Trembling dread. Perspiration and pulsating heart.
The delightful Mr Maniam left us in the little village of Kuala Tahan, a place primarily serving as a transit point for those entering and leaving the National Park. From here, the River Tembeling becomes the primary transport route for those wishing to penetrate further the Rainforest’s interior. Rebecca and I chose to stay in the affordable but relative seclusion of the Nusa Camp Holiday village, a 20 minute longboat ride upstream. ‘Relative seclusion’ refers to the concealed deforestation and mining works 100 meters back from the camp. Alongside an unfinished multi-million dollar road and bridge network, it was but a mild inhibitor of the ancient forests perpetuity!
Over the river from Kuala Tahan is the national parks official entrance, as well as an up-market hotel. From here one can take a mostly boarded (so no leaches) path through part of the forest. A number of hides overlooking waterholes can be found along the way for the bird-watchers and at one we were able to see a wallowing family of pigs/boar. Further along the path were some magnificently plumed oriental pheasants, wandering at their leisure. A chief attraction of the boardwalk is the ‘canopy walk’. 50-60 feet up in the treetops is a myriad of wooden planks lashed together, swinging with the breeze. Fortunately, most of it was closed for maintenance, but pride torturously bore me along the stretch which was open. I don’t like exposed heights so much.
For a truly authentic Taman Negara experience I think one would be best served spending a bit more time (and money) taking at least a week long trek, with a native guide. Given our resources this wasn’t an option. So it was from the Nusa Camp that we were to forge our own adventure. And, in the 2 days we had, didn’t it become just that!
We set out on a forest trail from the camp, following various scribbled signs directing along the path for some sort of waterfall pilgrimage. Maniam’s warning of an abundance of leaches proved accurate and my choice of footwear soon became questionable. Clearly, there are times when the practicality of flip-flops does cease!
So, taking a loosely trodden footpath, flanked by a rather unsightly, endless stretch of black-rubber hose, we ambled toward the fabled waterfall. In her vigorous approach to one prominent ascent, it went unnoticed by Rebecca that her steps only just avoided quite a serious potential hostility. I however, who had been studiously surveying the forest floor hoping to avoid leach infestation, first noticed what appeared to be a discoloration in the rubber hose. The hairs on my back stood rigid and my pulse quickened. This was my subconscious warning.
A fleeting moment turned into minutes and the coin slowly but suddenly dropped. And there it was. The bright orange face and poisonous, warning eyes. An electric-blue body that had at first seemed to be hose pipe was slowly, stealthily uncoiling and adjusting so that it’s eyes could meet mine. The briefest of moments transcended into hours. It’s in those small instances that life can flash before your eyes. We were at the mercy of this floor-dwelling serpent. And as the snake held my gaze, I ushered, or rather squealed, to Rebecca encouraging her to find some distance between the snakes position and her own. It was to the side of the footpath, between the two of us. I slowly retreated several steps myself, not easing my concentration from the creatures inquisitive, threatening stare.
On a different day or had we not paused moments earlier to take that all-important photograph, the snake would have been directly in our path and perhaps one of us may have stepped on it. If something earlier in the day had angered the snake or had it had reason to feel territorially defensive, it could quite easily have chosen to attack my flip-flop protected feet. As Rebecca passed by narrowly, it could just as easily chosen then to snap. As it was, and with good fortune, it slowly slithered its way further into the forest undergrowth, with but a flash of that acid-orange tail. It took the rest of our trek for my adrenaline to subside. My already overly-jumpy reactions were tested for the entirety of our pilgrimage to that, what turned out to be non-existent, water fall. Aside from some native Orang Asli settlements containing ipad wielding youngsters, a giant millipede and yet more leaches, the cicada cacophony walk was picturesque but non-eventful . And that was that, my encounter with a Malaysian Coral snake. Hard.