Bungle in the Jungle, Five Days in the Hide: An Ill-Fated Search for the Rare and Elusive Nasalis Larvatus
“Hell is not hot, or cold. Nor is it deep below ground,
or somewhere in the sky. Instead it is a place on Earth
filled with sucking bogs, disfiguring diseases,
and millions of tiny flesh-eating creatures.
Hell is a jungle, and it is monstrously green.”
On the fourth day, a German couple and their guide discovered me in the Kumbang Bum Bum jungle hide. I was sitting by the view hole in my underwear, eating peanut butter covered in broken glass with my hands. My filthy, skinny face was shaded with stubble and a sharp pointed stick rested on my lap. I must have looked just as shocked as they did—you don’t come across many people in the middle of the Malaysian rainforest, a day’s walk from the nearest village.
I smiled and waved.
“Where is your guide?” barked their ranger. “How long have you been in this hide?”
“Four days. Do you have food?”
“Four days?!” shouted the German woman. “What are you doing here?”
I shifted my weight. The truth was that I wanted to see a rare monkey and I figured the best way of doing this was to trek into the middle of the rainforest, climb into a wooden box, and patiently sit there for an entire week. This seemed a brilliant idea to me at the time; I didn’t realize it would end in blood and hunger and demonic giant squirrels.
I’d like to clarify that this quest wasn’t just for any rare monkey, but the highly endangered male Nasalis larvatus or “Proboscis monkey”—the most woefully absurd species to ever evade natural selection.
Endemic to Malaysia and Indonesia, the male Proboscis monkey is vexed with awkward webbed feet, a grotesque potbelly, and a pervasive, rancid stench that heralds its every arrival. To make matters worse, it appears to have a giant, horrible penis dangling from its face. This ungainly penis-nose grows so long that it can obstruct the mouth, and it turns red and swollen whenever the monkey is angry. Perhaps unsurprisingly, over 70% of male Proboscis monkeys are virgins. Accordingly they are all ravenously horny and their tiny, frustrated monkey boners only desist when they’re sleeping.
But the true absurdity of the species is only revealed when it is handed a banana.
The monkey’s stomach is lined with powerful bacteria to help it digest leaves (thus the potbelly), but whenever the monkey ingests fruit, the result is thunderous and catastrophic flatulence. And I’m not talking a whimsical case of the toots—these episodes are dramatic enough to rupture organs, so in effect the penis-nosed, potbellied, webbed-toed, horny monkey violently farts itself to death.
Obviously I needed to see one.
“Why do you want to see a proboscis monkey so badly?” asked my Singaporean hotel receptionist.
“Because it looks like it has a penis for a nose. Ha Ha Ha Ha.”
“Oh. Yeah, it does.”
“Ha Ha Ha Ha.”
“Ha Ha Ha Ha.”
“Go to the Teman Negara rainforest, maybe you can find them there.”
“Ha Ha Ha Ha.”
I’ve recently come to peace with the fact that I am an eight-year-old hiding in a respectable adult’s body, so I’m going to reference Barney the dinosaur now. I remember watching a Barney episode where he lures the children on a “jungle adventure,” forcing pith helmets over their heads and dragging them into the wilderness to sing songs about lions and elephants and other species that don’t belong in jungles. Somehow all the children survive and everyone has a great time and little eight-year-old Steven in suburban Massachusetts is forever obsessed with the idea of having a jungle adventure—even today. Thus I giddily struck out for my week in Teman Negara, one of the oldest and most bio-diverse rainforests on earth.
Along with a daypack of the barest essentials, I packed a loaf of sliced bread, two glass jars of peanut butter and Nutella, six jugs of water, an industrial bag of chocolate bars big enough to last a nuclear winter, and five cans of hilariously inedible curry—the label of which depicted a mother happily serving her family what looked like dysentery.
The jungle hide I booked was festively named Kumbang Bum Bum, located over a salt lick in the most remote and inaccessible region of the park. To reach it would require a full day of happy, sunny hiking—or so I pictured as I wandered into the jungle, naively humming Barney classics to myself and devouring chocolate bars.
A rainforest is much wetter than you might expect. Also, hotter. Within several minutes, my clothes were drenched with sweat and I was in no mood for humming. Instead I focused my energies on mopping sweat, swatting at malarial mosquitoes, ripping leeches out of my blood-soaked socks, moaning at trees, and trying to decipher my shitty, free park map that was clearly drawn by a baboon.
Within an hour, I had eaten all the chocolate bars.
I collapsed against the buttress of a strangler fig, cursing Barney the corporate vampire for whispering lies and false hopes into the ears of gullible youngsters. The children never sang songs about malaria, leeches, heatstroke, tiger maulings, killer ants, venomous snakes, civet cats, amoebic meningitis, or getting lost and starving to death. The jungle is a miserable, shitty experience and anyone that tells you otherwise is trying to destroy you.
