Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Welcome To The Jungle

Taman Negara national park is the pride of Malaysia. This large park contains the oldest primary rainforest in the world (estimated to be 130 million years old) and is home to such animals as the Malayan tiger, Asian elephants, tapirs and many more. All this means that Taman Negara gets about 80,000 tourists every year ... which is why I didn't bother going. Instead I visited Kenong Rimba national park. This small park borders Taman Negara, and therefore contains the same primary rainforest, however very few people have heard of it (even within Malaysia) and so it only gets about 2% of the number of tourists as Taman Negara. I only heard about the place through a chance encounter with a French couple in Mersing who told me about it and about the only company that is allowed to do tours into the park. Upon arriving at the Green Park Guesthouse (which was the name of the aforementioned company) I was told that the tour required a minimum of 2 people, which caused my heart to sink as the previous guests (upon looking in the visitors' log) had checked out a week before; actually they were the French couple I had met previously. This did not look good and I thought I would either have to wait ages for someone to come on the tour with me or I'd have to change my plans. I was in luck though as the next day an Irish couple came along and we had achieved quorum.

So the next day we set off for 3 days in the jungle, and although in that whole time we didn't see any big mammals, it was still immensely rewarding and great fun. The most interesting sights and activities centred around a huge limestone extrusion close to our base camp, which was almost 100m tall and maybe 4km around. Within it were many caves, many of them housing bats (either horseshoe or dusky fruitbats) and various other cave fauna specialised to living in dark conditions, from weird-looking spiders and centipedes to cave racer snakes and a plethora of cockroaches burrowing about in the guano. Apropos of guano, an important lesson learnt whilst exploring these caves: if you're in a cave housing bats, when you look up remember to keep your mouth shut! The limestone caves also contain the rock formations that give the park its name (from what I gather kenong rimba can be translated as "musical instrument"). There is a small cave that contains intricately fluted, hollow stalactites that produce perfect notes when tapped, almost like a natural xylophone. Seeing them alone was worth the trip.

Other activities included a "night-safari" and vine-sliding. The safari was our best chance of seeing animals both small and large, and although there were none of the latter there were plenty of the former. I had never seen so many spiders in my life. The leaf-litter was literally littered with them. Then the vine-sliding was probably one of the scariest things I've ever done: climbing over 20m to the top of a rocky outcrop, then swinging out by means of a vine to a suspended tree root, and then sliding all the way down. It's probably not that hard, but it's the fact that once you're on the root there's no way back, coupled with my absolute lack of upper-body strength that made it so hairy. Another thing I've discovered is that I sweat a lot. This doesn't really bother me from a personal hygiene point of view, but there is one significant drawback to it when in the jungle. Sweat contains salt, as I'm sure you all know, and that is one commodity that is in short supply in the jungle. Therefore when animals, and in the case large bees especially, find a ready supply of the stuff they swarm towards it. So whenever I sat down for more than a few minutes at a time I would begin to attract a large cloud of bees centred upon myself. Still, I only got stung once.

Anyway, I'm alive and I've made it back in one piece (apart from the copious amounts of blood siphoned off by the mozzies) and am heading off for the tranquil waters of the South China Sea (and the sandflies that inhabit its beaches).

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