Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Into The Jungle

The reason I've ventured this far into Borneo is to get myself into the jungle, trek as far as I can and see how much of a challenge it is. The heat and humidity at this stage are a given and not something that, in spite of my state of perpetual perspiration, I bother much about. What bothers me before I depart are the mosquitoes and to a greater extent the fucking leeches. I've never had the leech experience before and so I head pretty much into the unknown but you can see it in people's faces returning from the jungle - the leech faced.
Anyway, my route involves a four hour trek between the villages of Bario and Pa' Lungan. You can take a guide with you if you wish but it's not necessary as there's only one route which narrows the further away from Bario you go until finally you're on a muddy stretch winding its way to the next village. I pass through the village of Pa' Ukat after an hour's trekking, a village mysteriously empty of people save for a few souls working hard in the paddy fields.
I'm lucky in that the weather's dry and apparently the leeches aren't generally a problem on this stretch. I reach Pa' Lungan 3 hours after Pa' Ukat, staying in Phillip and Pauline's homestay for the night and grateful for their hole-free mosquito net above my bed. The following morning I meet with David, my guide for then next 2 days and he describes the route we'll be taking. As I breakfast I almost choke on my pineapple at the remarkable sight of a 70 year old man I'd spoken to the previous day marching toward the jungle with his hunting dog to his rear and spear in hand. That's spear! The villagers are keen hunters - they have to or they'll starve - and wild boar is what they're after. Word reaches us the next day that our man returned from the jungle with a 30kg boar in hand. Incredible.
Our first night we'll spend in a jungle shelter - I try to get a mental image of it as we walk but I'm too bloody preoccupied swatting flies, wiping sweat out of my eyes and all the time watching out for the leeches. Again though, fortune favours me as it's a dry day and David reassures me (obviously feeling that I need to be reassured) that the leeches are most numerous in wet weather. The terrain is pretty flat, marshy in places but overall pretty good going. On our way David points out the various plants and trees, chops at some bamboo from which we drink the coldest, freshest water, hacks at trees from which we taste the resin and pockets the wild spinach from which he'll make a soup later that night.
There's one climb which takes about half an hour and just after 2pm we arrive at our shelter - home for the night. It's essentially a shed with a roof but it looks good enough to me and my weary bones. There's a river nearby so as David gets a nap, I go to investigate. Dinner that night is a mixture of rice, a soup made from the wild spinach David had plucked along the way and some skin/fat from the wild boar and a tin of tuna pilfered from our lodging from the previous night. Jungle cuisine it isn't but we're both starving at this stage.

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