Dun-derr-dun-derrrr-duhduhderrr-dederrr-derrrderrrr... -John Williams
I’d just arrived at the pier a couple of hours outside Kuching. The ferry to and from Baku park is run by a closely knit group of men who live on the outskirts of the park in the village of Kampung Bako. Their livelihood revolves around ferrying tourists from the mainland out onto Baku National Park, which is only accessible through the village by boat. Obviously, for them, it’s not great if they have to take a day off. As such, the torrential rain and choppy ocean was a cause for concern. As they were huddled around under a canvas it was obvious that they were, five minutes before the first boat was due to leave, deciding on whether or not to go ahead or not.
Many people were with guides, who were understandably keen to reassure their customers that their jungle trek would not be preceded by either a short, sharp encounter with a crocodile or a slightly more lengthy but equally unpleasant underwater experience.
Ultimately they decided to go ahead, which I was thankful for, I was pretty excited to get going. Already it felt like much more of an adventure than KL. Proper Borneo-y!
Four of us clambered into the boat and set off down the river. The route took us around the rocky headland of the park into the flat northern area where we could land.
It felt pretty sketchy. I’ve got to say. That being said, these guys care about their boats and, I would imagine, their lives so I’m sure there was no question in their minds that it was fine. And it was fine, ultimately. I didn’t notice how rough it was for the first 10 minutes or so, I was enthralled watching the park come into view. Thick with vegetation and covered in a wispy haze, it filled me with childish excitement. It’s still a national park, after all, but it felt like heading somewhere really isolated.
The two women sat in front of me began to express themselves as to how they felt that they would really rather the boat hadn’t been allowed to launch, how they were disinclined to die right at this moment and that, perhaps, the speedboat driver ought to seek medical attention for his presumed psychological deficiencies. Quite directly. The tour guide constantly reassured them, telling them that it was always like this and it was no big deal. When we finally pulled up to the jetty and the two women got out I turned to him and asked “Is it really always like this?”. His face said it all!
I was so happy when we arrived. It was just what I’d hoped for. For sure, Bako Park is in no way the most isolated, most exposed or even most beautiful area of it’s kind. But it was Borneo and it was jungle. It was grey and misty, absolutely pouring with rain and we’d just taken the dodgiest boat ever to arrive in the rainforest. This was exactly what I’d been after.
First we had to report to the HQ. I was encouraged to see the sort of dilapidated buildings that look like they’re constantly mere weeks away from being swallowed whole by the surrounding environment. The sight eased my fears that I’d see the ugly ‘Hilton’ monolith stretching up once I’d got to the park itself.
Unfortunately, many of the longer trekking routes were closed due to the weather. Disappointing, but certainly sensible and I can’t bemoan the staff their disinclination to spend each evening fishing tourists out of rivers. Speaking of, it was unbelievable to me just how many people were woefully unprepared for the visit. The worst culprits were a CHinese group and a British couple. I know, for a fact, that the word ‘Jungle’ doesn’t translate to ‘Shopping Mall’ in Chinese. But you’d think so looking at the high-heel clad visitors. Their guide met them at the HQ and much eye-rolling was had.
The British couple were the worst though! Immediately upon arrival they checked out the beginning of the trek (emphasis on the fact that it was called a trek, not a stroll) and began complaining to the staff, “You can’t expect people to walk there! This is your park, you should make sure people can enjoy it!”
Sigh. Oh the entitlement.
For starters, it’s definitely not his park. It even says ‘Bako Nature Park’. It’s not like ‘Bako Unnatural Park feat. Concrete Paths’. They were literally wearing flip-flops and had no water, no food. To a jungle trek in Borneo.
I signed in for the longest day-trek I could and set off.
Strangely enough, most of the wildlife I planned on seeing turned out to celebrate the start of my way. The proboscis monkeys, other less penis-y monkeys and a lot of bearded wild boar arrived just as I was setting off and quickly became surrounded by people eager for a photograph. I felt like some kind of shit, poncho-wearing Dr. Doolittle! Afterwards I learned that they rarely head that close to the HQ and likely had been driven there by the poor weather. Funny how these things can turn into advantages.
The trek itself was great, though occasionally more challenging than I expected. Most of the route was flooded to ankle/knee deep. But, once again, I really enjoyed the fact that it wasn’t just a paved path. You were hopping over gigantic roots, paddling through temporary pools which appeared suddenly, fed by a multitude of rain-water streams. It was still raining heavily and I was keen to just power on through to the sea-stacks so I didn’t take many photos on the way there.
The rainforest felt alien. You were constantly surrounded by organic material; you walked on roots as you heard animals swinging overhead and the vegetation was so thick it was often almost pitch black. I also felt crushingly aware of my own ignorance with regard to the life around me; it was clear that I was surrounded by species of fauna and flora that were interesting and hugely different to anything I’d ever seen. But I kind of blundered my way through it all and felt a little undeserving. We can’t all be Zoologiststs I suppose. Nothing would get done!
(Says the Philosophy Graduate…)
When I finally arrived I managed to fashion a waterproof SLR case out of a plastic bag under some shelter. The beach was totally deserted, as expected. A nice spot to wander around, but the rain continued and I was conscious that the route back wasn’t going to be getting any easier, as the paths were becoming more and more waterlogged. So I headed back.
Overall the trek took me about five hours or so. A lot of that was purely due to the weather though. I’d love to go back after the rainy season and tackle a longer route sometime. A great experience.
Right now I’m in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Spent today in the Angkor complex, hopefully should get some photos up here soon.
Take care all.