Jungle Boogie

By Jane Mountain | June 1, 2014

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).

Closing in on the Canopy Walkway, Taman Negara.

Closing in on the Canopy Walkway, Taman Negara.

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.

Imagine what's up there, Taman Negara.

Imagine what’s up there, Taman Negara.

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.

The first walkway, before stepping out, Taman Negara Canopy Walkway.

The first walkway, before stepping out, Taman Negara Canopy Walkway.

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.

Looking way way down on the forest floor, Taman Negara.

Looking way way down on the forest floor, Taman Negara.

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).

Can you see Stephen's green tinge? At Taman Negara.

Can you see Stephen’s green tinge? At Taman Negara.

Even standing safely on the solid treehouse platform, he was not really enjoying himself.

Jungle Predators

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.

View from up high, the Canopy Walkway at Taman Negara.

View from up high, the Canopy Walkway at Taman Negara.

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.

We'll leave the treetops to the monkeys from now on.

We’ll leave the treetops to the monkeys from now on.

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.  


  1. Comment by Taina

    Taina June 18, 2014 at 2:44 am

    Stephen, you and Jane are by far the two bravest people I know for taking this incredible adventure! Until now I would have said you were afraid of nothing – I know I would have never taken on so many of the challenges you guys have conquered. So, just think about heights as another one of those challenges – it just might take a little longer to conquer but keep trying! You can do it!

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane June 19, 2014 at 2:49 am

      You think we’re brave? You just had a baby! Talk about taking on an incredible adventure.

  2. Comment by Malcolm

    Malcolm June 5, 2014 at 11:27 am

    Not a fan of heights, Stephen? Do you remember the time in Collingwood we took a t-bar up a hill side (can’t really call it a mountain side) and you talked to me the whole way up…to calm my fear of heights? What were you, 10 maybe? I’ll always remember how you just took charge and wouldn’t let me be afraid!

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen June 5, 2014 at 7:14 pm

      I don’t remember that but it is a great story! I remember going to Collingwood, but not much about the trip. I did inherit that fear, although it is pretty mild. Sometimes though, the self-preservation instinct just takes over. It wasn’t too bad up in the trees, as there were lots of other people around, but looking down was a bit nerve wracking!

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