Category: Borneo, Indonesia, 2017

Borneo Before Borneo

May 18.  We set off on our next adventure tomorrow.  Borneo is our primary destination. Friends have asked where Borneo is, and why Borneo. As to the first, I’m relying rather heavily on the pilot. But I know at least that, like many places to which we travel, it’s really far.
Borneo is someplace between Malaysia and Indonesia. Actually, Borneo is part of both of those countries, as well as containing a small country called Brunei that is part of the island called Borneo. We are going to the Malaysian part of Borneo. (I won’t confuse you now by explaining why we are ending our trip on the non-Bornean part of Indonesia.). I’ll include another map or two in my next post.
As to why Borneo, that stems from Carol and I having met a couple, Lluis (not a typo) and Silvia (also not a typo) Sanz, when we were birding in Ecuador a couple years ago. (Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo of them, but, from my blog, I know that we met them on June 21, 2015.) They were from Spain and he was a very serious birder who did illustrations of birds for books and led birding trips through his small travel company. Silvia, a physician, was also an enthusiastic birder.  Because Lluis raved about Borneo, Carol and I became interested in going there and, in fact, exchanged a couple emails with Lluis exploring the possibility of going there with him. Ultimately, though, we decided to engage a large, US-based company to help us plan the trip.  Because of our impending trip, I got in touch with Lluis via email a week ago, and he responded within a day, giving us some helpful hints for Borneo  and saying that he’d be following my blog.  And, at my request, he just sent these photos of him and Silvia.  

You gotta love the Internet.
For us, our trips begin long before they actually begin. For starters, we book them way in advance, often a year or more. So, we actually sorta forget about them until a month or so before we leave when it dawns on us, “holy shit, we leave for Borneo in a month, we’d better do something about that.” This means reading, preparing for what we’ll need, getting Malaria medication and, in this case, going to the wonderful Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.
And that’s a bit of a story, too. A couple of years ago, I met John Bates, the co-curator of ornithology at the museum–at Wrigley Field. However much I know you would love to hear it, I’m not going to tell you how I met an ornithologist at the home of the World Champion Chicago Cubs.
Anyway, because of the incredible chutzpah with which I am blessed (or cursed), I contacted John and asked him how he’d like to give us and our friends, Michael and Valerie Lewis (of which, more later), with whom we are traveling to Borneo, a primer on Bornean birds. John said he’d be happy to, so we met him there where he talked with Carol and me, and the Lewises, about and showed us specimens of some of the birds we would see. The Field Museum has one of the couple largest collections of bird specimens in the world, numbering more than half a million.

John also introduced us to a colleague at the museum. While I generally hate people who quote themselves, I am going to make an exception for me (with apologies to those who saw this on Facebook). 
I met a guy the other day who likes frogs.


That may be a bit of an understatement. 


Bob Inger is Curator Emeritus of Amphibians and Reptiles at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. He is the world’s expert on Bornean frogs (frogs from Borneo). 


Bob is 95 years old and made his first trip to Borneo to observe frogs in 1950. While he’s lost track of exactly how many trips he’s made to Borneo, he guesses it’s around thirty. Some of his trips involve six months in the field, observing. Bob collaborates with his wife, Tan Fui Lian, a native of Borneo and former naturalist at Kinabalu Park in Sabah, located in the Malaysian part of Borneo. They are pictured here, with the cover of one of their books, The Amphibian of Borneo, in the background.


My wife and I, and two friends who will be traveling with us to Borneo in a few weeks, spent an hour with Bob and Tan Fui talking frogs. By talking frogs, of course you understand, I mean talking about their ecological distribution, their reproductive behavior, their physiology and their movements. We talked, too, about the enormous changes that have taken place in his field in Bob’s seventy years of work. When you’re 95, and you still light up when talking about frogs, you’ve got something going for you. 


And shame on those of you muttering to yourself that Bob ought to “get a life.” Bob has a life. A damn good and passionate life. And all of us would do well to try to find something remotely approaching his level of passion in our own lives.


We were going to Borneo to see birds and orangutans, but you can bet that we’re now going to find us some frogs.
Okay, I’m going to end here, because I’ve undoubtedly tried your patience already. But I’m not going to apologize, because these side stories are hardly irrelevant.  In fact, they are a large part of what makes travel such a joy for me. I’ll give you the stuff about Borneo that I’ve stolen from others in my next post.

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