When Guy Arnold was asked at a party what he was going to do when he left Oxford University, he drew languidly on a cigarette while his eyes fell on a map of the world and rested on Borneo. He announced to the room that he was going to explore the island’s hitherto uncharted interior.

He was as good as his word. In 1955 he led an expedition of four Oxford graduates to the unmapped Usun Apau Plateau and along the Plieran River in the north of Borneo. The volcanic plateau had been rendered almost inaccessible by sheer escarpments and plunging gorges. Arnold navigated it by canoe and foot, living among the Penan people and eating bush meat. Guides had to be bribed with tobacco, such was their reluctance to enter an area where half an hour’s rainfall on the river could be fatal.

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