Monday, April 4, 2011

Sky High

The undulating calls of gibbons ushered me into my last day in Malaysia. Bob, Jim, and I left early to try the canopy walk before checkout evicted us from our pump shower and free breakfast. The lady at reception said it was an easy 15 minute hike to the platform. It was not. Later, we asked in admiration how she could make that hike so quickly. She smiled shyly, admitting she’d never been to the canopy walk, even though she had worked at the resort for five years.

As the sun pulled lazily over the horizon, the trail welcomed us with all the comfort of a moldy wet blanket. We sweated, I shared my water bottle with the boys, and we walked quickly over exposed roots and muddy divots. The path hung high above the river, and we would occasionally take our eyes off the trail in hope of spotting a monkey in a tree.

The three of us are fairly fit, and I thought we were walking at a fast pace, but suddenly two Malaysian boys sped past without a drop of sweat on their brows, politely leaving our dignity in the mud.

We finally reached a series of steps to the head of the canopy walk. High-pitched cries echoed from the heights and I became excited, figuring monkeys must be just around the bend. I turned a corner, my camera held ready to capture primates in their natural environment, the sight before me registered with my brain, and, deflated, I lowered my camera.

Alas, the calls were coming not from monkeys, but from dozens of primates supposedly higher on the evolutionary tree. We had, my friends, stumbled upon a group of school children. They screeched and pushed each other as they drew line in front of the trail, scaring away every animal within earshot.

The ranger trying to corral the lot took one look at the situation and signaled us ahead. We did so with pleasure.

We paid a small fee, went up a flight of stairs, then stepped onto the scariest walkway I had ever been on.

Strung between trees, a wooden plank was suspended 45 meters above the forest floor, by a line of rope and a small net.

We had to walk single file, because the path was less than a foot wide, and 10 meters had to separate each walker.

I went first and until I got to the 10 meter mark it wasn’t too bad. But then Bob walked on, then Jim.

The bridge swayed wildly as we moved at different cadences.

I held onto both sides of the rope at each step, afraid of losing my balance. At 5’8” I’m not particularly tall, and I was thankful for that. At the start of each bridge, the sides of the net came to my chest, toward the middle, it was down to my stomach, and in the middle of the bridge, just at the point where the sway reached maximum rock-ability, it was at my waist.
My heart raced, thinking how much it would suck to plummet to my death a day after I turned 30.

The end of each bridge wrapped around a large tree trunk, where we scooted around to the next section.

The canopy walk consisted of several bridges. By the time I reached the 4th one I was thankful I hadn’t yet had breakfast. Then I saw the way off the canopy walk.

I imagine that a committee, posed with the question, “What’s a cheap way to get people from the canopy back to ground level?” Might hear responses such as, “How about a ramp?”

“Maybe a sturdy set of stairs?”

But I didn’t expect, “How about you just strap a metal ladder to some rope?”

The committee, hearing this cheap solution may have replied, “But the walk is higher than one ladder.”

“Then how about 2 metal ladders?”

The committee would then cheer this suggestion, the Malaysian equivalent to, ‘huzzah,’ spreading about the room. The result, looks like this:

Doesn’t look too bad right? Well imagine it’s at just the right angle that you can’t turn around and climb down, but have to walk straight down - one slip and you’re tumbling down to the waiting platform.
Oh, and don’t forget, like the rest of the canopy walk, it sways wildly and the rope only comes up to your waist. Sounds a little unnerving huh? It is.
But once you finally reach ground level and your pulse slows down, you realize the canopy walk was pretty awesome . . . and you’re thankful you're not any taller.

That afternoon we left Malaysia, with mixed feelings of KL but great admiration for the country’s rainforest. Landing back in Sydney we were glad to be home, though sad at the end of vacation. But good old Malaysia had given me a parting gift. Unaware to me at the time, I had been given an extra souvenir - a mosquito born parasite that kept me company for months.

Someday I’ll go back to the Malaysian jungle, hike again along the muggy trails, vengefully smash an unsuspecting mosquito into a pulverized blob, and begin another great adventure.

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