Thursday, December 23, 2010

In the Jungle, Part 2

The boat sped upstream, drawing its abhorrent sound of motorized technology from the forest. Forgiving the intrusion, birds began to call. Cicadas resumed their chirping, and the rainforest, for the moment, forgot we were there. We stood together, the three of us, glancing from the sparsely detailed map, to the encompassing vegetation. We knew we had to make it to Bumbun Blau that night or risk sleeping in the open jungle, nothing between us and the odd tiger but a $20 mosquito net. Unsure if tigers were repelled by deet, we proceeded on the most promising looking path. How, in the mangled, proudly overgrown jungle did we know we were on the right track? Well, we just followed the large, road-worthy street signs. A seamless mark in nature? I think not. But when weaving along root-blanketed trails you appreciate a bit of reflective direction.

We weren't five feet onto the trail when Jim called out, "Hey is this a leech?" Eagerly Bob and I crowded by Jim's feet to find a skiny, inch-long leech on the ground. It stood vertically like a body-building earthworm, innocently waving its sucker in the air, hoping in its little mind we'd step close enough to latch on. From that point the warning 'leech' was often called, as, alerted by the vibrations of our feet, more parasites began wiggiling for a free ride. Other than the occaional leech call we were fairly quiet, yet the noise of our packs and waterbottles gave us away. An unseen bird or monkey would sound a warning call at our approach, creating a bubble of silence around our steps.

Occasionally we'd come across a train of ants or termites busy foraging or returning from a raid. Their glossy black and red bodies created a bobbing stream along the soil. Not wanting to become another object for them to bite, we took care after we stumbled upon them. Jim made a surprisingly useful observation that they made a popping noise (very much like pop-rocks) when on the move. So now, in our brief travel through the jungle, we had created two warning calls. 'Leech' and 'Pop-rocks.'

Bumbun Blau rested in a small clearing threatened by beautiful trees with little regard to personal space. We found the hide much nicer and firmer of structure than we had expected. Upstairs in the open windowed room were four, sturdy if dusty, wooden bunk platforms. It even had a bathroom, though the ranger back at headquarters had been right; water hadn't flowed to the building in a long time. The toilet was full to the rim with poo....lots of poo. While it made a lush home for the leeches and maggots that sludged happily in its' filth, it wasn't the most welcoming facilities we had seen. But that was ok, we were in the jungle, we weren't expecting the Ritz. But we also weren't expecting a feces and maggot filled toilet.

Judging there was enough light for a bit more exploration we walked further on the trail. I climbed up a fallen tree to see how far a view I could get. Well, I saw about ten feet in front of me so that was pretty good for the forest. On our return to the hide we froze at the sound of a long exhalation. There was an animal probably ten feet off the trail, but we couldn't see it through the leaves. The animal breathed heavily again, with a long, Phhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh and a few branches swayed. I was so excited but mildly frustrated we couldn't identify it. I wanted to guess it was an elephant, but felt I couldn't claim that unless I saw it. When the animal became silent we went quietly to the hide, hoping to see something in the clearing beyond. We sat, sweating in the heat,eating oreos (dinner of champions) and watching the clearing silently for fear of Bob's glare each time we crunched a cookie or made the bench scrape the ground.

The sun continued its journey through the canopy, forgetting to leave lingering light as if fearful of its liaison with the night.

Unfortunately no animals wandered into our sights. Tired and extremely stinky, we hung our mosquito nets while wearing headlamps, dodging the bugs that flocked to our eyes. We played cards, listening to the racqerous night symphony and gazing at the hundreds of lime-green fireflies, and spiders that joined us for the night.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

In the Jungle, part 1

To finish the never ending Malaysia story: That Friday Jim, Bob and I eventually came to speaking terms with the GPS, who begrudgingly but finally agreed to lead us out of the city. Dodging between jagged mountain ranges, daunting palm oil plantations, and patches of dark jungle, we arrived, three hours later, at Taman Negara. The park, which flows over 4,000 square kilometers, is located across a river by the small town of Kuala Tahan.

Rickety, floating restaurants lazed haphazardly on the muddy banks, while the humidity and insects hung about our heads. The only way across the river was by hiring a local longboat. We payed the cheap fair of one ringgit each for the short journey, and laden with our hiking packs, climbed the hill to park headquarters.

Our plan was to hike a few hours to a Bumbun (a hide (open cabin on stilts) ) and stay the night. The next day we'd hike back to headquarters and treat ourselves to a shower and night at the resort. I knew it was highly unlikely, but I hoped to catch a glimpse of one of the tigers (at a safe distance), rhinoceros (at a safe distance), elephants (at a safe distance), leopards (at a safe distance), or tapirs (close enough to ride), that roamed the forest.

Because we arrived later than planned (due to my birthday drinking the night before) only Bumbun Blau was available. The ranger told us we might find water there, but the site hadn't been visited for a while so we should bring all the water we needed for 2 days. Well, in a humid, breezeless rainforest, that's a lot of liquid.

We weighed ourselves down with extra bottles from their shop, then grabbed a quick meal at a floating restaurant. As we chowed down on steamed rice and spicy meats, a man came with his longboat to take us to the trailhead. The three of us stepped carefully in so we didn't tip, then began a beautiful ride downriver. Jim's head, like the rest of him, was often in the way.
Bob was happy, it just wasn't his best day for pictures.It was hard for me to elude pictures while stuck on a boat.

At an indiscriminate break in the overhanging foliage, the man deftly pulled his boat alongside some very out of place concrete steps. I told Jim to take one step back but unfortunately he was too smart at the moment. We handed each other our packs, tucked our socks stylishly over our pants to help keep out leeches, and, as the man sped off in his boat, suddenly became alone in the rainforest.