Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Hot + Cold Jungle Love!

The jungle and I... we love each other :) 

Most of us love a good ol' fashioned hot and cold pairing. Like jumping into a cool pool on a blazing summer afternoon, or (my fav) putting on toasty warm clothes straight from the dryer on a chilly morning :).  Despite my deviation from the norm on this one, there is the proverbial 'ice cold beer on a hot day'. :).  I've got a few uncommon hot/cold combo's to recommend if you haven't tried:

There's a Turkish bath house on Miami Beach where you can go back and forth from the hot and steamy saunas to the frigid ice baths. Some might think it’s a bit torturous, but if you can handle it, it’s a rad polar experience, totally tantalizing every nerve in your body. Highly recommend giving it a go. Last week, I was delightfully startled by an iced tea made with hot water, in just one sip getting both a sizzle and a chill.  A most peculiar yum. And, just a few days ago, I discovered my new ultimate in favorite sensations:  buckets of hot sweat AND cold rain both dripping down my face simultaneously. Fantastic :).
I was part of a group meant to climb to the Pinnacles in Gunung Mulu National Park, Borneo, Malaysia. A short but sweet hike of 2.4km, but a 3700 foot gain in elevation. Whoa. I had heard of this trek from my very first (and fabulous) Australian host family back in December. Within just a few days they recognized the thrill seeker in me, and showed me a Lonely Planet listing that describes this hike as “unrelentingly steep and taxing”.  It was decided right then, I must go there :).  
Fast forward almost 7 months, here I am. There are 5 of us and we’ve all spent a day (a great day) traveling along the murky waters (but solid green banks) of the Melinau river via longboat, followed by damp and merry hiking to arrive at base camp 5. A sunny late afternoon turns to torrential rain overnight, and our 6:30am start time becomes problematic. They say it takes between 8-10, even 12 hours depending on your fitness, and there is an 11am cutoff to reach 3/4 way in order to safely return by dark. At 7am, we're pleading to please just let us try. Our guide, Sampson, relents, and we start climbing in the steadfast downpour of the rainforest. About 45 minutes later we arrive to the mini pinnacles, where the guide and group have consented it’s too wet and dangerous, the safest idea being to turn back. Sampson offers a concession that it’s so cloudy you wont see anything at the top anyways. I’m bummed to turn back but willing to cede as part of the group.
Part of the "trail" = Awesome.
(this is actually taken on the way down... after it stopped raining :)

Two things occur to me then, I care little about the view at the top, as this climb is already my favorite ever, and my personal line between safe and dangerous is quite different than most people’s :). I feel confident, capable, juiced up... and also love a little danger, that addition of having to be a bit more risky, a bit more crazy :) The climb alone, this journey thus far, has already won me over. I love this feeling. This sweat and rain, hot/cold duo is an amazzzzing feeling. This is my natural high.  On an impulse, I just ask (it can never hurt) if it’s okay if I continue on my own.  Our guide, Sampson (named after the biblical strongman) just casually agrees and says he’ll even join me, as long as I know any incident or injury will be of my own liability. YES SIR’EE!  Luckily the others don't feel embittered, they in fact reckon I'm a little nuts :). We part ways and Sampson and I trudge along.  I am swooning over the complexity and newness of this hike, shouting out admirations and inspirations and quotes and whatever random thoughts come to mind. We climb those 3700 ft in under 2.5 hours. The entire hike is 60 degree incline or more. It’s chunks of jagged limestone, mounds of wet leaves and a crazy mess of amazing tree roots.  A temperate forest can have between 5-10 tree species in one hectare. A rainforest, in the same area, can have as many as 480! Its hand over foot climbing, and for the last bit, there are ladders and knotted ropes and a few very necessary metal planks to lead you to the summit. It rains even harder for the next hour, as the canopy got less dense. It’s slippery, muddy, and the rocks are sharp!  My shoes are little lakes, my pack is double its starting weight, but I am so alive with emotions and sensations and pride... I honestly don’t even feel any pain (this came the next day!). In the grand scheme of things, it’s not really even that hard of a climb, it’s just a perfect combo of new and fun and sensation and emotion. This has definitely been one of the most rewarding experiences for my adventurous spirit :).

Sampson... he easily could have just told me no. He rocks :)
Perks of a waterproof camera

 The terrain the last 30 minutes.. thank you ladders :) 

Then we arrive to the top. It's still raining, but a pleasant drizzle. If I hadn’t seen anything, it would have been perfectly fine. I would have sat and wow’ed and high-fived, wrung out my shirt, let it get soaked again, sang, taken photos, shouted all the thrills I was experiencing, making Sampson think I was crazy.  This I did.... PLUS, clear as day, there were these Pinnacles: sawtoothed rocks speckling the landscape! This mountain is made of limestone, and over millions of years, erosion has left these fascinating razor edge stones that protrude some 150 feet into the air!  They are mixed in with the jungle green, providing a sight seen little around the world.  Cool. :)  Today was a grand day... and it’s only 9:30am. I’m def going to look into more technical climbing, this one just touching on the edge of it. I’ll never bitch over the size of my thighs again... these are amazing climbing machines. :)

It's raining, it's pouring, it's awesome :) 
Once back down (harder, longer and slipperier than going up), the sun decided to grace our presence. There were mass amounts of bees and butterflies everywhere, attracted to all the hanging wet/sweaty clothes littering the scene! :) We all go for an afternoon trek, and I end up swimming back and forth across the river, to wherever there was space to walk. Exhilarating:). I’m w/ a Czech couple and 2 Dutch guys. We play chess, we eat local, we have interesting conversations.  I asked them their opinions of Americans. Side email if you’re curious :) 


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YAAAAY butterflies everywhere! 

