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Published: April 5th 2010
A Trekker's Best Friend
Forget about doing something like this without a proper knife. In the word's of Crocodile Dundee: That's not a knife. This is a knife!
As I push through the swamp, wary of snakes and spiders, I brush against a palm tree. Centimetre long red ants in their tens come rushing out and attack me, biting all over. Their acid enters my skin and a pain much like an electrical current pulsates through my body. I crush them with my open palms but more come to take their place. I drop my guard and waddle through the knee deep water and mud as fast as I humanly can to the dry ground up ahead. I clamber over a toppled section of a barbed wire fence, slide the backpack off of my shoulders, dispose of my shirt and trousers and jump about, swatting away my attackers. Native American dance over, I stand there and rethink the reasons for coming here.
Ten days ago I had never heard of Endau Rompin National Park. Two weeks ago I had never intended to come to Malaysia. Well, that was then and this is now. I was here to track a tiger, find a rhino, run into a wild elephant and take photos of them all. Visitors are officially required to hire a guide to explore the park, but the
Camp - First Night
Still in a palm oil plantation but with the jungle just behind that ridge
issue was mute as it was closed for the monsoon season. The entry paths and visitors gates seemed to lead in from the north, south and east, so I opened Google Earth and devised a scheme to enter on foot from the west.
The planning went smoothly. With a bit of effort I was able to procure the usual necessities for an adventure like this - a machete type knife, antimalarials, leech socks, water purification tablets, oatmeal and, with my Guayana experience for hindsight, packets of raisins and Milo to add flavour and vitamins to my morning, lunch and dinner brew.
Leaving Labis on foot a kind local turns his motorbike around as he sees me trudging down the rural road in the mid-afternoon heat. He asks where I am going in broken English and saves me walking almost half of the fifteen kilometres to Kampung Redong. He enthusiastically drops me off at what looks like a recently opened spa resort but I have other plans. Tonight I want to sleep in the jungle. A little down the road I stop for a bite to eat. When I reveal my destination, the locals start imitating tiger growls and
But no animals wanted to eat them
advise me not to continue. Further on a roadside sign prohibits the use of firearms in the area. Welcome to the Malaysian Wild West.
I enter a palm oil and rubber plantation. Each time I scale a hill, I have the jungle in sight. I am getting nearer. Soon I come upon droppings half a foot in diameter. They appear to be left by a herbivore. Elephant? Rhino? Reaching the edge of the plantation and with darkness imminent I choose a campsite atop a ridge. There is a horrible ruckus in the forest below and I assume it is caused my a troupe of gibbons. As I finish my dinner delight and lie in the tent writing notes, I do not need to guess which animals are feeding outside. Their grunts give them away and come morning, the tell-tale teethmarks on the palm nuts lying around are clear evidence that wild boars are present in the area.
I watch the sun rise in the morning and worry as the digital compass on my watch shows a heading of 155 degrees. I was relying on this compass to lead me to the East Coast of the Malay peninsula. It
A Snare In The Jungle
Wild hunters have set up a noose to catch animals on a trail leading to a water source
better get its act together.
As I descend from the ridge, I enter the swamp from the beginning of the story, settle any second thought I may be having and continue. The going gets tough. There are steep slopes on two sides and secondary vegetation to pass. I soon discover the commotion last night was not caused by gibbons but rather macaques. I won't be taking out my camera for them. Every now and then I would exit thicker jungle and come across what were either abandoned logging paths or elephant trails. I would follow them as far as possible since they made the going much easier, but inevitably they would peter out within a few hundred metres. Following them also meant that I was not sticking to a fixed compass bearing at all times and could easily be walking in circles. I hoped I was not getting lost.
Discovering a stream, I walk it in hopes of reaching a larger river and getting deeper into the park the easy way. But the jungle is a cobweb of vegitation. Fallen trees block my path and as I try to go around them, I am finding it harder and
But whose could they be?
harder to return to the water. I refill my drinking bottles, wait for the purification tablets to kick in and quench my first. Then I make a break from the stream and follow a wild-boar trail up a slope in a loosely eastern direction. Huffing and puffing, I barely make out the contraption hidden before me. Surely enough, it is a snare. Illegal hunters have penetrated this far, it would seem.
