(Leeches & Flash floods are not my friends!)
12.01.2012 - 14.01.2012 25 °C
Day 5 - KL to Taman Negara
A midnight planning session last night left us with a master plan for the next few days. All three of us would head by train to the large bus station at Titiwangsa (20 minutes by metro) then locate a bus to Jerantut (3 hours) and finally try to secure a boat to the middle of the jungle in Taman Negara national park. Here you can hike amongst the wild tigers/rhinos and lions not to mention every other animal you could expect in a jungle. It is also possible to stay in 'rustic hides' and watch the wildlife come to drink at local water holes throughout the night.
The Metro section was easy enough apart from me jumping onto a train only for it to close its doors around my rucksack on my back and try eating me. Everyone on the train laughed as I fought with the doors several times to release their hold on my pack and let me fully onto the train. Everyone except the guard on the station that is who gave me a stare that could melt steel.
The bus we had planned to get wasn't leaving at the time we thought so we asked around and found another which was slightly cheaper anyway - bargain.
Arriving in Jarantut we found a local guide who had a company with a bus and boat that would take us to Taman Negara. It was ludicrously expensive (for this country anyway) but we hadn't come this far to turn around now. The boat was quite 'rustic' and had rows of 2 seats where you sit on the floor with the thinest cushion known to man being the only comfort on board. We made our way down the steps to the boat where I told Jayne to be careful as it was slippy. At the exact moment my feet went skyward and I hung for a while in the air until my bum remembered gravity and I smacked down onto my arse! I banged the back of my leg and my arm quite badly which immediately showed a bruise, but it was only a bruise - nothing broken thank god.
Hopping onto the 'authentic' boat we enjoyed the jungle scenery shooting past us as we sat low in the water, our heads virtually in line with the brown murky surface.
We saw otters, goats, buffalo and many trees full of giant bats catching a daytime snooze. It was quite relaxing at first but 2 hours in we were longing for the relative comfort of a Greyhound coach as our bums had gone completely numb all over and the noise of the 2-stroke engine buzzing away inches from our ears was starting to be really annoying!
Arriving at the village was a relief and it a wonderful sight. There were many floating buildings on the river, mostly restaurants and travel booking places which made the place look really interesting.
Hopping off the boat (thankfully) and onto a floating building we were given a low-down on the area by a friendly guide who also gave us the all too familiar Tourist speech about the many wonderful and amazing trips that we could pay for and they would organise for us. We listened half heartedly to his spiel and when it was over asked his advice on where we could walk without the need to pay a months wages to do so. He suggested talking to the local rangers who would be able to tell us the best walks in the area. They were based on the opposite side of the river so with time getting on we opted to find our accommodation for the night and grab some food ready for an early start tomorrow. We negotiated the loose planks of wood from the floating house to the land (not easy with 2 heavy back packs on and you cant see your feet!) and headed up to the land based village to find Durian Lodge. You may remember that Durian is the horrible fruit that we are starting to hate more now with every experience of it, but we decided to stay here for a laugh as it was on a durian farm and we felt we needed to know how these awful things grow. After a rather long walk we were shown to a lovely chalet style room on its own away from anyone else and painted in all the colours of the rainbow.
It was very clean and appeared to have new mattresses/fly nets/shower and lino so we were happy to pay the price of 50 Ringett (10 pounds) for the room for the night. Callum stayed in a smaller twin hut and we met up for a bite to eat in the village which consisted of fish curry (an actual whole fish on a plate of curry) before heading back to our rooms to grab sleep ready for our walk tomorrow.
Day 1 - Taman Nigara
It was pouring with rain as we woke ready for our short jungle trek, but we decided that a little rain shouldn't put us off as in New Zealand we had many great walks that involved a lot of rain and were much further. Packing our little day packs for an overnight stay seemed the best option as it would be a real pain to carry all our gear into the forest for just a short 1 night stay. Packing a little over cautiously perhaps I put some zip ties, elastic bands, a knife, Tiger Balm (as I had heard this removes Leeches) and some minor medical supplies. As check out was 11 am today we arranged to leave our main bags with the lady who owned the Durian lodge. She put them into a little store cupboard outside and I told her we would be back tomorrow to collect them. Heading to the floating river town all 3 of us got pretty wet but un-detered headed to a tour guide boat house to ask if there was anywhere we could hire some mozzy nets and roll mats. The answer was that nowhere on this side of the river hires camping gear and it was best to head to the other side where the rangers were based to hire equipment and ask about which Bumbun (a basic hut or hide for watching wildlife) was best for us to head to.
