So there I was one Tuesday afternoon in February 2006 merrily making my way by boat up the Tembling River towards Taman Negara rainforest in Malaysia. I say "I" but of course Paul is also here but for the purposes of this blog these are my thoughts on the trip.
It all started in Kuala Lumpur with a pick up by a quite luxurious coach, carpeted from floor to ceiling in swirls of multicoloured splendour!. A slow, very slow, 3 hours later (the driver seemed to have terrible trouble every time he needed 5th gear. As for the hills, well we could have walked quicker, yes even me. After a lunch stop in Jerantut we made our way by a second coach to the boat station, I was quite encouraged that at least these boats, unlike the one in Cambodia, had backrests
. So the luggage was stowed in front of the boat covered with plastic (an indication of what was to come) and along with 10 other passengers we "boarded" the boat. "Boarded" is a bit of an exaggeration, it really makes it sound like it was a large sea going vessel, when in fact it was quite the opposite. It was more of a wobble, wobble, mind you don't fall in the river as you step over the seat backs and find somewhere to sit. Two bums to a seat and that was the width of the boat, which by now, loaded down with 12 people and their luggage was barely out of the water. Well of course we were all far too seasoned travellers to put on the life vests staring us tantalisingly in the face. So off we went on a three-hour adventure up the river into the rainforest, "wow, fantastic", I hear you say.
Well let me tell you, after 10 minutes your bum was so numb you were hoping that they were joking about it being a three-hour trip and perhaps really it was only 30 minutes. After 30 minutes you realise that the three hours is for real, although by now most people have fallen asleep bored stiff and the soporific effect of the engine. But not me, oh no I am determined to stay awake to spot something interesting, so there's a swift or is a it a swallow? Who knows, there's certainly no running commentary from the boatman, oh and there's another and another and another, in fact I can't seem to see anything else but swifty swallow thingsl. Hang on, what's that over by the bank, surely some sort of wading bird, oh no, just a plastic bag. Keep looking, surely there'll be some thing else soon, looks a bit black over Toms' mothers. (old blackcountry saying-means it looks like rain) Shuffle, shuffle, move to sit on the other buttock to ease the increasingly numb bum, careful not to upturn the boat and everyone in it.
Keep looking, yes there's some thing in the water there, could be a crocodile, I've heard they have them in these parts..... but no just a log. Now I can definitely see something, there are three of them just near to the bank, they're bobbing about a bit, yes, I definitely have something in my sight, I might get the binoculars out. Oh, disappointment again, three plastic bottles used as markers for fishing lines. Never mind keep looking, well that tree looks impressive just look at how it's festooned with brightly coloured......plastic bags, red , white even a dash of yellow and oh how lovely there's even a bit of fishing net. Criky these "special" trees are everywhere, look at that one it even has loo paper on it, people go to such trouble these days. That reminds me about toilets, always an interesting topic on such trips. Of course these days, if you're lucky, tourist traps have all mod cons, including "western" toilets. I say "western" just to differentiate for the uninformed, you see in most Asian countries there are what I would call "squat and go" toilets. Very strange to us western women who are used to popping into the ladies and without a thought, down come the draws, on the loo and bobs your uncle. Now the squat and go floor pan, needs some careful planning, you can't just go in there and think you can do the business. Number one, the floor is likely to be wet, now you can't be too sure why this might be but you can usually tell by the smell. So you've got to decided how to deal with your clothes, a short skirt is no real problem but if you've been visiting Temples all day you are probably wearing a long skirt or trousers to keep your legs covered so as not to offend anyone
. Number two, there won't be any toilet paper, or if there is should you flush it or put it in the bin? Number four there is no bin. Number five there will be a small shower attachment close-ish to the toilet, which is all well and good and generally I would say seems quite a good idea, it would certainly save flushing all that paper into the river to festoon the trees. However, what do you do? If you use the shower thingy, how do you dry yourself, it's not really as simple as a quick shake for a man, now is it? There won't be a towel and you wouldn't use it if there were now would you? So next thing is how to approach the squat it's self. Now sometimes and quite helpfully, I think, there will be footprints marked in the best position for ensuring a good aim. The pan will either be "flush" to the floor or be set in a raised platform. Flush to the floor is great but I had terrible incident earlier today using a squat on a raised platform. Imagine the scene if you will, this is the last chance for a wee before going on a 3 hours boat journey and the floor is wet. (no toilet paper, no bin, no towel, shower thingy) So I got myself into a reasonable position only to find that just at the critical stage my left foot slipped off the platform.............well I somehow managed to keep aim and not wee all over my clothes.....good thing too as I need to wear these trousers for the next 3 days .......but I do have quite a bruise on my leg. Oh and the trick is always to carry your own loo paper in your pocket, essential for just such emergencies
Now where was I? Oh yes, sailing up the river or being sold down the river I'm not quite sure which. It still looks black over Tom's mothers. The journey continued as it started with plenty of swifty/swallow things, plastic bags of every hew and colour, I even saw a crisp packet or two and the occasional bird on a sandbank, not to mention every shape and size of plastic bottle bobbing up and down.
The big excitement was when the boatman pulled over towards one of the sandbanks; surely he must have spotted something. It wasn't to be, it was just that the boat was sinking, the bilge pump had packed up and we needed to bale out. Not literally of course but boy were we all wishing we'd put on those life jackets when we saw how fast the water was flowing. Anyway the boatman seemed unperturbed, he baled out vast quantities of water and off we went for another 90 joyous minutes. Oddly enough everyone seemed far more alert after the baling out incident. Of course we then had one of those late afternoon, tropical rainstorms and got soaked, but hey, it was warm rain, not cold like in the UK so it was okay! Ten minutes later I was dry again.
Now in that 180 minutes, I got to thinking about what I could be doing instead of sitting for 3 numb bumming hours in sinking boat looking at nothing in particular other than the detritus of human life and then thought ...........well dear readers what were you doing last Tuesday?
PS it was of course all worth it, the white water rafting, where we got soaked to the skin, the canopy walk 45 metres high up in the tree tops and dinner in the floating restaurant, what more could you possibly want? another trip down the river maybe? Well you do have to get back to civilisation somehow! So there we were one Thursday morning floating down the river when...........zzzzzzzzzz