I’d never properly been into a jungle prior to this trip and was very excited to experience them. I wasn’t sure that they were really my kind of thing, I much prefer the crisp air and expansive views from up a mountain than dense, humid vegetation , but in I went regardless; twice.
I was very much a rainforest tourist, heading for a couple of nights, before swiftly retreating back out to civilisation. Whilst amongst the vines I met scientists that were there for weeks and even months at a time, sampling and studying the climate. I don’t think I would enjoy that myself, but my short trips were very enjoyable. I went into two jungles, Danum Valley and Mulu National Park. I had organised both my trips D.I.Y. style to save on the pennies as going into remote jungle can add up very quickly.
I stayed in the scientists research area in Danum and the parks hostel in Mulu, both had to be booked months in advance as during peak season they sell out very early. A quick comparison of the two locations would be Danum is rough and ready, whereas Mulu is the luxury jungle experience. I imagine this is because Danum has a separate area where the fancier places to stay are, whereas Mulu is just one area so I still had the fanciness of the surroundings despite my cheap accomodation.
To get in I either jumped in the back of a van for a few hours or had to fly in, both are pretty disconnected from the world. As we drove deeper into the jungle, the trees rose up further and further overhanging the road, surrounding you with walls of green, wisps of mist shrouding the gaps between the trunks. We broke into a clearing where the centre was and I went to sign in – the woman at Danum Valley gave me a shocked looked when I told her I was cooking for myself – apparently not many people are as cheap as me.
I dropped my bag and was then alerted to shouts from a guide outside that there was an Orangutan up in one of the nearby trees. Sure enough there was a big male up above making a nest. I’d been to the Sepilok Orangutan sanctuary to guarantee that I’d see one at least semi-wild, but to see one just chilling away in the trees was super cool. Turns out I was incredibly lucky to see one just like that, a scientist I met said they didn’t see one until they’d been there a couple of weeks.
Deep in the jungle were some awesome ramshackled suspension bridges over the river. We’re talking ones with holes in the rotting planks, some heavily mossed ropes supporting everything and a heavy sway in light winds. It felt very jurassic world and heading down to the river’s sandy banks and going for a swim in the river was, A. terrifying – what’s in this murky water. and B. super cool – we’re swimming wild in a river in middle of jungle.
Down in Mulu Park I’d booked onto an adventure caving tour into some of their biggest caves. We didn’t do anything too tight, crawling-wise, more it was the cathedral like spaces deep under the earth we admired. Spaces that wouldn’t look out of place in LOTR. There was a central river running through that pooled up in some spots, so we set up our helmet lights to cast a ghostly light across the water and jumped in splashing around in icy water, our noises echoing off the walls.
I did plenty of treks into the jungles, some along nice wide maintained paths and others guided through dense growth, leeches attaching themselves to your clothes at every turn. I definitely did not handle them well, but luckily none got past my leech socks and onto my skin. What I really found about the jungle was the way the gloom descends around you, bats streaming out of the cave as the darkness engulfs. They are dark in a different way and when the sun sets it becomes pitch black and very noisy.
When the darkness arrived I went off either night-hiking or riding in the back of a pick-up in search of the nocturnal animals. Zooming through the forest, open-aired, beamers on searching for animals was very cool. I saw plenty of wildlife from creepy-crawlies to tree hugging animals whose names I can’t remember.
Overall I’m still definitely a mountain person rather than the jungles, but it was a great experience, even if I did empty several cans of insect repellent in a week. I’ll head into some more I’m sure, but prioritise heading up peaks.
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