Friday, March 20, 2009

Endau Rompin - Day 1: Journey to Leech Heaven

Endau Rompin, Land of Rivers, Waterfalls, Pristine Jungles and... hordes of LEECHES.

They are EVERYWHERE, lurking on the jungle floor, perched atop a overhanging leaf, floating in the river water, even squirming within the confines of your tent while you sleep! And when they latch onto you, beware! These slimy, spineless blood suckers will then start to loop themselves up your body, finding the nearest juiciest parts where warm running vitae is within easy access for it's toothy maw to bore through and suck it out to satisfy it's thirst, secreting small amounts of anaesthesia to numb the senses while it feeds. Only when it is completely full, will it then detach its suckers and fall off, leaving a horribly bloody wound which refuses to stop bleeding until a few hours later when the anti coagulant the leech also injected had worn off.

Your 'friendly' neighbour hood leech

Thus, with this grosteque image in mind did I 'confirmed' my participation to join the Endau Rompin expedition organized by Aurelius, 3 months before, the lure of its chillingly cool waterfalls enticing me to overcome my phobia of perhaps it's most abundant inhabitant.

Takah Tinggi (been there but on this trip ;))

This is actually my 2nd time to Endau Rompin, the 2nd oldest national park in Malaysia totalling 870km2 in size and located on the border between Pahang and Johor. It has three entry points: Kahang, Selai and Kuala Rompin. I have already been through the Selai entrance to visit various waterfalls at that section of the jungle, Takah Tinggi being the high point of that trip. This time, I am entering Endau Rompin via the Kahang entrance with the focus being to visit another famous waterfall, Buaya Sangkut.

Buaya Sangkut waterfalls

"Legend has it that there was once an orang asli chieftain who had a dream that his son would one day be killed by a giant crocodile. He awoke from it, determined to save his son by trapping the crocodile and kill it. Thus, when the crocodile finally went for his son, he lured it to the falls, trapping it between the stones and slaying it. Taking it's head as a trophy he placed it in his home, unknowingly sealing his son's fate when one day it fell on top of his son, killing him instantly."

Come the morning of March 7th, 2009, I was on the road again heading towards the Trail Trackers HQ in TTDI where we awaited the bus that will take us to Endau Rompin. At 3:30am, with everyone reporting in, we shoved off, I, heaving my 18kg backpack to the bus to start our journey.

My 18kg hump over my back

Ready to set off!

Inside, the 22 of us took our seats, Aurelius already arranging to have the bus only half filled to accommadate our oversized packs. Shortly after we left, I decided to take a nap, having not slept before this and hoping that I could recharge my batteries for the hike to the campsite later on. Sometime later, as the bus hurtled towards our destination, I spied out of the window, catching glimpses of winding roads and deep ravines in the darkened morning landscape.

Strangely, the road seems to resemble the Karak highway, an East-West link over the Titiwangsa mountain range that leads to the state of Pahang. I recalled that the Kahang entrance to Endau Rompin is in Johor though I honestly I didn't really research to find out exactly where it is within Johor. Putting my doubts to rest, I returned to sleep, trusting Aurelius and gang to bring us to our destination safely.

I awoke again with a start to realize that the bus had stopped and people were alighting.

"Have we reached Kahang already?" I wondered.

"We're LOST!" came an unexpected reply to my thoughts from someone (maybe Timmy, it was dark and I was half asleep) at the back.

A few questions to the awakened ones revealed that we were in Temerloh, Pahang! The bus driver was right in heading towards 'Taman Negara', except the 'Taman Negara' we are heading to is not the one in Jerantut, Pahang but the one in Kahang, Johor!

Surprise, surprise! We are in Temerloh!

Leaving the delicate discussions on where to go to the pros, I went off to the loo to take a leak. Once I am back, we are ready to go! :)

Following Dennis's GPS route proposal, we went down the old trunk road to Johor. I went back to sleep, not yet finished charging my batteries.

Daybreak eventually came and soon everyone's stomach is rumbling. We were, however a little bit behind schedule. The detour we took to Temerloh had eaten away precious time and by the time we reached our first stop for breakfast, we were 2 hours behind.

Breakfast was at Yuan Yuen Fish Ball Eating Restaurant in Yong Peng where everyone had their share of fish balls. Not a big fan of noodles and fish balls, I nevertheless gulped down the food making sure that I have enough protein to cover the trek ahead.

