Just like Tarzan and Jane we were, swinging from vines on our 2 day, one night trek in the jungle. NOT! Well, it was more like we were clinging to vines to keep us upright.
After 5 days in blingy Kuala Lumpur we headed north east to Taman Negara Natonal Park, home to rain forests 140 Million years old. Older than the Amazon forests. Seamus did the canny thing and organised for us to go using the public bus service which cost us about €7 as opposed to €30 if we went with a tour operator. Tip for other travellers: get the 10am bus from Titiwangsa metro station in KL to Jerantut (16.80 ringgit) where you can pick up the local bus direct to Kuala Tahan for 7 ringgit. The bus was v comfortable and the roads a dream after the nightmare of Indonesian roads. On arrival we (by we this means Aine) opted for a holiday lodge which had a pool (yippee) which in the jungle heat is a thing of luxury. Next day we headed into the park on our own and walked for about 6 hours. The highlight of our day was when we turned a corner on the jungle path and saw a local Orang Asli man (from the local aboriginal tribe) hunting with a long blow pipe and poison arrows. It was just like stepping into the past. It was a real privilege to cross his path. We walked along the longest suspended rope bridge canopy walk in the world and it was humbling to see the rainforest floor some 50 meters below us. Some clinching of buttocks and clinging to the ropes we managed to get through the ordeal and even spotted an orange squirrel and a deadly viper (to whom we gave a wide berth).
Bag and baggage...
Me and Orang Asli hunter
Orang Asli hunter
Overlooking the National Park
That evening after dinner in one of the floating restaurants on the river we booked a 2 day 1 night trek into the jungle with an overnight stay in a cave. This is a must do for anyone visiting the National Park. Next morning we met our fellow trekkers: Maria a 31 yr old banker from Vienna; Maddie a 23 yr old graduate from Toronto and; Wouter, a 22 yr old graduate from Holland. We crossed the river to the park HQ where we had to declare how many plastic bottles, batteries, clothes etc we had so they could check on our way back in order to discourage littering. Back down to the river with us and into a long boat, slightly bigger than a canoe, and off up the river for 2 hours. On our way we had to negotiate several rapids and as we were heading upstream it took a lot of skill by the boat man to negotiate. Eventually after 2 beautiful hours on the river surrounded by jungle we arrived at our starting point where we had lunch. Some locals were feasting on fruit which they shared with us. The juicy mangosteens and lychees, as well as the smelly durian fruit. Durians are so smelly (a bit like rotten raw chicken) that you see 'No Durian' signs in hotels. The locals call them the cheese of the jungle and when fresh they taste both sweet and savoury - a bit like caramelised onions crossed with cheese. Unusual to say the least.
Orang Asli Village
You know the expression a lather of sweat? Well nothing prepares you for how much you sweat as you hike up hill in the jungle carrying 2days supply of water, food, clothes and bedding. Every single piece of clothing is drenched in sweat and there is no reprieve from a cooling breeze. Of course the chance that we might cross a tiger's path gave us plenty to sweat about too! Thankfully we didn't meet one but we did see some elephant poo on our path but it was a few days old. Our main gripe, other than the heat, was the leeches. Although we were all quite proud of our first leech. After a while you got used to them but you can't even feel the little buggers as they have an anaesthetic in their bite. Once you remove one, it takes ages for the bleeding to stop. By evening our little group had bonded and we were now hardened jungle hikers (!) so that by evening time we felt like a little family. Guess who were ma and pa?.....
Our happy family
Aine and our Guide
Orang Asli Village
View to river
Just as dusk was falling we reached our cave Gua Kepayang Besar, which lay at the top of a steep gully which we had to climb. The cave was a stunning sight - about 40 meters high and about 80 metres deep. Our guides set up a fire while we went to the river for a bath and to collect water for boiling and cooking. More leech alerts but the cooling water was delicious. Us two girls sneaked down to the river first so we could wash in comfort only to be joined by Seamus who had no reverence for modesty and jumped in naked as the day he was born....
Back in the cave our guide placed a tarpaulin on the cave floor on which we placed our sleeping mats and well worn smelly sleeping bags provided by the trekking organisers. Of course Seamus had packed a sneaky dram of Tullamore whiskey which went down a treat as an aperitif.
Laying out our beds for the night in the Cave
We were joined by another larger group so we were about 20 people in total. Our guides cooked up the most fabulous rice and curry made from tinned mutton, with a few fresh veggies and lots of spice. But after a day's hiking, it tasted SO good. After dinner we were treated to some Irish tunes on the bamboo whistle which sounded so hauntingly beautiful in the cavernous stone cathedral where the acoustics were outstanding. As Seamus had sneaked off around the corner we couldn't see who was playing so the other group were taking bets as to who the musician was. We settled in for the night alongside the fire with some candles placed here and there. Very church-like and contemplative. We all lay there in silence lost in our own thoughts, feeling so lucky to be in such a wonderful place.
Sunlight streaming into our cave
Next morning we toasted our bread on bamboo sticks placed over the fire. After tidying up we headed back out into the jungle for another 5 hours hiking. We crossed several streams, fallen trees, muddy puddles and suffered the odd leech or two again, until we reached our lunch stop at a larger river. Here we tore off our sweaty, smelly clothes and jumped into the cool reviving waters. After our lunch of delicious spicy noodles we noticed the guides looking upwards and gesticulating. They told us to pack up and move away from the large trees; kind of hard when you're in the jungle! Next thing a strong wind appeared from nowhere and leaves started falling all around us. Then a large thunder clap and the rains began. This was torrential tropical rain. Visibility was poor in the forest due to the dark clouds and rain. We donned whatever rain gear we had and plodded as fast as we could trying to keep up with our guide. The 2 umbrellas we bought in KL came in handy. Another tip: umbrellas may look stupid while hiking but they are one of the most useful pieces of equipment you can bring. Of course after a short while I (Aine) realised that an umbrella in a thunder storm may not be such a good thing and after several flashes of lightening I rolled up It up. Then I only had my metal walking pole to worry about! But thankfully we survived and after an hour we reached our pickup point by the river. Needless to say our boat was almost an hour late and we watched in envy as the other group left in a covered boat. Ours, when it eventually turned up, was uncovered which left us at the mercy of the rain and rapids but we were so wet and sweaty that we didn't mind the soaking on the way home.
Up she flew.....
Me and my waterbabes!!!
My left foot
We arrived back at our hotel and made the most of the hot shower. We joined our co-trekkers for dinner and said our goodbyes to them and the jungle. We really enjoyed our time in Taman Negara National Park.