As the sun sets over Borneo’s Danum Valley, giant orange orangutans break branches in the canopy to make leafy nests for the night. They are a sanctuary from the shadowy animals that will soon emerge from the darkness. The butterflies disappear, and the steamy, vacant jungle floor begins to creep and slither with venomous hunters.
Leaves blink beady yellow eyes and stretch out razor sharp praying mantis arms, twigs spring tendrils, transforming into stick bugs, and lantern bugs position themselves on tree trunks sipping sap. The canopy blocks the stars and the moon, and as a blanket of black descends, iridescent mushrooms glow lime green on the forest floor. Streams of fire ants flow through the fallen leaves, hunted by the sinister assassin bug, and blood sucking tiger leeches cantilever from leafs searching for thermal signatures.
Tucked under giant elephant ear leaves are bearded pigs sniffing among roots, and mouse deer constantly on alert while delicately nibbling leaves. The clouded leopard slinks along game trails and red-sided snakes stalk tree frogs in little ponds. Earth tiger tarantulas hover just outside their dens waiting for passing prey and hundreds of feet above in the canopy, giant flying squirrels glide between trees, and the slow loris searches for insects with its huge nocturnal eyes.
The jungle centipedes are nervously aggressive, and large enough to eat mice and lizards. Menacing spider eyes litter the detritus, reflecting the headlamp’s beam and you imagine them surrounding you, crouched in ambush, awaiting your passing foot, so they can scurry up your leg and sink their fangs into your flesh.
You tuck your pants into your socks and your shirt into your pants to keep the leeches from inching their way to a tender part of your body. You are focused hard on trying not to brush against anything, while you wildly swerve your headlamp around at 360 degrees to inspect every step, leaf, and crackle in the dense foliage.
Steam rises off your body and sweat drips to the ground. Your awareness is heightened and you rediscover a wild sixth sense that comes alive when being stalked. It feels like you are being hunted, but you are just merely out of your element in a strange world where everything but you knows the rules of the survival.
The guide can name every creature that appears in multiple languages, and often stops in the eerie darkness searching for sounds with a huge flood light as warm mud oozes into your shoes. You splash through puddles formed in forest elephant footprints, and breathe in the warm rotting detritus beneath your feet.
Ironically, it’s the darkness of the night which allows you to see this whole other world quietly camouflaged during the day. It feels like such a privilege to given safe passage through this seldom seen slithering world. However, even though you only pass through it briefly, the hairy legs, glowing eyes, and fangs of its inhabitants stay with you long afterwards in the dark corners of your dreams.