OR, GOING WILD WITHOUT A GUIDE IN BAKO NATIONAL PARK BORNEO
Gimme some wild savage land and I’ll show you a happy woman. (Oh and a map that tells you what colours to follow for easy, medium or hard routes. I’ll still screw up but still be very happy!!!)
After ghastly Kuching, I sped along the motorway in a cab at the crack of dawn to go to my pickup point for the Bako National Park. The place is a simple cafe where you grab much-needed caffeine and a life jacket then jump into a boat to go to a remote section of the park designed, in hopefully a foolproof way, for a wonderful jungle trek for all levels of difficulty. The boat ride which lasted about half an hour took us past fabulous rock formations and mangroves leading to dense jungle.
We were all quiet and sleepy so it was a time for reflection. I just wanted a bloody good day after the day before and it was lovely to have the wind in my hair and be with a tiny group of people who were silent and not ruining the ride yakking.
We arrived at the welcome centre and were quickly dispatched after a quick warning that a crocodile had been seen on one of the beaches that morning so could we not swim when we exited our route from the jungle to the beach, just wait for a pickup boat that ran every half hour. I went for an easy route that I think was yellow, which meant I needed to go along the paths that had yellow marks on the trunks of the trees that marked your way to your final destination and roughly how long it should take. Best laid plans and all that.
I glugged down a fresh lemon drink at the cafe noting that you could rent cabins here and was jealous. I wanted a night there after my jungle time in Sepilok with the orangutans. There were proboscis monkeys here and all sorts of stuff! Anyhow, I wanted to get off on my own and so left to go on the long walk through to the entrance where you had to climb between the roots of the tangled trees and rocks slick with damp moss. It took nearly an hour to zigzag up the sharp incline to reach the assortment of different tracks to different destinations, the climb itself seemed quite advanced to me as the sun started burning off the morning clouds and the cooler air dispersed.
Old Birds, you have to get ready for tougher things than you anticipate on the ascent and descent from these arduous treks. It’s not like “oh you just walk into it all” you have to manoeuvre up mountain trails first. It’s hard and very sweaty work. It’s also scary. Once you’re committed that’s it really. That’s why it’s better to go it alone. I joined two other lovely girls who were being cautious like me so I didn’t feel pressured, and would later bump into them again and exchange a bit of gossip then wander off again. There were very few people there and I felt blessed. The high roots on some sections required a lot of attention and talking would just be a distraction.
Sort of crossroads occurred from time and there would be a map of the different routes available at that juncture. It was at one of those spots I remet my pals and they, like me, were chatting about a change of route that went by a waterfall. It looked straightforward enough just a little further? It was of course a mistake as we carried on down this very gnarly way for what seemed like hours. It was slow going and a pain so I turned back thinking that I wouldn’t be out before dark if I carried on down that way. They persisted but as I found out later not for much longer, they too felt suspicious about the scale of these crude maps.
On the way back I was completely alone again and started to hear some noises in the thick foliage. My heckles rose and I felt very uneasy and picked up speed. On the path, I noticed a whole load of some kind of fruit shells and realised it must be a group of monkeys feasting on a fruit tree just yards from me. I must confess I scarpered. I was up that tricky path like a ferret up a drainpipe. No monkey with a big nose or not is going to come and give me a hard time for being close to its food source or for just being there and alone. I feel I made it in record time back up to the crossroad signpost again, and the sight of the elusive sea forever in the distance.
I went down the yellow route again towards crocodile beach, this time I would stick with it. It took about another hour until I got to the mountain climb down, which was very hairy. Huge ancient boulders block the way and allow only a thin crevice path around and down, sheer drops suddenly appear with just a wobbly crudely made railing preventing you from hurtling to your death. Tough decisions about where to place your feet on the slick ground between sharp rocks to prevent broken bones or worse. Finally, on the last ten-metre drop the man-made steps and ladders seemed more dangerous than scaling the sheer rocks without their aid. It was very, very horribly scary and I actually hoped the fucking crocodile would be there at the bottom to meet me. The very least it could do. A welcome crocodile grin and a cocktail.
I managed it of course and probably in some very undignified positions but I made it. As I walked to the centre of an absolutely huge magnificent white sand beach I heard the two girls in the background calling out to me that they also had arrived (they thought, they still had the last bit to get down) and I waved at them merrily. It was nice to think I’d be finishing the trip back to base on the boat with them.
The huge sandy inlet had a lot to explore before that. As I wandered around I found amazing rock formations and as my heartbeat and breathing calmed I was able to rejoice in my victory and have a really good look at nature at its finest. The boat wasn’t there yet which was just as well as we three were the only people there and could feel a little like ship-wrecked survivors. Life is good! Life is wonderful. A challenge in the incredible heat is a great test to achieve without any kind of disaster and I was proud of myself to be on this patch of the planet so wild and savage. I was full of an energy of an almost spiritual fortitude. It was an epiphany of kinds.
Finally, us intrepid three got on the boat with a very jolly captain who pointed out rock formations that he had named. If you couldn’t make out where ‘the gorilla’ or ‘the dragon’ or the whatever he would stop the boat and point again and again until you timidly said ‘oh yes now I see it, yes, yes’ and then the girls were challenged until he was satisfied that we had seen it. Even then he looked suspicious. We passed a huge jellyfish and I’m ashamed to say I can’t remember the name of it but it wasn’t poisonous as he showed us by putting a hand on it. At that point, I felt super relieved that Mr Crocodile had been hanging around so I didn’t swim or I’d have freaked if I swam into one of those bad boys!
The skipper was full of surprises. After his stern lesson about the rock formations he suddenly burst into song. We listened obediently and in an awkward way we never knew if he had finished or not due to his long dramatic pauses.
The coastline was stunning but all too soon we were back to base and jumped off the boat, the girls with their huge bag of plastic and rubbish they had been picking up along the way for their school ‘holiday work’.
Staggering back to the cafe for a much-needed cold drink we were entertained by a family of wart hogs trotting past grunting and squealing and then one of the rangers asked if I’d like to see a snake in the tree. Of course, I said yes! He told me to stand back as it was very poisonous and pulling a branch back I peered in. Same colour as the leaves and apparently sleeping. You would be hard pushed to spot it until it was too late. He said it had been there for two weeks and would move on when it became hungry again. To think that while I’d been staggering through the trees I had been leaning on them without looking? This guide then showed me another of a slightly different colour on the other side, which was very much awake. These are called Bornean Keeled Green Pit Vipers. They are notoriously venomous and hang out in lower to mid canopy eating rodents and small birds. Listed as ‘very dangerous’. Cheers Bako, a little warning about that would have been good!
I left the cafe snakes and hogs up to their own devices and walked about half a mile to get the boat to take us back. A few people had gathered and it was starting to get dark. They explained that there wasn’t room on the last boat for all of us so we had to wait for them to send another boat down. It was actually a bit scary because it seemed there was a danger we would be stuck there overnight and I had a plane to catch to Kuala Lumpur the next morning. We saw the monkeys finally but I didn’t get any pictures as they were very nippy, just waiting for us to leave I believe, and more of those hogs…
Anyhoo, we finally were all squashed onto a boat with a very cross skipper who flew across the by then rather choppy sea. When finally I got back I felt happy again. I forgave Kuching a bit but was glad I was leaving the next day with some fabulous daring devil memories!