The only way to cross the river is by water taxi that you get by standing near the water's edge and flailing your arms around until a local with a boat see's and rushes over to you to ferry you to the other side at the price of 1 Ringett (20pence) each. On the other side the ranger station was easy to find and the quite helpful local ranger advised us that some tracks were closed due to river crossings being too deep with the current rain. He did however point us in the direction of Bumbun Tabing which was approx a 2 hour walk through the jungle and had bunk beds that would mean we could spend the night. It sounded perfect and so I asked where we could hire the camping gear only to be told that nowhere on this side hires gear, but there were 4 places on the other side of the river! Now thinking that this is a conspiracy to get foreigners to pay to cross the river several times, it was decided that Jayne would wait in the dry of the ranger station with our bags as Callum and myself headed back across the river in the pouring rain to find the elusive gear.
Just before we left a couple of French tourists arrived out of the Jungle flicking leeches off of themselves and then sitting down realised that one of them had one on his foot that had gone through his sock and three on his neck feeding on his blood. He tried pulling them off to no avail at which point I remembered I had Tiger Balm and decided it was a great opportunity to try out its effectiveness. I opened the pot and gestured that they rub some on the leeches, success! In a few seconds the leeches squirmed uncomfortably and let go allowing him to flick them off. A useful experiment at someone else's expense I thought!
More scared then ever about the presence of leeches but happy we had some kind of defence against them we left Jayne and headed for a water taxi. Back pretty much to where we had started an hour ago Callum and I searched every shop, stall and guide office with no luck. They were all closed as the river had raised quite high by now and therefore not many people were going camping in these conditions. Eventually we had some luck in the tourist information office as they had a few roll mats we could borrow for the night. Now soaking wet and approaching lunch time we made the decision that these would have to do, so Callum and I headed back to Jayne on the other side without mozzy nets or a stove, but did grab a few packs of crisps and some tinned tuna along with a carton of takeaway noodles to eat before we set off.
Sitting outside the ranger office in a little shelter we ate the warm noodles and headed off into the Jungle (not realising that the noodles would be our last proper meal for quite some time).
The path was very muddy and slippery and within minutes we had seen our first leeches trying to work their way through our shoes and socks in an attempt to find flesh and the blood that they crave so badly. We managed to flick them off of our shoes and trousers and hoped that we hadn't missed any crawling up our legs or jackets. Continuing along the walk it got progressively more muddy and leech infested as we clambered over fallen trees, waded through ankle high water and squelched through deep sticky mud soaking wet and very hot in the humid conditions. Half hour in we stopped and had a water break, it felt like we had been going for hours as the conditions were so bad. But thinking we couldn't get any wetter and the path couldn't get any worse we pushed on for another hour over flooded bridges and up steep muddy hills, grabbing at branches to help us scrabble up the slippery slopes.
Now an hour and a half in we turned a corner in the path to be met with a completely flooded part of the track. I said to the others this was getting dangerous and we needed to head back as if the rain continued we wouldn't find our way out, but they were determined to continue as we could only be a short distance away from the Bumbun. Callum told us to wait while he scouted ahead and we watched as he waided up to his knees through the murky brown water and disappeared around the corner. Returning only a few minutes later shouting that he could see the Bumbun and we should push on. Into the water we got which was suprisingly cold in the humid conditions and waided around the corner to a bridge which was flooded up above our knees. Callum told us to be extremely careful as there was a plank of wood hidden below the water that we needed to negotiate to get us onto the bridge. He knew that it was dangerous as he had missed the plank first time and sunk into the water up to his neck, having to swim to find the plank again! 'Great' we thought as we edged along towards the plank, each step feeling for the plank hidden below us. It wobbled precariously but we all made it to the bridge, crossed and then down the other side entered water up to our waist. By now we were so glad to see the Bumbun ahead of us we waded in the waist deep water for a few minutes until finally we reached dry(ish) land. There was a rope leading up to the hide with knots tied in it which helped us climb up to the higher ground of the hut and we made our way up the concrete steps into the shelter. The hut was tired and old looking with 4 rotten looking bunk beds made entirely of wood. There were no mattresses and the whole place had a 2 foot gap in the wall all the way around to allow you to sit and watch wildlife. There were no mozzy nets and the door had no lock on it. The floor was brown dirty concrete that was wet and the toilet/shower that we had been promised looked like it hadn't worked for years (the sink was non existent - smashed into bits on the floor).
