Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Jungle Trekking: I am defeated

I have just come back from my second attempt in jungle trekking and I am not ashamed to confess that I got utterly defeated again!!! This is the hardest hiking I have ever done in my entire life and I have no inner urge whatsoever to try again now. I am just not made for this climate. So what happened?

Pitcher plant
After suffering from bronchitis for over 10 days now I thought I had sufficiently recovered to try some hiking again. I went to Bako National Park which is just outside of Kuching and the major tourist attraction in this area. The park is all jungle, but bordering the sea and is supposed to have some nice beaches. When I arrived I encountered the first bad surprise: Despite low season all accommodation was fully booked. I had my tent with me and could have camped at the official campsite, but the whole place did not look too nice and was more or less completely flooded.

But I remembered reading in my guidebook that there is a nice beach at the other end of the Park where you can camp for free. I enquired about it and was even told that there are even shelters there - great in these torrential downpours that my tent would probably not withstand. It is only 13 km from the park entrance to that beach and it was only 10 am - so no problem. Well, that is what I thought... I would normally hike 13 km in a bit more than 3 hours... here the trip was rated 8 hours!!!

Pitcher plant
I set out and realised that I was just doing 2 km per hour - and I had to take constant breaks. The climate here is very difficult to describe - the combination of heat and humidity is a real killer. As soon as you start the slightest movements you start sweating. Just from walking you will sweat so profusely that the water is constantly dripping down from your face. All your clothes are soaked. But on top of the climate you also have to deal with really difficult terrain - a constant steep up and down. The trail is overgrown and the blow down palm trees all have thorns. And I have a backpack to prove it, as I ripped it more in these 2 days than in the whole 12 months before. If you slip and try to get hold of something it will very likely have thorns. And I have lots of scratches to prove that, too. But worst of all everything is slippery, real slippery. Everything is wet and overgrown. If you step on a rock, you will probably slip.

After 4 hours and only 6 km I thought first of turning back, but I still could not believe that I am not able of hiking 13 km and I pushed on. I got down to 1 km in 45 minutes and got weaker and weaker every minute. I had to take breaks every 500 m. I was physically just not able to hike on - I had to sit down, drink water and recover for 10 minutes before I could attempt the next couple of hundred meters. After 6 hours and 8,2 km I realised that I would not make it. I was so weak that I could hardly walk straight anymore. I was sweating like a pig but was shivering at the same time. Being a hypochondriac I assumed I was either suffering from a Malaria attack or a heart attack was imminent. Neither option sounded good. I could not do another 5 km to get to the beach and the shelter, but turning back was equally bad. I was in the middle of the jungle and everything was completely overgrown and steep. I did not remember seeing any feasible camp site. I almost panicked and started hiking back. I had not even managed one km back when I realised that I was about to collapse. This had never in my entire hiking career happened before. I was just too weak to continue - physically impossible.

Wild bearded pig
To make things worse a thunderstorm was approaching. I had to do something now and quick. This was an emergency and I considered camping on the trail which is a really bad option. First of all animals use the trail as well and I did not want to be overrun by a band of wild pigs. Also when it rains here the whole trail changes into a river bed. I was getting desperate and managed to make it to the top of a small hill. At least here the water would not wash me away. And then I got lucky!!! I saw a tiny little clear and flat spot in the jungle. I tried to clear it as good as possible - I was so weak that I had to hold on to the trees in order not to collapse. The terrain was difficult and it took me forever to set up the tent with thunder rolling above me. When the tent was finally standing I just got inside and collapsed. I was so weak I did not even have the strength to inflate the Thermarest. I was afraid I would be sweating inside the tent, but the temperature was bearable. As long as I did not move I was hot, but at least not sweating. And after one hour of rest I felt recovered enough to force myself to eat something. I then also realised what had caused my collapse: I was still suffering from bronchitis and could not stop coughing. I think my body had not gotten enough oxygen while hiking in this vicious climate.

Pitcher plant
I was lying in my tent thinking that things were not so bad after all: The rain had just turned out to be a drizzle, my campsite was quite good and I felt almost totally recovered. But then I looked out of my tent and could not believe my eyes: My backpack, my shoes and the front of my tent were all covered with giant ants!!!! These ants were huge - over 1 cm long!! I have never seen anything like this. And they were all over my stuff. Luckily my tent is fully enclosed and they could not get in, but they were so big that I was worried they would actually bite through the tent material. And how would I get out of the tent in the morning without being bitten? I watched the horror ants for a while and discovered that they were just after salt. They were all over my sweaty backpack and shoes, but they left my trash bag alone. Eventually I fell asleep from pure exhaustion.

In the morning I was dreading to look outside, but when I did all the ants were all gone!!! I never knew that some ants are night active only. I packed up and faced a long walk back. At least now I had a full day for 8 km. I walked slowly and took a long break every km. Now that I knew how difficult the trail is and how bad my bronchitis I took it easy - and that paid off. It still took me a long time to get back, but I was not nearly as exhausted as the day before. I made it back to the park entrance and finally to my guesthouse in Kuching.

Bottomline: Although my bronchitis greatly contributed to my collapse, I had to realise that I am not made for this climate. My body just does not deal very well with the heat and humidity. This has been my last attempt for jungle trekking - I will not try again.


Anonymous said...

This does not sound like fun!

eArThworm said...

I love the way you tell it exactly like it is. Hope you can find somewhere that's actually fun.