In case you haven’t read it yet, the first part of my Salt Trail trek can be read here. Once you’re all caught up on the first two days, jump back over here and read about the last half of the trek.
I woke the next morning in the abandoned church to two distinct feelings.
First: pain. My body hurt all over! I had no illusions about my physical fitness before attempting this trek. I exercise if it’s necessary. I don’t go running for fun, or work on my cardio. I’ll just jump in and play volleyball if there’s a game going on. That whole ‘just jump in’ attitude is how I approached this trek. In hindsight, it probably wasn’t the best approach. My muscles, accustomed to a life of leisure and sloth, threw a proper tantrum the next morning. It wasn’t exactly a good sign, since we were only a third of the way through the trip.
The second sensation was a little more out of place than the first. I couldn’t feel my upper lip. I could feel in that area, but it was just a tingling, numb sensation. Never the morning person, it took me a few minutes to figure out that something was wrong. I feel like that’s pretty good for me. My mental faculties are usually firing at about 10% when I first wake up, so a few minutes isn’t too shabby. After realizing the problem though, I realized my lip was not only numb, but quite swollen. Mildly alarmed, I showed it to my guide, but he assured me it wasn’t a problem, so I let it be; resolving to make sure to notice if the rest of my face swelled up and went numb. Luckily, Jolumin was right and the swelling subsided after a few hours. Phew!
We started the day with a nice breakfast using some leftover fish from the night before. After eating and a few minutes to pack our things, we set off again towards our destination of Kg. Terian (which is the village Jolumin is from). The journey is just over 12 km and usually takes around 7 hours.
Sore muscles and swollen lip aside, the day started off pretty nice. Pretty early on, we heard a tremendous crashing sound in the trees and undergrowth. From the sheer amount of noise and chaos, I assumed there was a herd of rhinos charging towards us or something. While that makes a great Apples to Apples card, it’s not such a good sensation when it’s in person. Luckily for me and my over-active imagination, it wasn’t rhinos. It was actually a few macaques fleeing from a feast of freshly fallen fruit. I only saw one for a few seconds, but it was still cool to see a wild monkey! This being the jungle, they weren’t as accustomed to humans as monkeys you see in more touristy areas, so they didn’t hang around for pictures. Very sad.
Along the way, we passed through Kg. Buayan, the first sizeable village I’d seen so far on the trek. There were quite a few houses, a primary school, and a ranger station across a wood and cable bridge suspended high over the river. Seeing all the buildings, I couldn’t help but wonder how they got everything in. They couldn’t have carried all that sheet metal in by hand, did they? Turns out, they fly those types of things in by helicopter and use fallen trees from the surrounding jungle for lumber. It’s still impressive to see a small town kilometres away from the nearest road.
Throughout that day, we did a total of seven river crossings. The river was never more than waist deep, but the current was still pretty strong at points. I gave up trying to keep my feet dry, and would just go for it with my shoes on. It certainly made the crossings easier, but they were still difficult at points. I only fell once, and even then I barely got my bag wet. Luckily, it’s made for that type of thing, so none of my gear got soaked. Unfortunately, the thing about river crossings (as well as going downhill) is they tend to strain your knees a little bit. Which leads us to what happened a few kilometres before our goal…
Fording the river. Just like the Oregon Trail!
“Are you okay?” he asked.
I paused for a moment, then answered, “No, not really. My knee is messed up.”
…but still smiling!
I did have kind of a stupid moment with a wild animal towards the end. As we were going down towards the village, I noticed a little thing on the ground. I stooped to look and realized it was a small snake. Really small. It wasn’t moving, so I nudged it with my walking stick. (I was several feet away at this point). After another nudge, it slithered off and I didn’t think anything of it. When I told Jolumin, however, he listened to my description and said it sounded like a pit viper. Haha. Sometimes I forget I’m in a different country where they have things other than garter snakes. Something to keep in mind for the future. Luckily, I wasn’t stupid enough to pick it up.
After an even more brutal day of hiking than the first day, we made it to Kg. Terian… ahead of schedule! It only took us about 6 hours. Considering my knee pulling its little stunt, I didn’t feel bad about that at all.
I got to meet Jolumin’s family (some of them, at least) and share their table for lunch and dinner that day. They were so nice and welcoming, and cooked some amazing food that I really, really enjoyed. At dinner, we had a good conversation about politics, Native Americans, and some current issues regarding the natives in Sabah. Apparently, the government wants to damn off one of the major rivers in the Crocker Range National Park. Doing so would provide a source of energy for many people. It would also force many of the villagers in the park to abandon their homes. This included Jolumin’s family. It was obviously a very important issue to them, and definitely a reminder that everything ends up having a cost. Sometimes it’s worth it, sometimes it isn’t.
After a delicious dinner of rice, onions, egg, fish, and greens served with mushroom soup, we tried some of the family’s home brewed tapioca wine. It was very tasty, and similar to the rice wines that Korea had. But what would an evening of food and drinks be without a little music? Jolumin and his cousin Ambrose busted out two guitars and, after tuning them so they were only a little out of tune, performed a few local songs. I got suckered into playing one of my songs at one point, which was fun.
With the mood so happy, Nature tried to ruin the spirit of the evening by sending a big freakin’ bee to sting me in the neck. That was fun. I shook it off though, and still managed to have a good time. All in all, it was a great night, and I went to bed happy.
We woke up the next morning and I anxiously tested out my knee to see if it had improved. It had… slightly. It wasn’t clicking, but it was still extremely tender and I couldn’t walk without limping. Faced with another 12 km hike that day, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to it.
Honestly though, what was I gonna do? There is no way on Earth I was going to hike 25 km over two days, then chicken out on the final day because my leg hurt. Oh, heck no. So, with cane in hand, I hobbled after Jolumin.
That final day I don’t have much else to write about. It was lots of jungle, lots of mud, lots of plant life, lots of breathtaking views glimpsed through a thick canopy of trees. There were moments I felt like laying down in the mud and giving up, but they were followed by moments where adrenaline surged through my veins and savage expressions fixed themselves onto my face as I pressed on. The cane helped, and I was able to continue on without aggravating my knee further. I was physically exhausted and injured, sure, but the biggest obstacle for me that final day was a mental one.
So, I went back to my hostel and I got all those things. And then I was happy.