These past four days, I’ve really been ‘off the grid’ so to speak. There wasn’t even any cell phone service! And no… I wasn’t in Oak Harbor. I was trekking through the jungles of the Crocker Mountain Range in Malaysian Borneo. It was an awesome, painful, and exhausting experience that I don’t plan on repeating in the near future. It was totally worth it, but once was fine for now. Maybe sometime in the distant future…
The trek is called the Salt Trail; aptly named because of the original and current uses for it. There are a number of villages along the trail. The only way for the villagers to reach the coast/cities, other than teleportation and monkey-back rides, is to walk the Salt Trail. Trekkers leave with packs full of crops and hand-made crafts to trade for salt, spices, and other goods from the coastal area. Often times, their packs weigh in excess of 30 kg. Mine weighed just over 10!
History aside, my primary reason for doing the Salt Trail was to really do something outside my comfort zone and experience a legit jungle. Well… check those things off the list. I can’t remember the last time I did something so physically challenging, and I definitely experienced the jungle.
The first day was pretty easy. I woke up far earlier than I like to and caught a cab to Sub-Station Inobong. Thanks to the handy directions at this site I was able to direct my cabbie there no problem. Poor guy. He had a rickety old beater car and the latter part of the drive was up a sketchy gravel road that wound its way up precarious mountain paths. It was also in the middle of nowhere, but he was such a champ about the whole thing I gave him a huge tip. You know, just in case his cab disintegrated on the way back down.
After hiking up a brutal hill that the taxi couldn’t make it up; I found the station, took in an amazing view of the coast and KK, and met my guide: Jolumin. He’s been working at the park since 2003 and is actually from one of the villages we stopped at during the course of the hike. After introductions and taking care of some paperwork, the park’s highly capable driver, Mazin, took us over 60 km to the other end of the Salt Trail in Tambunan. We stopped in town for lunch and grabbed a few supplies, then hiked a short 2 km to Pos Kawalan Melungung. This was where we stayed the first night. It is a park station that appears to have a few people living on site at any given time. We talked a bit, played a game I affectionately dubbed ‘flicky pool’, and foraged around in the jungle for some food.
Really sour fruits
Day 2 started with us all getting up with the sun and scarfing down a quick breakfast. Scarfing. That’s such a fantastic word. After eating and saying goodbye to the denizens of Pos Kawalan Melungung, we began our 12.5 km haul to Kg. Kionop. Right off the bat, we faced a brutal 1.5 km uphill stretch. That was the first time my inner voice (the one that sees fit to reprimand me in a matter-of-fact Londoner accent that I’m doing something very stupid) piped in that I was clearly out of my mind and probably wasn’t going to make it.
But I did. Take that, brain!
The jungle was an environment that is very new to me. As we were walking, it was so strange to not hear any ‘human’ sounds. No engines revving, no horns honking, no beeps, screeches, or yells. Just the sounds of nature. Gibbons hooting back and forth in the treetops, a deer coughing in alarm on a distant hilltop, the shrill trills of cicadas up what seemed like every tree. And the smells, oh the smells. You can just smell nature growing, living, dying, and rotting around you. It’s kind of a sensory overload.
Oh, and another thing that was an overload? The freakin’ leeches. Leapin’ leeches, actually. I never saw one jump, but they’re pretty freakin’ terrifying as they come at you like a drunken worm doing cartwheels. They seemed to have an uncanny sense for when a warm-blooded creature was near. I would see one on the ground waving its nasty appendage around; then it would freeze, face me, and frantically start cartwheeling to come taste some yummy Nathan. It’s for that creepy sensory ability that I coined a name for the little devils. Blood suckin’ Sith slugs. They seriously suck. I lost track of how many of the buggers I pulled off my ankles and feet. My advice? Wear leech socks. My impractical advice? Bring a flame-thrower and employ a scorched earth policy.
Lying in wait…
Rain. There’s a lot of it in the jungle. Fortunately, the heavens were courteous enough to wait each day until we had finished hiking before they emptied their bowels upon us. That didn’t, however, make for ideal hiking conditions. It was muddy. And slick. And my formerly fancy hiking shoes with well-worn soles that are better suited for bowling now than hiking? They magically transformed into a pair of surprise trick skis on me. Surprise as in: Nathan is walking, strolling along… Happy, happy, happy. Oh look, a… SURPRISE BACK FLIP!! Ugh. I love my shoes, they’re the best pair I’ve ever owned. However, there comes a point at which sentiment crosses the line into ‘Dude, do you have a death-wish or something?’. I’m pretty sure I toed that line for the past four days. Note to self. Buy some new shoes before attempting any further hiking adventures.
The slippery slope/shoe situation was exacerbated by the backup of… uh… waste in my digestive system. Let’s just say my body needed to release pressure at a few points. In order to do that, you kind of have to relax a little bit. Try relaxing your bum-muscles while you’re clinging to a tree root on what seems like a vertical pitch that decided to turn into a mud slide. Yeah. Most terrifying farts ever.
Along the way, we passed through one of the several ‘villages’. This particular one was a single house that a guy and his sister lived in. They live by themselves 10 km into the middle of the jungle. That’s pretty intense, if you ask me. We passed the man on the way and I managed a weak, floppy-armed wave as he grinned and bounded past on experienced feet. Show-off.
The first ‘village’
Jolumin and I dropped off our gear and went down to the river to get some grub. That entailed Jolumin fording the river with a weighted net and snorkel mask as he single-handedly caught 8-10 small, gleaming fish. I just carried the spear gun and tried not to kill myself by falling. It was pretty fun. That night Jolumin prepared dinner using those fish and some other bounty from the jungle. We had mangos, ginger, chilis, lemons, and some leafy stuff… all foraged by my guide. Pretty cool, eh? After a tough day hiking, a hearty meal was just what the doctor ordered. That and a healthy smearing of muscle rub given to me by an awesome backpacker at my previous hostel. Ooooh, the relief!
Well, this is getting a tad long, so I’m going to end it here and do a second post for the last two days. Peachy? Cool.