Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Tuesday 13th May - Rainforest Adventure!

An early start today as we had to pick up the river bus (known locally as 'flying coffins'!) at 8.00 in Bandar. They really do fly as well, although the morning journey was pretty sedate compared to the return journey in the evening - more of that later. The trip to Bangar, in the Temburong District, takes about 45 minutes and for most of the journey you are travelling through the mangroves, with nothing to see but wildness! The journey takes you down the Brunei River, across Brunei Bay then up the Temburong River. The only way to get to the Temburong district, is by boat, via Brunei Bay, or by car, via Malaysia. The National Park, where we were going, is only accessibly by river.

We were met at Bangar by David, our tour guide, and were taken by minibus to a guest house near Batang Duri for breakfast (spring rolls, banana fritters and hot chocolate for me - heaven knows why I wanted hot chocolate in that weather) and to collect our life jackets for the next leg of our journey. We got back in the minibus and headed off to where we would pick up the longboat (Temaui) to take us further up the Temburong River, stopping to pick up our lunch at a local school on the way.

The longboat holds about 6 or 7 people and is a bit like an overgrown canoe, with an engine on. Getting in was a bit of an art as they wobble from side to side a lot!! They go pretty fast, when the river allows, and the driver must know the river like the back of his hand as it seemed quite shallow in places (David was helping us along every now and again using a big stick!) and at times we seemed to be squeezing in between rocks and old tree trunks that were sticking out of the river. The scenery was absolutely amazing, just trees and plants reaching up high on both sides of the river. We also saw a hornbill flying way up above us. After about 45 minutes we stopped at the National Park Information Centre - a lovely wooden building - to register, then had to get back in the longboat (oh joy, more wobbling!) for the 2 minute journey to the staffhouse, which is at the place where the Temburong and Belalong Rivers meet.
We had a couple of minutes to gather our thoughts, and grab some water, and then it was into the jungle. The first part of the journey takes you up about 50 steps, then onto a swaying rope bridge over the river, which was a bit scary. You then have to go up another 970 steps to get to the canopy walkway. We stopped at various points along the way and David was telling us about the trees and plants, and we saw some termites nests and a couple of lizards as well. I was pretty relieved each time we stopped as I found the climb really hard work in the heat and humidity, and being unfit didn't help much either. I've never sweated so much in my life, and thought I was going to be sick a couple of times too!

We made it up the 1200 steps (Steve did it without any problem - like a gazelle!!) only to be faced with the climb up to the canopy walkway. It's 40 metres up, above the trees, and to get to it, you have to climb up what looks like a scaffold tower. There was no way on earth I could get up there - even if I hadn't done the previous marathon up all those steps - I really don't like heights!! Steve was happy to go up and took my camera with him to get some great photos, while I sat in the shade and got some energy back for the walk down.

The walk back was much, much easier and we got to the staff house to be greeted by lunch - various curries and rice. I hadn't realised how hungry I was and the meal was delicious! We had a wander around and David pointed out a chilli plant (Steve picked one and I licked it briefly - it was the hottest chilli I'd ever tasted!!) and a papaya tree.
David is an Iban, which is Bruneian who isn't a muslim. They appear to be very superstitious people - he was talking about food that he eats and said he wouldn't eat crocodile, because they believe when old people die, they turn into crocodiles. They also don't eat monkeys, because they believe that if you eat one, your children (or future generations) will be ill.

We then set off down the river in the longboat, back to the minibus. We stopped at a small zoo with with some very unusual animals. One of them was a binturun, which is a sort of cross between a bear and a cat. David told us that it was related to a tiger, and it would kill you, but even if you shot it, it wouldn't die - another Iban superstition presumably!

There are deer running around in a large field, and every year on his birthday in July, the Sultan comes to kill 2 of them. A lot of the cages were much too small for the animals, especially the birds, and it was particularly upsetting to see eagle owls and hornbills in small cages.

After the zoo we stopped at an Iban Longhouse. The house has a long veranda type area with doors leading off it to the living quarters for each of the families living there. The veranda is the communal area where the families sit, although they own TVs etc. Hanging from the ceiling of the veranda were 2 babies, in cloth 'hammocks' attached to the ceiling by a stretchy cord. They looked very comfortable!!

We then went back to Bangar in the minibus, to wait for our river bus. The driver of the bus was obviously in a hurry to get home as we flew along. The boat was really leaning over as he turned round some very sharp bends - he obviously knew what he was doing as we made it back in one piece.

The first thing we did when we got back to the apartment (after putting the air conditioning on to its lowest temperature) was to have a lovely cool shower - probably the most welcome one I've ever had!

It was a fantastic day, and extremely tiring, but we had just about enough energy to visit the market at Gadong for some takeaway food!

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