Fun Fact: You can see further underwater than in a rainforest. The foliage was so dense and suffocating that I could only glimpse a few yards in any direction. There were no elephants and lions present. There weren’t even bright colors. Only occasionally was the green punctuated by an orchid or flitting butterfly.
Instead the jungle is an auditory experience, rich with a million buzzing, whirring, chirping, and howling signs of life—life hidden behind the barrier of green.
The bag of chocolates gave me a tummy ache, so I plopped down next to a river, where I met many friendly leeches. When I stood to retreat, my plastic food bag split open and I was forced to continue the journey cradling groceries in my arms like a newborn.
Around this time the late-afternoon downpour began. I’d fortunately packed an umbrella, which kept my hair dry as I watched my useless map soak with rain and disintegrate.
It was nearly 9PM when I stumbled into Kumbang Bum Bum, an oversized wooden box on stilts with bunk beds, a bench, and a narrow viewing window—and by bunk beds, I mean wooden boards covered in animal shit. Obviously the hide was home to some jungle critter—though I wouldn’t make its horrible acquaintance till morning.
I awoke to find two large eyes staring at me.
The creature was crouched several feet away, covered in black fur with blonde patches on its belly and a massive bushy tail. It was a monstrous squirrel the size of a beagle and it was sitting amidst my groceries, casually demolishing a loaf of bread.
“FUCKER!” I roared, as the hell beast leapt out the window. It poked its head back in to watch as I cursed over my groceries, before securing them on a rope from the ceiling.
The squirrel had eaten half of my bread and even though I still had peanut butter, Nutella, and processed curry, it was nary enough rations to last the week. I had to protect what little food I had left.
The squirrel eyed the dangling groceries, flicking its tail, plotting. It turned to me with its big, doughy eyes. It was very adorable, like a giant, cuddly stuffed animal. I stepped outside to find a stick with which to hit it.
No monkeys were seen.
When I returned, the squirrel was latched to the swinging bag, rooting through a hole in the side.
“Shoo!” I stammered.
The squirrel emerged with the bag of bread.
“SHOO!” I screeched, charging at it with my stick.
The squirrel sprang to safety as I swung.
The bag split open like a piñata, sending curry cans bouncing across the hide. I then watched in slow motion as the glass jars of peanut butter and Nutella floated to floor, where they shattered into pieces with a sickening crack.
My face crumpled with despair.
When I eventually recovered from my rage-blackout, the giant squirrel was gone and I was salvaging glass-speckled condiments into plastic parcels for later.
My stomach growled.
If I wanted to stay the week, I would need to find new food. Surely there were fruit trees nearby. I could make a jungle feast: diced mangoes and bananas over roasted, grain-fed squirrel. I imagined that a sentient stuffed animal would make a taste sensation—tenderized to perfection with a stick and cooked over a lighter. Squirrel sashimi could be nice too. Why not both? The possibilities seemed infinite.
That afternoon I gazed out across the steamy, monkey-less jungle, fantasizing a thousand culinary prospects.
Three days passed and the rainforest appeared lifeless. I had always been led to believe that rainforests were constipated with wildlife, and though they do contain half of the world’s species, we seem to forget the difference between biodiversity and abundance. The scientific truth is that you’ll find more living organisms in a conifer forest than any jungle.
As my boredom intensified into hunger, I left the hide in search of fruit trees. This activity entailed pottering through the woods in my boxers and sneakers, tripping over roots, and sweating from my eyeballs. My two-hour exertion yielded no fruit, although I did succeed in making myself even hungrier.
Upon returning to the hide, I froze in the doorway. Scattered across the floor were dented curry cans, crumbs crawling with ants, and the empty, shredded remains of my bread bag. The bloated squirrel was perched on the windowsill, gloating at me with his stupid, adorable eyes.
I hated the squirrel and I wanted it dead.
Something snapped in my head and a guttural noise erupted from chest. I charged at the window. The creature leapt into the foliage. I sprinted out of the hide in pursuit, hurling sticks and rocks in blind rage. It was like Looney Tunes, but sad and depressing. The squirrel was simply too nimble to chase down. So eventually I decided to outwit it:
After choking down half a can of bowel-flavored curry, I fished out the chicken bits and laid them outside the window of the hide. I then hid behind the windowsill with an arsenal of rocks, listening for noise. I knew normal squirrels didn’t prey on chickens, but I figured this Godzilla beast was liable to drag off even babies.
And so I waited.
Twilight fell and the forest changed its face. The nocturnal jungle is not a happy place when you’re alone. The gnarled, ancient trees turn sinister in the darkness. An unshakable feeling sets in that something is watching you—and almost certainly something is. Your anxiety melts into paranoia. You scan the tree line for tigers.
