Sri Lanka seems to have everything for the adventurous-minded. Amazing wildlife, lush mountain hikes, ancient ruins of past civilisations, colonial forts, cups of tea and relaxing beaches. But where to begin?Read more
Wessel was complaining that he thought he had malaria. He felt feverish and nauseous. I said that that was highly unlikely; like all of us, he had been taking his daily Doxycycline, and we were in winter, not prime mosquito season. Besides, I imagined someone with malaria would probably feel significantly worse than Wessel.Read more
There’s a place in Borneo to see Orangutans, and it’s not a zoo. It’s Semenggoh Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, just outside of Kuching, where the animals are gradually re-introduced to the wild. The apes are rescued, orphaned, or injured, and despite needing human assistance for feeding, they have free reign over the jungle that the centre is located in.
I took the bus from Kuching, a green-and-gold antique that rattled and shambled down the well-worn Bornean road. Next to me, a smiling Malaysian lady of about fifty sat down and immediately launched into a chat about Kuching, about Borneo, and about who I was. I explained where I was from and where I was going. She was friendly (as many Malaysians are) and offered me some sort of tiny apple from her grocery bag. When she got off at her stop, a couple from behind me tapped me on the shoulder.
The quest took place in the Osa Peninsula, a jungle region sprouting off the south west of Costa Rica’s slender frame. Cindy and I arrived in gateway town Puerto Jimenez; getting here took two buses from coastal surfer town Uvita, a 3 hour stop at a petrol station (where we ate some kind of cold roadside fish soup), and a many hours sweating it out with the locals on their bumpy bus routes.
However, when National Geographic dubs a place as ‘the most biologically diverse place on earth’, you know it’s going to be worth it.
The hostel was Celvante Jungle Hostel, 5 kays out of town, surrounded by rich, green jungle, drowned out by the string instruments of insects and throating squawking of birdlife. No bedroom walls, just mosquito nets. A large, relaxed common room brought travellers together over communal dinner as pet cats hunted psychotic, dive-bombing cicadas. The cicadas were crazy, yes, but in the jungle I knew there was even more lucrative wildlife to be seen…
I ticked an item off my bucket list in Chiang Mai. I rode an elephant. It felt strange to step on it’s great grey head as I boarded it, but once the docile pachyderm lumbered lazily along the path, I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face. I admired it’s ancient face and envied it’s cheeky child-like attitude. Its rough skin was the shell of a coconut spotted with sparse wiry hair, it’s ears were huge, overcooked pancakes. The betel-chewing driver hit it on the head with a cruel spiked stick now and then; controlling it around the short jungle path seemed hard work, but the animal eventually and lazily complied. The curious trunk would occasionally unroll backwards, presenting us with two pink floating nostrils, noisily sucking in air as it demanded treats of sugar cane. Read more
Kuching means ‘cat’ in Malay, and you don’t have to look very far to find evidence of it’s association. Stone statues of cat families and sculptures of proud bronze felines overlook many of the city’s roundabouts, and adorn it’s manhole covers. Kuching has a cool charm, an easy magnetism centered around it’s riverside boardwalk and surrounding markets and restaurants. At night the boardwalk melts into two halves, an elongated, shimmering twin of coloured night lights floating carelessly in the reflection of the river. Kuching reminds me of Sydney’s Darling Harbour on a quiet weeknight. I had ten days to spend there but thought it a bit long. So I changed my plans.
The plane’s propellors whirled to a stop one by one as the pilot parked at Mulu National Park terminal. The landing had been bumpy, swerving nervously in response to imperfections on the tarmac of the jungle airstrip. ‘Jungle airstrip’, I smiled to myself. It was my childhood of Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, Talespin and Tintin. Mulu National Park, in Sarawak’s far north, was an entirely different beast to Bako N.P. I liked Bako for it’s wildlife and ‘do it yourself’ trekking. Amazing natural formations were Mulu’s claim to fame, boasting some of the world’s biggest caves, tour guides a nessecity.
“Enjoy it, man”, Tom said as I walked past, a backpacker from Liverpool who was travelling with his New Zealander girlfriend, Sarah. “Will do”, I replied, as I set off into the jungle. I had met them days earlier in Kuching, capital city of Sarawak, on the West Coast of Borneo. They were sitting on the dock, waiting to take the boat back to Bako Bazaar and back to Kuching. For me, however, it was my first full day in Bako National Park, and I had chosen a 3.5km hike through the jungle to find a waterfall buried high in the mountain. I had been chatting with them the previous night, they had done the hike the previous day, and warned me of the hard work, and litres of water, required to complete it.
Bako national park is only accessible by charter boat from Bako Bazaar. The visitor’s centre and cafeteria, flanked by timber hostel rooms were all that remained of civilization. It was idyllically located, on a stretch of muddy beach, facing pristine waters of turquoise, guarded on each side by giants, sea stacks of rocks, thousands of years of erosion poking holes through the sandstone. The jungle was tall and green, palms and vines already swallowing the lodgings. From the visitor’s centre, labyrinthine trails snaked into the park, some less than kilometer, others taking over a day to finish and a speedboat to return.
The first 30 minutes on my trail were hard. The path was unmistakably easy to identify, but that’s where the comforts stopped. Clambering uphill over boulders and ancient tree roots wrestling uncomfortably over the ground, this hike required all four limbs to finish. At the plateau, I took a long drink of water. The terrain had changed to a rocky escarpment, the trees had thinned, and the sun beat down mercilessly. The humidity was 100%, temperature easily in the mid thirties, and I was bathed in sweat. I wiped my face, and droplets just as soon appeared. “Only 3 more kilometers of this. Plus the way back”, I thought.
As the hours wore on, the landscape changed from steaming jungles of palms and roots, to decrepit boardwalks passing over dry scrubland, to white-hot sandy gullies, and enchanted forests of moss-covered logs, butterflies and beams of light shooting through the canopy. I reached the waterfall after about 2 1/2 hours. It trickled down a cascade of rocks, collecting in a big brown pool. It wasn’t much to look at, but it was all about the journey there. Two Czech guys arrived, in an identical state of fatigue, disappointed with what they say. “I’ve seen better”, one of them explained.
Back at my lodge after the return journey, after a cold shower, at long last out of my singlet which had doubled in size from the weight of the perspiration, I sat on the porch and opened my book. The sky changed. An ugliness of grey filled the air and the trees in an instant. Strong winds lashed the treetops, testing the bend of the palms to their limit. At the click of a finger, the rain began to fall in buckets. Lightning and avalanches of thunder accompanied the smashing of branches, breaking of trees, and the scatter of long-tailed macaques and bearded pigs to their shelter. I watched in awe with my dorm mates, at the fury of the Borneo wet, feeling lucky to be undercover.
That was day 2. I’m back in Kuching now, in civilization, after my 3 nights in Bako, eager for a hot shower and a cold ice coffee.
The door swings open and Matt stands in the doorway of the humid jungle bar, khaki clad, dabbing beads of sweat off his neck with a hankerchief. The jungle mist rolls past his feet, and the sound of insects invades the room, drowning out the beat of the fan. Derrick sits at a corner table, eyeing a shot of vodka. Wearing a beard and headband, he has been missing for months. “what took you so long”, he challenges Matt. Without lifting his gaze, he downs the shot. Rising, he meets Matt, staring each other down. Breaking the tension, they shake hands, a fierce monkey-grip. Breaking into a smile, Matt speaks. “Derrick, you son of a bitch, you’re alive!”
Im flying to Borneo tomorrow! Feeling a bit stir crazy in the madness of kuala lumpur. If it’s even half as exciting as that mental picture in my head, it should be awesome!