Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Jungle Story Part 1--Teman Negara


Tahan Guesthouse, Rm 8, Kuala Tahan, Teman Negara, Malaysia
Wednesday, July 11, 2012, 5:30 p.m.
It’s 5:30 in the afternoon on our first full day in Teman Negara.  I’m sitting under the mosquito net over our bed, fan oscillating above me (I’d like it to stay pointed at me but that feature on the fan is broken), looking out the open doorway to the patio and beyond that to the simple mosque next door and the “mountain” covered with jungle behind it. 

Tahan Guesthouse is a simple, rustic place, painted with bright, happy colours and a mural of flowers on one wall of our room.  There is no air-conditioning, no wifi, no toilet to sit on.  The floor is covered with the sort of plastic some people use on their tables and the mosquito net has holes in it.  Still, we have our own washroom and shower and a balcony.  Also, we’re closer to the river than many other places and that’s an advantage when you’ve walked further and tougher terrain than you’ve done in years.

Yes, that’s what I did today.  Walk.  Lots.  In unbelievable conditions.  The primary goal of coming to the jungle was to enjoy the walk in the canopy of the jungle.  Lonely Planet recommends getting to the canopy walkway half an hour before it opens so I set my alarm for 6:30 this morning, counting on an hour to get ready. 

My body rebelled at that hour, however because when I woke up around 4:00 a.m. to go to the toilet, I could hear this creature and as I listened more closely, I could tell it was in the room.  The room was dark, of course, and there are no night tables with lamps to turn on to see the source of uncomfortable noises.  I would have to leave the safety of the mosquito net and walk across the (small) room to the light switch by the door.  But what if I encountered this creature while I do that—in my bare feet!  Nope.  Not brave enough. 

I’d pretty much concluded that it was a frog or some sort of large, unusual bug.  The vocal sound was kind of like a cricket but much deeper and after three sounds in quick succession, I heard a slap, as though the creature was walking across the wall or floor.  The grouping of sounds were regular, like a cricket’s can be.  I reasoned that whatever it was couldn’t be too big, but still I was scared.  What to do? With holes in the mosquito net, turning on any form of light under the net (which surrounds the bed above and on all sides, tucked into the mattress) would simply attract this or other bugs into our safe haven.  Finally I turned on my iPhone and used that to survey the area at the food of the bed (where the opening out of the net is).  Nothing.  I shone the light of the phone on the floor in front of me as I walked to the light switches and turned on the bathroom light.  Still nothing.  Whew!  I did my business and came back to bed but the sound of this thing kept going and had me wondering what and where it was. 

I’d barely gotten back to sleep again when the call to prayer from the mosque next door (a nice, gentle singing, unlike the gruff staccato at the marketplace) began.  So I did not want to get up at 6:30.  Resetting the alarm for 7:00, I went back to sleep.  Even at 7:00, all I wanted to do was stay in bed and sleep.  But no.  We’d come to the jungle to walk in the canopy so up I must get.  Ugh!

The road from our accommodations to the river is at about a 45 degree incline and we had to cross the river ($.35 ea.) to get to the canopy.  We’d heard that it was 9 km (5.5 mi.) away but on the map it looked much closer so we asked the boatman if it was possible to get a ride down the river.  I can’t walk 9 km.  Yes, we could.  But it would cost $10 each (I’m converting to Canadian money).  How far is it?  1.2 km.  Oh, well, I think I could walk that and still walk the canopy and come back.  When I was clocking my walks back home, my last one was about 3 km.  I weighed the pros and cons—walking would save money but could I walk that much in the heat?  I decided to try.

Off we went across the river and then up several flights of stairs.  There we saw a very elegant restaurant serving a buffet breakfast.  If I was going to do so much walking, I would need fuel and so, ignoring the time crunch, we went in.  Tom refused to eat--$12 is an astronomical price for one person’s meal here, especially breakfast—but Konrad and I thoroughly enjoyed the buffet.  For me, it was a chance to eat as much as I wanted without worrying about all the things I can’t eat; for Konrad, it was a chance to enjoy some Western food after eight months of none.  It’s a good thing we did this, because it’s now 6:30 p.m. and we haven’t eaten since—in part because the whole canopy adventure took much longer than expected but also because when we got back, I was too wiped out to do anything.

At first, the trail was so easy.  We followed a cement sidewalk through the fancy (by comparison with where we’re staying) resort, chalet after chalet.  We even saw several monkeys on the roof of a chalet, including two babies.  I was beginning to wonder if the whole walk would be lined with civilisation but no, the resort ended and we were now in the jungle. 

Still, it was pretty easy walking on a level boardwalk with added texture to keep hikers from slipping.  Then the incline changed and the boardwalk became steps.  This was a bit harder and I’m supposed to avoid stairs because of the severe arthritis in my knee but I trucked on. 

Then the boardwalk ended abruptly.  We could see where it started again, but how were we to get across?  There was nothing for it but to get off the boardwalk and walk on the ground.  Sounds simple enough, except that the path was narrow and steep, with few places to hold on to.  We got back on the boardwalk, relieved to have that behind us, but there was more to come—much more.  It turned out there were many more places where we had to scrabble our way—Konrad offering his crooked arm at every step to keep me from slipping and falling.  Most of the off-boardwalk steps were so precarious that he was often supporting most or all of my weight.  Sometimes I needed both him and Tom. 

But I (and we) made it!  The last climb up to the staging area was gruelling and I needed to rest several times.  I’d also run out of water in my two-litre hydration bag on my back and we dipped into the extra litre I was carrying in a bottle.  Yes, I’d done this gruelling (for me) trek with a backpack and my sling-across-the-chest purse—the backpack to carry water and the other bag to carry money, passport, mosquito spray, sunscreen, Tylenol, cloth to wipe off my sweat, battery-operated fan.  I used that fan, by the way, after we reached our destination and everyone was jealous and wished they had one.  My purchase of it has been vindicated.

After all that work to get to the canopy walkway, it wasn’t open.  After waiting an hour or so, some of the people who had arrived before us left.  Still, more people kept arriving including one large group of employees from a Malaysian company in the capital.  We made friends with four women (two mother-daughter pairs) from the Czech Republic.  The daughters had been living in New Zealand for a couple of years, just for the experience, and now they were on their last trip before returning home. 

When the staff finally arrived to open and start selling tickets, there was a bit of jostling and arguing about who was before whom.  One’s place in the line was important, because they could only let so many people on to each section of the canopy walkway at a time.  Anyone stuck behind the large group would have a long wait and technically, they had gotten there before us.  However, the Czech women, who were clearly first, decided to consider us as part of their group and paid for our tickets along with theirs (we paid them back).  We would be the fifth, sixth and seventh on the walkway.  YAY!  We’d already waited an hour and a half after our long, arduous walk, so this was a real boon.

The walkway is a series of bridges suspended by ropes.  What we walked on was maybe a foot wide (that would be a generous assessment) with strong screening up to about waist height, where there was an attached rope to hang on to.  Maybe a metre (three feet) above those railing ropes were two more parallel ropes, one on each side.  From one, other ropes were tied and then passed beneath the walkway and up to the second rope where they were tied again—about every foot or so. 

It was strange getting used to walking on something swinging in the air, but it seemed quite safe.  If I tripped and fell, I might get scared, but I wouldn’t fall to the ground.  I did wonder what would happen if I dropped my iPhone (also my camera) to my feet.  I wasn’t sure I’d be able to bend down and pick it up.  Still, I insisted on carrying it in one hand and taking photos as much as I could—though one attendant chastised me for taking photos while on the bridges.  Apparently I was supposed to wait until the anchor points—a bit of stable walkway circling a tall, strong tree.  After that I did what my son Mons calls “ninja shots,” taking photos in a way that it didn’t look like I was.  It’s possible to do that with a cell phone! 

Every muscle in my legs and feet ached when we were done and I had to sit and rest.  Good thing I could, because the walk back through the jungle would prove to be far more difficult than the coming.  Now the sandy dirt we had to walk/climb on was wet, muddy and slippery.  In fact, at one point Tom fell and needed Konrad’s help to get up again.  I pushed myself to finish the walk, eventually (not far from the end) giving in and letting Konrad take my backpack.  By the time we got back through the resort, I could barely put one foot in front of another.  My sandals were caked in mud and my pants weren’t much better but I needed to sit, rest and drink water.  I needed to eat too, but we landed up in the same place we ate breakfast and they were charging an astronomical price for water so Tom and Konrad didn’t even get water for themselves—nor the cold beer Tom really wanted—and we left when I’d downed two bottles, without eating.

Speaking of mud, the night before we had bought two pair of rubber shoes for $3 each.  We bought them as leech-protectors and would have bought three but we all needed the same size and only two were available.  I wasn’t afraid of the leeches, despite seeing one Dane fight to get one single leech off that night, so I said I’d stay in my sandals.  But the rubber shoes were perfect for the walk, with deep grips and impervious to mud and water.  I soaked my socks in mosquito repellent for my protection and we all escaped being attached to by the little creatures.

I thought I’d never make it back down the several flights of stairs to the river bank and then up the steep hill to our guesthouse on the other side, but I did!  We were gone close to six hours, walking, climbing or on our feet most of that time, covering about 5 km (3 miles) of slipping, sliding, climbing and swaying on unfamiliar ground.  The walking I did before we left certainly paid off in big ways for this trip.  The most I had walked back home, however, and most of that on relatively flat and level pathways (though not paved and out in the wild), was 3 km.  For me and my health problems and the knee injury just three days ago, this was a major accomplishment and I’m so pleased I managed to do it.  I spent the rest of the day lying or sitting in bed.  Tom even managed to find some ice and bring it to me for my knee before it all melted. 

It seems I’m not the only one worn out by our adventure and the consensus seems to be to get up early again tomorrow morning and head back to Konrad’s home.  I would have been happy to spend tomorrow sitting on the balcony facing the jungle and relaxing but that isn’t as appealing to the men of the group and Tom’s back is bothering him so we’ll return a day earlier than planned.  That’s okay.  We’ve got a different kind of adventure starting Sunday morning—three days from now—and it will be nice to rest in preparation for that.

I will give a link to more photos later.

Oh!  By the way, that creature in our room last night turned out to be the fan.  *rolls eyes at self*

2 comments:

Teresa said...

Hi Debbie, Wow good for you. That jungle walked sounded exciting and a little scary! I am looking forward to reading more. I just love your writing.

Debbie Haughland Chan said...

Thanks, Teresa!