The hide didn’t have a lock and so I cradled my stick, listening to the jungle’s night shift roar to life with a thousand shrieks and whistles.
BANG! Something bumped the hide.
I grabbed a rock and leapt to my feet, beaming my flashlight out the window.
Two golden eyes shone back at me.
Something big. It had a snout like a dog, but with muted spots like a leopard.
As my eyes adjusted, a chill ran down my spine.
I was staring into the face of a giant civet cat, snapping chicken bones in its powerful jaws. It paused to stare back at me, sizing me up.
The flashlight trembled in my hands. I didn’t know if it was dangerous, but I wasn’t a fan of its sharp teeth. I slowly diminished behind the windowsill before extinguishing all the lights and barricading the door shut. I then sat up in bed, cursing Mother Nature and swatting at mosquitoes until I passed out. Unbeknownst to me, everything was about to change.
As the morning mist rolled over the empty salt lick, I stared out from the hide with the starving eyes of a refugee. There’s something wonderful to be said about hunger and rationing—at least at a privileged level. Deprived of your most elemental need, your day-to-day problems and insecurities are stripped naked and pointless, and your every thought is consecrated to your next meal. Suddenly a slice of bread seems as glorious as a Christmas blowjob. A dirty handful of Nutella covered in glass shards makes you burst into musical number. You start to view the food you eat every day differently. There’s something about it that feels strangely spiritual and enlightening.
I had just de-glassed a wad of peanut butter when the Germans arrived. Tillman and Hannah were a retired couple from Munich, whose hobbies included yelling in German, Mars Bars, and complaining about nature. We bonded over the latter, so they kindly offered me their food.
A camping stove was produced, and after they unpacked their bags on the empty bunks, we huddled around to feast on hot noodles.
I broke the silence. “Last night I saw a civet cat!”
Tillman shrugged, unimpressed. “Anything else?”
“No,” I sighed. “Just some birds. Oh, and a big squirrel.”
Their guide shot up straight. “A big squirrel? What did it look like?”
“Like a big fucking squirrel.”
“Two, three feet? Black fur.”
“With a brown stomach?!?”
“I tried to kill it with a stick. It ate my bread.”
The guide’s face washed with horror. “What?”
“I hit it with a few rocks though.”
The guide dove into his bag. “A Malayan Giant Squirrel! Very rare,” he said, before handing me a plastic information card. “Is that the squirrel?”
The card displayed a few dozen portraits of animals, beneath a giant header reading, “WWF TOTALLY PROTECTED SPECIES: Fine for hunting or killing, 300,000 MYR ($90,000US) and/or 10 years jail.” At the bottom of the card, sandwiched between an orangutan and a blue whale, was the stupid, adorable giant squirrel.
“No, I don’t think that’s it.”
“Yes!” he cried. “It must be!”
“Wow, so rare!” the Germans exclaimed. “Very lucky!”
“Nope,” I frowned. “I didn’t see anything.”
“Why aren’t you happy?” shouted Tillman.
“Because I sat in the jungle for four days and all I wanted to see was a proboscis monkey.”
Tillman cocked his head. “What? Why?”
“Because it looks like it has a penis for a nose. Ha Ha Ha Ha.”
“Those live in Borneo, you idiot.”
It turned out he was right.
Three days later I flew to Malaysian Borneo, and within ten minutes of wandering into Bako National Park, I came across a crowd jostling beneath a tree. They were pointing into the dense foliage, murmuring with excitement.
A horrible stench singed my nostrils. I pinched my nose. For a second I thought I could hear a gassy Pfft! Pfft! Pfft!
My heart pounded. After two weeks of searching, all my dreams seemed about to come true.
The leaves rustled and cameras shot up. As the branches began to part, I held my breath.
“It’s magnificent!” screamed a woman, as fat, demented, penis-nosed face appeared, tea-bagging its own mouth.
I gasped with delight.
Then another face appeared. Then another.
“Much better than orangutans!” commented one man.
Then time seemed to slow as I stood there frozen in rapture, watching as the monkeys descended from the branches around us—their phallic noses majestically smacking their chins, their revolting guts wobbling in the heat, their tiny, pink monkey boners standing at full salute.
I slowly removed the banana from my pocket.
One time I set out to find wild cobras. This also ended terribly. Check out “Steve McDonald Pokes Death in the Face with a Stick for Your Reading Entertainment: A DIY Cobra Hunt”
For an even more disastrous jungle adventure, watch me send Intern Lydia into the Laotian jungle to fight for her own survival with an AK-47 assault rifle and a bayonet duct-taped to a stick in “Intern Lydia vs. LaLa & His Hippie Goons“
Or for another survival story, try to hitchhike across the Gobi desert in “The Long Road to Nowhere: A Hitchhiker’s Tale from Outer Mongolia”