14,772 km so far.
Planning for Taman Negara, we’d tossed around the idea of going on a multi-day trek with a guide, sleeping in a cave or on the beach.
The idea of doing one of these overnight tours was exciting to me, but I realised, upon discussing it with Stephen, that the reality would probably be some combination of uncomfortable, hot, cold, exhausting, and totally lame. So we opted instead to head into the jungle as day-trippers, going where we chose at our own pace.
Hang ‘Em High
One of the reasons I had insisted we come to Taman Negara was for the jungle Canopy Walkway (which is Kanopi Walkway in Malay).
Looking up into the treetops, I imagined a maze of boardwalks built into the canopy above foliage so thick you wouldn’t be able to see the jungle floor. I wanted to experience a world of swinging monkeys, soaring birds of prey, and spiders as big as your head. In short, I wanted to see a whole different world than the one I’d left back on terra firma.
The reality did not quite match my expectations.
For a start, the boardwalks ended when we left the jungle floor. After waiting our turn in a long queue of tourists, we climbed a steep set of stairs, and were spat out onto a suspension bridge less than a foot wide. It is constructed of metal ladders laid horizontally across woven ropes, with planks of sturdy wood across the slats.
The whole thing is held in the air by a system of cables and ropes strung between ancient towering trees. There’s a 5ft-high safety net on each side of the walkway, making falling an impossibility.
And yet… as I stepped out onto the first section of suspended pathway, it swayed gently under my feet. My belly gave a little lurch and my breath started coming faster. I looked out across the jungle only to discover two things. First, the canopy was not thick and lush. It was easy to see all the way down down down to the forest floor.
Second, my body was not OK with looking out across the forest. Just watching this video I shot makes me a little queasy. That might just be because of my Blair Witch-style shooting technique though.
For the rest of that first walk, I concentrated on the wooden planks a few steps in front of my feet, and breathed a sigh of relief when I arrived at the first small platform, which consisted of a few wooden planks and a railing built around an enormous tree.
I turned around to take a few pictures of Stephen, and when he got close, I noticed he was also a little green. He’s never been a big fan of heights (I remember having to talk him down from the top of the coliseum in Nimes when we were on our first trip together).
Even standing safely on the solid treehouse platform, he was not really enjoying himself.
Of course, as the walk progressed we became accustomed to the feeling of swaying through the treetops. Before long, I was able to look around and down, for a few seconds at a time, as we made each passage. Both of us worked hard to control our instinctive fear, using deep breaths and steady focus to control our nervous systems. After all:
Fear cuts deeper than swords. Syrio Forel
Surprisingly, once I was able to look around, I discovered there wasn’t really much to see. The jungle from this height looked a whole lot like the jungle at ground level, only dizzier.
Just at the time I was beginning to feel pretty comfortable with the whole experience, I heard Stephen, a few feet behind me on the walkway, shout “Fuck!”
In the middle of the swinging walkway, he had been bitten by some mysterious predator of the insect world. When he reached the platform, the pain was growing in his hand. “Shit, it hurts,” he groaned. And then, “Sorry, language,” as he noticed a small Muslim girl smirking up at him. The hand started to swell and turn an unlovely bluish colour, but since we were in the middle of a jungle canopy, with no way but forward, we continued on.
Eventually we reached the end of the Canopy Walkway, and descended back into the jungle below.
There were no swinging monkeys, we didn’t see any birds of prey, and the closest we got to insect life was a (non-life-threatening) bite from something unseen.
The only real animals that high up turned out to be other tourists.
Our experience on the canopy walkway left me feeling that, though I’m fascinated by monkeys who can swing through trees, we’re much happier with our feet firmly on the ground. ♥