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Andy’s Travel Diary

Tuesday, 01 Aug 2006

Location: Taman Negara, Malaysia

MapJERANTUT, TAMAN NEGARA AND THE BED BUG CAFE
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My next stop in Malaysia was Jarentut where i would spend one night sorting out my trip to Taman Negara, the oldest rainforest in the world!

Jarentut is small, boring and uninteresting. No other reason to go there other than it is the last point one can resupply on essentials before heading to Taman Negara. Essentials being socks for leeches (to prevent them, not for them as such), uber-strength mozzie repellant, jungle boots (bah - decided my flip flops would be fine) et cetera.

Got a minibus to the boat departure point where we jumped into a small, traditional Malaysian long boat and set off on a three hour journey up a wide, brown river flanked on both sides by ever deepening jungle filled with monkeys, yaks, and numerous types of birds.
A number of boat wrecks littered the banks, which i tried my hardest to ignore…

Felt rather like i was in Apocalypse Now.

Stayed in a small hut in the middle of a tiny village perched on the banks of the river, with the national park on the other side. Met three english guys (Mark, John and Andy) and we all spent most nights playing cards due to the exhorbitant cost of alcohol (as a result of prudish Malaysian taxes and the cost of transport to this remote village) and the lack of any bars.

Could only afford two activities in the park. The first was a trip to an Orang Asli (one of the indigenous tribes of Malaysia) village. Small, dirty and spartan, the camp consisted of a half dozen bamboo huts with fern leaf roofs covered in blue plastic sheets (slightly tarnished the feel of authenticity). They were raised a foot or so off the ground and were no bigger than two metres square and…well thats it.

In one corner sat a group of women making useful implemets like combs out of bamboo and tending to the youngest children. Apparently the men only go hunting, the reason being they argue they do not have the patience for domestic chores. Amazing how one will accept almost anything if a back handed compliment is offered. So the men generally sat on the bare ground of the camp smoking and idley passing the time. The children provided most of the movement, noise and spectacle, laughing and giggling, jumping and playing (with nothing to amuse themselves except each other and their imaginations). They have nothing material, but that does not matter. We could learn alot!

I felt very intrusive. Our guide, who called himself the Dragon (i have no idea…) told us to explore the camp so we tentatively strolled around, looking mainly at the floor through fear of being disrespectful.

Unfortunately rubbish was strewn all over the floor of the houses. Crisp packets, coca cola bottles, plastic bags et cetera. Testament i think to the arrangement the tribe has to the national park and state authorities which is supposed to be beneficial to both (the park does not want to constantly keep finding the tribe moving on and therefore losing a source of tourist revenue) but appeared to erode the lifestyle of the Orang Asli somewhat, not least by ‘inhibiting’ their nomadic lifestlye.

One of the tribesmen demonstrated to us how they make fire. I had a go as no one else would but with no luck and to much amusement from the onlooking men. They also showed us their hunting weapons, a blow pipe and poison darts, how these are made and then each of us had a go at hitting a target. Was surprisingly good. Didn’t hit it of course, but at last i managed to hit the surrounding area rather than a child.

Afterwards, the Dragon urged us to take alook in their houses. Too much for me. If i felt intrusive before i found this offer downright rude; we were not in a fake, living museum where we could peruse and pry at will. This was a village, people’s homes, and lifestyle. It’s one thing to be invited to see how they hunt, another to walk into their houses and start inspecting their beds! Very uncomfortable.

It was illuminating to see the tribe and village, how authentic it was i do not know.

Next day woke up early to enter the National park and go on a jungle trek. The Dragon lectured me strongly on my choice of fashion and footwear. Jeans, a studded belt and flip-flops just don’t cut it like a safari outfit and a sturdy pair of trekking boots. I could see his point, i didn’t exactly look like Livingstone but I dismissed his concerns like an annoying fly. “How hard can it be?!” i smugly asked the person next to me.

The intial hour and half were fine. Dragon led us deeper into the forest, stopping at times to explain some interesting plant or tree, or informing us of the history of this forest. 130 million years old! Felt very exotic. Tunnels made of dense foliage, 3000 year old giant trees draped with ancient vines, towering palms and the constant hum and commotion of thousands upon thousands of insects and birds. At night the noise can be deafening.

We arrived in a clearing for the canopy walk. I did one of these in SW Australia, but this was different. Not only was it measurably higher (over 40 metres high) but also provided an added experience: fearing for ones life. Strap a few rotting, broken planks of wood together, throw some creaking, mouldy rope and moth eaten chicken rope mesh which in places had split and then been knotted back together rather haphazardly and you have one very wobbly and unstable attraction. But an attraction nonetheless. Stunning views of the upper canopy which stretched even higher in places and when i could see the jungle floor (which, due to the rainforest density weas not much) it was enough to induce wild panic, especially when it was through the holes in the planks of wood. suffice it to say, i crawled along and held the whole 2 hour queue up.

After this we undertook some savage ranforest/mountain trekking up steep hills consisting of stepped tree roots, muddy paths through dense thickets and rocky passes until eventually we arrived at the lookout onto the surrounding misty hills and mountains. My companions were gracious enough not to mention my fashion choices once we had returned to base camp, sweaty, muddy and exhausted. That night i gorged myself on a meal in one of the floating restaurants on the river.

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Despised bug of the week:
Bed Bugs!!!
Woke up early the morning i was heading to Taman Negara (TN). Felt slightly itchy. Looked down to see my bed covered in the tiny (and some not so tiny!) critters. Absolutely disgusting. They bite in a row and i was literally covered in them. I counted a hundred on each arm, many more on my legs and my back looked like red paint had been splattted over it. I had become an overnight bed-bug cafe! Really dispiriting. They itch far more than mozzie bites and last longer as well. They are a constant, irrepresible nuisance that cannot be satisfied. Itching them merely inflames the problem. Lowest point of my trip so far (which has been generally free from low points). Still they are transient and so was this low point.

Despised hostel of the week:
Hotel Sri Emas. Scene of the crime!