Saturday, January 17, 2009

The December Long Walk

Well, YES, we did it! Our fulltime team of eight reached Tg Similajau! Congratulations to Maye, Sara, Radhika, Norzie, Rabani, Roslee, and Ali. None worst for wear except for a few blisters and sandfly bites.

JJ made it up to Kpg Sibuti, while Pat and Indi trudged along with us from Kuala Nyalau to Tg Similajau.

We legged it from Tg Bungai - Kpg Sibuti, Kpg Sibuti - Middle Suai, Middle Suai - Kpg Suai, Kuala Nyalau - Tg Similajau ... all 80 kms of it. And we spent a few days at Similajau National Park making new friends, checking out the baby crocodiles and ancient mangrove, and whiled the first few hours of the New Year on the beach around a roaring bonfire yelping "Yesterday!" and chugging champagne whenever the song's chorus escaped us.

The walk itself was rigorous to say the least especially for first timers. We expected to average 4 km/hour but probably only managed a measly 3-3.5km/hr ... we failed to factor in walking experience, proper equipment and pack loads. Some routes curves around bays and promontories which increased estimated total distance. Walking sans baggage is definitely more springy than with 10kgs strapped to your back, hip, and neck!Some have not walked so far for so long, some have not walked flat terrain for so far for so long.

On sunny days, direct heat from the sun, reflected heat from the sands and water tire without us realising it. On rainy days, wetness from intermittent drizzle dampen more than just mere clothes and packs on our backs. The 3 liter of water minimum requirement per person and assorted food and snacks added another 10 kilos at least, not including camera gear for some of us who thrives on total punishment. The journey was decidedly more brisk with day packs.

Tg Bungai-Kpg Kuala Sibuti was relatively easy with a light load of one bottled water and snacks. So was the Kuala Nyalau-Tg Similajau leg, all 24 kms of it.For the longer trek, having to carry tents, fuel and assorted accessories from Kpg Sibuti to Kpg Suai was definitely a test of endurance for the entire group. Correct packs and footwear for long distance walking we found to be crucial, most didn't have this. Lack of proper attention to these points resulted in numerous severe blisters for many, we ran out of elastoplast by Similajau NP.

On footwear, light rubber beach slippers meant for beach walking were found to be best, only $12.50 a pair at a Ngiu Kee near you, ditch the others. So does a bagpack with lumbar & hip support for optimal weight distribution. Your pack may feel light at the start, after 4 hours of walking with it, you wished you could be transported to Marriot poolside to sip pina-colada instead.

From Tg Bungai to Kpg Kuala Suai, it was all white sandy beaches, long stretches of coast lined by tall casuarinas and pandanus. The vista was as far as your eyes can see, and not a single other soul in sight. Occasionally there were rivers to cross, most were relatively shallow at low tide while others chest deep by the end of the day. Some are so darkly colored by tannin that by just dipping your foot inside, your imagination runs wild, filled with stories of ferocious crocodiles and black lagoon monsters.

Abandoned farms were few and far between, and this being the landas season not a single boat was out at sea. We caught up with a semangka farmer from Kelulit Tengah and his family at the last hut who offered ripe limes and water for our journey. We saw many animal tracks along the Middle Suai to Kpg Kuala Suai route, conversations with local folks suggested presence of monkeys, deers, wildpigs, civets and medium size cats.

From Kuala Nyalau to Tg Similajau, our eyes feasted on completely different landscapes. Here we found mostly rocky shores with various geological features unearthed, and diligently shaped by continous wave action over the years. The layered earth made prominent after all sands were whisked away to an unsuspecting bay nearby. Golden coarse grain sands with high silica content alternated with rough, jagged rocky promontories.

All along the coastlines, numerous small rivers colored with tannin fed into the South China Sea. During the landas season, some dormant rivers burst open at the pounding of incessant waves at high tide. At low tide, the coast was as far as the eyes can see ... quiet, serene and untainted with human presence other than us. The rock pools were vibrant with life, all manner of snails, crabs, hermit crabs, blenys could be seen busy with their lives.

We covered the planned route successfully. We walked on a stretch of coast not many has walked before. There were plenty of things to see all along the route, numerous signs of wildlife presence, colorful and helpful local people and best of all unbounded coastal scenery.

One stretch Kpg Suai- Kuala Nyalau still remains. We are already planning to tackle that come April during better weather ... Tg Payung beckons us.

This short journey of ours has been dubbed a "Zen of Pain" by some of us. Fittingly so perhaps for two reasons. The blisters, sandfly bites, throbbing sunburnt and parched throats were all part of the exercise. The other more significant reason must be the heartache realising that all these natural beauty existing quietly unharassed, will one day be gone due to apathy and lack of foresight.

Pictures of coastal vistas:

Pictures of folks:

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