Tuesday, October 7, 2008

"Welcome to the Jungle Baby..."

Last week was a wonderful time here in China, Golden Week. A time when everyone in China gets a week off for holidays. Now the thought of traveling around with 1.3 billion other people did not appeal to me all that much, so I hoped a fairly cheap flight to Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. After spending a day or so in KL (as all the cool kids call it) I hoped on a bus to Taman Negara, a jungle park.

Now getting to this jungle paradise is quite the process as it first takes a three hour bus ride from KL to get to the tiny town of Jerentut. This is followed by a twenty minute bus ride to a dock, and then (the coolest part) a three hour boat ride up river on something that is little more than a canoe with a motor on the back of it.

The boat was really crowded, but still comfortable. There wasn't much to do other than make a few friends, lay back, and enjoy the view as the jungle got thicker and thicker. Needless to say, I felt like I was in Apocalypse Now, all I was missing was someone yelling "Charlie don't surf!" sadly that never happened. The closest thing that I got to that was having the water splash up and damage the book I was reading.

After reaching my destination, I didn't exactly find Colonel Kurtz, but rather a small, charming little town called Kuala Tahan (why nobody ever referred to it as KT is beyond me). This town was literally across the river from the park, and had clearly developed as a place for tourists to stay while exploring the park. Despite the obvious recent development, KT (as I shall be calling it, hear by establishing the trend) maintained a great small, woodsy charm. The town had a wide range of accommodation going from some very minimalistic hostels to some very grand resorts. One of the coolest things though was that the actual town lacked any restaurants, instead they were floating on the river.

After surveying the town, finding a place to stay, and learning the hard way why they call it a "Rain Forest" (I'll give you a hint: it involves a lot of water falling from the sky), I settled down for the night since I had some big plans for the next day.

After I woke up the real adventure began. See myself and a few other travelers ended up hiring a guide to take us on a short (two day, one night) trek into the jungle, miles and miles away from the civilization of floating restaurants. Coolest part? That one night was to be spent sleeping in a cave.

Feel free to re-read that to absorb that awesomeness.

But before I could get to my cave filled slumber, I had to get there. En route, we stopped at the pre-eminent tourist stop in Taman Negara, the Canopy Walk. Now, there is not much to describe this place, other than it is a plank suspended a good 50 meters (that's 167 feet for those of you stuck in the Imperial system) above the jungle floor, and it's very shaky while you walk on it.

Needless to say the views were stunning. Also needless to say, it was simply terrifying for those of us who are afraid of heights, or more aptly, afraid of falling from high places. After taking many pictures, and gasps for breath, we made on our way farther up the river to start hiking.

Now I consider myself to be reasonably in shape, and more than capable of handling the 8.5km hike that was put in front of me. How wrong I was. The reason I had these pre-conceived notions is because my long hikes have predominantly been in Canada, with Canadian weather. Here I was in Malaysia, with equatorial weather and humidity. After an hour of walking over tangled brush, I had to start rationing my water for fear of running out.

Our guide was truly great at his job. He would stop and tell us all about different trees, animals, or tracks we saw. He was so patient in dealing with us Westerners who had never experienced anything like this before. We would have been in a huge amount of trouble if not for him that's for sure.

I put in a picture of a giant ant that he caught, because I couldn't really think of a better place to put it in the context of this post, and it is pretty awesome.

Apparently they bite, but E, super guide, wasn't scared.

I would be remiss to not mention the leeches. If the only leeches you have seen are in the swamp or Stand By Me, you have no idea how vicious those blood suckers can be. See in the jungle, they walked around on the ground, crawling like an inch worm, and would stand up vertically, dangling around trying to latch a hold of something warm to suck on. Scariest part? They can crawl through your socks and latch on, enjoying dinner on you. You have to physically pull them off, in a slightly painful, but extremely horrifying and bloody experience. If you don't want nightmares from this, scroll past the picture posted below, which is one after it fed.

Don't say that I didn't warn you.

Apparently all of the leeches slowed us down, because we ended up well behind schedule. As a result of this, we got another reminder as to why it is called a "Rain Forest" (hint: It's not because of the snow). Hurrying to fight the elements, we ended up watching the sun disappear, and darkness surround us.

At this point it is worth noting, that I have a very active imagination, and being in a group of six in the middle of the jungle at night, with a bunch of very strange noises, is quality material for a monster movie. If you can imagine how scared I was becoming, then you are not even half-way to imagining the pure horrors going on in my mind at this point.

After trekking for what seemed like an eternity, we ended up at our home, sweet cave for the night. It was a miraculous place, made out of lime stones and had all sorts of melted "sheets", that I couldn't quite capture on film, given the strange lighting. I slept soundly that night, without even thinking about the things that go bump in the night.

Waking up I got one of the greatest views I have ever arisen to:

Spectacular, eh?

Sadly, this was one of the final pictures that I was able to take before my camera went haywire saying that it had "Camera Error #E21", so no more picture for the rest of this trip, but don't worry, it's fine now. Not that it really matters for the purposes of this blog post.

After waking up and having a hearty breakfast we set on our way, having another 8.5km to stroll through before reaching the boat again. Again, let me restate: 8.5km through the jungle is a far greater challenge than 8.5km damn near anywhere else on the planet, since the first day's hike took us a solid 7 hours (including stops) to make.

Thankfully, the second day was much easier, and less eventful. We made a stop at another cave, but this one was full of the most terrifying animal on earth, bats. That's right, those winged-mammalian pets of Satan where everywhere, flying all around me and smelling, like well, bat shit. After we looked around, we saw a snake perched on a ledge inside the cave. Our ever intrepid guide, E, decided that he needed to touch this snake (saying it was a hobby of his), so after chasing it around, and assuring us that it was not poisonous, he got it. I went to go and touch the snake, and E decided to rest it on my shoulder, at which point it wrapped around my neck. Yes another chance for me to be terrified.

After unraveling the reptile from my larynx, we moved on and continued our long march. Over the course of the several kilometers we had to walk, we had to cross many streams and creeks, building small little bridges out of rocks or logs. At some point on this day, we came to a steep creek, which had the usual rock/log bridge, but it also had a much cooler way to cross the river, a vine.

As previously mentioned, my camera did not work at this point, but here is the closest visual representation I can find to my crossing of this creek.

Yeah, I Tarzaned it. Can't say that I've ever done that before.

The rest of my hike back was pretty uneventful, but then again, what can top being strangled by a snake and swinging on a vine?

Anyway, after reaching the boat, it was night time. All I could do was stare up as the stars slowly appeared in an unfamiliar pattern.

I realized, it was the first time that I got to see the Southern Cross, further knocking one more thing of my life's "To-Do List".

I'll wrap this one up with some random jungle shots that didn't really fit anywhere else, followed be a few songs to soundtrack that journey...

Guns n' Roses -- "Welcome to the Jungle"

The Fugees -- "Rumble in the Jungle"

Kool & The Gang -- "Jungle Boogie"

The (mother f'n) Time -- "Jungle Love"

The Tokens -- "The Lion Sleeps Tonight"

Lion King Theme -- "Circle of Life"

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young -- "Southern Cross"

Until next time,