Monday, March 27, 2006

Rumble in the jungle

Entering the Taman Negara National Park by boat, you travel upriver for about 3 hours passing monkeys on the river banks to the small town of Kuala Tahan and the park headquarters.

The attraction of the park is its 4000 sq. km of primary rainforest that has been steadily doing its thing here, supposedly unimpeded by ice-ages and continental drift, for over 130 million years.

Although it's only about 28'C in the jungle, it is incredibly humid and when we went for a hike we were immediately drenched with sweat. Our hike included a canopy trail on rope-walkways swinging in the tree-tops 50m above the jungle floor.

A lot of the time the vegetation was so dense that you couldn't actually see the ground to tell how high you were. It was fun, but a large local group ahead of us was shrieking and laughing so much that it shattered what could have been a magical ambiance.

We were however, very lucky to have a family of wild boar rush across the trail behind us a few minutes later - the mother came charging along first, crashing heavily through the bushes, followed moments later by two anxious youngsters. It was a slightly terrifying moment, but over before we could react, and a reminder that some very large animals (elephants and rhinosceroses) are at large in this jungle.

We saw several monitor lizards, a dead scorpion, and watched two hornbills arguing loudly as they flew over us, but fortunately no snakes. Our other memorable wildlife encounter was the discovery of a leech on my leg (see the photo on Katie's blog). We had prepared for leeches by wearing long trousers (unbearably hot) and long socks which we had sprayed with insect repellent - but apparently this hadn't deterred this fellow.

You can't just pull a leech off because (like a tick) it's teeth are embedded in your skin in the relaxed state, so you only succeed in separating its body from its head which remains firmly attached. What you need to do is persuade it to let go before you kill it. People use cigarettes to burn the leech, or sprinkle salt on them. We tried a squirt of 100% DEET which was like spraying holy water on a vampire - my interloper started writhing in disgust and suddenly there was blood all over my leg. It didn't fall off though, and I finally had to flick it off with a stick.

At this point Katie started squeeling and hopping about - "oh, Oh, OH! There's one trying to get into my shoe!". It was trying to bite into her sock and when we went after it with the stick it made a determined effort to burrow into the crack between her sock and the shoe. We had just managed to extract this one when we noticed two more coming at us across the leaves, one from each side. It was like that scene in King Kong where the creepy crawlies keep coming out of the rocks from all sides.

Leeches have a decidedly predatory way of moving. There is no mistaking them for anything safely vegetarian like a slug or a caterpillar (although I remember seeing them as a child, after they had gorged themselves when they expand to the size of a small slug and can barely move - they just fall off their hosts). They move rapidly and confidently towards dinner like an athletic inch-worm with a mission - taking a quick sniff between steps. They're very creepy, especially so when they're all around you.

I watched one advance towards me from several yards (while Katie was pleading for us to get out of there). It headed straight at me, until it was between my shoes, sniffed left and right then turned 90 degrees and went straight for my right foot. Clearly it was not a great place to hang around.

We headed back to our guest house where we celebrated the glory of our cold shower (and thoroughly inspected each other for lingering blood-suckers).

We had been trying to find a cheap way to fly from Singapore to Bali, since that would be preferable to our OneWorld ticket which goes from Kuala Lumpur to Bali via Hong Kong with an inconvenient overnight 12 hour layover). Unfortunately there are no discount airlines serving this route yet, and we were just about out of time, so we stuck to the original plan and headed to KL.


lucyjackson69244609 said...

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Thursday, March 30, 2006 8:41:46 AM  

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