through Borneo, from coast to coast, following the line of the Equator for 1500 miles.

The Daiccos' village was on the margin of civilization in the Mahakam heights at the foot of Mount Muller. Until the river became unnavigable we had travelled in primitive boats powered by an outboard motor. Wherever there are motors progress will be found interfering in traditional ways of life. The animals are taking refuge more and more in the interior of the island while the tribesmen are moving in the opposite direction, to look for modern civilization. Civilization! Here that meant a muddy village of straw-roofed huts on the bank of the river, which is a synonym for life, food and communication.


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