Jungle Fever, Jungle Spirit

Trip Start Jun 02, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Indonesia  ,
Sunday, June 10, 2007

However fevered your dreams of the jungle, Sumatra will surpass them.

Day two of our six-day trek, early morning. Amun has the cooking fire going next to the river Landak (the Indonesian word for porcupine). We crossed the river about 15 times to get to our campsite, following its serpentine path through the jungle, as there are no trails here. In some places, we formed a human chain to keep us standing against the strong currents--a good challenge.

From the time we crossed the river from Felix's house to the other side where the jungle begins, it took us three hours to get here. With our guides, Wanda and Mbra, and two cooks, Amun and Rudy, we carried six days' worth of clothes, food and supplies on our backs. Our goal is to find and count orangutan nests, as well as track a wild orangutan if we're lucky enough to find one--they are very shy and stay high up in the canopy, so they're difficult to spot. When we're done with the trek, we will take the data back to Coconut Island and add it to the project's growing body of research on orangutan health. From there,  it is sent to Dr. Ivona,who oversees the research from the Czech Republic.

But while my spirit was willing, my body had other plans. From the beginning, I knew something wasn't right with my stomach. Ever since I ate a water apple from a local man's backyard, I've felt sick. Briony had some of the apple and felt a bit sick as well, but not as bad as me--you could hear my intestines bubble away like a mad scientist's experiment.

On our first night at camp, I had to crouch in the bushes, exploding and sweating in the heat, watching for the eyes of a tiger to appear in the undergrowth. An estimated 500 or so live in the park, and though Wanda has never seen one, he says their eyes appear glowing and green in the dark. Of course with that story, my imagination ran wild as I clung on for dear life to a vine and laboured to be rid of whatever poison had entered my system. Lightning flashed silently, illuminating the forest, and to my horror I found a leech fastening itself to my finger, preparing to suck my blood. I managed to do battle with the slimy critter and unfasten its raspy little mouth. A lot to contend with on my first night!

The next day we went on our first scientific trek upriver, and I started to become delerious with fever as we counted five fresh orangutan nests in the area--they had camped very close to us that night. We moved ever upward to the top of the mountain, about 600 metres up almost vertical terrain,Wanda leading the way and clearing a path with his machete. He is so full of knowledge and his eyes so well trained, he can spot the nests, which at first glance appear to be only more dense sections of canopy. But on closer inspection, they look like eagle's nests, large and often in the fork of a branch--amazing that the orangutans don't fall out, but apparently they sleep very still. Wanda gauges the height of both the nest and the tree, the type of tree, and if the nest is fresh or old, which we duly note in two notebooks (a backup is always kept in case of dunkings in the river or a sudden monsoon).

As we ascended in the 90-degree heat, boots and hands scrabbling among the tree roots and orange mud, my head really began to spin and I was concerned I could have a serious fall. When we stopped for lunch, Karen felt my forehead.

"Panas," she told Wanda. I was burning up, but was covered in goosebumps because I felt cold. We decided it was best for me to return to camp and rest. I was disappointed I could go no further, but everyone bolstered my spirits by saying how far I'd come being so ill. It was then that we gave ourselves the name Jungle Spirit (Semangat Hutan), because we all had the spirit to take on the hardest terrain of any volunteers yet. We are a tough group, up to the challenge of the steep terrain, the swollen river, the leeches (most of us had been leeched by lunchtime), and jungle fever.

I returned with the help of Mbra, who moved ahead with sure feet, slow and steady. These guides are as sure-footed as mountain goats and as graceful as gazelles--even scrambling down the slopes they rarely slip, and they do it in flip flops and with a cigarette in one hand, as Mbra did. He got me safely back to camp and I rested, waiting for the fever to break.

Later, when the others returned, Dan gave me a capsule of a local herb, tonkat ali, known for increasing strength and treating fever. It seemed to do the trick--my fever broke and I awoke in a sweat, but feeling better. My stomach is still delicate and I have to choke down a lot of that horrible tasting rehydration fluid, but the worst is over.
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