Squeezing the most out of life | An Aussie and a Colombian living life with a wandering spirit. Eight years together & over 60 countries up our sleeves, we're sharing the love |

A tumble in the jungle

A few years ago I took a solo trip to Borneo – my main mission being to climb Mt Kinabalu, appreciate the orangutans, and get muddy in the jungle. This is the continuation of that journey as I re-share my emails home. Kris

After some major bus and boat hours through torrential rain I found myself with a smaller group of new people. Perfect timing after saying goodbye to my hiking buddies from Mount Kinabalu; my legs were in need of some lengthy sitting and staring out the window.

Eventually we headed upstream by motorized canoe for our next hiking destination: The Headhunters Trail. The first day was spent playing with Iban children at their jungle longhouse. We stayed up late soaking in the rural remoteness, falling asleep below a mosquito net on the floor listening to the relaxing song of cicadas.

But after a late eve tasting the local rice wine the relentless chorus of crowing that woke me before day break was particularly sharp. Combined with arresting chilli gut cramps it wasn’t a brilliant start to the day. I should have known some misadventure was right around the corner.

We set off excitedly after breakfast, heading for almost 4 hours upstream in a thin, wooden longboat. Meandering through the coffee coloured rapids, cradle like in our boats, we were speechless as the trees floated by. Finally we got to the start of the muddy Headhunters Trail. Dry but hazy skies hung overhead, leech socks at the ready, we all set off.

At the back of the group with a food porter behind me I kept stopping to take photos. I was madly trying not to get soaked in mud but watch where I was walking. Before I knew it my face was heading south to graze the ground and my left knee took the blow of my full weight on a rock. I thought I was ok. Slightly embarrassed I was now covered face to feet in brown sludge.

The porter helped me up. I hobbled a few metres, I felt dizzy, sharp pain, and then it hit me. A wave of nausea and a good jungle vomit. I fought back tears and then I couldn’t move. The reality of some serious damage at only 3km into a 12km trek wasn’t joyful.

The porter ran ahead as I thought hard. With no English and the rest of the group now far ahead all he could do was hand me his sheathed machete and say ‘DANGER’. He motioned me to wait. GREAT. I just couldn’t go on, we had a whole day of trekking and all of the next, with a camp stay in the jungle overnight. With two days of walking up steps through caves to follow that. I was screwed, remote and nauseous.

It had taken us almost two days to get to the start of this and a long way back to a Doctor. My guide rushed back, I tried to keep walking, thinking I might of been a tad melodramatic and it would stop hurting. My group suggested coming back with me, but for most of them it would ruin 2 days out of their 10 day trip. I decided to beg the porter to take me back somehow.

The kindness of this man will always remain with me, strangers can often remind you that the world is a good place and we are all ok somehow. This 60 year old man with no teeth kept saying ‘good’ as I repeated in Malay the equivalent – ‘Bagus’.

It took ‘Brown’ (his name), and I over 2.5 hours to sludge back 3km through the mud. He macheted me a walking stick, carried me breathlessly on his sweaty back and lifted me over tree roots. He had no shoes. I cried. He knew the words “Please don’t cry”. So I didn’t. I was crying for his kindness.

I had all the gear to carry on my back so every few hundred metres he ran ahead through leech infested mud to put my bag ahead, run back and then help me on to his shoulders again. It was getting late and we where in the ultra dense jungle with black clouds and rumbling thunder overhead. He smiled. He picked leeches off me. We kept patting each others shoulders and saying ‘good’.

Finally we got back to the river, my bandaged knee throbbing. Just as we got to the waters edge I spotted a group of small, super bright yellow butterflies hovering around a large black one that look injured. It was prophetic and not lost on me. I took some photos to remind myself of that moment and one of Brown – unsmiling and too proud to show his broken teeth.

We had a four hour long boat ride to a small river village to endure. No seats but a wooden floor. We covered my pack in plastic as I layed down on it. He jumped in to the river hot and exhausted. Then the rain came. Not a drizzle but a force. My absolutely pathetic poncho mocked the monsoon rain as I lay in the boat soaked. The rain bit my face as Brown sped against the pending dusk to get us to the nearest village safely.

I didn’t realise until then that my ankles where covered in leeches and bleeding and I couldn’t care less. The rain washing red rivulets to my feet.  Heavy clouds covered the trees like a cloak all the way upstream and the river laughed at my clumsiness as we sped by.

Finally at 8pm we reached some timber shacks. It felt like the whole village came out to greet us. Everyone was so caring, smiling, and gesturing advice. I had to get to Limbang another hour away to a warm room, shower and phone. I was soaked through and freezing. I managed to hire a driver, a cousin of Browns to take me through the pot holed road to the city. I emptied my wallet of $50 AUSD for Brown, and with my hand on my heart I thanked him as best I could.

Kids ran and waved through the rain behind the car as we drove off.

I have visited the hospital and discovered I have torn ligaments that will heal. But I can’t do any walking for the remainder of this trip.

From my warm room reflecting on the day and this lesson I realise there are so many messages. Simply you could say ‘shit happens’ and be open to letting people in to help you in every way.

I’ve also been reminded that human kindness is a reflex that people don’t think twice about. Also the language barrier is quickly overcome by empathy.

I’m sore but I feel blessed.


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Related posts:

Taking a walk in Tayrona National Park
Bring on the night: Dali by moon light
Blasting our way in to the Chinese New Year
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