On the Shady Side

I think I saw a tapir in the wee hours of the morning. It was just barely starting to get light when I heard something trampling the bushes outside of the hide. I looked down into the clearing and saw a faint pig-like shape. By the time the sun had truly come up, however, the creature was long gone. After breakfast, we hiked a quarter mile to the Blau boat jetty and waited there for a passing boat that we could potentially hail. The Germans had told us that the park service would pick people up at this jetty if they had arranged it ahead of time for a ride back to the main entrance to the national park. Although we had received this information a little late, we figured it was worth a try to ship our gear back to where we started via boat. The prospect of a four-hour hike back over those hills with all of our luggage was too much for us at that point. After waiting for about 45 minutes to no avail (a couple of boats passed that appeared to be run by some of the area lodges but they weren’t about to stop for hitchhikers), Becky and Zach decided that they would hike back without any gear and then arrange for a boat to come back and get Ade and I.

Within another 30 minutes, however, a small motorized longboat came by, heading down river in the direction of Jerantut. We waived down the boat, which contained two young men who seemed to be no older than 18, and asked them to take us back to park headquarters. I asked what it would cost us for the ride, but they didn’t know and seemed to indicate that they would ask the owners of the boat once we arrived. As we sped away from the jetty, however, the engine sputtered and started to stall. Soon after that, it did stall and we started floating downriver back in the direction we had come. It occurred to me that any rescue team sent by the other two students would not think to look for us downstream of where started out, but no sooner had the thought occurred to me than the boys got our engine started and we continued on the 20 minute ride to the park entrance.

As soon as we arrived at one of the floating restaurants and had off-loaded our gear, however, the boys shoved off again and continued their journey without asking for any money whatsoever. Ade kept an eye on our luggage while I took a water taxi back to the dock on the south side of the Tahan River. I decided to walk back in the direction of the hide in order to meet up with Becky and Zach and soon came across them as they descended the last steep slope together. It was about 10 am, they had taken about 2 hours to cover the distance without gear. We soon decided to repeat the previous day’s plan by eating brunch at a floating restaurant before heading back into the jungle. After our meal, we caught a water taxi back across the Tembeling River and walked back into Taman Negara proper. The entrance to the national park was dotted with cabins, a restaurant, as well as some other park buildings. We walked past these in the direction of that night’s hide- Bumbun Tabing. A ways ahead of us, we could see that the path was roped off just before it entered a campsite filled with tents. We therefore turned left at a fork which led off in a southerly direction. We stopped at a shed with a couple of guys inside and asked them “Tabing?” pointing in the direction we were traveling. They nodded.

The path led closer and closer to the Tahan River, descending towards its banks using a series of metal steps which happened to be covered in moss. Some of the steps were slanting downwards towards the river and were also rather slick so that Zach had slipped and fell twice by the time we reached the bottom. “Tabing?” we asked the men who were sitting inside a boat house that we passed. They nodded and motioned us forward. After a short while, however, the trail came to an abrupt end. We stood there for a while contemplating our options. Knowing the problems that Zach had experienced coming down the steps, we anticipated that going back up them was out of the question. We returned to the boat house and asked the men how much it would be to hire a ride to the Tabing jetty. After settling on around $8, we found ourselves back in a long boat motoring along yet another river. I felt a little ashamed ducking out of a hike for the second time that day- but what choice did we have? Fate had apparently led us to that boat house.

The Tabing “jetty” was no more than a sandy river bank at the bottom of a pedestrian bridge. Since it had rained the previous night, the river had swelled enough to almost submerge the normal docking spot. After circling a couple of times, our pilot was able to bring us in close enough to shore for us to toss our baggage on dry ground and then clamor out of the boat to join it. The walk to Tabing was about as far as it had been between Blau and its jetty. The major difference was that Tabing was a pretty crappy place overall. Unlike Blau, Tabing looked like it had not been renovated in years. The paint was peeling and the hide seemed in a general state of disrepair. While it had once had running water, the system now appeared to be broken. In addition, the inside walls of the hide were covered in mud wasp nests. Tabing is the Tagalog word for shade- this place was certainly on the shady side! In the absence of running water, I decided to go down to a nearby stream to filter some drinking water. I had brought a filter pump from the college that would allow us to drink the water from almost any source. I had still filtered the water from Blau but a stream would really put our system to the test!

Once we were well-supplied with water, I decided to take a hike. By this time, the girls had decided to lie out near the stream but Zach said he would go with me. I felt like I was in need of a nice hike since the day had only consisted of a couple of boat rides at that point. Zach, however, had already hiked about two hours that day and he soon lost interest in walking much farther. He chose to turn around after less than a mile so that he could return to the hide to relax. My goal was to get to the canopy walk via the largest peak in the area- Bukit Terisek. We had left the hide around 2 pm and I figured that I had at least four hours of daylight to accomplish my goal.

The trail branched off a few times as I walked but each time the direction to the top of Terisek was clearly indicated. I was grateful not to be wearing a pack as the trail became even steeper than the one to Blau had been. Thankfully, the climb was assisted by the inclusion of a series of fiberglass steps that had been mounted on metal frames. By 3:30, I had made it to the top of the hill and was treated to sweeping views of the Tahan River in the valley below. I rested at the top for a while before continuing my quest for the canopy walk. The steps were under construction almost the entire trip down Bukit Terisek, making my descent even more interesting than my ascent had been.

By 4 pm, I reached the terminus of the canopy walk, but it appeared to be closed to visitors at that end. Since 4 had been my pre-determined turn around time, I took one last look at the canopy walk and headed back up the slopes of Bukit Terisek. Instead of summiting again, however, I found an alternate trail that looked like it would be quite a bit longer but much less steep. The trail eventually kicked me out at Lubok Simpon, a swimming hole in the Tahan River. There, I ran into a group of French people- a guy and two girls who were on their way to Tabing for the night. The trail was quite muddy in parts- it was probably just as well that we hadn’t attempted it with our packs on.

We arrived at the hide about 6 pm, I went down to the stream to bathe while the students got acquainted with our new guests. Dinner consisted of a large unheated can of chicken curry. Ade had eaten a small can of it the previous night and had subsequently thrown up, so she was convinced that there was something wrong with this particular dish and refused to touch it again. It seemed ok to me- I went to bed hoping that I would not live to regret my choice of dinner.

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