Outside the Fish Ball shop at Yong Peng

Fish Ball Noodles (Not really that great actually)

We finally arrived at the Endau Rompin Park office in Kahang town at a little bit pass noon. After registering ourselves and making the necessary payments, I took my last opportunity to 'desludge' myself in the park office's toilet, fully aware what sort 'facilities' we will get inside the park (there might even be a few leeches waiting to plug themselves onto my butt! Ewww!).

Outside the Endau Rompin Park Office in Kahang

Shortly after, a convoy of 4x4s arrived at the office, ready to take us into the park. Linus, Aaron, Valerie, Chris and myself hopped into one and immediately went to the nearest hardware store to help Aaron stock up on an important essential you probably won't get in the cities - a genuine 'Adidas' kampung. ;) We stopped for about 20 minutes, Aaron going in to choose his shoe while the rest of us checked out the wares the shop has to offer; soaps, flashlights, stainless steel containers, shaving cream, medical equipment.

Clowning around inside the 4x4 ;)

Having bought his shoe for about RM6.00/pair, we went off, chasing after the other 4x4s bearing our members that had gone ahead. The journey took us about 2 hours, winding through run down laterite roads inside oil palm estates initially and virgin jungle next.

2 hour journey on run down laterite roads; like riding a horse!

By the time we reached the park, we were informed that Aurelius had already registered all of us at another park office and we are to head directly towards the jetty for our boat ride located at Kampung Peta, an orang asli settlement.

Group photos at the jetty

Two motorized long sampans ferried us to the starting point of our overland hike to base camp. Mud tinged river water lapped our boat's wooden hull as we went upriver, the calls of jungle animals echoed in the air. A couple boats similar to ours zipped downriver, passing us with cheerful visitors waving towards us. Being friendly people, we of course waved back ;). It was mid afternoon but the clouds above heralded the coming of a rain storm. A question earlier to the driver in the 4x4 revealed that it had been raining everyday in the afternoon all week and I envision nothing different today.

The motorized sampan with Linus onboard. "Bon Voyage!"

We reached the starting point soon enough, another jetty marking it as it was. A number of people were waiting at the shore, strapped with backpacks, they were most definately fellow hikers finishing their own adventure in the jungle. We unloaded our heavy backpacks, strapping up our leech socks. I generously sprayed Baygon over my shoes and leech socks while previously sceptical members of the group now appeared more receptive in doing the same especially after the promising results in Nuang a week earlier. The people waiting on the shore were indeed heading back out and as we head in, we found out they were from Singapore. One person's cheeky parting call send little chills down my spine... "Enjoy the leeches! They are everywhere!"

A bridge crossing
Mr. Maxx crossing the river

It took us about 45 minutes to get to the first camp site but if we thought we were to stop there we were mistaken, we were asked to forge on. After crossing a river with waters ankle high in light rain, we reached another camp site which we discover to be Kuala Marong :p. The journey took us another 20 minutes. Kuala Marong is the campsite we were supposed to be heading on the 2nd day of our trip but somehow plans were made to go straight there instead of spending the night at Batu Hampar. Perhaps it is a blessing in disguise because once we unfurled our tents it becomes a little tedious and time consuming packing it up and unpacking it again.

Signboard at Kuala Marong camp site

The light rain that had accompanied us from the river stopped by the time we reached the campsite. Still, puddles of water were found on the raised rectangles of ground where we were to pitch our tents. Our first task however was leech removal. For the 'Baygon' sceptics, leeches bites were the reward. Most of the bites were centered around the feet, ankles and between the toes. Those wearing leech socks had leeches crawling up to their thighs to take a bite. There were at least two cases where leeches actually managed to crawl all the way up to their butts! Now I ain't going to be specific but suffice to say having some slimy worm thing crawl up your a** and you getting your fingers in those regions to pull them off really pushes up the gross factor by more than a few notches. :p

A very fat leech after feasting off Linus's blood

I survived the first hike relatively unscatched. Granted a few persistent leeches did try to attach their toothy maws to my good self but they sure picked the wrong host to mess with as their suckers drew up poison on contact with my shoes and socks, leaving them stunned. Some didn't appear to be affected but regular 'leech checks' on my legs during the hike managed to have me remove them before they cause any damage. Overall, leech attacks on me were kept at a minimum.

