Today is jungle day and I will first hike deep into the jungle with a few other residents of my guesthouse and a local guide. About 9 kilometers lie ahead of us. The tour is offered as "1-Day-Trekking from Park Center to Teras Waterfall via Bukit Indah".
We take the boat to the other side of the river and walk for a while over a footbridge through the jungle. In some places its planks are damaged by the wild elephants. During the COVID lockdown they had come into this place and wreaked havoc here and there. In the past few weeks and months there have been some of them here again. This can be seen from the piles of dung that we find in several places.
Easy hike to Canopy Walk
At first, it is a walk with occasional stops, during which we are taught about the many uses of the plants that grow along the way. One plant can be employed as sandpaper, which can be used for both manicures and polishing blowgun darts. Another leaf can be rubbed with your fingers and the resulting paste used to stop bleeding from wounds. For example those who inflict leeches on you. This will become important later on.
Now it's 400 meters up a small hill. I'm falling behind fast and I'm finally the last one. I hike a lot on my travels and almost every day here in Malaysia. I'm actually good at training in this regard. But uphill I lack the condition. Eventually I get to the top of the hill too. This is where the so-called canopy walk begins. A suspension bridge that leads over 300 meters through the treetops. It stretches over seven platforms and is sometimes so high that I no longer want to look down and only focus on the next tree. You don't see any animals up here. You only hear the birds. This is understandable, because why should wild creatures living shy and reclusive lives be near such a strange structure that is constantly being climbed by noisy people. However, the canopy walk is one of the park's attractions, which is also suitable for people who do not want to go on the adventure of a jungle hike.
Day tour into the jungle
This adventure begins now. Because here the comfortable footbridge ends and a jungle path along the Tembeling River begins. Although we hike about 30 meters above the river, the water remains invisible all the time through the thicket of the forest. At first the path winds mostly flat. But where streams flow into the Temebeling, there are always deep cuts. You climb steeply down to the creek. Exposed tree roots serve as steps and handles. The risk of injury in these passages is high. Because not only that you could fall down. Even if a foot slips under one of the tree roots in full movement, it is quickly broken. Where more help is needed, there are ropes that you can climb down with and up on the other side.
Leeches in the Taman Negara
The ascents quickly take me and a few others to the limit of our condition, because the steps are often very high and require a lot of strength. Around the streams, leeches also become a topic. They like to be on wet ground. In addition, it rained the day before, so that there were always leeches waiting for us, even away from the watercourses.
They are nondescript brown worms that wiggle and stretch straight up for an opportunity to attach themselves to passing creatures. In the jungle, everyone is naturally struggling to survive, with the leeches being at the forefront.
Once they've clung to something, it's hard to get rid of them. They then crawl unnoticed to a place where they can reach skin, then bite a hole in it and get blood into themselves. Most of the time you don't even notice it and anyway it's too late. When they are saturated, they fall off by themselves. This happens after about ten minutes. Then they leave a bleeding spot about 2 millimeters in size. I only realize this when blood seeps through the socks. In fact, I've taken precautions. Whether they can actually stop the leeches from doing their parasitic work is another matter.
These tricks can help against leeches
On the jungle hike through the Taman-Negara, it makes sense to put on long pants. They protect against abrasions when climbing over the numerous fallen tree trunks on the path. Above all, you can put the trouser legs in the socks and thus prevent the leeches from crawling up the inside of the trousers. That's why it makes sense to have a pair of longer socks (and not just sneaker socks, for example) with you. Spraying your socks, shoes, and pant legs with insect repellant spray can also help. Those worms don't like that.
All these precautions will not stop the leeches from wanting to suck blood. You just make it harder for them. In my case, the leeches have drilled their heads through the sock several times and tapped me. Probably only double socks, neoprene socks or rubber boots would offer real protection. But who wants to hike in something like that in tropical regions? It's best to just accept the leeches as part of this jungle adventure and don't panic when you find one on you. If you take the precautions mentioned, there won't be that many anyway. However, it is important to disinfect the small wounds in the evening. Because dirt and dust can lead to inflammation.
