Bloodletting

By 9 am we sat by the pedestrian bridge listening for the sound of a boat motor. We had lost all shame the previous afternoon and had asked the guy who had brought us to the Tabing jetty for a ride out of the area on this particular morning. His non-committal reply had left us wondering, however, whether he would actually show up or not. When a boat did pass, we therefore flagged it down without regard for loyalty to our previous driver. Our new boat captain agreed on a price of $6 to take us back to the main park entrance. Back there, we found ourselves having brunch at a floating restaurant for the third day in a row. While the students finished eating, I wandered around to check out prices on our next boat trip. My guidebook estimated that it would take 7-hours to cover the 7 mile hike to the Kumbang hide from either Bumbun Tabing or from Kuala Tahan. With our packs, that spelled a near impossibility for us. We had decided to hire a boat to Kuala Trenggan, the site of a now-defunct lodge and the closest jetty to Kumbang. Kumbang is the Malay word for “beetle”, and represented the farthest flung hide from park headquarters. The first tour outfitter charged $42 for the 40-minute ride to Kuala Trenggan, while the second outfitter quoted a price of $50. My third try led me to NKS, who agreed to $33, provided that we pay twice that in advance for a roundtrip ride. We settled on an 11 am departure, which just gave us enough time to walk up the hill into town to stock up on groceries. We were doing fine in terms of canned food, as I could tell from the weight of my pack, but we had run out of bread, breakfast items, as well as various snacks.

Once we had restocked, we found ourselves speeding up the river once again. About halfway to our destination, we stopped at the Nusa Holiday Village in order to change boats. There seemed to be nothing wrong with our current one, but I assumed that NKS had worked something out with the Village in terms of transport. We soon found ourselves standing amidst the crumbling buildings of Kuala Trenggan Lodge. It looked as if someone had simply locked the doors of the bungalows there, leaving all of the furnishings behind, and left them for half a dozen years or more. Some of the roofs had collapsed in on the rooms and the patios leading up to them were gaping with holes. It was a bit eerie in the deserted resort so as soon as we had identified our trail, we set out for the jungle hide. It took us just over 90 minutes to hike the mile to our hide. Luckily for us, the leeches were out in full force. We had collected about 30 leeches during each of our hikes to Blau and Tabing hides and we were able to do the same on our way to Kumbang.

Upon our arrival at the hide, we were pleased to see that it was in much better shape than Tabing had been- it was not quite as swank as Blau, mind you, but not bad for a jungle hide. Kumbang was the tallest of the hides so far and its “shower” was in the form of a continually running hose that ran from the bottom of the structure and emptied out near the foot of one of the four stilts. The hide itself was reached by means of a steep concrete staircase. As had become our custom, we selected our beds from the six available bunks and stowed our gear nearby. I realized that I was bleeding from my latest set of leech bites but in the usual post hike haze it took me a while to figure out what to do about them. There are two things that I am completely freaked out by- heights and blood. After bleeding for about 45 minutes (leeches inject an anticoagulant at the site of attachment), I finally figured out that we should use our first aid kit to clean and cover the wounds- duh. After getting bandaged up, I flopped down on my bed for an afternoon respite.

A few hours later, we had our first visitors. An American and a Canadian had met up on the long hike from the park entrance and had just arrived at the hide. The Canadian had acquired so many leeches that his legs were just a complete mass of blood. There was no skin visible below his knees whatsoever, it looked like a scene out of a horror movie as he stood at the top of the steps to the hide and surveyed his surroundings. He had left a set up bloody footprints all the way up the two dozen or so steps. This made my pitiful amounts of bleeding seem pretty mild in comparison! Soon, our new friend was cleaned up as well and resting from his much longer trek. It was interesting to me that each time someone arrived at any of the hides we had been in, they had a distinct smell that I can only describe as “jungle”. Sure, it had its origin in the fact that all of us had been dripping in sweat from head to toe upon our arrival at any given hide, but it included certain musty and wild odors mixed in as well. I had never smelled anything akin to it before, but this was the third day in a row that I had been exposed to that jungle odor.

Just as it was getting dark, a French couple arrived with a Malaysian guide carrying the majority of their gear. They were on one of the organized tours that included porterage as well as hot meals and had arrived via a 7-hour trek from the opposite direction as the others after overnighting in a cave the previous night. They reported that the trails to the north of Kumbang were in bad shape and that they had waded across some waist deep streams in addition to the usual mud sodden trails. Their guide (who never set foot in the hide, but had strung his hammock between the legs of the structure after cooking the couple their dinner) assured me that finding the set of three caves to the north would be difficult if not impossible without a guide. He told me that people had become lost for days in that very vicinity in the past. I suspected that was exactly what a guide would say in order to justify his existance- I had hoped to make it to those caves the following day and then return to Kumbang for a second night. I guess we would have to wait and see what the next day would bring.

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