Monday, December 02, 2002

Mental is tougher than physical!

When I was hiking in a local national park last week, I vowed that I would write an entry per day because the experience was just so immense that a single entry would not give it justice.

But when I got home, I stepped into a whirlwind of activities that haven't left me any time to sit down and reflect. Or more accurately, even when I had time to write in my journal, it didn't feel right then and I found myself wanting to do other things. And now, the memories of the trip have dimmed.

I'm attempting to write an entry about my trip anyway, because I know one day, in the near future, I would want to go back to this entry and try to remember how I felt. In other words, this up-date is selfishly for me.

Remember that orangutan job I was offered? And remember that I didn't want to do it for various reasons? Well, two weeks ago, my supervisor suggested that I check out the national park and decide from there. Hey, a free trip to one of the hardest accessible national parks in the state? Why not?

Batang Ai National Park is the ONLY protected area in the state where tourists can hope to see wild orangutans. It's pretty much a joke that the state tourism body and tour operators use this ape as a flagship species for the state when orangutans are barely left in Sarawak.

The terrain of the park is very hilly - I was so convinced that I was climbing mountains but nah, they were just very steep hills and I'm not well conditioned for it yet.

On the first day after we (I was travelling with a government escort) arrived, we went on a hike, which the guides promised would take no time to get there. Apparently, "no time" in their speak, means Cayce struggling up steep hills and back for over nine hours.

I was slow. I hate climbing steep hills, particularly steep hills with not much of a trail to speak of. At that moment, I knew that I couldn't take this job if it was going to be this difficult. And then I find out later that we were the second group to have made it in a day, usually people spend the night before continuing on!! So I wasn't so bad.

Anyway, I SAW A WILD ORANGUTAN!!!!!!!!!!!!

I'd like to say that I was awe-struck and inspired but I was just too pooped to care at that point. I actually thought to myself, "it's about damn time!" but heh, I was truly lucky because people have hiked the park for a month and not seen a single orangutan. I walk for several, agonizing hours and oh! There it is!!

It hung around the area for over an hour, breaking thick branches and making kiss-squeaking noises. I must have taken about twenty shots and the picture you see here is the best one.

Anyway, as we hiked back, I got really mentally tired of all the steep hills - up AND down. I've underestimated how much a mental challenge could mean more than a physical challenge. By the last steep hill, while I felt physically fine, the thought of what felt like endless climbing was too much and I did feel so frustrated that I wanted to give up. Of course, I didn't.

I felt so bad for being the slowest in the group but when I found out that we had made a FOURTEEN KM hike up and down very steep hills in over nine hours, I felt really proud of myself.

The next day, my muscles felt so sore and lifting my legs really ached so a shorter hike was arranged. They said that it would only take two hours and it wasn't that steep. They were wrong in two counts: it WAS that steep and I did it in an hour! I couldn't believe it. I mean, I was slow and stopped a couple of times whenever I was going up the hill but I still managed to finish it faster than most people.

The hike ended up in a fast-flowing cold river where I had initially wanted to go for a dip but no one else wanted to swim and it felt rather embarrassing to swim in front of a bunch of male strangers.

Lunch consisted of fresh fish caught from the river (which was later rubbed with lime, placed in a bamboo and cooked under an open fire!), starchy palm, boiled eggs and fresh water.

Casting the net for fish!

Fish-in-the-bamboo. nummy, nummy!

It was the best lunch I had in ages!!

Also, to get to the places where we had to hike, you had to take a traditional long boat through fast rapids. This experience was so incredibly cool.

On the water..

I had a great time and I am now thinking that taking this orangutan job may not be such a bad idea after all. The terrain is so difficult to what I'm used to but I feel hopeful that I would eventually be conditioned to it. And anyway, the good thing about line transect surveys is that you have to stop every 25 metres to stop and listen for cryptic animals. Slow and steady is the key and each trail is only two kilometers long!

My supervisor seems convinced that I'm taking this job. I'm currently writing up my proposed budget and methods. He wants to do aerial surveys for orangutan nest counts as well. Maybe this job wouldn't be so bad after all!!


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