Jungle trekking to Teras Waterfall in Taman Negara
The goal of the day tour is the Teras waterfall. To reach it you have to leave the river bank and follow the creek. Its watercourse has to be crossed several times. Even if you successfully balance over the slippery stones, you won't go completely without wet feet. But in an hour at the latest I'll be soaking wet on this tour anyway. The waterfall is about ten meters high. So don't expect a lot of noise here. The pond at its base is about 1.50 meters deep and the water is cool. So you can't do more than splash around. The overall quality of stay at the waterfall is unfortunately low. Because although there are tree trunks lying around that you could sit on, there is nowhere you can put your feet without the leeches getting hold of them. I ended up sitting on a rock in the creek and putting my hiking boots in about two inches of water so the leeches couldn't reach me. But there was nowhere to put the backpack, because the leeches would also attach themselves to it and from there penetrate into completely different parts of the body. So the 20 minutes at the waterfall only served as a breather. You couldn't really rest there.
Provisions during the jungle hike in the national park
All participants of the hike received two large bottles of water, a pack of biscuits, a tangerine and a styrofoam box with fried rice and a fried egg as provisions from the agency. Both the water and the food were sufficient. The biscuits were particularly helpful as a source of quick energy. The tour guide slipped me a pack of electrolyte powder that he had received as a gift from a hiker. In any case, I recommend having a sufficient quantity of an electrolyte mixture (ELOTRANS or similar) with you. Because of the exertion, the heat and the high humidity, you sweat your heart out and not only lose water, but also important mineral salts. That's why I got bad cramps in my thighs during the break at the waterfall. You should therefore mix the electrolyte solution in your own water bottle at the beginning of the hike so that minerals are always topped up while drinking.
Shooting through the rapids
From the waterfall it is only 500 meters on a flat stretch to the riverbank. You are finally back in the daylight, because almost the entire hiking route of nine kilometers is covered in the twilight of the rainforest. A long boat with a helmsman is already waiting on the bank, who tells us to stow our backpacks and everything that must not get wet into large black plastic bags. We also put on life jackets. As soon as we cast off, we steer through rapids on the Tembeling River and the water sloshes into the boat and over its passengers. I get wet from head to toe. But it also seems to be the aim of the exercise to get wet, because I had the impression that our guide rocked the boat even more. If wet, then completely wet.
Orang Asli: Among the natives of the Taman Negara
After about ten minutes boat ride we dock at the river bank. The sand that has been washed far up, shows how high the water can rise here. There are still sandbanks about ten meters above the current water level. We climb the slope and reach an Orang Asli village. These are the indigenous people of this part of Malaysia. The village is unspectacular. Some bamboo huts and a palm roof with two rough wooden benches for demonstrations to tourists. A young indigenous man who was summoned listlessly brings a basket. The guide takes over the explanation and he shows us natural glue, an almost two meter long blowpipe made of bamboo and the darts that go with it.
Without a word, the Orang Asli starts making a blowgun dart and then shoots it at a target about five meters away. We are all allowed to practice blowgun shooting. Finally, the young villager shows us how to make a fire using a rattan shoot and a piece of wood. He can do it within about three minutes and you can tell from all the demonstrations that he does them every day but without any trace of dedication.
Even with us hikers, passion and interest is no longer particularly great. We are all exhausted, wet, hungry, tired and it gets cold in the wet clothes, too. Besides, we can't say for sure that there aren't still leeches clinging to us somewhere. The need to go back to the accommodation remains unspoken with all of us, but is high on all sides.
The boat ride from Orang Asli village back to Kuala Tahan, the main town of Taman Negara National Park, takes another ten minutes, then we reach the jetty, say goodbye to the guide and trudge back to the hostel for a hot shower and clean, dry clothing.