Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Sure, Rambo eradicated an entire Burmese rogue army single handedly, but did you see the way he handled the tropical climate?

“Often I feel I go to some distant region of the world to be reminded of who I really am… Stripped of your ordinary surroundings, your friends, your daily routines, your refrigerator full of your food, your closet full of your clothes, you are forced into direct experience. Such direct experience inevitably makes you aware of who it is that is having the experience. That’s not always comfortable, but it is always invigorating.”

-Michael Crichton, Travels

Sure, Rambo eradicated an entire Burmese rogue army single handedly, but did you see the way he handled the tropical climate?

Long-term travel, it’s just as much about discovering other countries and cultures as it is about discovering yourself. In Taman Negara, Malaysia, home of the world’s oldest rainforest, I discover that I am a wus, a sissy, a walk’n talk’n yell’r bellied chick’n that’s a’ lost both it’s marbles. The evidence is overwhelming.

I went in with grand ambition. I’ll rent a tent, I’ll sleep in a cave, I’ll hire a guide and go on a five-day four-night trek up Gunung Talan. I’ll track a family of tigers and play ole’ with rhinoceros. Rambo doesn’t have s**t on me.

Being that I sweat more than anyone I’ve ever encountered perhaps the world’s most humid region isn’t something I ought seek out. My water supply was gone within two hours on the first day test run up Bukit Teresik, a hill. Let me emphasize that with repetition. A hill. Even my shorts were dude-I-think-he-pissed-himself-silly saturated. I stumbled back to Kuala Tahan, the village bordering the national park, licking perspiration off my forearms. Then squeezing my shirt over my mouth.
The thing about sweat is that it’s similar in consistency to urine, only more diluted. I now possess an appreciation for the difference.

I never go on a hike lasting longer than five hours. I simply can’t carry enough water. Boiling river water wouldn’t extend the kilometer count. Willpower exits the pores in pace with perspiration. A couple hours in and one begins to feel this-is-as-good-a-spot-to-die-as-any sluggish. I’d trudge along for a couple more hours only out of some sadistic sense of obligation--I came here to hike, to engage the natural world, and damn it, that’s what I’m going to do.

Instead of tracking tigers I dart back with each rustle in the foliage. Each grunt, every snort, they’re worth twenty meters of backpedaling, then twenty minutes of creeping up to the location where the commotion originated. Despite my flight, or because of it, I see nothing more than primates, large birds and that-spider/ant/beetle/fly-must-have-sat-foot-in-Godzilla-nuclear-sludge. Who would have thought elephants and rhinos were so good at hiding?

Who would have thought leeches were so good at seeking? They don’t have eyes, but sure as hell know when I’m in the area, inching towards me from all directions and, occasionally, dropping from above. In leech-prone areas I don’t see much of the rainforest, instead busy scanning the body for bloodsuckers. The more dehydrated I get the more delirious, the more masochistic. Instead of pulling the leeches off I pull a lighter from my pocket. Let me make an admission. I bought it for the very purpose. In my delirium I’m wishing the parasites had vocal chords so I could hear them squeal.

Even without leeches howling while aflame the rainforest is plenty loud, the decibel count somewhere between why’d-I-go-to-a-punk-rock-concert-when-I-could-be-at-home-doing-laundry and a retirement home fire alarm (loud enough to alert ninety-eight year-olds sans hearing aids). Five minutes after entering you’re ‘in it’, the forest’s 250 bird species all seem to be calling at once. Insects buzz, frogs croak, monkeys chatter above. It’s even better than Planet Earth in full Dolby surround sound.

It’s almost, like, as if you were on planet Earth, or something.

Even muddy and leech-covered, or because of it, I had a great time. It’s just a shame I’m such a sissy. How about a little less in the way of self-discovery?

Mr. Rambo, sir, I kneel before thee.

Keep drifting.

[[It’s July 4th, I’m in Bali, Indonesia. Nobody knows when and where the fireworks start. What gives?]]

Pictures not uploading, this is me walking away before frustration turns into violent spasms.

No comments:

Post a Comment