As soon as I enter Taman Nagara’s grasp it hits me with humidity. I’m drenched with perspiration in seconds. I’ve barely walked for five minutes before the sweat droplets begin to hover above my lips and on the tip of my nose.
The jungle moves as the dead leaves, big and crisp as taco shells, tumble down from the trees. Walking alone, I’m more alert to sound – the slight swish of a lizard’s tail in the leaf litter; the high-frequency shrills of insects; the whoosh of a wing as a bird takes flight. The unremitting cicada alarm commands the jungle like a deafening livewire and birds have complex conversations in colourful tones. I hear it all.
I walk unwittingly into a web – it fixates to my eyelashes. Perturbed, I tweeze at it for ten minutes, wondering if there’s a highly inconvenienced, poisonous spider in my hair.
Thickets of vines and palm leaves lace the trunks and buttress folds of figs. I’m transfixed by the twists of the underwood, so it’s lucky I hear a monkey and am compelled to look up. The dipterocarps, the tallest trees in the jungle, preside over the tangled undergrowth.
Bukit Teresek lookout
I hike the three hundred steps to Bukit Teresek lookout, and I have as much fascination with the giant-sized ants as I do with Peninsular Malaysia’s highest mountain. I don’t take the recommended route back (the way I came), even though I know it’s getting late. I see a steep drop where the circuit continues, so I begin half-sliding, half-stepping down, grasping for slim trunks and vines to prop me.
I’m scurrying back towards Kuala Tahan as the forest is growing dim. I see the track’s now running alongside the river. I’m crossing a bridge over a tributary creek bed when I hear shuffles, too loud to be anything small. A splash, and my camera’s on the wrong damn setting to catch the 2 metre monitor lizard I see swimming away. Then another, equally as ginormous, crawls across the track in front of me and down through the scrub to the river. I’m still, watching the whole thing.
I’ve been told there’s a swimming spot but I don’t think much of it until I see the track heading down to the river. the river is a transparent, tea-stained colour. There’s no one around and I’m already swimming in my own perspiration so I strip down to my underwear and plunge in. It’s a cool refuge after the jungle’s thick humidity. I struggle against the current so I opt for a riverside log, still bathing my legs. I soon find I’m in a natural fish spa!
Now that’s a real fish spa!
At dusk, I’m hurrying to get back. The wind is intent on whirling up an oncoming storm. The leaves tumble into my face and in the twilight I don’t know whether they’re bats until they hit me.
The first drops of rain come just as I return. I duck under the first roof I see which turns out to be a restaurant. A waitress hands me a menu.
“Terima kasih,” I say, flinching a little at the sound of my voice – they’re the first words I’ve spoken in hours.