Using a zip tie and a carrier bag I managed to fix some of the plumbing so at least we could flush the toilet and perhaps have a shower in the morning.
Still, happy to be out of the rain and able to dry off a little we emptied our soaking wet bags onto one of the beds and dried ourselves off best we could. Luckily we all had 1 pair of dry shorts and a t-shirt that had been wrapped in plastic so at least we were dry and sheltered.
It was late and the rain showed no sign of stopping so treating ourselves to a tuna sandwich and some crisps we decided to settle in for the night. The prospect of sleeping on the damp wooden beds was not great but the alternative of another 2 hour trek in the rain with the leeches in the dark was too dangerous so rolling out the sleeping mats we tried to make the place comfy. Callum had his own fly net which was meant for a single person but as there is a high risk of Malaria in the area we opted to try and make it fit over all three of us. Pushing a few of the beds together we managed to make a net that would cover us all if we laid shoulder to shoulder and didn't sit up! It was going to be a very uncomfortable night in more ways then one! Our temporary bed made, we lit some candles that Callum and I had decided to bring at the last minute (thank god) and sat and played Asshole (a card game) as the darkness began to fall all around. A few games in we looked up to see that we were now totally enveloped by darkness, even the 2 foot gap all around us had the look as if we had drawn heavy black curtains across it. Standing away from the candle you could just make out the shape of trees through the pitch black gap and I wondered how on earth we would even know if a lion/tiger or bear fancied sharing our reasonably sheltered Bumbun for the night. Hanging our remaining can of tuna, 2 slices of bread and packet of crisps from the roof to stop rats eating it, we started to get ready for bed. At this point Callum jumped up screaming like a girl and pointing a finger near my head shouting "Big Spider!". I got up sharpish to see a spider the size of the top of a coke can sat looking at me right near my head. I offered to kill it but the others insisted that we catch it and remove it without killing it. The next 10 minutes consisted of Callum and I trying to coax it into an empty water bottle half while Jayne stood on a bench and watched. The spider had other ideas however and after several failed attempts to catch it, ran under the bed that we were going to be sleeping on. We all decided that leaving it there would be best and slid a piece of wood across to keep the flimsy looking door shut as we slowly blew out the candles, lit a mozzie coil I had packed and crawled onto our damp wooden bed for the long night ahead.
Led there in the dark, able to just about see a few shadows when my eyes adjusted I wondered what we had gotten ourselves into and was praying that the now driving sheets of rain would stop soon or I knew we would be in trouble come morning.
The next 9 hours were possibly the longest of my entire life. The rain continued to lash down all night, there were strange noises all around and the damp wooden bed was about as comfortable as lying on a pile of broken bricks. I had been voted to go in the middle which left me squashed between Callum and Jayne, unable to roll one way or the other I just led there motionless staring into the dark void.
It must have been about 3am when I heard a strange noise like a thousand leaves rustling followed by a cracking noise that got louder and louder. I realised it must be a tree about to fall and so strained my eyes in the darkness to see if I could locate the direction of the noise. I tapped Callum who was already awake and he nodded and grunted acknowledgement as he too had heard the noises and was looking for the tree. All of a sudden a very loud crack noise like someone snapping a giant twig in your ear echoed around the room and the unmistakable noise of a huge tree falling through the air hitting other trees along the way got louder and louder. Jayne awoke sitting bolt upright and screaming, un-aware of what the noise was and Callum and I led there watching a shadow fall across the gap in the wall, missing us by about 20 feet. Hitting the water with a loud splash the tree had missed us and the room went strangely silent again with the sound of the torrential rain somehow insignificant now. I lied to Jayne telling her it had missed us by atleast 100 metres to try and calm her and led there unable to sleep now, planning escape routes and running through scenarios in my head of what to do if a tree did hit the Bumbun.
