Page 2: In Malayan jungle

Morning stroll into
the leafy darkness

Nothing happens in the night except for a matchbox-sized shoeshine-black beetle dropping onto your arm. For a moment you are seized with the wild hope it is one of those rare specimens that Japanese entomologists will pay a small ransom for. Sadly it is neither a prized rhino nor a goliath beetle, just a common creepy crawlie.

On Sunday morning you wake with a stiff neck and stiff back from lying on good ol’ Mother Earth. Everyone assembles in Indian file for a trek, led by several Orang Asli guides – one in front, one in the middle and one at the back to make sure no one strays. The route is just six km, no more than a leisurely stroll to you, who regard a 10-km midnight run as the ideal cure for insommia.

The stroll starts along a muddy track where you see elephant dungs and the spoor of tapirs, mousedeer, boars, sun bears and wild buffaloes. You did not realise that while you were asleep, the animals were out having a wild time (hence the term, wild life).

The group then turns off the track into the deep, leafy forest, following the Orang Asli along an almost imperceptible path. It is up hill, down hill, sometimes following parallel to the stream and sometimes cutting across the water. While wading through the stream, you feel thirsty, and, following the example of the others, you scoop a generous portion of the crystal riverine liquid with your plastic bottle and pour the water down your parched gullet.

The stream flows out to a placid pond, a few hundred metres across. The group takes a breather on the bank and you take the opportunity to inspect your legs and arms for leeches. Aaargh! Here’s a leech on your right ankle and here’s another on your left thigh and yet another on the left ankle. You want to faint as you see rivulets of blood flowing down your legs but you can’t do that in front of the weaker sex (or are you the weaker sex?).

So you take out your little bottle of Tiger Balm paste, your secret weapon against all unfriendly creeps, and dab a generous portion on each black, wriggly leech. Nothing happens. You apply a bigger portion of the ointment. You have almost exhausted your Tiger Blam before you manage to convince the horrid critters to get off your skin. You learnt much later that only the rain forests of Queensland, Australia do not have leeches. But you also learnt there are bigger creepy crawlies Down Under, such as crocodiles.

The leisurely stroll turns out to be a vigorous full-morning trek with a lunch stop at another waterfall, where you munch on a hard-boiled egg, biscuits, raisins, sandwiches and an apple. You glow with fatigue when you return to the camp site, half-listening to your birding companion saying she has spotted an orange-bellied flowerpecker and a purple-throated sunbird. You feel thankful that garrulous bird-watchers are as rare as Sumatran rhinoceros.

By late afternoon, the tents are dismantled and everything loaded back onto the boats for your downstream return to civilisation.

This account was first published in The Straits Times on June 12, 1999. The trip was organised by Wheels for Fun, an events and tour company. – Francis Chin

Drinking water from a jungle stream
Walking Indian file in the jungle stream
Water from the crystal river refreshes

Although the river is ankle- to knee-deep, you have to tread with care, preferable holding a stave for support, because the current is strong and the river bed filled with slippery rocks and pebbles. 
The burden and trash of civilisation are packed and carried out of the camp site when your group depart