'We've left a lot of men in Borneo - know what I mean?' With their SAS trainer's warnings ringing in their ears, the naturalist, Redmond O'Hanlon, and the poet, James Fenton, set out to rediscover the lost rhinoceros of Borneo. They were loaded with enough back-breaking kit to survive two months in a steaming 95degree (in the shade) jungle of creeping, crawling, biting things. O'Hanlon could also rely on his encyclopaedic knowledge of the region's flora and fauna, and had read-up on how to avoid being eaten by anything (stick your thumbs in a crocodile's eyes, if you have time). And yet they proceeded to have an adventure that neither O'Hanlon, nor his friend, nor even his guides were remotely prepared for...'Consistently exciting, often funny, and erudite without ever being overwhelming' - "Punch".
"Ye Gods, old man--don't do it!" you're bound to shriek on page 1 of this hilarious travelogue, on which the author lists the hazards that may befall him--vipers, cholera, crocs, ticks, tuberculosis, malaria, rabies, and 1,700 types of parasitic worms among them. After all, portly, over-the-hill London Times
literary reviewer Redmond O'Hanlon hasn't done anything more aerobic than flip the pages of a book for decades; he wasn't even a Boy Scout. It's hardly reassuring that his colleague, poet James Fenton--who had the big idea to trek in Borneo--was a Boy Scout. He hated it, and besides, aged, balding Fenton, whom O'Hanlon describes as rather worm-like, sounds like he's a likely lunch for a swooping black eagle.
But on they trod--with the much-needed help of three Iban natives and an unseen, though oft-quoted river god--through jungle, across rivers whose height may rise seven feet overnight, and via native villages (where they often have late-night parties), with one goal in mind: seeing the fabled Borneo rhino. Fenton is nearly swept away in a whirlpool, they subsist on jungle-worm gruel, and ripping off sucking leeches is a near-daily occurrence, but cultural and natural insights and adventures abound in this rip-roaringly funny and deftly written travelogue that will have you chortling out loud. --Melissa Rossi