Splintered wooden steps ascend from a low river in to the dark dense edge of the secondary rain forest. Dappled light falls through the canopy to a raised wooden walkway leading through trees and foliage towards the wooden cabins.
TiomanBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4 / 50 f1.4
Fallen trees lay scattered throughout the living maze. One particularly large truck lays silently amidst an inlet, it’s lower half chocking the route of a small river, it’s upper half drying from a nights rain in the heat of a morning sun. The trunk breathes evaporation in puffs of mist as a large, brown monitor lizard ambles along the length of the natural dam, eventually settling in a comfy spot in the sun. A forked tongue periodically protrudes from it’s toothed maw, tasting the local scents lingering in the jungle’s morning air.
The walkway is treacherous, covered in a layer of slime ensuring every tentative step is filled with nauseous anxiety. Weakly rhythmic guitar strums echo through from the canteen, an open platform filled with ripe smelling tourists from all walks of life. A retired couple from Vienna happily watch proceedings, whilst newlyweds from Spain speak softly under the guitar. I 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 terrible media exposure of Flight 370. Add 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 cold Tiger beer finishes an eventful day on the outskirts of a noisy jungle. Crickets compete with Geckos, the silent night air interrupted by a chorus of chirps and clicks.
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.
The lackadaisical dripping of water from leaf to leaf form the core of the jungle’s soundtrack. Layered together with deep croaks, exotic grunts and the occasional guttural roar, the lower levels of the spectrum are offset by the hi-hat chirps and melodic caws of the upper, all blending together at dusk for a crescendo worthy of a standing ovation.
The Famous FourBarnaby 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 socialist living is accompanied by free WiFi, lucrative housing benefits and cheap rice wine, all subsidized by the central Malay government. The inhabitants of Sarawak and Sabah make up a surprisingly large proportion of potential voters to the Malaysian government, and as they absorb a rumoured 95% of Borneo’s offshore gas and oil income
Fire In The SkyBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4 / 500 f4
A small jolt as the tripod sets down, then silence. The