Monday 3 November

Over the river, the dawn mist is slowly clearing. The treetops are still lost in cloud, but a patch of blue sky is breaking through. Distant birdsong can be heard.

After breakfast, the bamboo rafting is on, so it is time to try out the “Aquapac”, a plastic waterproof bag I bought to keep my camera dry. Three longboats take us thirty minutes upriver where the rafts lie waiting at the end of the Headhunters’ trail. After a final briefing, we are underway.

Bamboo rafting (magnify) Bamboo rafting

We are six or seven to a raft, plus the boatman guide. The rafts are built from thick bamboo lashed together with rattan, a couple of meters wide and about four meters long. We are each equipped with a punting pole, but it quickly becomes clear that this is very different from the punting on the River Cam that I am more familiar with. For a start, the rafts are very heavy and difficult to steer. And I don’t remember any white water on the Cam. We have nominated Mark as our captain, but he remarks that trying to coordinate our punting efforts is like trying to herd cats.

As we head downstream, the current soon takes us and it becomes a case of crisis management. Our poles miss the bottom or are pushed aside ineffectively. Large rocks loom ahead and we clash poles, desperately trying to turn the unwieldy raft and steer for the gap. Somehow we get through with only minor damage and emerge into a calm section where we can relax for a few precious minutes. Floating serenely down the river, it is easy to imagine the Kayan headhunters taking this route many years before in their surprise attacks on the tribes around Limbang.

The next section requires that we steer right and then left through a chicane formed by a fallen tree on the left bank and then an upturned tree stump in the middle of the river. We execute the manoeuvre with stunning precision, and even the boatman is impressed. Turning around to congratulate each other, we notice too late that we are heading inexorably back towards the right-hand bank and into a mass of overhanging trees and rattan.

Tubing Ann down the tube

After lunch we have the opportunity of tubing down the same section of river. Initially, I find it hard to balance myself on the inner tube, but once I get the knack, it is a very peaceful way to drift. Even the rapids are not too strenuous. But our group becomes quickly dispersed along the river, with some enjoying more success at balancing than others.

By the time I reach the final rapids, I am surprised to find myself really rather cold, as over the last week I had forgotten what cold felt like. A boatman passes me the end of a long pole, and uses it to manoeuvre me into the centre of the channel before I let go and am swept into the maelstrom. I am immediately unseated from the tube, but on a second attempt I make it through with aplomb. As I return to the lodge, the first few drops of rain are beginning to fall. It’s nice to get dry and to warm up again.

After dinner, Chris takes us for a night jungle walk. Walking in the soft glow of LED head torches, we hope to see some of the nocturnal wildlife, but are rewarded only with a small clump of pitcher plants that Ann spots at the side of the path.