Our awesome group :) 
The next few days involve more jungle trekking, more longboating (the river 3’ higher after all the rain!)... and caves. Wow wow wow, caves, caves wondrous caves. These caves are among the longest and the largest in the world. We got to explore through four of them, and its unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The most insane formations of rock, natural art in stalactites and stalagmites and stuff called flow rock that looks like jellyfish :).  It’s just incredible what mother nature has created under the surface. Especially here, it’s a testament to the length of time this place called Earth has existed. A stalagmite (on the floor) only exists with a stalactite above it on the ceiling, dripping bits of limestone that create the lower stack. As they drip they get closer together, and if they join, become a column.  Some of these are 50’ tall. One set was so close together, only about 1 cm apart. I'm told it will take about 100 years before they finally join! Holy wow!  There’s a picture perfect face profile of Abraham Lincoln, glowworrms that look exactly like the neon bracelets, and bats. Millions and millions of bats. And at night, if you’re lucky (and I always seem to be) they ALL come streaming out of the cave to go on the hunt. At first it’s a few thousand at a time, over and over, and then, for at least a good 6,7 maybe even 10 minutes, they just stream out like a giant black snake, sinuously waving together perfectly thru the sunsetting sky. This was cool as hell to watch. Borneo= amazing! 

Amazing caves!

Becky the miner :) 

This is called flow stone.. looks like a jellyfish! 

Abe Lincoln!!! So accurate...and mysteriously here!

Sampson says if the babies don't prove their own after three weeks, the mom kind of abandons them
and they are pretty much left to die :( 
That's sad.. they're so cute! I suppose I think all babies are cute though :) 

Snake in the sky!!!! 

I love this close up. That's a hawk, that flies along
and waits for a solo bat to stray so it can have it's own dinner! 
Borneo: Waterfalls. River swims. Rope bridges. Strange fruits. Giant 3' wide leaves, inch long ants and beetles the size of candy bars. All kinds of crazy insects.  Fireflies, frogs that shout “What, what”, and night sounds so loud you have to cover your ears!  Incredible trees and flora and moss and vines and fresh air and smells and sounds and alllllll sorts of new and neat things!!! This is really a remarkable place, and I barely even touched it!  Other travelers were talking about adventure caving and climbing Mt. Kinabalu and going to the orangutan sanctuary. For Christopher, Ryan W, Mary Anh, and my other biologist/ herpetologist/ nature crazy pals... I'm pretty sure we need to start saving for a Borneo Adventure!!!! 

Jaimy at the Paku Waterfall
Rainforest :)

I loooove this bridge

Root Art :) 

Fuzzy picture, fuzzy insect. He/she wouldn't stop moving...
I think this is my favorite insect ever :) 

Pinocchio bugs? 

Iridescent glow worms and their 'webs'!

The last two nights in Mulu we stayed with a local Malay family. They are sweet and cute and make reaaallllly wonderful local food!   I tried snail for the first time!!!!! It’s wasn’t terrible, I ate 5 or so.. and then Wytze (common Dutch name I had a horrendous time pronouncing) pulls one out to look at it instead of just sucking it straight from the shell.  That was the end of eating snails :) haha.  Robert, the host dad, tells me stories of his youth. I found it amusing when he says that since his family was poor back then, he had to paddle a long way to school.  As opposed to the typical American ol' timer story of having to walk miles in the snow :). Ha. Dina, the host mom, is learning the guitar, so tried to instigate a jam session.  Me randomly singing all the time led her to believe I can actually sing. Ha. That was funny. ;)  When we left, I asked if I could buy one of her 5 pairs of sunglasses (I had lost yet another pair). She said no, but proceeded to give them to me :) 


Wytze' face says escar- No :) hehe

Lychee and pineapple for dessert served in margarita cups! Ya buddy!

Dina playing her guitar :)

I’ve hitched a ride 3 different times since arriving, every time being picked up within a few minutes of extending my thumb. It feels completely and totally safe here. Funny considering it’s a place where head hunting and tribe warring was the standard.  Sampson showed us a certain tree species where poison can be extracted. His people, the Penan, used to dip their pinarrows in it, shooting them thru their blowguns to hunt the opposing tribes.  Taking a head was a sign of manhood. One reason it became so popular was that no self-respecting maiden would consider a young man who had not taken a head. Interesting :). It’s considered bad luck to take down a head, so although I’m told its a long gone custom, supposedly you can still see skulls hanging from the rafters of several longhouses. I am okay with not bearing witness to that :).  
Back in Miri yesterday morning, when I woke up at 6am, the air was already saturated and hot. Two girls from my hostel and I wet for a mini adventure to play in an icy waterfall.  Sweaty hiking and then more cold rain. Back to the hostel for a hot/cold shower. Then a hot/cold tea combo. Duality... it’s the spice of life I do believe :)
Would an icy margarita, a toasty fire, or a delish ice cream cone be as rewarding if the opposite perception wasn’t there to give it that extra significance?? Would lessons be as easily learned if there weren’t mistakes to teach them?  I feel like thats whats happening to me in my last blog/week. From my low (which can hardly  really be called low at all) the high feels higher. From the difficult, the easy is like pie. From the fast life, the slow feels so nice.  Wet to dry.  Full, empty. In, out. Far, near.  I feel like the farther and longer I’m away from the people I love, the closer I feel to them.  The more I can realize who crosses my mind on a regular and consistent basis, and who I want to spent my QT with :).   Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Being alone, real independency shows one your true self.  Travel and experience teaches you about life. Courage lets you live it your own way. 
Have an up/down, hot/cold, light/dark day!  I’d say right/wrong and good/bad too, but I don’t agree with their dictionary terms anymore... it’s all excellent :)  Life is grand. 

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