There is something odd about this jungle. Like in the Sumatran wilderness, there appear to be very few mosquitoes about. Instead they are replaced by leaches, but these are easier to handle and have not been proven to transmit diseases. How refreshing for a change.
I carry on through the day with only a rest stop to devour more cold food goodness. I find myself on a high ridge and can hear the rain coming, beating on the forest below. Then I spot it a hundred metres to my left coming in. Suddenly, it is twenty metres on my right. Miraculously, my position remains dry. Still, my feet, trapped inside the protective leech socks are horribly white and wrinkled. I decide to make an early camp and
Taking a Break
Oatmeal + Milo + raisins make a happy camper
settle as high up this ridge as I can climb. The compass on my watch has been fishy the whole trek, but the altimeter still gives good readings. Tonight I will be sleeping at 328 metres, almost two hundred higher than the day before. At this height I can occasionally get a one bar signal on my mobile phone. Before coming I had left my number in reliable hands and notified the person to use its signal for rescue purposes if they did not hear from me again. I hoped that would not be necessary.
Food is on my mind again. Jungle trekking up and down slopes, over and up streams, making my way through thick vegetation with a a backpack loaded with twenty kilograms of food and supplies is a grueling task. My shoulders were feeling the strain and my stomach was working overtime to feed my body. I had been recalculating my food reserves for much of the day and at the rate they were going, I would run out in three or four days. The idea to trek all the way to the East Coast was now definitely out of the question.
All day I
Camp - Second Night
A large open front section with leaf litter to alert of its presence and thick jungle to the rear are meant to protect from a tiger attack
had not seen any trees in bloom and hence wildlife sightings had been scarce. Thus far the edge of the palm oil plantation had been much better for animal encounters. All that surrounds me here are bees that have taken a liking to my sweaty clothing and descend upon me. I retire to my tent for solace and rest, vowing to get up when night falls and nocturnal animals take the stage.
At seven, the bees are gone and an insect chorus begins. Half an hour later, mammals start to show some life. It sounds like one is checking me out...then leaves. Or does it? Another half an hour passes. Was that a growl? Then another one, this time from lower down the ridge. When all the sounds subside, I hear the faint sound of - music!? Perhaps somewhere down below there is a settlement. More probably, it is a shack for plantation workers. Regardless, it does bring a sense of reassurance, much more than the two stakes I carved out and set up in front of the tent to protect me in case of a tiger attack.
In the morning it is time to face the facts.
Virgin jungle all around
My food is running low and is inadequate to stay here for more than a few more days. My compass is acting up and does not prove effective for navigation. The only thing I can rely on for getting back out is the sun. If I follow it due west, it will lead me back to civilization. But it is the monsoon season and thick clouds and rain could easily obscure the sun for days on end. I need to get out now!
A stake serves to cast a shadow and I compare it to the time on my wrist watch to calculate east as I attempt to follow the most direct route out. Down an almost sixty degree slope, along a steam, through the jungle and across a swamp. More jungle, more elephant tracks and after many hours of uninterrupted walking, I burst out of tall elephant grass and come across some houses. Nobody is there but further on I enter a palm oil plantation. Dark clouds had long blocked out the sun and as I take shelter from the rain, a worker joins me under the porch of a house. He doesn't speak English but motions me
Leech Socks And Sandals
Shopping for shoes in Asia has always caused me difficulties. After I had destroyed my pair of hiking boots trekking in Sumatra, I was left with no choice but to use my trusted Tevas for this undertaking. They did well and I made sure I wasn't going to step on any snakes
in the direction of Redong Village. As I reach and walk the paved road another friendly non-English speaker gives me a ride to the spa resort. I gladly pay the one Ringit entry fee just to use the showers. A new man, I hitch a car to Labis, board a bus to Segamat and am just too late to catch a train or bus to Kuala Lumpur to celebrate New Year. Instead, I find shelter in an abandoned industrial lot behind the train station and camp there, awaking to the sounds and lights from the fireworks.
That's life and I bloody love it!
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