I sort of can’t believe it’s been 28 months since I returned from my honeymoon in Asia, and I’m just now telling you about the proboscis monkeys. But first, let’s rewind.
How did we end up in Brunei? That’s a good question. Once we settled on Borneo as our honeymoon destination, and one week turned into two weeks turned into three, we decided since we were already in the area, we might as well go to Brunei. The question isn’t so much why? as why not?
The capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, was fine but after a day of wandering around, we had run out of things to do.
At this point, we had been on Borneo for 17 days, watched orangutans play, swam with turtles, been swept away by torpedoes of barracuda, bitten by triggerfish—but not seen the island’s most famed inhabitants: the proboscis monkeys.
So we did what any respectable tourist would do and we headed to the waterfront. The fastest water taxi who reached us, we asked: “how much to see monkeys?” Since he didn’t understand English, we then had to act it out. (Envision me hootin’ and hollerin’ and scratchin’ under my armpits like a primate, then mimickin’ the monkeys’ long noses.)
That was his “a-ha!” moment as he nodded in acknowledgement, beckoned us to get in his taxi and sped off.
We boarded the taxi in the center of the town, but not three minutes down the river, the landscape began to change dramatically.
We took a fork in the river, and suddenly, there was no one around. Was this such a good idea? You do hear about Americans disappearing down rivers in Brunei while searching for proboscis monkeys all the time in the media, after all.
I readied my camera anyway. Since my nicer Canon zoom lens had been stolen in South Africa months before, I just had a cheapie model that only focused in the stillest of circumstances. So it was my luck that as I was pulling out my equipment, we saw our first suspect—and I wasn’t quick enough to capture his face.
The proboscis monkeys are extremely shy, and I worried that I had missed my one shot at photographing these suckers. After all, surely he alerted his mates in the jungle that tourists were approaching and that they should abandon ship, right?
If you’ll allow me to be candid for a moment, “proboscis” is just far too hard to say, so SVV and I simply refer to these guys as “the penis-faced monkeys.” I mean, “proboscis” does mean, literally, “an elongated appendage from the head of an animal.” Though the noses weren’t the only elongated things about them. (Tails, people! I’m talking about tails. Get your minds out of the gutter.)
And that was probably my favorite thing about Brunei: the fact that we could approach a water taxi driver who didn’t speak a lick of English, act like a penis-faced monkey, and 10 minutes and $10 (including tip) later, he would deliver the very thing we had looked for the past few weeks.