After, let’s just say, a very long night with less sleep than I would have liked, everybody else also seemed to wake up. As you get older you get more sensitive when you try to sleep, I guess. A hard and uneven surface, lack of pillows and the occasional porcupine invasion did its thing to severely hamper my capacity to sleep that night. As I went outside the cave to do my business in the morning I saw a deer. Or rather the backside of one as it spotted me and retreated into the jungle rather quickly. After this, I went back inside and had some breakfast which consisted of fried rice and some crackers and cookies which I could not eat. During breakfast, the sun started to rise and shine in through the cave openings creating an impressive light show with individual rays penetrating the darkness of the dank cave. I took the opportunity to snap some pictures as well. After having taken a group photo we left the cave.
After just a quick walk we visited another cave. Under Ajip’s direction, we climbed into the cave without putting our lights on. Once inside when we turned on our flashlights and the cave was swarming with bats. It was pretty cool, but I also think I got some bat-pee in my hair. Bats are also one of the hardest animals to take good photos of due to the light conditions in their normal living environment. I enjoyed it but not everyone in our group was overly fond of being surrounded by living bats, sometimes literally flying around you. And since we are on that subject I might also mention that the woman in the French couple had an almost crippling fear of leeches. A bit of a problem if you are going to enter the jungle if you ask me. At least 5-6 times a day during our walk she could start an impromptu dance jumping away from or slapping away (real & imagined) leeches, effectively stopping the whole group in its tracks. Besides this, they were good travelling companions, despite having little time to adjust to the climate and one of them not being in very good shape, they soldiered on and were generally very companionable and pleasant to be around if a little shy.
After our small adventure in the bat cave, it was time to bite down and hit the trail. Today we had the lion’s share of the walking to do before being picked up by a boat. And walked we did, and I sweated, a lot. As I told you before, I’m not kidding when I said that my t-shirt was literally like a towel you had forgotten to take off before showering. With that said, as long as I would be able to rehydrate I felt like I was doing fine and could go on for quite some time. This time we found some really fresh elephant poop (Ajip estimated less than a day old), but alas, we didn’t see any elephant. At lunchtime, we camped near a smallish stream where we could bathe in the cool water. As we were setting up for lunch some Orang Asli people came by and visited our camp. Two of them were young boys which Ajip knew well and there was an older woman accompanying them. She seemed to be in pretty rough shape, and stayed well away from us, while the boys were more curious and sat close by talking with Ajip. For lunch, the others had fried noodles and vegetables while I had an abominable shrimp porridge from a package of which I ate as much as I could stomach. As this was our last meal in the jungle everything that we hadn’t eaten by that point were given to the visiting Orang Asli in exchange for them doing the dishes instead of Ajip (he normally wouldn’t let us help since we were customers), something I think they were well aware of, and might have been the reason they showed up in the first place. I actually think the woman was too sick to do anything useful in the village and that the boys had accompanied her to get a free meal and make sure she was alright as well as getting some cigarettes from Ajip. I asked Ajip about this later saying that we didn’t mind since we were not eating the rest of the food anyway, but he answered evasively perhaps not wanting to put the Orang Asli in a bad light in front of us (which he wouldn’t have done anyway). I can’t be sure of course, but I just thought it was interesting to watch them and observe the social interactions between us and them in the jungle.
After lunch, we had a walk for about an hour and a half to our pick-up spot. Just enough to completely cancel the invigorating wash we had in the small stream. As we reached our pick-up point we were supposed to be inspected by somebody making sure that we didn’t leave any trash in the jungle. However, as nobody was there, we didn’t have to do it. Before going home we were given the option to visit an Orang Asli village. Ajip warned us that it was pretty touristy, but most of us wanted to do it anyway. We were shown traditional ways of making a fire in the jungle and were given the opportunity to try and shoot blowpipe darts at a target. It was very touristy, and the Orang Asli themselves were quite casual about us being there, basically ignoring us until one of them came by and demonstrated a jungle skill and then left again without very much interaction, sort of like they were flipping burgers at McDonald’s or something similar. While some aspect of the visit was interesting it felt very staged and awkward overall. Ajip did tell us that some of the younger Orang Asli started to learn English (or other languages such as Chinese) and trained as licensed jungle guides, which seems like a much better way for locals to have good interactions with tourists. Or perhaps I’m being unfair, I should probably say: a way I would have preferred. Because, to be honest the locals in the village didn’t seem to particularly mind us being there either, and I’m pretty sure that the village experience is much more attractive to some tourists rather than slogging through the jungle.
After this we had a short boat ride back to Kuala Tahan, where we said our goodbyes to the French couple and Ajip. All in all, we were very happy with our experience. The company we booked our tour with seemed to realize how to make the experience in the jungle as good and smooth as possible and help the guests/customers with small things they might not have thought of. We were very happy with Ajip as our guide, but they are on a rotating schedule according to local regulations so you might not have much control over who you will get when you book the trek. But Ajip was a great guide, very knowledgable and pleasant to be around in general, answering many of our sometimes off-topic questions about many things in Malaysia. He also carried at least twice as much as me throughout the jungle despite being of much smaller stature. And during at least half our breaks he was praying instead of just resting and rehydrating like the rest of us. In short, if you are in at least decent shape and don’t mind getting absolutely soaked by eventual rain, river water and your own sweat I can highly recommend going into the jungle at Kuala Tahan.