What with getting up too late for the orang-utan trip because of the hour I'd spent in the middle of the night pursuing a horde of killer mosquitoes with a spray can of Exterminate, I found myself with an unexpected amount of time on my hands this Tuesday. (I realise I've already broken my promise not to bang on about my trip to Borneo, but the experience has been considerably more preoccupying than I could possibly have envisaged when I was popping down to Boots last week to stock up on my factor 15 and Jungle Formula insect repellent.)
My hotel considerately offered a range of alternatives to orang-utans. At lunchtime there was to be traditional dancing at Coco-Joe's, but this prospect was somewhat less attractive since Mike Chapman's discovery that the deranged native dancer who'd appeared waving a spear next to our table at the Gala Dinner was none other than the friendly hotel receptionist, Jual, who only the previous day had engaged us in a serious discussion about the literary merits of middle-period Somerset Maugham.
I reckoned that if I showered quickly and didn't spent too long greasing up I might just make the midday trip "in search of the largest flower in the world". But although I'd heard good reports from the travel desk about the wonders of the Rafflesia, what rather put me off the venture was the qualifying phrase "in search of". Being in search of something or other (missing link, the source of the Nile or the short-horned Borneo rhino) is obviously a precondition for the majority of travel books, but the indeterminacy of these texts is understandable. One simply never knows whether one will eventually achieve one's goal until the end of the adventure. For a five-page multicoloured travel brochure to adopt a similar hesitancy in regard to nothing more than a big flower smacked of unnecessary caution.
Neither could I anticipate the emotion I might feel when our guide suddenly indicated that we should stop, while he put his finger to his lips for silence and pointed through the rainforest to a very large flower. As everything in Borneo, or at least within the vicinity of my four-star hotel, had already struck me as somewhat larger than the domestic norm - mosquitoes, beetles, spiders, portions of fried rice - it seemed unremarkable that their top flower should put the average chrysanthemum to shame.
So no big flower. Which left the crocodile farm, or such other reassuringly transnational activities as table tennis and darts. One or two colleagues had already done the crocodile farm and found it ideologically unsatisfactory. They did their best to resist glib anthropomorphism, but couldn't help feeling that the crocodiles' impassivity in the face of a bombardment of tempting fish could not be unrelated to some deep-down knowledge that the quicker they fattened up the sooner they'd be translated into Gucci handbags.
When the orang-utan excursion returned I was busy playing darts with an anthropologist from Bristol who'd been unable to go up-country because of a nasty jellyfish bite incurred during his "Snorkel the wonders of the deep" trip the previous day.
"Good time?" I asked Mike.
"Not bad," he said. "But we hung around near the coach park for a beer and when we caught up we were too late."
"The orang-utans had swung off into the interior?"
"Not so much that. A guide simply told us they were 'closed'."
Somehow, it seemed par for the course.