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Published: September 26th 2008
Today would be our first full day exploring the oldest rainforest in the world and we were very excited. Promptly at 8am we were at the floating restaurant where we sat down to breakfast. Egg and toast was presented to us along with traditional iced tea, not exactly to rachael's liking, in fact Rachael has developed a strong disliking for egg ever since a 'don't talk about it again' incident back in Vietnam. anyway, 2 portions of egg later and i was ready to go.
First on the agenda was a trek up the nearest mountain to a viewpoint near the top. In order to get into Taman Negara we used the river taxi service operated by the restaurant. As the boat drew close the wake wobbled the restaurant making it clear that we were in fact floating and not just perched in the shallows of the riverbank. Once loaded into the boat we made our crossing to a platform on the other side of the river. Here we ascended the steps into a small resort at the entrance to the park. Near the top of the steps we waited for our guide befopre continuing a little further. Noticing a river marker near the steps i was told that in 2002 the river had risen a further 20 meters from where it was now after an extensive rainy season and had previously risen even higher!
Our hike took us through the dense jungle on some well trodden and some overgrown paths to the viewing point over roughly 1.5 hours, so off we set. The immediate path was well trodden and even had information boards up near key plants and wildelife. Our guide, Matt, was the best source of information though, showing us male and female viagra plants and a bush that produced leave that were as rough and strong as sandpaper. He also showed us a type of plant that would either make you look older or younger based on the number of fingers on the leaves. Then, once he was bitten by a leech he showed us how to stop the bleeding (because once removed the wound continues to bleed because the leech injects an anticoagulant) using another plant. We were going to be shown how to make blow pipe darts and how to light a fire traditionally and so a little later on we were also shown where the materials for these tasks would come from.
The path progressively became more overgrown as we began our ascent and we were soon climbing over roots the size of logs and under low swinging branches. Some of the trekking meant we were ascending steps bigger than the height of Rachaels hips which tested her quads! Looking around all you could see were green plants, trees and vines, all tangled together in a somewhat harmonisit way. Abve us the 30, 40 and 50m trees soared into the sky before branching out poducing the vast canopy which enclosed us. Every so often the canopy would be broken allowing the suns powerful rays to burst through lighting up the rising mist. We were very hot but not fom direct sunlight as this was very scarse, instead the hummidity levels up to 90% were preventing the sweat from evaporating from your body.
Sure enough after 1.5 hours we were at the viewpoint high above the canopy. Completely worth the sweat and effot, before us the vast forest gave way to the muddy Tembeling River before reaching out over the horizon. I have never felt so small and insignificant than when comparing myself to something so extensive and complicated, but yet so synchronised and synergistic that for millions of years has dominated the landscape. After a few breaths, photos and sips of water we were off again back down the hill to the canopy walkway.
Stood before us was the first of 9 walkways constructed from rope and wood, built to give the user a canopy high view of the jungle. Theis first walkway began only stepladder height and so after posing for a few photos Rachael took the leada cross the bridge. Only a few rules were in plae here and i had to wait until Rachael was 5-10m away before beginning my walk to ensure the walkway was not overweighted. Soon the walkways were getting higher and higher until by walkway 4 we were 46m above ground level. Trembeling at te knees we traversed the bridge high up in the anopy whilst trying to photograph and video tape as much as possible. It wa nice to escape the humidity for a brief moment but the sun was not forgiving either. Unfortunately being so high didnt mean we saw a lot of wildlife, in fact unexpectidly the only animal we did see was a monitor lizard basking in the sun on top of a 40m high tree trunk. After all 9 bridges we met up with the rest of our group and headed back to the floating restaurant for our lunch.
Next up was rapid shooting. Our group clambered into a wooden longboat, 2 abreast, powered by a large speedboat engine. We had been warned by our guide that we would get wet and so had dressed in swimsuits accordingly. Soon we were cruising up river peacefully when the guide sat on the front of the boat and stuck an oar in launchung water into the air and down onto us. The torrent of water seemed to land precisely on Rachaels and my heads in the centre of the boat, although I am sure everyone was getting soaked. Shortly after we hit the rapids, which combined with the guide rocking the boat meant we were getting a soaking once again. The trip went for about 30mins up stream until we reaching an Orang Asli settlement, the natives of the jungle. Although very shy we were allowed into their villiage to have a look around. Everybody except the villiage cheif and medicine man were in their huts because they were so shy but upon asking I was allowed to enter one such straw and bamboo hut in order to play with and photograph the children playing with fire. They looked at me like I was a ghost, well I suppose I am compared to the dark skinned people they are used to seeing! After a little while I showed them my video camera and flipped over the LCD so they could see themselves. The children were interested but didnt seem to see what the fuss was about. Perhaps many foreigners have shown them the same thing or maybe they are unfamilier with their own appearence and do not recognise themselves. Either way we said our goodbyes and moved back towards the centre of their small settlement. Here a member of the tribe demonstrated how darts were made for their blowpipes using the materials we had observed earlier in the day. Once made we had the opportunity to fire the blowdarts at the target ( a piece of paper/polystyrene some 7m away). Rachael and I both hit the target. The blowpipe had a bamboo cover with grooves cut into it for every animal killed by a male tribesman. Evidiently the number of markings is conclusive in deciding whether women are interested in you for marriage. We were also told of how when hunting the tribe splits into two groups, one group have the role of shooting the target animal (up to 70m!) and the other group observe/follow where the animal goes once hit because the poison takes 5 minutes to paralyse it. After the blowpipe demo we were shown and then attempted to make fire. It was hard work but we managed to make some ash, more or less.
It was then time to leave and we got back in our boat for another trip downstream. This time the guide was driving and he launched us into the rapids where immediately the floor beneath us lurched upwards with a large scraping noise. We were already sat in a fair amount of water from the rapids but now the level was rising, filling with water up to the top. The guide struggled but just about managed to beach the boat before it was lost, somewhere in the jungle! The boat, majority submerged was lost but we were able to salvage the engine. There was a huge hole in the wooden floor and clearly we had hit some rocks. The guide hitched a lift downstream where he promised he would bring another boat to us. On the beach we all sat back and laughed, it was great fun for us. We even saw monkeys and lizards before Matt arrived with another boat to take us back to the restaurant. When we got back everyone was laughing and we were told that Matts nickname was accident because he crashed so many boats.
That evening, after dinner, we did a nightwalk in the junlge by torchlight. We saw lots of insects such as scorpions, spiders, jumping spiders, ants, termites and stick insects. We also visited an observation hide and saw lots of deer by reflecting our torchlight off their eyes. It was pretty eerie not being able to see far beyond your torchlight and not knowing what was out there. All in all an excellent day in the jungle!
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