Day 2 - Taman Negara
Checking my watch it was 6am and still pitch black. I laid there waiting for the sun to light up our dismal temporary home and wondered what sight would await us when we could finally see outside. 7am came and went and it was still dark, but everything was at least beginning to light up. It was as if the world outside was viewed on an old TV, slowly tuning itself in to black and white images. It was obvious by now that we would not be getting to the bus we had booked for 9am this morning as we would never have enough time to get back to the other side of the river, pack and get to the bus stop in time. I decided to get up and the others decided that the wooden mattress experience should also come to an end. Glaring into the dull light we could see water all around. It was not looking good! The next half hour went slowly as the world slowly turned to colour and we could see the extent of the flooding. It was still raining hard and the water appeared to be at least a metre or so higher than when we arrived. Luckily Callum had taken a photo when we arrived so he took another from the same position to give us a chance to work out how much things had changed.
We couldn't believe what the picture was telling us. It was scary.
We all stared at the pictures in disbelief, realising that in fact the water had risen by around 3 metres overnight! We got dressed into our wet clothes and headed to the rope we had used to pull ourselves up the hill to the Bumbun. The knots on it were tied at about 2 foot intervals and when we arrived the entire rope was visible and around a foot from the ground. It was now almost completely covered with only two of the approx 8 knots showing. There was no way we were walking out.
Back in the Bumbun and out of the rain we retrieved our bag of food from the rafters and ate a small hot cross bun each that we had saved for breakfast, leaving the other 3 rolls and the remaining food for later.
I'm not sure who suggested it (I think Jayne) but the idea came up that we should build a raft. It seemed logical and a sensible way to maybe cross the high waters to safety so all of us put on our wet clothes again and hunted for wood and materials that might float. Underneath the Bumbun were 4 or 5 planks of sorry looking wood, but hitting them we realised they were sturdy and our easiest solution for the base of the raft. We emptied all our water into 2 containers and used the empty 4 bottles to tie to the underside with string that Callum had thankfully brought. Callum seemed to know what he was doing and lashed the boards together very efficiently making a reasonable looking raft out of the 4 planks, 4 bottles and 3 pieces of old 1 inch drainpipe which we snapped to form the cross sections. I also suggested that the roll mats (made of rubber) would float quite well and so these also got added to the bottom of our now impressive looking raft. It took just over an hour or so to finish the raft to a point where we all stood back and were actually quite impressed with our attempt at an escape vehicle.
Callum and I took the ends while Jayne supported it from the middle and we made our way down into the water where the rope had been to gently lower the raft into the water for the first time. Amazingly it actually floated and looked quite stable so we tried to climb on board. It was obvious that it would not support a persons weight so we instead loaded the ruck sacks on top of it and slowly waded deeper and deeper into the murky brown waters deciding to use it as a float to hold onto. Jayne being a far stronger swimmer than Callum and me put together decided to swim un-aided along side us and help out with the raft where necessary. The water went up to our necks in no time and we held on to our raft kicking our way towards what we believed to be the way we had come in. The raft floated well although it was dipping the rucksacks into the water quite a bit.
The main problem was that the path while being clearly visible at ground level was now 3 metres below water. Now as none of us had walked along staring 3 metres up into the trees the whole time the landscape had changed so much we now had no idea at all where it was and which direction to head! There were also VERY spikey bushes/trees undetectable in the water that grabbed at your legs, threatening to pull you under or tear at your flesh and rip your clothes. This was scary enough for me and Callum with the extra help of the raft to keep us afloat but Jayne was now really starting to have problems. I decided to make the call that it was too dangerous and that we should head back to the relative safety of the hut which was now out of sight. On the way our only bag of food fell off the raft and drifted out of my reach. Jayne bravely battled through spikey bushes to retrieve our only food which would turn out to be very useful! Luckily Callum had a great sense of direction and we navigated our way back across the treacherous water and made it out once again by the rope. Over 2 hours gone, still raining and we were back where we started. It wasn't looking good.
Drying off again as much we could we sat in the hut discussing options. It was agreed that the food would be saved until we absolutely needed it and would be rationed amongst us fairly. The water was getting low but as I had luckily packed some water treatment drops we were able to make some safe water using the hose in the toilet (not ideal and tasted minging let me tell you, but at least it was safe to drink once treated!).
Plan B. Callum had a mobile phone on him so high ground was now our priority to try and get some sort of signal and an SOS message out. Climbing into the rafters of the lodge had no effect so looking outside the lodge we decided that the higher ground behind it may give us a better chance. Callum and I headed into the jungle fighting our way past the leeches again and trying to find higher ground. But the jungle was just too thick and it was hopeless so we returned dejected and gave up on the mobile idea.
Jayne thought she heard voices calling out to us at this point so I joined her in shouting 'help' loudly in the general direction of the noises. I wasn't sure what to believe as I couldn't make out voices but to give her hope I shouted too and agreed I could hear something.
Plan C. Jayne suggested that we find our way out of the Jungle and to one of the other trails which would lead us back to base camp. Her idea had merit and the idea of keeping the flood waters on our right at all times whilst tying bright torn pieces of carrier bag to the trees as a marker seemed good. We wrote an SOS note in case someone made it to the hut looking for us while we were gone and set an hour as the deadline to turn around if it was useless. Writing the note gave us all a strange feeling, it suddenly became apparent how dangerous our situation actually was.
We hacked, bashed and kicked our way through incredibly dense jungle for an hour with no real success and many sections cut off by the water. I again called time on this idea and we all headed back to the Bumbun which took a mere 12 mins to walk back to on our now cleared path. This made us realise just how slow progress was going to be in the dense jungle and this idea was also now a no go.
Plan D. It was getting late and running out of ideas with the rain still smashing down on us Callum and I both agreed that the river was our best chance of escape. We knew roughly which direction it was in and also hoped that by the increasing height of the trees across from the bumbun that there might be land just our of sight. So on again went the soaking wet clothes which by now were starting to feel normal to us. We picked up the raft and started our journey across the water to try and find some land and hopefully the river. The water was now up to 4 metres higher than when we got here and the entire rope and all the knots had disappeared below the surface. Jayne stayed and watched from the Bumbun as we kicked our way across and out of sight of the hut. We were ecstatic to find out that our guess had been right and there was indeed land where the tree height raised and were happy to climb out and put the raft in a safe place. The Jungle this side was nowhere near as thick as the stuff we had battled with earlier and so we kicked and crushed our way through for 45 mins again tying markers along the way to enable us to return to the raft. It gave me great hope that we could move more easily and I was sure we were going in the right direction to find the river and our way out of this nightmare. We eventually ran out of markers and it was beginning to get dark so we turned around and ran back through our newly created path to pick up the raft once more and head back to let Jayne know we had made some headway. Back safely we put the raft as high up ground as we could, fearing that if the rain continued over night again we would lose our precious float. It was starting to look worse for wear and we knew that it would only survive a few more crossings.
Stripping down (this was no place for shyness) we got Jayne to check us over for Leeches. I had 6 on one foot, one on the chin and one on my leg while Callum had a similar number including one on his armpit and thigh. We liberally applied the Tiger balm and then flicked them into the bush. Although Callum did seem to take particular pleasure in smashing the one that came from his armpit with a shoe repeatedly until it popped and sprayed blood all up his leg. If you've never seen a leech they are disgusting things. Like worms with an attitude. They move like miniature slinky's and stop every so often to stick straight up in the air sniffing around for their unwilling blood donors. Once found they latch on and slinky their way to anywhere they can to find skin. Through socks, through shoes, up trousers, anywhere! You get used to the bite, it doesn't hurt much but the wound bleeds for hours sometimes due to a chemical they use to thin your blood so that they can drink. They are also almost impossible to kill by hitting as it is like trying to kill an elastic band! so fire is the only real way - which we had very little of in this damp hell.
We celebrated our limited success with a packet of crisps split 3 ways (remember this is all we have had since the 1 small roll at breakfast) and they tasted heavenly. Amazing how things become so much more important when you cant replace them! Unfortunately the remaining rolls we had saved had got soaked so we were now down to 2 slices of bread, 1 tin of tuna and 1 packet of crisps. I told everyone that we were leaving tomorrow for definite and that people knew we were missing and would send help eventually. There was obviously no way I could be sure that this would be the case and to be honest I didn't think anyone from the village gave a shit about where we were! But for my own sanity and to keep the morale of the others up I insisted we would be laughing about it over a beer the next night safe in a bar somewhere.
The night was spent playing Asshole again and watching the candles burn slowly down before tiredness from the days various attempt escapes and weakness form hunger got the better of us so we crept onto the damp wooden bed (without the roll mats this time for fear of breaking the raft if they were removed) and led once again shoulder to shoulder under the makeshift net.
It was another incredibly uncomfortable, damp night with the rain STILL coming down but I fell to sleep quite easily. I have no idea if it was exhaustion, hunger or the thought of maybe making it out tomorrow, but the others didn't seem to sleep nearly as well.
(Due to the limit of text on a blog the next chapter will be posted separately)