I finally managed to join a group heading for 3d/2n into the jungle. Constant inquiries at Han Travel turned-up nothing but luck was on my side when I inquired at Danz located beside Family Restaurant. I was told by pony-tailed Alyas to return at 8pm to confirm as he had 2 couples who had signed-up for the trip already.
The trip was to start the next day, Tuesday. I still had a paid room booking at Durian as I had planned on just a 2d/1n excursion on the 27th but this was the only available group and dates so I had to take it. I was told by the guys at Durian at Han that I could try to get a refund at the Han office in KL which facilitated my accommodation booking.
Back at 8pm, the 2 other couples were there— 2 Dutch guys and a French girl and guy who seemed to be a couple. Alyas explained that he would just charge us RM200 instead of RM280 as we would only have a guide and meals until the 2nd day. He would make his way back to Kuala Tahan on the third day after dropping us off at Bumbun Kumbang where we were to spend our second night. A boat would pick us up at the jetty, 45 minutes away from the hide on the morning of the third day. It was a good deal so we agreed.
At 10:30 in the morning we all assembled at Danz. Neatly laid out were the supplies for each person— a plastic plate, a
plastic cup, a spoon, a pack of noodles, some biscuits, two 1.5 litre bottles of water, a sleeping bag, and an earth pad. The rest of the food and stuff would be carried by our guide. Our original group of 5 had grown to 8 with the addition of 3 Spaniards– two guys and a girl. They would only be doing a 2d/1n junk so they were traveling back to Kuala Tahan with the guide.
As we were packing our stuff, my cup fell on the river and floated away. There goes my early morning coffee. I told Alyas and offered to pay for it but he declined. My pack was full as I had a total of 5 bottles of water plus a can of baked beans, some biscuits, and individually packed slices of fruit cake. I had so much food but not enough change of clothes as I would regret later on when I had to sleep and hike on the same damp shorts I was wearing.
We had to register first at Park HQ where a park officer took note of everything we had in our packs to make sure we brought everything back. I also reserved my bunk bed for Bumbun Kumbang as the Dutch and the French had made their reservations the day before.
We made our way to Kuala Keniam on the Sungai Tembeling, a journey that took approximately an hour and a half. I had the back seat all to myself so I had lots of room to stretch my legs and even lie down a bit. We were given our packed lunch of fried rice and a piece of fried chicken which we ate on the boat.
The Keniam Lodge was right next to the jetty. It was deserted though there were clothes left hanging to dry. If it were a horror movie, it would be the start of a mystery—- where were the lodgers? No clues were left behind. Everything seemed in order. Clothes drying and there was no sign of a struggle. They were probably out on a walk to Bumbun Kumbang.
As we got off the boat, our guide asked us what time we wanted to go back on the third day. 8am, we agreed as the French couple had to be on the 10:30am bus.
8.1 kilometers, our guide told us we started our hike. Our end point was the Kepayang Cave where we were to spend the night.
At the head of the line were the Dutch boys followed by the French couple, then the Spaniards, and me bringing-up the rear.
The first hundred or so meters were easy enough as it was flat. Trees near the Keniam Lodge even had some signs identifying them and there were forest conservation projects around it. As we went deeper into the jungle, the darker it got as massive trees spiraled to the sky forming a dense canopy of greenery. Sweat stained our backs as we tried not to stumble on the dense growth underneath our feet especially the root trees that formed mini obstacle courses. In spite of the humidity, or is it because of the humidity, I kept taking a sip. With the amount of water I had, was rationed 2 bottles per full day and 1 bottle on the third day.
It was a taxing hike as we had to go up and down many hills, cross streams, scramble on fallen trees, duck under branches and more fallen trees. More challenging was walking the length of huge trunks of trees with nothing to hold on to. The trail was quite clear but it would be crazy to go at it without a guide as at certain portions, the trail seemed to be just part of the entire jungle floor.
About an hour and half later, we took a break. The Spaniards, who admitted to be heavy smokers, puffed away while we rested our tired legs. My feet were aching a bit as the leech socks were a little thick and big and filled-up my shoes leaving little room for my toes. But at least it was effectively keeping out the leeches which kept clinging to the French girl.
We were back on the trail again and about half an hour later, we reached some limestone cliffs. We put down our packs and went to a side trail to see a cave perched high on the cliff. There didn’t seem to be any trail that would allow for a closer view. Back on the main trail we hiked to another cave. The cave mouth was big and cool and made a nice place to put our feet up and relax. People aren’t allowed to go up the cave as it was too steep and slippery. Just outside the cave entrance was some dried-up elephant poop. Earlier in the trail we came across some “fresher” ones which our guide said was still warm to the touch.
A leech tried to squiggle through the fabric of my pants I was panicking as I couldn’t pull it out. Our guide deftly flicked it off with a dried twig.
