Losing My Cares In The Jungle

Lucy Weston

© Copyright 2024 by Lucy Weston

Photo courtesy of the author.
Photo courtesy of the author.

 It was 2016, I was thirty-six years old, and life hadn’t gone to plan.

I’d recently given up the long-fought battle of trying to be someone I wasn’t, and with that had come the startling clarity that the life I’d chosen for nearly twenty years, was not what I’d ever wanted. I finally tuned into the sadness I’d been carrying since turning away from my dreams at the age of nineteen, and I realised how because of that, even though I had always tried my best to do what was expected of me, things always seemed to veer off track. Pleasing other people had been making me sick on and off for ten years, and I’d had enough.

We think life is short, but living without a light for our soul makes it long and hard. When I finally took the step that seemed impossible, into a life I never believed could be mine; when I finally decided to stop being so scared of my dreams, to start trusting my gut and listen to the screaming voice inside of me that was dying to live life to its fullest potential; when I finally booked a ticket from my home in New Zealand and stepped off the plane into the rainforest of Borneo; I celebrated and grieved at the same time, because in the end, choosing myself had been so easy, and it felt like coming home. 


I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t fluent in the language of animals, at least that’s how I always saw it. In my childhood garden in the UK, I heard the hedgehogs’ gratitude as they rustled down into the nests I lovingly made, and I knew the foxes who took their nighttime walks past our kitchen window only flashed their eyes at those they considered friends.

On family holidays in Florida, the golden eagles called out to me as they glided along the thermals in the infinite sky, and I laughed along with the dolphins who played beside us on our boat rides. But the day I will remember forever was the day I fell in love with all my heart. Aged ten years old, looking down into a concrete pool at Sea World, I gripped my dad’s arm as I talked to my first-ever manatee. Spellbound, I watched her twirl her silver body in the water, and puff her sparkling breath up at me through her whiskers, telling me we would be friends forever. 

I told anyone who would listen I was going to grow up to be a zoo keeper, an animal trainer, or a wildlife guide. Aged nineteen I came home to the UK, exhilarated from a backpacking trip around Canadian forests, following bears, moose, and eagles, but somehow I landed in the ‘real world’ and well-meaning voices persuaded me that in order to gain a pass into adulthood, I needed to wake up from my dreams. 


I’d finally done it! I was in the rainforest, in Borneo!

I’d chosen Borneo as my first step back into the animal kingdom to challenge myself. I’d always dreamed of becoming a jungle girl, and I wanted to test my potential, to see if I really had what it took to be one of the Jane Goodalls or Sarah Hardings of the world.

I had come by myself as part of a wildlife touring package, and I was staying in a wooden hut camp on the edge of the rainforest with a group of people I didn’t know. On the itinerary for that particular day was a trip to a local island, but my anxieties, which were always bubbling close to the surface, were threatening to overwhelm me. I didn’t fancy the prospect of unravelling in front of strangers, so in a bid for peace, I opted out of the boat ride and decided to take myself bird-watching.

The Rainforest Discovery Centre (RDC) is a wildlife reserve covering forty square kilometres. It is notably famous for its walkway, 27 metres high in the canopies of the trees. With this spectacular viewing advantage, it is considered a bird watcher’s paradise. I was eager to spot hornbills, honey eaters, kingfishers and as much colourful, avian joy the Borneo jungle could offer me. My goal was to record the birdsongs, and anyone who knows anything about birds knows the best time to hear their song is as soon as the day breaks.

The RDC opened at six am, and the owner of my accommodation dropped me outside the gates at 6:05. As he drove away, I noticed I was the only person around.

I was nervous, and it wasn’t because I was alone in the half-light of daybreak, or that I was swamped by the enormity of the environment towering over me; I was worried I wouldn’t be cut out for this experience. I had yearned to live this life since watching Dr. Sarah Harding in Jurassic Park as a teenager. I hoped I was cut out for the intense heat and humidity but immediately I felt the weight of my own sweat. 

The vibration of the cicadas and crickets’ deafening sounds clamoured in my head. All I had on me were shorts, a t-shirt, and sandals, and my orange backpack filled with water, my breakfast, binoculars and a camera. I tried to ignore the scratching, biting and stinging of the invisible creatures exploring every uncomfortable crevice of my body. Merely metres past the gates I felt stupid for not having covered up more.

The first bird calls of the dawn reminded me why I was there. The big, metal walkway I’d heard so much about, loomed impossibly high above my head; a great, clunking, ugly metal structure that didn’t match the surrounding forest at all.

