Monday, June 28, 2010

Road trip to Maludam – Day 1

Last week, a couple of friends and I went to Maludam on a short survey trip. Maludam is a small coastal village about 250km from Kuching. Its inhabitants are mostly fishermen and farmers. Malays make up the majority, followed by Ibans and a small community of Chinese settlers.


Our main purpose was to visit Maludam National Park to photograph the extremely rare Red Banded Langur. Here is an excerpt taken from the Sarawak Forestry Department’s website:


Peat swamp forests cover about 10% of the land area of Sarawak. Borneo's peat swamp forests are amongst the most highly developed in the world, and the Maludam Peninsula is the largest single patch of peat swamp forest in Sarawak and Brunei. The Maludam National Park is critical for protecting the only viable population of the red banded langur (Presbytis melalophos cruciger) remaining in the world today. This species is one of the world's most beautiful monkeys. It occurs only in Borneo, and is restricted entirely to the peat swamp forests of the Sri Aman and Sarikei Divisions of Sarawak.


The three of us had been planning this trip for a long time, since last year if I remember correctly. We were supposed to go months ago but kept changing plans and went to other places instead. Finally, we decided not to postpone it any further so we put together a quick itinerary and invited a bunch of other friends. Sadly, all declined as they didn’t think it was that interesting. In fact, not many know of Maludam. Fewer still know about the existence of a national park there, or about the rare red langurs. Through this blog entry and my photos, I hope visitors to my site will be more aware of this beautiful park and its terrific potential for eco-tourism.


We started driving from Kuching around 3:30PM in the afternoon and arrived in Sri Aman at 6:15PM, just in time to head to the waterfront and snap some sunset photos. After that, we had our dinner at a small kopitiam. Four dishes (which were too salty!) and rice cost us about RM20 each person including drinks. Incidentally, the full moon was out that night but only half of it visible because of the half-eclipse. Non of us brought along a tripod so we didn’t bother taking any photos.


After dinner, we drove around looking for a suitable hotel to stay in. There are no international chains or star rated hotels in a small town like Sri Aman but there are a number of decent hotels to choose from. We visited three, checking out the rooms and rates before deciding on one close to the town center. Then we headed to a supermarket to pick up food and drinks for the journey the next day and then headed to our chosen hotel.


Our room which slept three was very good value as we paid only RM20 (discounted rate) for a night’s stay. Soon as clean towels were brought up to our room, I hit the shower then got ready for bed. No live World Cup match was on that night so the hotel and surrounding areas, cafes and shops were quiet. All three of us turned in early as we had to be up by 5AM to resume our journey to Maludam.


Photo gallery

Click on each photo for the larger size.

On our way... DSCF8415

Left, on our way… Right, at the top of Bukit Begunan, the tallest point along the Kuching-Sibu trunk road.


paddling across river in sampan Floating log that looks like Nessie! 

Left, two men paddling across the river in a small sampan. Right, the Lochness monster invades Sri Aman!


Floating log (Looks like Lochness monster) Birds flying in sky

Left, Nessie turns out to be a big log floating in the river… Right, birds flying in the evening sky.


Birds, sunset Sri Aman Waterfront (Sarawak)

Left, birds flying in the evening sky. Right, sunset at the Sri Aman waterfront.


Sri Aman DSCF8432

Left, in the evening, food stalls selling grilled seafood, chicken and other foods pop up by the waterfront. We didn’t visit any of the stalls. Right, taking sunset photos.


Sunset at Sri Aman town Sri Aman town

Right, Sri Aman town.


Sri Aman town White doves at Sri Aman round-about

Left, sleepy town. Right, a pair of white doves welcoming visitors driving into town.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Trekking to Teluk Limau, Part 5 – a long way to go…

Taking a much needed nap… 4:15PM with about 2.5 hours of daylight left and still a long way to go!

Part 5 – fading daylight and not even halfway there!
Feeling rejuvenated after the refreshing dip at Tajor, we started trekking again around 1:30PM. I had finished nearly two bottles of water but it still felt like I was carrying a bagful of rocks.

Trying our best to ignore our aching shoulders, we soldiered on through ever changing landscapes. It’s really amazing how diverse the vegetation is at Bako. You could be walking under the hot sun in an open grass land one hour and the next, you’ll be passing through a kerangas full of conifers! In most parts we passed through, the transition between vegetation types isn’t gradual either. You could stand at one spot and to your left is a sandy area with stunted trees but to your right is a dense jungle of trees. See photo gallery (second row) to see what I mean.

After walking about an hour we reached the 4.7km mark, the junction to Limau and Bukit Keruing. At this junction, the left trail heads to Teluk Limau and Teluk Kruin while the right path takes you on a loop trail passing Bukit Keruing and Bukit Gondol before merging with the Lintang trail which takes you back to the HQ. There’s a really nice creek that flows into a forested area here. We took a short rest and my friend refilled a bottle of water from the stream. The tea colored (tannins) water has no smell at all.


From the map above, one can see what little progress we made from the Limau/Bukit Keruing junction (marked “2:30PM”) to our last stop for the day where we set camp (marked “5:30PM”). In 3 hours, we managed to walk only 3 kilometers. When we got to the 8km mark, our backs and shoulders were truly sore from carrying so much water.

Mind you, all three of us have done long strenuous treks before so the difficulty we faced truly surprised us. I think it’s cause of our heavy load of water, the high humidity and heat only made matters worse.

By the way, it is so important to have a good quality backpack designed for carrying lots of weight over long distances. My Deuter Futura is totally useless for this purpose! I need to get a new back before I go on another long trek like this.

With daylight fading, we finally decided to pitch our tents next to a small stream and call it a day. It was a good idea to rest or we would not have been able to cope the next morning.

