Splintered wooden steps ascend from the ebb of a low river toward the dark edge of secondary rain forest. Dappled light speckles the canopy as a raised wooden walkway winds through a dense tangle of tree trunks and foliage towards ancient wooden cabins.
TiomanBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4 / 50 f1.4
The raised walkway is treacherous, covered in a layer of slime ensuring every tentative step is filled with nauseous anxiety. Weakly rhythmic guitar-strums echo through the forest, emanating from an open platform filled with ripe smelling tourists from all walks of life. A retired couple from Vienna suspiciously eyeball the guitar-pounding American brigade, whilst newlyweds from Spain speak quietly under the raucous party, all the while attempting to acquire a cold beer in a rain forest. I close my eyes and try to cope.
A Secret PlaceBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4 / 14 - 24 f2.8
The 75% drop in tourism between 2011 and 2015 in Borneo is inextricably linked to Malaysian Airline’s catastrophic media exposure of Flight 370. Add to this a civil uprising in Sabah, tourist kidnappings across the outer islands and a palm-oil-shaped environmental disaster, and things don’t look too rosy for this iconic holiday destination.
A dinner of chicken, rice and vegetables washed down with a luke warm Tiger beer finishes an eventful day on the riverside in the jungle. Crickets compete with Geckos, the silent night air interrupted by a chorus of chirps and clicks. Large snakes slide beneath our sleeping bags, mere feet away from a tasty snack.
A Stork Flies ByBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4 / 70 - 200 f2.8
Many Malaysians believe Flight 370 was a cover-up. They whisper stories of Chinese delegates on the plane holding evidence of America’s role in illegal pan-European detainee transport. The last radar sighting of the plane over Malay waters showed an unidentified aircraft closing in behind.
Three MonkiesBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4 / 70 - 200 f2.8
For 3 hours we talk Sabah as our minibus gallops through the northern stretches of Borneo. We pass small fires literally erupting from thin air, fishermen wading through knee deep mud in low rivers, the bone-dry rain forest endlessly searching for a cool drink. Smoke billows from tree tops in dense plumes, vortices twisting skyward, their tails emanating from the depths of the dense, parched jungle.
Morning arrives with the lackadaisical dripping of water from leaf to leaf, a symphonic core of the jungle’s soundtrack. Layered together with deep croaks, exotic grunts, and the occasional guttural roar, the lower levels of the harmony are offset by the hi-hat chirps and melodic caws of the upper, all blending together at dawn for a crescendo worthy of a standing ovation.
SedatedBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4 / 70 - 200 f2.8
Honeybees, gong factories and Rungus longhouses; all government initiatives dedicated to promoting tourism, and therefore a source of income, to the small villages on the outskirts of civilization desperate to make an honest living. This seemingly socialist living is accompanied by free WiFi, lucrative housing benefits and cheap rice wine, all subsidised by the central Malay government. It just so happens that the inhabitants of Sarawak and Sabah also make up a surprisingly large proportion of potential voters to the Malaysian government.
Fire In The SkyBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4 / 500 f4
A small jolt as the tripod sets down, then silence. The