The ladder up to the walkway made me feel like I was in Jurassic World, climbing into one of the ‘high hides’ about to observe dinosaurs from the trees. The metal clanged and reverberated its groans around the trees. I was afraid of scaring off the wildlife so I climbed as quickly as I could. At the top, I didn’t dare peer down. The walkway in front of me led to a wide platform that jutted away from the trees and out over the jungle floor. The rickety structure swung beneath me as I made my way to the end.

All I could see was green. I was so high, right up in the canopies, but there were still trees that towered above me, some with leaves as big as cars.

The birdsong was as gloriously beautiful as I had hoped, although the birds stayed hidden from view. To be fully present and appreciate what I was hearing, I sat on the metal grating that had not been designed for thinly covered human skin; the grooves of the bars dug into my thighs and bum, but I sat and listened anyway.

I pressed record on my Canon x40 Cybershot and stayed as still as I could, thinking about how I could use the sounds later as a backing track for my meditations. As the birds continued singing, the emotions I’d been repressing since I arrived began to surge up inside me. I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude to be in such an incredible place, but equal parts confusion about what I was doing there.

I had done what I never thought I could; I had put aside all my worries and taken my first brave step. I tried not to think about my everyday life back home, and all my adult obligations. I tried so hard to enjoy this magical place, but feelings of confusion overwhelmed me. I felt small, insignificant and alone so high up on that walkway. I was hot, sore, tired, hungry, being eaten alive. What did I think I was doing? Where did I think this would lead me? How had I thought I was strong enough to cope with this? At that moment I felt like I had no place in the world.

Tears fell down my face, so big they matched the size of everything in the rainforest. I don’t know how long I sat weeping silently, against the ringing of the birds, but all of a sudden I became aware of trees swishing in the distance. I looked towards the noise and saw trees moving and branches snapping. This went on for a few moments and then everything was still again. I relaxed, thinking a monkey had moved through the trees, but then I became aware of the feeling of something watching me. I couldn’t understand it; the feeling was so strong it was almost physical. I sat for a few moments longer, and I don’t know how I knew, but it was the feeling of someone there, of eyes on me.

There was no more movement. At first, I looked behind me to see if someone was coming down the walkway, but I knew that was impossible because of the clanking, and at the very least I would have felt the vibrations.

My eyes darted around the trees, scanning for an explanation, and the branches began moving again. There is a scene from Jurassic Park, when they are watching a dinosaur approach them through the forest, and whole trees move, not just the branches, but entire trees. The same scene was unfolding before me at that moment; trees were swaying apart, coming closer and closer towards the platform. I was trembling, the only creature capable of making trees move, that high up in the canopies, was a T-Rex, there was no other explanation.

I sat frozen in fear, questioning my life choices once more. I was so scared. How had I been so stupid to place myself in the bloody trees, in a rainforest, with no other human in sight? I had no method of communication, no one knew where I was, and if anything happened to me, no one I cared about would know.

I curled up in a ball and pressed myself against the barrier, hoping that whatever was coming would overlook me and pass by. I summoned enough strength to point my binoculars in the direction of whatever it was, and all of a sudden, the movement stopped dead. Nothing.

Hunched up against the floor, I peeked through the bars. The feeling of being watched was just as strong. I needed to move my head over the handrail to get a better view but I was too scared.

Scanning my binoculars through the trees I saw nothing more than the veins and ripples of green leaves 100 metres or so away from me until suddenly I saw a flash of something orange. I darted my view back to the spot. It can’t be… it’s impossible… no way! I thought.

Of course, I was in Borneo, but I’d never dreamed of actually being in the presence of an ‘old man of the forest.’ I stayed focused on the small tuft of orange fur, and a black hand came into focus.

I was overcome with shock. I had found the owner of the eyes that had been watching me; she had been hanging in the trees observing me from so far away. I wanted my camera, but I also wanted to enjoy the moment and be as present with this beautiful creature as much as she was present with me. In that instant of discovery, my thoughts of stupidity flipped into thoughts of pride. I had done it, I had finally taken a brave step and it had paid off in ways I never imagined! This was my moment, this was it!

Tears streamed down my eyes and blurred my focus through the binoculars. I don’t know how long I watched the hand and orange wrist curling around the branch, but I felt like the luckiest person alive, sharing the same moment as an orangutan. After a while there was some movement, and from around the branch came a face; now the eyes were peering directly at me. She was close enough that I could maintain eye contact without binoculars. I didn’t want to stare and scare her away, so I looked down and peered up every so often to meet her gaze. All the while she was watching me. We were checking each other out.

Then, with a swift movement, she was gone; the trees began crashing and swaying like before, an enormous branch snapped and disappeared out of the tree, and then there was another splitting crack; another branch disappeared, and then another, and another still, so high up off the ground. Then the face popped out again, the entire face, more daring this time; she was brave enough to examine me out in the open now.

Squashed up, peering through the narrow bars, my vision was frustratingly restricted, so I slowly raised myself and our eyes locked with my head above the handrail. I stayed as still as I could, making sure to move my eyes down every so often. We watched each other for what felt like a lifetime, and I managed to take out my camera and snap a few photos.

In this position, ants crawled all over my hands, swelling my skin with their bites; the metal lattice under my knees dug into my skin, and sweat poured down my forehead and into every channel formed by my squatting thighs, but I wasn’t willing to move for anything and break this enchanting moment.

To my amazement, the orangutan was relaxed enough to lie down in the tree where I could see her and rest her feet up on a branch. Through my binoculars, I saw a tiny hand stretch across her tummy, and I nearly fell backwards when it was followed by a little baby face. I knew nothing about orangutan behaviour, and as I researched later that day, I discovered they take periodic rests in the trees, and go to huge efforts to make comfy nests for themselves before moving on. That’s what the branch snapping had been for; she had been making a place for her and her child to rest. The baby played on her tummy and chewed her mother’s hand. After checking me out for maybe fifteen or thirty minutes, Mother had clearly accepted that I was no threat.

I don’t know how long they rested, but I watched them spellbound, unaware of anything else around me. When it was time to move on, the orangutan mother scooped up her baby and was gone.

A feeling of sickness swamped me. I hadn’t eaten or drank since leaving the hut that morning. I fell against the walkway guardrail and forced myself to drink water and eat my banana. I was dazed, completely overcome by the privilege of what I’d just witnessed. I could have been out on a boat with the rest of my party, but instead, I’d made the crazy decision to come bird-watching, alone, deep in a rainforest, and I saw no birds!

I climbed down the screeching ladder, clutching for my life with trembling hands and knees. I walked back through the park towards the entrance, surprised to see I was still the only person around. At a rest area, I saw two local ladies sweeping and chatting.

I smiled at them. ‘Selemat pagi!’ (good morning), I said in Malay.

The ladies looked at my face and stopped what they were doing. They fussed around me.

What’s wrong?’, they asked me in Malay.

I took my pocket dictionary from my backpack and pointed to the word ‘shock.’

Orangutan’, I said, pointing up into the trees behind me.

They smiled, ‘Oh, no, no, no’, they said. ‘Monkey’.

No’. I said. ‘Orangutan’.

They shook their heads. ‘Macaque’.

I brought out my camera and showed them the photos I’d taken. They opened their mouths wide.

Not here?! When? This morning?’

Yes!’, I said.

They dropped their brooms and ran off in the direction I’d pointed.

The Rainforest Conservation Centre left me feeling physically wrecked, but inside I had the biggest glow I had felt since I made friends with the manatee in the pool at Sea World. Not even the cleaners who worked in the rainforest every day had seen an orangutan. I felt so special.

I still wasn’t sure if I would make a Sarah Harding, but step one, trial one was complete.

Once again I had talked with the animals, and the orangutan relaxing in the trees with her baby confirmed to me I was in the right place, and any move I now made in the pursuit of following my heart I knew without doubt was the right thing to do.

A quote I heard once from Brad Yates, EFT specialist, stuck with me and will always be my guide: 

Clear that stuff that stops you from venturing outside your comfort zone into unfamiliar territory because chances are there is where your hopes and dreams and best life are waiting for you.” 

He could not be more correct. The more uncomfortable you feel, often the better experience you receive. Wildlife watching is a true example of this; often the more difficult and more uncomfortable you need to get, the more magical the experience.


Lucy Weston lives in Hokitika, New Zealand, and is a wildlife enthusiast with dozens and dozens of stories to share. Since meeting her ‘old man of the forest’ she has gone on many uncomfortable and rewarding wildlife adventures and would like to share her animal love with the world. This is her first time submitting a story for publication. Step one of Lucy’s writing adventures, complete!  

Contact Lucy

(Unless you type the author's name
in the subject line of the message
we won't know where to send it.)

Book Case

Home Page

The Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher