Monday, February 14, 2011

Into the wild, into the Taman Negara NP

After three days in KL it was about time to say Goodbye to my awesome couchsurfing host Jason. Next destination: Taman Negara National Park in the centre of the Malaysian peninsula. Because time was a crucial factor in my whole travel itinerary I was pretty keen on making it to the bus station very early, but to get there I had to take Jason’s offer to drive me to a metro station first and take a train to the bus. A three hours bus journey to Jerantut and a 30 min taxi ride brought me to the jetty in Kuala Tembling, from where a boat left for another 3 hours drive on a river system through the rainforest. It sounds like a long and exhausting journey, but the opposite is true. In the bus I could sleep, from the taxi I could see nice nature and in the boat I met my new travel companion Katharina and again could see amazing parts of the 130 million year old rainforest.

When we arrived in Kuala Tahan, the tourist basis of the national park, we just in time escaped the agent selling tour packages. Katharina and I both agreed in looking for our own place to stay and explore the forest by ourselves. Since it was low season, prices for accommodation were cheap according to the few people staying. We decided to stay in a little hut off the centre and do jungle walks and canopy trails from there. On the day of our arrival we just explored a bit of the city, made plans for the next days and were relaxing.

The second day was reserved for a walk through the rainforest and doing the longest canopy trail in the world. Therefore we had to take a small ferry to the other side of the river, get some information and maps for the jungle and finally make the first contact with the local wildlife, as the picture with the millipede is proving. According to our map and clock, we used pretty much time to walk the 1.2 km to the Canopy Garden, but that of course must have happened after taking heaps of pictures in the jungle.

The Canopy Walk was a very highlight, because its dimensions are just incredible. Along the 530 m swinging bridges we could see through and above the trees from up to 40 m height. Monkeys howled from every side, but we actually couldn’t see too many of them. Nevertheless we enjoyed the walking and crawling and didn’t want to let it end. Therefore it was reasonable to have a little break with cookies in the tree crowns.

Since we didn’t had enough of hiking, it was compulsorily for us to walk some more kilometers to the 334 m high Teresek Hill, from where we gained a very beautiful view over almost the entire forest. On the way there we’ve even seen squirrels, monkeys (probably Macaque), a very rare big black bird with a white tale, face and huge bick (most likely a Hornbill bird), heaps of leeches and millipedes. What slowed us down this time was rather taking off the leeches from our ankles than taking pictures! These nasty beasts “luckily” only attached Katharina and spared me out ;-) On the way back to our accommodation we also found a river, which was perfect to find a rest after the whole day of walking. I guess that more comfortable and convenient nature and forest friends like the tour participants on boat tours would miss out most of the beauty of such activities. Additionally, in a survival of the fittest like the ants on the following picture were fighting those lazy boat people probably would have become pretty wet.

Day 3 brought quite some change, because Katharina was traveling to that crowded Hindu Festival at the Batu Caves and I moved into another accommodation. I had only one day left before I wanted to go to the tea plantations in Cameron Highlands, so what to do in the rainforests? Right, another walk… This time on my own and maybe in a more jungle-parkour way of doing! Therefore I had chosen a 14 km track bringing me along a cave and to some waterfalls, but unfortunately the park authority prohibited me to go there. Their understandable reasons were that rocks were falling down from the caves sealing and thus it must have been closed as well as the fact that even experienced guides don’t find that area of the waterfalls anymore, because wild elephants regularly destroy the paths. After long time of still considering, I decided to go for plan B, which was the 18 km walk to some cascades. And this was very adventurous, I can tell you!
Macaque monkeys started to throw some fruits from the high tree crowns right when I entered the forest, but I guessed they just wanted some attention… Initially I intended not to stop for too many pictures, but of course I couldn’t take long until I was again clicking with my camera. Mostly I was shooting photos with plants, but the more deep I walked into the forest the more signs of animals I noticed. Tapir trays, millipedes, hens, monkeys, squirrels, everywhere! I was even lucky enough to see flying lemur, when it was jumping to another tree and a more than 2 m long snake! Most of them are surely to shy and too fast for a camera, but still they seemed not to be bothered by my presence. Still, trees are obviously the better photo models, so I again was playing a little with them. It’s kind of fun to climb liana or trunks though.

After being more than 3 hours alone I suddenly heard some voices from behind. As I would have lived in the forest for years and be not used to humans I decided to move a little faster. I definitely wanted to avoid joining the group, because if they are so loud even though I couldn’t see them, then they would ruin the whole nature experience. Unfortunately there was the problem with all those leeches! Every few minutes I had to make a stop to take several leeches off my shoes and ankles, and they were really annoying! Not only that they were everywhere, but also the issue with them being very slippery and hard to pull off … So, the two French guys closed the gap between us and we were now the three of us. It happened that we met right in front of a river, about what I was sure that we have to cross it. Somehow they were neither prepared with a map nor very keen on standing in hips-high water, so I needed all my strength to convince them! At the end we took the “risk to get eaten by huge snakes” and made it to the other side while one of those boats with two tourists was passing us.

An hour later we arrived at the cascades, where we had a nice time swimming and eating cookies, the only supply I brought. At this stage we also met the boat people, who told us that they’ve been very surprised to see other people so far away from the main village and even walking on their own ;-) .. For me it just sounded funny! Luckily for all of us, they had exactly two seats available in the boat, so of course I gave the two French guys the right of way, because they honestly would have begged to sit in that boat. Everybody was apologizing very much to leave me all in the forests, 8.5 km away from the base, at 5 pm and the knowledge the soon occurring sunset. For me it was totally fine, because it would give me the opportunity again to meet some animals and real nature. They only thing what I had to take care of, was not to take as many pictures as on the way up, because another 4.5 hours would definitely be to long concerning the rising dark. And for some reason they couldn’t afford to give me some water, so I had to get along with my few sips left… All that made me decide to run back! I wanted to turn the walk into a jungle run, like a competition to see their surprised faces how fast I could come back. Of course I wasn’t running all the 8.5 km, because the leeches needed some attention, I slowed down for a snake and was refreshing in the river, but still the result was 2 hours 15 min of fun, jumping over fallen trees, robbing through bushes and most excitingly swinging on liana to move over 2-3 m long and deep passages.

Back in the village I needed to go to the internet, because I had just remembered to change my original return flight tickets to end July 2011 (half a year extension for Malaysia, Indonesia and probably another move…). And guess who I met there! My fellows from the cascades were definitely surprised to see me back so early!