My spirits fell as we started up again and our guide said that it was going to be another four kilometers! He has got to be kidding! That means another two hours! I told him that I saw a sign that said it was just another 1.5k to the cave but he laughed it off and said it was another four kilometers. It’s moments like this when you question the sanity of engaging in this type of activity. Deep inside me I kinda felt that maybe he was just testing us and that we were actually close to Kepayang.
An hour later we did come reach Kepayang Cave. We were either fast walkers or our guide was kidding us. A short scramble and we came to the a really large chamber so big that elephants could probably ballroom dance inside. Indeed, elephants and even tigers do come to the cave for a salt lick. We were told that we had to gather firewood to make a fire to keep animals out. Three months ago, a group failed to set a bonfire and in the middle of the night a tiger came. Fortunate for them, they saw it trying to climb up on the other side of the cave. With that in mind, we unpacked our mats, rested a bit, then went back to the jungle to hunt for firewood. The Dutch boys were really good at it and even got a large log. I managed to find a few twigs and branches while looking for a spot to shit the next morning.
We hanged our wet clothes on some string strung across some rocks then took one of the many plastic sacks piled on one corner. We each chose our personal spot and unpacked our sleeping stuff. Covering the floor was the plastic sack on top of which was the earth pad then finally the sleeping bag.
The cave was damp and had an unpleasant but not very bothersome smell. I had unzipped the lower part of my pants and hanged it to dry. Tucked inside the leech socks, my pants were like a sauna suit and was really wet. I wished I had packed something, even a sarong to change into which one of the Spanish guys did.
Soon, two other groups came— a European family and a mixed crowd of youngish people. I think there were about twenty of us total. Our guide made the bonfire and cooked dinner while we slept a bit.
Canned sardines, canned chicken curry, canned tom yam and steamed white rice never tasted so good. Our guide cold have fed us one of those large caterpillars and we would have probably eaten them out of sheer hunger and tiredness. I ate one of my fruit cakes for dessert.
I snuggled in my sleeping bag and promptly fell asleep. What a day!
Day 2. From the cave to the hide.
It was still a little dark at around 7 in the morning when I woke-up. Everyone was still fast asleep. I went down to the forest for my morning ritual of shitting. I headed to the spot I had chosen the day before— between the fanning roots of a large tree away from the entrance of the cave. The small branch I had put aside was still there. The soil was a little damp but compact which made digging a cat hole a tough task. After shitting, I covered it with some soil and a bunch of twigs and leaves. Then back to the cave to sleep again.
Breakfast was toasted bread and peanut butter. I had three slices as I didn’t want to hike with a heavy stomach.
The trail from the cave to Bumbun Kumbang was much easier. As explained by our guide, there was only hill we needed
to climb unlike the previous day’s hike. We detoured to a nearby cave as the Dutch boys wanted to see some snakes. According to our guide, harmless snakes lived in small holes in the cave and they would feast on the bats fluttering around. Like before, we left our packs on the trail then took a side trail to the cave which was less than 10 minutes away. Butterflies and bats flitted about as we entered a small cave then exited to a clearing to the left of which was the entrance to a chamber. We weren’t really excited about caves and snakes so only the guide and the Dutch boys went in. Besides, you could peer and see the entire chamber which was lit from the sunlight coming through the opening. Unfortunately, no snakes could be seen. “They’ve eaten bats already so they’re all away,” explained the guide. “You promised us snakes! Do we get a refund?” joked the Dutch boys.
Back to the main trail. A particularly nerve-wracking crossing was walking the length of a large trunk that spanned a small stream. Unlike previous crossings, this one was high up and falling off could mean serious injury. Flimsy vines on the right provided a little support. I walked laterally for better balance. We all made it to the other side. Whew!
An hour and a half later we reached the river. One of the groups that had set off earlier were already swimming. I just sat on the shallow part of the river and let the coolness wash over me. Some kids and young adults and even one of the Dutch boys were having a splash jumping from a small perch to the water. I also washed my shoes which had become caked with so much mud you could hardly make out the threading on the soles.
We had our noodles for lunch at small stony outcrop in the middle of the river.
A thirty-minute hike later, we reached Bumbun Kumbang. A path led to the trail to the Terenggan jetty and to the longer trail back to Kuala Tahan. The Spaniards went up to take a quick look at the hide. They went off to the jetty with the guide while we went up to the hide. There were already 4 people there. They probably came from the Terenggan jetty. They were having a late lunch of sandwiches with canned tuna. An Indian-looking guy was putting some cheese rings (junk food) on his sandwich. He probably also puts his fries in his sandwich just like me.
The hide is high above the ground with a long cement staircase that led to it. It was quite spacious and could accommodate 12 people with its 6 wooden double-bunk beds which were also quite big. A long bench lay before the observation window which looked over a small clearing, presumably a salt lick. There was a toilet and running water though I don’t think you could shit on it as the refuse was simply channeled down a long pipe to the ground below. I took an upper bunk bed so the French couple could take the last two lower bunks which were side by side.
