Hiking with Head Hunters in Borneo

Cruising down the river in a longboat, I couldn’t help but wonder if some of the friendly Borneo people at the nearby villages might still have inklings of being Head Hunters and that there was a chance I could be in danger.

Longboats at Limbang

Our longboat ride from Limbang to the Head Hunters Trail in Borneo

 

That thinking was pretty delusional, likely brought on by a combination of extremely hot, humid weather, and me drinking cheap beers in the longboat, which I had picked up in Labuan. It did make for a more entertaining couple of hours along the river though, trying to imagine what it was like coming down this river knowing that your head could be put on a stick. I often find myself imaging what first explorers to places like Borneo went through, usually with a bit of envy that their adventures were surely more exciting than mine.

In reality, the Head Hunters Trail is just another walk in the park. A park that is a dense, muggy rainforest. With lots of leeches and near 100% humidity that kills cameras. The humidity here was so intense that my camera lenses fogged up almost instantly and even the outer protective casing of one of my lenses began to peel off. There may not be any Head Hunters here any more, but it is still an evil place for the digital traveller.

Sarawak Headhunters Trail

Near the start of the Headhunters Trail in Sarawak, Borneo

 

The hike itself is an 11km hike from Kuala Terikan to Camp 5 in the Borneo jungle and it’s all through lush green forest, with dripping wet branches and muddy pools of water everywhere – and that’s not even during the rainy season! This is leech-check territory, so keep all your pant, waist, neck and arm seams tightly closed off or else the little blood-suckers will get you!

Hiking in Borneo

Hiking along, after a leech check! Camera foggy from 100% humidity.

 

I learned here that it’s often best to be the first or second person hiking along a path where leeches may exist. It’s a case of the first person waking up the leech as they walk by and the second person aggravating (or exciting) the leech. The third person may or may not get lucky and pass by before the leech is ready to grab on…but the people after that will be facing a pathway of excited, wiggling leeches thirsty for blood.

Headhunters Trail Sign

More like the humid, leech-infested trail…

 

I did indeed have some leeches on this longboat ride and 11km hike, but they were all caught by my hiking buddies during leech checks. So none of them got past my clothing barriers, bug spray and heightened sensory awareness. I did laugh when I took a refreshing cold shower later on and saw a massively, blood-filled leech in there. It seemed that someone else had an unpleasant surprise!

So…back to the Head Hunter Trail…

If you’re lucky you will spot some wildlife along the hike, such as wild boar or porcupines or monkeys. More than likely you’ll hear a lot of birds and rustling of animals in the forest, but won’t see that much. The hike is done over average terrain,¬†nothing¬†too intense, except that the weather zaps your energy pretty quickly, especially as you’ll be carrying your backpack on this little trek. (Another reason why I was drinking those beers early in the day…to lighten the load!)

Camp 5 - Headhunters Trail

Camp 5 along the Headhunters Trail in Borneo

 

At the end of the 11km hike, you emerge from the forest and come to a picturesque setting on the edge of the limestone cliffs. A river presents itself for swimming and a suspension bridge symbolizes the end of the trail (or start if you’re going in reverse). Here is Camp 5, and after a few hours of getting dirty and sweaty in the jungle, a cold beer and dormitory bed seem like luxury – a decent reward for surviving the Head Hunters Trail.

Camp 5 in the rain

Raining at Camp 5, don’t expect your clothes to dry here!

 

About Red Hunt

A former journalist and business analyst that now works in the world of travel marketing. Based in Toronto, Red Hunt has travelled to more than 40 countries over the past 10 years. You can follow Red on Twitter @redhunttravel.