Sunday, January 16, 2011

Out of the Jungle, Part 1

We rose early, sore and smelly, to the morning calls of birds. Bob and I packed our mosquito net as Jim snored away. Bob was chipper, a fact that annoyed me since numerous times during the night he had shifted sharply in his sleep, causing the net on my side to fall in my face and knock his water bottle against my head.

As we stuffed our packs, Bob noticed a flash of movement high in a tree. We borrowed Jim's camera and used its massive zoom to identify the flying black and white stripes through the canopy. Because of the distance and lack of knowledge on Malaysian arboreal life, we had no idea what it was. The animal had a short blunt head and a long black tail, and looked like the result of a wild one night stand between a badger and a squirrel. I named it, with my own authority and sense of creativity, a badger-squirrel. It scampered about the branches, leaping artfully from one tree to the next. I later discovered it wasn't called the wonderfully accurate name badger-squirrel, but a black giant squirrel (I was so close!), and is one of the largest squirrels in the world.

I asked Bob how to describe the size of the giant squirrel so readers could get a proper sense of its bulk, and he said, "like a squirrel, but giant. Like, think of the biggest squirrel you've ever seen, then think of it, but giant." My husband,my friends, is a wordsmith.Once Jim opened his pretty little eyes we ate a quick breakfast of oreos and granola and hit the trail before the complete wave of humidity rolled in. Again we found the trail well marked, having only a few places where we had a bit of confusion. The day soon became muggy, then hot, then stifling. We sweated, we drank water, and we walked, our creaking packs and hollow footsteps adding to the jungle's morning repertoire.

There was a cave along the trail that the ranger told us not to go to because it had collapsed, so naturally Jim wanted to check it out. Stupidly, he led the way under red and white tape blocking the trailhead, and, perhaps more stupidly, Bob and I followed. The path weaved along flat ground as I sought to convince two adventure-seeking boys that there was no way we were going in the cave, when thankfully, the cave did the refusing for me. The entire entrance was a pile of ruble, tape, and a deep sense of foreboding doom. Miraculously, the boys got the hint.

Returning to the main trail we ran across several startled lizards. We were passing yet another giant tree when I saw the biggest spider I'd ever seen. I gave a yelp of glee and ran next to the tree to get a picture but I apparently spooked the spider because he bolted around the tree. By the time I got around he had vanished. I don't know why the spider was afraid of me. He was brown, furry with pretty banded legs, and could have easily encompassed my head.

Parts of the trail had eroded and there were several steep descents among a tangle of roots. Thankfully in the steeper spots, the park service had hung a rope down to help with stability. Jim and I made it down fine, but then Bob, perhaps too confident with the rope in hand, took a big step. The weight of his pack toppled him backward, over a root, and, with an audible plop, into a startled and undignified sit. I had taken this picture mid-fall, before promptly breaking into laughter (after a millisecond pause of concern for his well being, of course).

As the sun passed noon, we heard the sound of a bleating animal. I would have gotten excited, thinking maybe a nearby tiger had caught some prey or a lumbering tapir had called out in frustration after having stubbed a toe, but alas, it was neither. The sound of a motor soon joined the cry of the animal and in a few short steps we emerged from a world surrounded by ever reaching foliage to a clear patch of grass on someone's property. A skinny cat with a cropped tail trotted over in welcome as we emerged, blinking, from the jungle. The cat escorted us to the river, where, thinking we must be just around the bend from the lodge and our home for the night, we discovered we were on the wrong side of the river. Showers, fresh food, and cold drinks lay tauntingly just across the deep brown water. Unconcerned with our predicament, the little cat flopped beside us, beckoning for a tummy rub, while Jim shouted across the river to get a boat.

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