Thursday 18th August 2016
I now walk into the wild 1
The proposition of trekking through the jungle to explore the numerous capes/bays/beaches/sea cliffs of Bako National Park is an enticing one. Thus, I am in high spirits as I await the local public transport at an unmarked bus stop in Kuching City. Just now, a minivan pulls over and I am assured by the unofficial driver that he is much quicker than the bus for only a fraction extra cost. Thanks to a classic Malaysian opportunistic business scheme, I (along with a van load of tourists) race along the highway and arrive at Kampung Bako well before the official bus crawls in.
Given that the trail appears to be forbidden, I choose not to sign the walkers registration book. And so begins my journey, into the wild. This repressed memory is so strong that even the map I have been provided with appears to indicate that a significant portion of the park is closed. Logically I realise that this cannot be the case. Why would anybody close such a large proportion of a national park in the peak season for walking? Thus, I am well aware that my senses are not to be trusted.
A sympathetic macaque monkey notices my struggle and pauses to ask if I'm okay. I inform him that I feel as though I'm overheating, drenched in sweat, my energy levels are low, and I'm quite thirsty; apart from that I haven't got a worry in the world thankyou very much. And how is life treating my little primate friend? Better than fair, it so turns out. Dr Cavendish spends much of his time ambling about the local rainforest; has a knack for procuring tasty treats from naive American tourists; sports several admiring girlfriends; and most usefully, boasts a degree in medicine. The doctor is quick in his diagnosis of heat exhaustion and have I been experiencing any hallucinations lately? I assure the kind doctor that he needn't worry, as I haven't experienced anything too far outside the realms of normality; and besides who could say what defined normal these days anyway. The understanding doctor nods philosophically, sucks on his pipe thoughtfully and mumbles something about declining moral standards in this day and age. Suddenly Dr Cavendish remembers that his heavily pregnant (fifth) girlfriend is due to give birth at any moment now. Curtly excusing himself, the good doctor claps his hands, does a triple twirl, curls his tail into a knot, performs a backflip and disappears abruptly in a puff of purple haze.
Suddenly, a huge explosion echoes through the sky. Shocked by the unexpected interruption to the constant ambient hum of the thriving jungle, I am administered with a surge of adrenalin. Peering through the thick canopy into the sky overhead, the conditions do not indicate an oncoming storm. My initial thought is that a bomb has detonated somewhere relatively nearby. Could Bako HQ have been attacked as a popular destination for western tourists? Perhaps this section of track was cordoned off to allow for a secret military training camp? A short while later, the sky darkens considerably and I realise that it is only a matter of time before a tropical downpour is to commence. I am exhausted, dehydrated and possibly delusional.
Given that a tropical storm is to occur, the solution must be some combination of the two factors then: A military experiment to control the weather. My role here is to uncover the dubious activities of the Malaysian military. I am essentially James Bond. But without the suit. Or the gadgets. Or a fast car. Also lacking - and perhaps most importantly - is the dalliance with an attractive Russian beauty baring a name notoriously demeaning to her gender.
The rain arrives. Despite the cooling effect, I still find the shower somewhat irritating. Stumbling along the grueling trail in the beginning of a heavy downpour I come across a small cave. Shelter. Stopping to rest, I consider my current predicament. I have trekked 10.3 kilometres from the beginning of the trail, almost 3 kilometres short of the two bays I am aiming to visit. At my current rate, in my current condition, the final destination could just as well be a continent away. It is getting dark and I have only a few sips of water remaining. I have sweated considerably throughout this journey and the initial three litres I carried has been insufficient to replace lost fluids.
Friday 19th August 2016
I don’t want to know what time it is. I don’t want to know what day it is or where I am. None of that matters. 1
Placing a tick next to item number one-thousand-three-hundred-and-seventeen on my bucket list (spend a night sheltering in a cave deep in the Bornean jungle), my next priority is to find water. Packing up before the heat of the day well and truly sets in, I emerge from my experience not quite invigorated. Continuing to stumble along the overgrown path, all I can think about is finding water - preferably flowing. I am slow and still lacking in energy as I'm relying on finding water for a cooked breakfast. The track seems even less distinct than I've trekked up to this point. At 10.7 kilometres I spend a considerable period of time bashing through thick forest and untangling myself from prickly vines in pursuit of several false trails that appear to lead nowhere.
I'm hot. Tired. Thirsty. Hungry. Grumpy. I want to go home. I give up. Turning around, I trudge past my dependable cave. It isn't long before I come across a puddle of stagnant water. Slouching to the ground, I collect some of the tannin liquid before assembling my ever-reliable liquid-fuelled stove. Pressurising the stove, I release a generous portion of ethanol into the priming cup before striking a light. The fuel flares up briefly before burning itself out. After a couple more attempts, I concede that the so-called-ethanol purchased at a so-called-hardware-store in Kuching is probably so dilute that I would be better off using it as drinking water.
Arriving at Tajor Waterfall, I remove my sweaty clothing and go for a quick swim (crossing my fingers in the hope that no crocodiles lie beneath the murky water). Feeling a little refreshed, I finish the remainder of my biscuit supply before the final leg of my outlandish two-day adventure. Beyond the waterfall the track is straightforward, allowing for a swift finish to the trek. Just as I arrive at the designated campground, a heavy downpour commences. I figure these regular thunderstorms coming in from the South China Sea must have something to do with the mysterious magical practice known as science. Either that, or Thor has a particularly strong presence here at Bako National Park.
After showering, I assess the damage. Scratched arms, hands and legs. Bruise on right thigh. Swollen ankle. Strained(?) ligament behind knee. Grazed toes - both feet. Psychological damage: immeasurable. On the positive(?) side, I did get to sleep in a cave.
Saturday 20th August 2016
It is the experiences, the memories, the great triumphant joy of living to the fullest extent in which real meaning is found. 1
Today is do all the stuff you were supposed to do at Bako National Park and take a few photos while you're at it day. After eating a lot of fried noodles from the cafeteria, I set off along the trail carrying a nice light daypack. Observing a few proboscis monkeys around the mangroves, I continue to the delightful little Paku Bay. I spend a few moments sitting quietly on the beach before the trail calls me onward.
Returning along the trail I check out the inspiring view to Pandan Besar Bay, before climbing down to an equally inspiring Pandan Kecil Bay. Here I come across a group of Kuching college students playing some bizarre game inside a rectangular area drawn in the sand. The straightforward activity can be systematically explained as follows: Students chase each other around in circles. People yell loudly. The activity stops for a few moments. People start running in circles again. Lots more yelling occurs. People stop running around. Despite the obvious excitement around the game, I decide to wade into the water for another swim. Wary of the lack of English tourists, I limit my depth and exposure time.
After watching the sun set over Mount Santubong, I eat a large plate of fried noodles from the cafeteria before lounging about with a novel. I retire for the night as Thor again threatens to throw his hammer around after controversially losing a game of bridge against other local deities.
Sunday 21st August 2016
So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun. If you want to get more out of life, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty. 1
Today is don't exert yourself in the slightest, you've got nothing to prove and besides its far too hot to do anything strenuous anyway day. The day begins - as all good days do - with a large portion of fried noodles from the cafeteria. The day continues in a lazy manner, as I lounge about after breakfast engrossed in an excellent novel (The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson in case anyone's actually interested). I then go for a lethargic stroll along the shallow waters of Assam Beach. Then I read some more.
The moral of the story is what then? Eat more fried noodles, I guess.
1 From Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild