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  • Writer's pictureDeb Smithers

Sumatra Jungle Trek - Part 3

The final descent!

After hours of trekking, I had finally reached the top, and what an amazing journey so far, I had already seen more than I had imagined I would have, and how wondrous it was to trek under the thick green canopy of the rainforest.

It's the combination of walking into the heart of this incredible jungle and sharing the experience with like-minded people, those wanting to have new experiences and test their boundaries, something challenging, seeing the beauty of the world, and as said, "living outside of the box'.

Along the way, we shared stories of different tales and adventures and these conversations give you so much inspiration and drive to search for new things, to keep ticking off that list of places you wish to see or things you promised you would do one day. It reminds you to not let age, fear, and other factors stand in the way of the dreams and desires you have.

We had been blessed with perfect weather conditions and the wind has directed the oncoming storm away, apart from a few small light showers along the way, which felt rewarding on this steamy, humid day and gave relief just before we began to make the last arduous 3 km vertical track down to camp.

The ground was damp and the jungle dense, the track was thick with haunting vines, strangling weeds, and thick fallen branches, I could only imagine what else lay amongst it all. We were all exhausted, our packs were constantly getting caught in the maze of vines and we had to be extremely mindful not to slip. When looking down you feel as though one false move would see you plummeting to the very bottom only stopping if you managed to latch onto a branch or a vine on the way down. The guide tells us this last 3 km is where the most injuries usually occur because of the steep decline, and damp conditions, and most trekkers by this stage become weakened. The way we were to reach the camp safely was to zig-zag, back and forth, our way down steadily.

I had already come to the realization that my choice of hiking pants was a substantial mistake and definitely not appropriate jungle trekking attire. With each step I can feel the pants ripping and tearing, I am aware that the entire crutch of my pants is now shredded and open to the elements. I could feel the vines and branches cutting my skin but the only option was to continue down.

You are using the trees below you to stop from tumbling down the steep decline, grasping onto each trunk you pass and not for a moment forgetting how many tree snakes you have already seen along the way or the deep grooves etched in the tree trunks from Honey Bears.

On the last leg of the trek, there are no cameras out, everyone is to be concentrating and focused on getting down to the camp unscathed. We stopped at a small stream and cooled ourselves down with the fresh running water and it was a delight to see a Palawan Forest turtle swimming around, quite happy to come close and take a look at the arrival of visitors. Very cute.

Finally, as we arrive down at the camp I am running on empty, I have nothing left, my legs are burning and my back is feeling the weight I have been carrying for 9 hours. But the moment you come into the clearing, you see the fast-flowing river and the lush green surroundings, you forget the pain in a second. It is like arriving in another world. There are monkeys watching on as if to find us entertaining, monitor lizards are basking on the hot river stones and there are vibrant blue butterflies flying around in abundance and seem to have an immense attraction to anything colorful.

The walk had been arduous, hot, and tough on us all, I was so focused on making it through the trek I really didn't put much emphasis and consideration on the camping situation and what it may be like.

There were 3 groups of 3, arriving at different times which means sharing the camp with 9 trekkers, and 6 guides who are in a separate hut close by, which was reassuring. The camp is very basic, 6 tents under a wood and hutch roof, black plastic was bound around the structure to keep you in and other things out. The run down was short and sweet. We are informed to keep tents closed at all times and don't leave anything unattended, also that there was a spot 20 meters away for a number one, and 50 meters away there is a hole in the ground for a number 2, and all that came to my mind was. .... 20 Meters in the jungle.... in the dark of the night.... not a chance!!

We are allocated our tiny tent and sleeping mats for the night, given the briefing on the next day's agenda and a few helpful tips to keep safe as the night approaches.

My first plan was to cool down with a swim, the water is so cold but this is also your only wash for the night after a dirty, sweaty day. The river is fast-moving and strong, it would be quite easy to lose your footing on the rocks and get washed down the river.

As the monkeys watch on and scan for any available food they can swiftly steal, some of the group rested and took photos, others washed clothes, and threw them on the warm river rocks to dry.

It amazed me that 4 men trekked the same path, only hours before us, carrying all the supplies and water, they miraculously managed to also carry bottles of Bintang beer, and after floating them on the edge of the river they are icy cold waiting for the thirsty pack to arrive. You can hear the sounds of the wildlife throughout the jungle, scanning the tree tops carefully for little eyes prying down at you, and be mindful of the surprise creatures that lurk in every crevice of this piece of paradise.

Before night falls the guides have made a fire down by the river and food is being prepared for dinner. The smell is amazing and of course, everyone is famished. We sit together with a cold beer as we wait for dinner, The fire is cozy and somehow a safe feeling, as you can see all the monkeys begin to move in on us as dinner will soon arrive.

The phone app has mapped out the day's trek and I found it interesting to learn that we had left 9 hours ago and trekked only 1 1 km, and I recall how on the Camino St Frances I had already done 11 km before my mid-morning cafe. The trek had taken us to the highest treetops of the rainforest and down to the camp on the river's edge.

The dinner was prepared and set up on the ground, it was incredible and certainly not what I had expected, and all prepared on one little fire by the river. Astounding!

As we begin this incredible meal the guides stay close around us to ward off the critters, who by now have taken up prime position in the tree directly above us. One man was hit twice with a fountain of monkey pee and with a grin, I wonder if this a very smart plan these monkeys have devised. He was horrified and retreated back to his tent to eat. Everyone broke into quiet laughter, I imagine anything was possible out where we were. Personally, I am still more concerned about having to venture out of the tent in the dark of the night and walk 20 meters, and it certainly makes me not take up the offer of a second bottle of beer. I had decided to retire early and the accommodation, by no means, was there for comfort.

Inside the tent is incredibly hot, and as I get settled and reflect on the day, I wonder how well this backpack of mine, pushed up against the Zipper of my flimsy 2 man tent was actually going to give me extra protection in the night from the habitants of the jungle !!

I would say, YES to a decent pair of zip-offs or hiking pants, and a definite NO to Thai happy pants! ... and choose your colors well, mosquitoes love bright and vibrant colors so they are more likely to be attracted to you. The best plan in the jungle is to keep low-key and undetected.

A big YES to a bamboo trekking pole and a cooling cloth. They are amazing, you simply wet them and they become really cold, wrap them around your neck or head to cool down fast. Both these items were my lifesaver on the trek.

"We must not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we began and to know the place for the first time."

T. S. Eliot


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