I slept a bit and woke up around 6pm. Everyone was really quiet and looking out at the window waiting for an animal. I was too uncomfortable about my damp shorts and damp shirt (I shouldn’t have worn the extra shirt on the way to the hide) to care about animals at that point. Everyone in my group had changed into fresh clothes and I felt like an old damp worn-out rag.
It was still very bright. Since the viewing window was full I decided to just sit on the stairs outside which had a view of the salt lick, albeit a lower one. An hour of waiting and nothing turned-up. Went back inside and had a biscuit dinner. Past 8pm when darkness finally settled in, everyone went to bed. I woke-up around 10 to pee and took a quick look at the salt lick, still no animal. Well, luck wasn’t with us.
Day 3. Lost
We left at exactly 7 in the morning so we could be at the Terenggan jetty by 8am with enough time to spare. We followed the track that was supposed to lead us to the jetty. A stream crossing and an hour later, I told everyone that we seemed to be on the track to Kuala Tahan which would take six hours. French girl had noticed earlier that the yellow squares nailed on the trees were now red which seemed to indicate that it was a different track. We decided to head back. Dutch boys saw a side trail and decided to follow it. A few meters into it French boy said it didn’t seem to be the right one. I mentioned having seen a sign earlier when we set out to which French girl said we should turn back and try to find the sign. It was like a scene from Survivor. I was expecting a vote to come-up. “Who elects to stay on this trail, say ‘aye'”. To my relief, everyone agreed that the most sensible thing to do was to go back to the trail to Bumbun Kumbang. So we backtracked again until we hit the main trail. About ten minutes later, French girl saw a sign, “Trenggan,” that pointed to a side trail. She turned right to follow it and shouted in glee, “Many signs!”
It would have been impossible to see the “Trenggan” sign coming from Bumbun Kumbang as it was facing the direction of the trail coming from Kuala Tahan. So that’s why we missed it. We should have also checked the map first to see that the trail turned left somewhere and didn’t cross the stream. We relied on the trail too much. It was a 45-minute hike and there were all yellow squares nailed on the trees.
Finally we came out of the jungle and into the dilapidated Trenggan Lodge and the wooden jetty. There was no sign of the boat. French girl asked someone from the lodge and said that we would have to wait for it. We tried to flag down a passing boat but the driver and its lone passenger thought we were merely waving. There was no signal so calling Danz was impossible. Fortunately, a boat came to discharge a family of 4 to the jetty. The driver offered to take us back to Kuala Tahan for RM 10 each and said we could just ask for a refund at Danz. Refund or no refund, we were ready to get out of the jungle as it was 10am already and the French couple were sure to miss their bus.
The ride back to Tahan was about thirty minutes. At Danz, Alyas said that the boat had come at 8 but returned since we were not there. Perhaps they all thought we had decided to just hike back to Kuala Tahan as the Dutch boys had originally planned to do so. I guess no one figured out that we might had gotten lost or there was an accident or something.
While the French couple decided on their transport options to Kuala Besut and the Dutch boys looked for a place to shower before catching the bus to Jerantut, I went back to Durian where my room was waiting for me all clean and ready. They had even turned the a/c on so it was really cold when I opened the door and got in. Such a simple pleasure.
I really enjoyed the jungle walk. It was a bit disappointing not to have seen any animals but trekking the path inside the world’s oldest rainforest is like stepping back in time. I imagined that touching the trees was just like laying my hand a million years back. Amazing if you think about it. Standing in the middle of the jungle is a humbling experience as you realize how small you really are amidst your surroundings. Everything in Taman Negara seems big—the trees, plants, even the insects are huge! I’ve never seen such enormous ants before.
One More Walk.
With my clothes left hanging to dry, all showered-up and refueled with a lunch of rice and fish from Nusa Restaurant, I was back at the trails around park headquarters. My legs are still tired, particularly my toes which were squished in my shoes due to the heavy leech socks but there was the entire afternoon waiting for an adventure. I contemplated on taking another shooting the rapids tour but I thought it better to save my money for something else. I tried the trail to Bukit Paya but turned back after ten minutes. The memory of getting on the wrong trail in the innter jungle just earlier in the morning was still fresh in my mind. I headed to Lubok Simpon instead. There was a small crowd there lying on the banks and some were swimming in the lake. I stayed for a while but the tranquility I had found a few days earlier was missing so I left. At Bumbun Tahan there was no one there and no animals either.
Another Night Walk.
That evening, I tried to beat the night walk tour crowd but they were on the trail by the time I got there. I took the path through Mutiara Resort and headed straight to the Bumbun Tahan. The deers were there again and there were not much people at the hide. It was nice to just sit by the viewing window and watch them.