I was so relieved to finally rest and call it a day so I could rest my aching back. After bathing in the stream, we made a small fire to cook dinner. Lots of giant flies suddenly came out of nowhere buzzing noisily all around us. They must have picked up the smell of our food but when darkness fell, it was all peace and quiet again. It was also extremely hot! The trees and leaves were not moving and the air was still as night.

We spent a few minutes talking before returning to our tents to zip up and try and catch some sleep. It was only 8PM!

That night, I had the worst time ever, tossing and turning and suffering from a severe case of allergies. Must be cause I bathed at Tajor and in the small blackwater stream. I am pretty sure now that I am allergic to whatever is in blackwater streams. Could be tannins/organic acids. The itching started all over my legs just as I was about to fall asleep; it felt like I was bitten by a hundred mosquitoes and I looked around inside my tent but could find no bug. Then, itchy patches started appearing on my waist, under my arms and the back of my neck. NIGHTMARE!

I had such a horrible time that I totally ignored the beautiful still night outside with a full moon shining and some small animal moving in the trees near us us. If I wasn’t so bothered I would have loved to go on a short night walk to try and spot a slow loris or a big eyed tarsier. I think the animal we heard jumping from tree to tree could have been either. Besides the arboreal animal, I also heard splashing in the stream. Could have been an owl preying on fish, or maybe it was a bearded pig or other small mammal?

I was up almost the entire night; from the time the moon appeared, peeping through the jungle canopy to the time it disappeared hours later as dawn approached. My legs were still itching even after I applied gobs of Tiger Balm all over. It had truly been a nightmarish experience; I would never again bathe in blackwater or tea-colored mountain streams! Ever!

At the first hint of daylight, I was up and couldn’t wait to continue trekking. We cleaned up our camp site and had a quick breakfast of bread and cheese. By 6:50AM, we were on the move… “Teluk Limau, here we come!” Little did we know, the remaining 5 kilometers would be much tougher than what we went through the previous day…

Photo gallery
There are more than 30 pictures in the photo gallery so I’ve reduced them to thumbnail size. Click on each photo for larger size.

Teluk_Limau_Trek_Bako_National_Park_01 Teluk_Limau_Trek_Bako_National_Park_02
A small blackwater pool with water cascading down a stone wall on the right. I imagine the volume of water would increase significantly in wet weather.

Teluk_Limau_Trek_Bako_National_Park_04 Teluk_Limau_Trek_Bako_National_Park_05
Standing at this spot, I could see an abrupt change in landscapes and vegetation. To my left was a sandy area with exposed rock, conifers and stunted trees. To my right, a dense kerangas (heath forest).

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Left, open shrub land. Right, a beautiful jungle stream.

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Taking photos of large Nepenthes rafflesiana pitchers.

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Left, exposed rock and short Somah (Ploiarium sp.) trees and conifers. Right, Nepenthes ampullaria ground pitchers.

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A beautiful creek which flows from an open area over some boulders and into a thicket.

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Left, resting at the 4.7km point. This is also where the trail branches off to Limau and Bukit Keruing. Right, a blackwater stream with small cascades.

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This stream with small multi-tiered cascades reminds me so much of the Australian outback. One of my favorite streams in Bako, simply beautiful!

Teluk_Limau_Trek_Bako_National_Park_17 Teluk_Limau_Trek_Bako_National_Park_18
Left, small shallow pool good for dipping tired feet. Right, “Jalan Telok Limau, 4 hours”. When we reached this point, the time was 2:40pm, the sun would not set till 6:40pm that day meaning we had about 4 hours of daylight left. However, we walked for about 3 more hours before deciding to call it a day and camp in the jungle.

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Trudging on… we crossed several small streams along the way.

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Bako has lots of stemless palms called Joeys. The species pictured here is Johannesteijsmannia altifrons which is listed as a protected species in Sarawak.

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Left, Joey palms 2-3 times taller than a man. Right, pitcher plants in a flooded area.

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4:10PM, time for another rest. We rested several times as the trail moves over multiple hills, going up and down up and down… Even with half the water gone, my bag still felt really heavy because of my tired shoulders. I was so tired by this point that I just laid down on the ground for a quick shut-eye; I didn’t care if there were centipedes, scorpions, ants or any other creepy crawlies! I also took the opportunity to have a quick snack here. I had brought along two packs of high caffeine energy gel but found them totally useless. Felt no difference whatsoever! Still tired and energy-sapped. My advice to other trekkers is to pack some raisins to quickly replenish blood sugars.

Teluk_Limau_Trek_Bako_National_Park_28 Teluk_Limau_Trek_Bako_National_Park_30
After walking for another half hour, we reached this stream with a small shallow pool to bathe in. I suggested to my friends that we pitch our tents here since it was close to a water source. There was also a nice mossy patch to sleep on. However, my friends didn’t quite like the area as it wasn’t flat or wide enough; plus we had about 2 hours of daylight left and needed to go as far as we could while there was still light. So we continued on…

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By this time, the mosquitoes were starting to make their presence felt. But we were actually quite surprised there weren’t many! In fact, I remember only being bothered by 2 or 3. It was the big flies and sweat bees that bothered me more. I guess there just aren’t that many mozzies in dry weather.

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Desperate to find a stream before daylight faded completely, we picked up the pace and finally arrived at this small stream around 5:15PM. One of my friends wanted to carry on but myself and the other friend insisted we make use of the remaining light to pitch our tents, bathe and cook dinner. It turned out to be a good idea as darkness enveloped us by the time we were done eating.

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Left, pitching our tents in the middle of nowhere. Right, cooking dinner.
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