Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Story Jar - Bako National Park

copyright 2007 Elaine Hardman
Borneo. It’s a magical name, don’t you think? Makes a person picture monkeys flitting in the trees or hear screaming macaws and buzzing insects. It’s a lot like that. Sure Borneo has cities full of traffic and shopping malls but much of the island is wrapped in the myriad shades of green that cover the ground and block out the sky in an Asian jungle. Such a jungle is on the tiny island of Bako sheltering 150 species of birds and 23 mammals including the rare proboscis monkey.
Borneo has some rough roads, some barely detectable roads - really just paths over boulders and around trees but we covered the road to our long boat in a nicely air-conditioned car over a smoothly paved road. I can do this, I thought leaning back into the seat separated from steamy heat by a tinted window.
I was 99% comfortable. The problematic 1% was a large, painful blister on the ball of my right foot. We bought something called Dettol disinfectant (not sure if it was for scrubbing toilets or washing feet) and I soaked my foot in it in the hotel sink the night before as well as that morning. Now the raw area was covered with a blister patch and while I knew we would trek all day on the Island my plan was to hobble along and keep my foot dry.
The car brought us to the docks where the heat and humidity smacked us hard as soon as we opened the door but once the boat started moving it was great. The wind was refreshing and we sped across the South China Sea to Bako.
If a person gets into a boat from a dock and it’s all dry and tidy, who can fault said person for expecting to get out of the boat on a dry, tidy dock? Bako is a national park and people go there from all over the world but it seems they get there by taking off their shoes, rolling up their pants and walking over rocks and the occasional slimy bits of once-sea life. With misguided faith in my blister patch, I arrived on the island. When I brushed off the sand to put my socks back on, I realized that the blister patch had joined other bits of debris in the sea. I thought longingly of the Dettol on the hotel sink but pulled on my sock and went in search of monkeys.
We chose the easiest trail, a predicted 3 hours out and back. It was a root covered trail – so steep at times we had to crawl. The rocks were wet and slick and it was hard to remember the primary jungle rule: no walking and gawking. (Combining the two sometimes resulted in tripping or stepping on someone or something, events that don’t always end well.)
We saw 3 proboscis monkeys and countless smaller monkeys. There were lizards and snakes on the trail and flowers and plants everywhere. We saw one of the rarest pitcher plants – only 26 known to exist at the time. We spent a little time watching a bearded pig. She had floppy pink lips that were remarkably capable of digging and she chewed the outer shell of a coconut as we might munch a carrot or bit of celery all of which means don’t get too close to a bearded pig.
During our hike, we sweated out gallons on that “easy” trail and wondered what the advanced trails might have been like. Resting afterwards, we drank water and a Gatorade-type thing called 100 Plus. We ate satay, fruit, rice noodles and unknown vegetables at the park’s restaurant and then strolled out on another trail where we heard voices. It was an odd conversation – two men talking but at the same time. We rounded the curve and found two guys sitting between boulders, each talking on a cell phone. So much for wilderness.
We, of course, had to kick off our shoes and wade to the boat to get back to the dock and that marvelously cool car. I expected my foot to be red and swollen the next morning but it wasn’t and that was even better than getting a ride in an air conditioned car.

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