We ate our lunch and prepared our backpacks for our journey down to Long Repun where 2 four wheeled drive vehicles would take us to Bario. I thought there could be no more trials and tribulations descending from Batu Linanit to ending point after everything we had been through. Enough is enough.
Read Part 1 of Hiking Gunung Murud, Sarawak series HERE.
Memorable picture at Church Camp.
While waiting at the bottom of the staircase to re-group, Pak Gokang arrived shaking and swaying right and left. Din and I could sense something was not right with him. He was showing signs of hypothermia. At this juncture, he wanted to leave the group at the care of Ainor and Ad, and walk to his village in Ba’kelalan on his own in that condition. We insisted for him to remain with the group until he felt better. Civilisation as in the nearest village was 10 hours on foot from where we were. Pak Gokang surely could cut down the timing by half if he was not sick.
His condition worsened as all he could do was lying on the lowest step of Batu Lilanit. Like a scene from a mountaineering movie, the hikers quickly gathered dry socks, emergency blanket, gloves, medicine, ointment and sleeping mat to keep Pak Gokang’s body warm. Lucky we were for we had a medical doctor on board. Dr Siti was in charge to take care of Pak Gokang while the rest of us fought the harsh weather at 1,800m elevation. Batu Lilanit is an open surface where strong wind came from all directions. Even at the bottom of the steps, the wind was blowing a gale and sent a chill down the spine. We had to also keep our bodies warm. We could not risk having two really sick hikers at such extreme conditions. The crew and the male hikers set up the tent tarp (‘fly’) to lessen the wind felt. We sat very close to one another for 3 hours while waiting for Pak Gokang to regain warmness. At this point and after 10 years of hiking, I can now attest that every hiker needs to bring emergency blanket on every trip. It comes handy when you need it the most. I brought my sleeping bag out and it was drenched wet thereafter.
At 10pm, we started walking along the steel platform of the Joy Bridge. We began to walk in file and had to regroup again and again. There was an odd observation from the night trekking as the crew arranged the order of the trekkers from lesser strength to full blown. The order ended up with the hikers who were not familiar with jungle markings to stray off course. There was also a huge gap in between for the straying off course to happen.
After climbing few hills, the trail sloped downwards. Amidst the darkness and guided by the dim light of our headlamps, we minded our steps over endless branching tree roots, loose grounds and crawling reptiles (we didn’t see any on this trip). The trek down was so steep, I had to hang on the tree roots or else I kissed the earth with injury.
The more we trekked, the more leeches appeared. They were literally everywhere. On your pants, shirts, backpacks, stomach, legs, shoes, feet. Everywhere. The abundance of leeches made it almost possible to stay leech free. By then, I had pulled atleast 3 leeches from my stomach. I never knew my flabby stomach could be that delicious.
Walking dead would best describe us all. We walked from 11pm until 4am where we slept on trek for 2 hours before walking again.
We were not quite happy with the crew who had left us unaccompanied since the morning. There was not even a proper briefing in the morning on the journey. So we thought we would conclude our trekking latest by 5pm. Confident with our estimated time, Danny suggested we took a rest and finished off the snacks we had left. We heard the crew calling us from nearby location. Almost there, we thought. All faces curved the sweetest smiles and took our sweet time clearing up the food.
Only meal we had on that very day was maggi. In the background, Saidah’s foot was bleeding.
So when we were told we had to continue walking under scorching hot sun along the winding logging road, 3 hours hike of Bukit Good Morning and crossed the Lubuk Anaconda, we were dumbfounded. Most of us stopped and questioned why we had done this expedition the first place. Another question raised was whether the itinerary provided include the extra mileage we were about to do. Apparently there were all there in that brief itinerary provided to us with blatant lack of explanation.
My feet hurt so much, I could not longer bear it. I changed into my sandals and from this point on, everything went haywire. It started raining half way through the logging road and what appeared to be dry road was muddy road up to your heel. My sandals went down the mud and became very slippery.
On first ascent of Bukit Good Morning, I fell down and sprained my right ankle. I tried to stand up again and again and fell back on my knees. Falling together with me was my spirit which I didn’t manage to lift right until the end of the journey. I had tears streaming down my cheeks as Kak Niza held me up. I wasn’t feeling good since the night at the Church Camp. I felt like my energy zeroed down already.
From that point onwards, Din and Kak Ezit trekked with me and borne with my grumpy self. When I wanted to rest, they obliged. When I wanted to drink, they obliged. When I kept on asking how long more do I have to walk every other minute, they comforted me with, “We are almost there”. Even though I knew deep down inside they themselves were not sure of that almost there part, those magic words gave me some comfort to regain composure, atleast before the dark night.
