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.