Thursday, February 24, 2011

Run Through the Jungle

The Pinnacles, Gunung Mulu National Park, Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo

It’s too often that songs stick in my head and annoy me all day long.  But every now and then, I’ll luck into a song that provides endless amusement to an otherwise monotonous or even arduous day.  On the day that we climbed to the Pinnacles in Gunung Mulu National Park, John Fogerty’s voice kept a smile of irony on my face as his advised pace grew more and more ridiculous.
Melinau Gorge, sunrise, as we begin the climb to the Pinnacles

As we walked out of Camp V at 6:30am, we wondered what this 2.5km trek that climbed 1100m would serve us.  The guide of another tour group offered an answer as he began calisthenics, clad in spandex leggings, goalie-style sport gloves, Oakley M-frames, a skull-and-crossbones do-rag, with a Camel-back hydration system and attached mini-speakers that screamed out CCR’s familiar refrain.
Laughing, but nowhere close to running, along the Pinnacles trail

The first 200m on ‘flat’ ground did little to warm us up for the ascent that followed.  Our thighs began burning long before the midway point, and our arms followed, working just as hard as we climbed through the forest.  We made it to the top while the weather remained clear, but we looked as if we had come up through a downpour.  The Pinnacles were worth every ounce of exertion, although we were spent and had little energy to clamber about the overlook.  The climb down took twice as long and even back in the flats, there was no running for either of us, and all we could do was laugh about it.
One big tree

Ignoring our legs, we did find the Borneo of our dreams in Gunung Mulu National Park.  While my dreams were probably informed by Joseph Conrad, Indiana Jones, and Planet Earth, this place certainly gave them their cues.  We spent our six days taking longboats as far upstream as rapids would allow, swimming in clear, crisp, spring-fed streams, staring up at towering limestone cliffs and staring down into bottomless caves.  Although primates were scarce, bugs and snakes, fish and turtles made up for their absence.  And the vegetation, from tiny mosses to towering dipterocarps, surrounded and enshrouded us in a tangle of green, revealing a delicate balance upon which life flourishes.  
Looking out of the mouth of Clearwater Cave
Little turtle in the lowlands near park headquarters
Green tree viper, a few feet off the Pinnacles trail
Pitcher plant along the Pinnacles trail

We’ll say goodbye to Borneo for now, but doubt that it’s grasp will allow us to leave forever.  We’ve come to cherish the forest and care deeply for the people on this island.  Just as a song can hold a smile through the most difficult journeys, Borneo has given us a focus in life that will carry us onward.  When the time comes to return to the jungle, I’m sure we’ll be ready to run.
Millions of bats swarming out of Deer Cave

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