Leech removal session complete, we proceeded to set up our tents. With some 'choice' real estate already taken up by the rest of crew, my tent mate and I had to settle for one of those sites with a couple of water puddles on top. For this trip, I had been drawn to stay with my perpetually 'busy', wisecracking, medical diagnostic equipment supplier friend, Maxx (with a double XX ;)). Not an entirely surprising choice really, since I was probably the only one he remotely knew well in the group. We had been to many trips together and I had no doubts with regard to his survival skills and the occasional displays of a suicidal streak (like always wanting to perch oneself on the furthest ledges over the steepest drops to doing a Fast and Furious staring you in the face thing while we hurtle down winding Kuala Kangsar roads at over 120km/hour).

I dug a small trench to drain out the water and soon we had our tent up. The next task was then, dinner.

'Home' away from home... ;)

Pulling out our propane burners, we prepared ourselves what we thought was a virtual jungle feast of maggee mee curry, laced with some luncheon meats and accompanied by a couple picks of chinese pickled vegetables (no standard power bars for us mind you! ;)) We found out we were totally offstaged when Audrey and gang pulled out their stoves and stainless steel cooking pots to prepare themselves a state banquet comprising spaghetti bolognese with sausages complete with bowls of carrot and potato soup! :) Even Charlene and her gang wasn't that far off when they plucked their cooking utensils from their bags and proceeded to cook RICE! And to think that Maxx and I was once rebuked by a certain girl (brought in to join our group but eventually did the aeroplane by a certain INFAMOUS someone :p) during my Ledang trip for stuffing our bags with 'unnecessary' luxuries.

Preparing the 'jungle feast'... Mmmmmm

Darkness had fallen in the jungle by the time dinner was dispensed with, I head towards the 'bathroom' which were really unlit wooden huts that thankfully was generously supplied with water pumped from the river. Still, you cannot be too careful groping around within it's flashlight lit confines. During my stay there I had found one stall with a gigantic wolf spider (as big as Shelob (of Lords of the Rings fame)) hanging over one rotted wooden panel and a huge well fed leech sitting strategically behind the steel clothes hangers while I was taking my bath. This is not to mention also finding a number of those unfed creepy crawlies looping themselves towards you even as you bathe!

Once refreshed, I headed back out to the campsite.

The earlier hike had taken it's toll on some of our members, so some of them opted to take an early night's sleep. A number of us pulled out a deck of cards and played 'Chor Tai Tee' instead. Aaron's arrival signaled a change of game to 'UNO' but it was Valerie's idea of playing 'Werewolves' that really made things interesting. ;)

Somewhat akin to 'Mafia', players had a number of basic roles to play, namely ordinary villagers, a seer, a witch and of course a couple of werewolves. All this is moderated by a game master which although not playing the game itself, still draws a lot of fun seeing how the players go around outwitting themselves. The objective of the game of course is to *find* the werewolves before they kill off ALL the villagers by identifying them in a session when everyone starts accusing one another of being one, ending with a vote among the players as to who the werewolves actually were. The werewolves themselves posing as villagers in the daytime votes as well and if they are accused, try to defend themselves by reasoning with the villagers why they are not. They can also attempt to accuse another villager of being a werewolf therefore drawing the 'ire' of the villagers onto someone else. It is not surprising to 'burn' an innocent villager while the real wolves snicker in their 'black hearts' at the peasant's folly. ;) The seer and the witch has additional special powers aside from being able to vote and accuse as well. Each turn the seer as it's name suggests, can 'view' one person's faced down card, revealing it's character only to him/her. The seer can then 'guide' the villagers to finger the correct person when the 'witch-hunt' session is held later on. The 'witch' on the other hand can do three things each round but only once in a game. The witch can either choose to 'raise a killed player', 'kill another player' or just do nothing after the werewolves themselves have selected a prey.

All this happen under the cover of 'darkness' where all the players have to close their eyes and the game master calling out the seer, the werewolves and the witch consecutively to open their eyes in separate session to make their move before withdrawing back into 'slumber' after they had done so.

The cards: Numbered card represent the hapless villagers, the ace represents the seer, the king represents the witch while the jokers are the WEREWOLVES! Auuuuuu!!!!

Truly it was a really exciting game and I have to confess that I am rather 'hooked' at it. Visions of the inquisition came to my mind as I watched innocent villagers burnt on the stake as the peasants squable among themselves as to who is the heretic... er... werewolf... ;)

The night ended with the hisses of 'Shhhhh...' from the slumbering campers as some of the players got overly excited with the game. Realizing that it was probably pass 2:00am, we snuff out the last remaining traces of light and crawled into our tents to sleep, a little tinge of excitement coloring my dreams as I awaited the coming dawn.

1 comment:

  1. Eddie..applause applause applause....a very good and detailed blog entry about our escapades...wonderful memories reading it...thank you friend!