I've just returned from hunting down the Wild "Darts" Man of Borneo.
The last time I went on a Malaysian darts safari was in 1998. I'd come across an advertisement on the Internet for a sports bar called Colors Fun Pub, just outside of Kuala Lumpur. The gist of the ad was a sort of cyberspace trash-talk: that if you wanted your "butt kicked once or even twice" to stop in and play one of their "great shooters" on one of the seven quality boards on the wall. Obviously a visit to this pub was a must. The mysterious Malaysian darter just had to be found.
So off I went to this land of perpetual sunshine, lush rainforests and secluded beaches - this paradise that has enchanted travelers for more than 5,000 years.
Sprouting from the jungle is the capitol city of Kuala Lumpur. Once but a malaria-infested slice of nowhere, today this metropolis of swanky glass skyscrapers is one of the most modern cities in the world. Presumably, somewhere in the middle of this cement jungle lurked the elusive Malaysian darter...
I called Colors Fun Pub from the steamy tarmac and learned it was closed. After checking into my hotel and on the advice of the concierge I took a taxi to a place called The Jump. and then to the Shark Club. But both, although rumored to be watering holes of the illusive Malaysian darter, turned out to be puke inducing yuppie haunts. So I plodded on. Like the white hunter in search of the spectacular kill, I was intent on spotting at least one of these exotic fellows and taking them to the line.
And damn if I didn't find them. I walked straight into their nest!
And what a nest it was - La Locus (367 Jalan Ampang) has three boards, raised oches, track lighting, and awards all over the walls. There are inspirational posters signed by Eric Bristow and John Lowe. At La Locus I encountered an entire herd of Malaysian darters. I met up with the better half of the Malaysian National Darts Team and their captain, multi-time winner of the Asian Cup and international tournament regular, Ravi Sandiran.
For hours, amidst the smoke and mugs of Anchor Beer and while "i>Independence Day captivated the non-darts playing patrons on a big screen television, I went toe-to-toe and beer-for-beer with these guys.
I had a terrific time.
But it wasn't the real deal.
It wasn't exotic.
These Malaysian darters wore t-shirts and jeans. They looked like British darters sans maroon jackets and ties. So I vowed to return someday and venture as deep into the rainforest as possible to find a bona fide Malaysian darter - a Wild "Darts" Man with a bone in his nose, feathers in his hair, and poison arrows in his quiver - and kick his ass. I was certain the Wild Man existed. I'd heard tales of him as a child. I just needed to separate fact from fiction before booking another trip. So I did my research.
In the middle 1800s, not one but two reputed Wild Men, named Waino and Plutano, were purchased by a showman and promoter named Lyman Warner and introduced to astonished audiences. Eventually they became involved with P.T. Barnum. But it turned out to be an elaborate hoax. Waino and Plutano were actually brothers, Hiram and Barney Davis, born in England and America. And quite the opposite of being "savages captured in the dangerous Borneo jungle after a great struggle with armed sailors" they were mentally disabled dwarves, each standing only three and half feet tall. Today they are buried in Mt. Vernon, Ohio, under a gravestone marked "Little Men."
In San Francisco in the late 19th century the Wild Man was spotted on Market Street and went by the name Oofty Goofty. In 1933, the Little Rascals met the Wild Man
and appeared together with him on television.
In 1941, Robert Sinclair directed a movie about the Wild Man.
Research complete (and with the added assurance from my barber that the Wild Man was indeed real), I booked my adventure and headed to the darkest regions of Borneo.
After boarding in Tampa, connecting through Newark, Tokyo, Bangkok, and Kuala Lumpur - 52 hours later I took a seat on my final flight over the South China Sea to Sandakan, Sabah (where I would spend the night before my return home) on the north eastern tip of the island.
Formed millions of years ago by deep sea volcanoes, Texas-sized Borneo is the third largest island in the world and shared by three countries: Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei. Its lush virgin forests, which cover 80% of the island, much of it still unexplored, are home to the few remaining orangutans, Sumatran rhinoceroses, and clouded leopards left in the wild.
More than 11,000 species of flowering plants still manage to flourish amidst man's encroachment, including the world's largest flower, the Rafflesia arnoldi, which can measure more than a yard across. There is even a plant the eats frogs! In one 16-acre area of Borneo more than 700 species of trees have been identified - a number equal to the total number of tree species in the United States and Canada combined (only 35 types of trees are indigenous to all of England).
About an hour's drive out of Sandakan, along the coastline, I visited Labuk Bay Sanctuary, trekked a short way into the jungle, and was delighted to observe endangered big schnoz proboscis monkeys feeding in the mangroves.
I then departed from the Sandakan jetty on a long boat down the Kinabatangan River on a several hour journey past various small Muslim fishing villages en route to my final destination, Sukau Village, where, if luck prevailed, I would encounter the Wild Man.
Along the way I stopped at Abai Village, just one of many along the river, and was warmly greeted by Rukee Mohd Yusoff Madahir and his family. They offered me refreshments and, in return, I pulled my dartboard from my backpack, affixed it to the side of a hut and showed them how to play. Upon arrival at Sukau Village, I was welcomed by the Samsudin family, who would be my hosts for the next few days and lead me into the rainforest to find the Wild Man. That evening I hung my dartboard again and shared the game with a couple of 13-year-old twins, Siti and Binti. From them I learned that their people were called the Orang Sungai, which means "River People" in English.
In the morning, after a breakfast of what I am pretty sure was bugs, I cruised deeper down the river with Siti and Binti and their father. But we saw no Wild Men - just more big schnoz monkeys and more species of birds than I've encountered anywhere outside the Okavango. That afternoon I met more children at their school and tried my hand at some of their traditional games, including one called congkak played with seeds on a small wooden board.
They took me to a pond where they fished and to a small farm on the edge of the village.
Again and again, for the next two days, we traveled and sweated along the Kinabatangan River, in and out of small tributaries, in search of the Wild Man.
When I had shown the kids a photo of the Wild Man (that I'd copied from an old Little Rascals You Tube clip) at school they just laughed and laughed. My final night many of the children put on a little show - and they were all dressed up as little Wild Men! But they looked more like miniature primates.
I wondered: could the proboscis monkey or the orangutan be the real Wild Man? Could one of these species be from where, a century and a half ago, the legend of the Wild Man originated?
So, while I met some terrific people, ate some bugs, shared our sport with some River People, saw amazing wild life, and melted to near death in the tropical heat, I was unsuccessful in my quest to find the mysterious Wild Man of Borneo and take him apart at the oche.
I did find a legitimate dart board in a well appointed darts room at a spectacular hotel in Sandakan.
After journeying back up the Kinabatangan River to Sandakan I checked into the Sabah Hotel (Jalan Utara, 90000 Sandakan). Nestled in the rainforest just a short distance from town and about a half hour from the airport, it was equipped with all the modern amenities that I longed for, like air conditioning and ice cold beer - and a snooker and DARTS room!
That night I walked back and forth to the board for hours.
That night I threw darts and drank like a wild man.
From the Field,