Since the crew did not see the importance of a sweeper (someone who is familiar with the jungle trail, usually one who had experienced trekking in the area), Kak Ezit, Din and I were on our own until we heard a voice calling in front. It was Danny and he was yelling weird questions like did we see his backpack near the river, did we see him on the hill or that did we want him to come down. Confused, we answered his questions one after another. Not long, he came down almost running like a child who had just found his lost mother. So the story was he left his backpack near the river as a landmark for us and he went to higher ground so that we could see him. When he tried to back trek, he was lost and could not find his way.
Reunited we continued the seemingly never ending journey. Our next landmark after Bukit Good Morning was Lubuk Anaconda. So when we crossed a big stream with Danny the first time, I wondered why it was so easy. Then the mud trail was back, this time thicker and darker. To hell with all that, I wanted to arrive at the designated place where the 4wd would take us to the guesthouse from. But I still could not resist from pulling off leeches from my stomach and feet. Danny had to assist me to remove one which got stuck in my pants’ zipper. Naughty leech.
Then we arrived at what I thought was the real Lubuk Anaconda, the black mud pond. We had to walk and balance our body (and backpack) on a 5cm tree trunk laid horizontally for 50m, maybe. When I fell down, the mud was sucking my shoes in. I was covered in mud right up to my calf. The whole black mud pond smelled bad. With my weak knees and sprained ankle, I clearly had problem negotiating the balance. They extended their walking sticks and hands to reach me. They even arranged for a stick to be buried standing so I could hold on to that stick to balance. It turned out to be a fake Lubuk Anaconda as we found more black mud ponds ahead. The next was always tougher than the previous one. On the second fake Lubuk Anaconda, Din fell into the black mud pond because he was giving me support. He fell down into a thigh high mud. He was traumatised at the mention of swamp for weeks after the incident.
Later, we heard voices from the hikers ahead of us. We thought we were almost there again. I had bleak memory of what happened from this point onwards. All I could remember was the group, a local man with a gun whose name was Stephen and Ainor. Stephen directed Ainor to help navigate me through the real Lubuk Anaconda. None of what I read online prepared me to face filthy black mud pond and the clear water swamp and I wonder why. Ainor carried my backpack and I followed his steps balancing along what felt like 100m long crossing the swamp on tiny tree trunks with long grass right and left. The best part was you either see the steps or you don’t.
We had to walk to the village and passed by traditional paddy fields. I didn’t see a thing in the pitch dark night. What I had in mind was abandoned paddy field gated somewhere. Who would have thought in the middle of the field, there was a tiny circular paddy field about 5m deep?
I reunited with my friends and then told them don’t wait me up because I needed to check my bottom in suspicion of leech crawl. I turned off my headlamp and walked few steps ahead. Suddenly, I was in the air for few seconds because somersaulting down that tiny paddy field. Of course my scream pierced the silent night and people who saw me falling quickly ran to rescue.
At initial thought, I fell down the sewerage pond. I hurriedly looked for my specs which had been thrown off when the incident happened. Stephen went down to look for my specs but to no avail. There was I tired from the long journey and blinded. I had a very high power index and my specs were branded collector specs with all sort of highly advance technology for eyewear.
The somersault had caused further injury to my right ankle and I was left limping to the 4wd. As I could barely stand, I was given the front seat to the 4wd and left with the first group. It was quite a journey for the 4wd because of the muddy trail. You need to be a real expert to manoeuvre one.
That aside, the leeches fat with blood detached themselves from our bodies and started to crawl on the mirror. Mine scaled the front mirror from left to right and finally reached the driver of 4wd who threw them out of the window. I felt into deep sleep and only awoken when I felt the slimy movement into my nose. Did a leech just crawl into my nose? I was unsure if it was just my feeling or it really did happen. I had a theory that the leech, if it did enter my nose, walked out during my sleep. 2 months on, I am still alive.
The 4wd was supposed to send us to a guesthouse but according to the crew since we had arrived late into the night, it was already closed and that we had to search for a new one when we reached Bario. Let’s not get into the poor arrangement made by the crew. To cut it short, we did not have a place to stay for the night after barely sleeping in the last 48 hours. The driver was so kind that he offered us to stay at his house. I could not walk anymore and had to be carried out of the 4wd.
While I slept like a baby on a mattress, the second group didn’t make it home until at 6am. Their 4wd had to be rescued because it got stuck in the mud. They were given a choice of waiting in the rain or walk for 4 more hours to Bario village. They chose the former.
We checked out from the driver’s house early morning and headed straight to the airport where I was transferred to a wheel chair. First time riding a wheel chair! I was then sent to Klinik Kesihatan Bario and was taken to Pregnancy Room almost immediately where I had my feet wrapped with ice. I was observed for 2 hours and given medicine and medical leave for 3 days.
From Bario to Kuala Lumpur, I flew with Malaysia Airlines and pushed on a wheel chair throughout. One stewardess thought I was in my maternity care and wondered where my baby was. Haha.
Will this incident stop me from exploring? Resounding NO.