Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Cameron Highlands, Near Death in the Malaysian Jungle

The old growth forest has been cut down long ago. New trees have sprung, but there’s still a battle dominance for the canopy, some light filtering through, allowing more bramble than normal on the rain forest floor.
Mankind has made his presence known, carving plantations into the forest where the hills are less steep.
Man's presence in the jungle
Precipitation begins as I join an expedition with two newly graduated German doctors, exploring the surrounding wilderness. The rain comes harder making the path slick as we ascend and descend the steep hillsides.
We enter into denser jungle, carefully climbing over the roots of large trees up a nearly vertical path. I feel something on my skin. I pull up my sleeve and find a leech attached to my upper arm. Adrenaline rushes through me as I pull it off and smash it. Blood squirts everywhere- my blood, a tax exacted by nature for her exploration.
Waterfall in Cameron Highlands
We climb the steep hills, then slowly descend. After several miles we reach a cross-roads, lost. The sun is rapidly falling in the sky, and being lost in this leech filled jungle for a cold night is not an enticing proposition. We argue over which way to go, eventually agreeing to take a path through thick shrubbery up and over the mountain. Huffing and puffing, we reach the top, then ever so slowly descending back down. We find a trail to our great relief.
jungle vegetation
The ultra-narrow path takes the nimbleness of a mountain goat to traverse, as it cuts horizontally across the steep mountain, the ground falling out at a near 90 degree angle below us. Fall and it might be death, best case scenario- serious injury. We slowly make our way, the ground slick from the rains.
Out of nowhere, a large python-like water pipe emerges, feeding a tea plantation in the distance slithering along our trail. We’re relieved not to be far from town as darkness overtakes the sky. I take a deep breath and suddenly feel the footing beneath me give way. I feel the instant acceleration of gravity pull me downwards; going over the ledge, without any thought, I instinctively grab onto the friendly snake. My hand catches, and I pull myself up, before my surprised doctor friends even have any chance to react.
“How did you that? How did you have the presence of mind to grab the pipe?”
No mind involved there, no thought. Instinct leading to clear action that saved my life. I rub the mud off my clothing and we continue on our way.
Tea plantation

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