Jacek Palkiewicz


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Borneo from coast to coast IV

Jacek Palkiewicz In the hell of Borneo

Year of expedition: 1986

Part 4/4

Borneo 1986 photos

The water seemed calm and slow-moving, but when it poured into the narrow opening of a gorge, white water began to appear. Through a thick mist we heard the roar of the rapids, crashing with incredible violence ahead of us. The water writhed, beat against the rocks, frothed, formed swirling whirlpools. It was like a yellow canvas which had been torn into a thousand flailing strips. Or else, a hand with huge frantic fingers capable of grasping and hurling the very rocks, smoothing their edges by a process of unceasing violence.

We were stuck in the boat, clinging to its sides with our hands, with a hypnotized stare showing on our faces. The shouts of the helmsman drowned out even the thunder of the water: perhaps he was arguing with nature itself and he was shouting to exorcise its fear. We were utterly drenched, but we were worried most of all for our baggage, films and photographic equipment.

The boat was already full of water and more was pouring over the sides. Our shouts, our conflicting orders, exhortations and swearing all serve to get us over this moment. At one point a wave submerged us all for a second, taking our breath away, while the boat blundered on blindly. I don't know what the others did just then, but when I saw the wave coming across us, revealing a hollow in the bed of the river, I had just enough time to think of the Israelites crossing the Red sea, when the wave hit us. We ran into a rock which had been nowhere to be seen before. With an enormous effort I shoved us clear: just a few inches, but enough to set us moving again, albeit temporarily. Our unequal struggle against the rapids seemed endless. Uncomfortably, I looked towards the river's steep and deserted banks. Naturally there were neither spectators nor rescuers watching us.

Finally we came aground on a pebbled beach, wide and sunny enough to allow us to dry our clothes, bale out the boat and sort out our supplies. It was also a moment of mental repose.

"I'm starving! Rice is really beginning to stick in my craw", Renzo exclaimed. "When I think of my wife's pizza, topped with olives and anchovies...".

"What about girls?" someone put in, "out here they're pretty, but they're past their best very quickly, don't you think?" "Oh, they'll last another month, I suppose". Great laughter all round.

Plop. It had begun raining cats and dogs. The drops fell on to the leaves, splashing into smaller droplets which fell farther to re-form and to run via hundreds of little streams into the mud below, where, with a final plop, they were absorbed by this tropical forest which is both beautiful and monstrous.

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