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Sweating it off in Taman Negara

We woke to a cloudy sky this morning and while we both wanted clear skies the cloud at least keeps the temperature down a little. It didn’t last long though and soon the sun was back blazing through the tree tops. Our plan for today was to do an 8km walk to Lata Berkoh and to get a boat, which we booked yesterday, back down to the village.

The trail starts from a different side of the Mutiara resort at the back of the campsite. Here a large pile of rucksacks from the students we had bumped into yesterday was all packed and waiting to go. A couple of the people on our boat up the river to get to Taman Negara were also sorting out their tent. It must have been so hot here over night, I am really glad we had air con, although from the large amount of clothes hanging on lines to dry it looks as if people had a soggy night. We later found out that there had been heavy rain here last night.

We set off down the trail which initially was a slightly raised path made from strips of metal. It wound down towards the river where there was a place you could easily get into the water to go for a swim. It led back up into the jungle and we passed a solid wooden bridge and then further on a canopy bridge, similar to the walkway yesterday. For the most part the path was pretty clear but a few large trees had fallen across it which I had to just sit on top of and swing my legs over.

After a while Stef started to spot the leeches which have been brought up by the rain. In Cat Tien I only saw them when they were sucking blood off my legs. Here, the trick of giving our boots a good spray of insect repellent seemed to work and we both ended our walk leech free. They must feel the vibrations of your foot falls which brings them to the surface of the ground out of the mud. Here they extend themselves upwards swaying around almost sensing where their next dinner is coming from. Seeing them reminded me of the snake of an Indian snake charmer.

At some stage we must have missed a turning and lost the main trail. We came to a point where for about five metres there were large tree trunks crisscrossing the path with no obvious path on the other side. By this stage we were also both very hot and sweaty and Stef was getting more and more paranoid about the leeches, almost counting them as we went. Not wanting to lose our way we decided to head back. I kept look gin to see where we had gone wrong but couldn’t see a different path that we should have taken.

Back at the park office we explained our dilemma but the park warden there was unable to explain to us where we had gone wrong. We had only seen one sign posted junction and had followed the path along the way pointed by the sign. The signs were on the floor rather than secured to a post so someone could have shifted them about a bit. Having already paid for the boat to pick us up at the other end, and with no refund forthcoming, we set about changing our plans and getting the boat to take us up river as well as bringing us back down. We went for a cold drink while the park warden went off to get our boat, a few hours earlier than the boatman had expected.

And so I found myself back on yet another small boat. This one was could take four passengers and had the boat man at the back sorting the engine and another chap at the front keeping an eye out on what was coming. I immediately felt confident with this crew and felt more at ease that I have in any of the other small boats we have been on. We puttered around the main river to cross up into the quieter Sungai Tahan river and before long the only sounds we could hear was the engine droning above the noise of the jungle.

We passed the swimming pool we had walked to earlier and when we got to the solid wooden bridge saw a familiar couple sitting cooling their feet. It was a Scottish couple we had bumped into on the way back from our walk. They were heading out to spend a night in one of the park’s hides with the hope of actually getting to see some wildlife. Just a bit further on from there we were treated to a rare sight. A whole family of otters were out taking a swim. There must have been about ten of them and there was a mix of young and old animals. It was a really beautiful sight to see, they are such graceful animals, but unfortunately we were past them before we had chance to get good photos.

The trip up river was quite entertaining. We had noticed by the river crossing at the village that the water level is dropping by about half a meter or so each day. This means that some sections of the river we were on this afternoon are quite shallow and we had to pass over some mini “rapids” to get up stream. The route is obviously well known as our boat crossed from one side to another of the Sungai Tahan, which was probably 20m wide, to stay in the deepest water. Even so we had a few close shaves with a couple of large boulders and we scraped along the bottom a couple of times.

Despite the noise of the engine we also managed to get some sightings of birds. A bright blue bird with some patches of green flew across in front of us and along the river bank for a while. We think it was a stork billed kingfisher, based on the description we gave to someone who knows their birds. Further on a bright orange bird with a long forked tail flitted about a tree, and this we think was a Raffles Makoha. They were incredibly intense colours and the birds shimmered as they flew and the sunlight caught their wings.

After about half an hour we reached the point where the boats stopped and that we would have reached on foot if we had found the path. It would have felt like a very long walk in this heat. The boat pulled up to a small sandy “beach” and we hopped out. A short walk from here takes you to the Lata Berkoh, a small stretch of river with big boulders that forms a cascade. You are meant to be able to swim here but big signs warn of strong currents and whirlpools and state that no swimming is allowed!

We walked back downstream a bit to where the water looked calmer and then climbed down to the water’s edge. Stef dipped in his toes and then changed into his trunks and went for a full soak in the river. Even here the current was pretty strong but he declared the water to be cooling and refreshing. Reinvigorated he went flying back down the path to our boat, literally. Somehow he stumbled on a hidden rock or tree root and end up twisting his ankle. It was a bit of a slow hobble back to the boat with me grateful that he had landed more heavily and suffered a break.

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Cooling down in the river, perfect!

On our way back down river the engine was turned off so we were floating along in peace and quiet – until a boat came up the other way. As we walked up to the cascade we passed a small group coming the other way but had the cascades to ourselves. It turned out to be good timing as one boat after another passed us going up as we were coming down. It is amazing how noisy the engines are, you don’t realise it until you are floating in silence.

The otter family had disappeared by the time we got back and we didn’t see and new birds either. However we did see a couple of Monitor Lizards. One was a pretty large adult which was just finishing a cooling dip in the stream. It watched us as we stopped and watched it and then it crawled up the bank and out of sight. Further on we saw a small lizard also just finishing its swim.

Our boat dropped us on the land side of the river. We stopped for a quick drink before heading back to the hotel, Stef hobbling along on a slightly swollen ankle. The hotel redeemed itself slightly with a coffee shop that was still just open by the time we got back and served up a very tasty nasi and chicken curry for lunch. It took ages to arrive but was freshly cooked and extremely tasty. We had been able to keep our room during the day so went back and showered, changed and packed ready for our bus back to Jerantut.

We were the last pick up in town and the bus was already pretty full by the time it got to our hotel. Having endured a three hour boat trip on the way up we both just wanted a faster road option to get back. It was dark and apart from the Japanese family in front of us going “ooh, aah” every time we passed a cow on the side of the road, the journey was uneventful.

The Sri Emas hotel is well geared up to people on the Taman Nagara trail. Train based transport connections arrive and depart in the middle of the night and they provide showers, a luggage store and a waiting room for those with onwards connections. We got back to the hotel just after nine and our train down to Singapore leaves at 2:20am, so only a five hour wait to go!