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February 18, 2009

Up The River Part 3

Tom McLaughlin

Kapit, Sarawak – Located atop a bluff on the Rajang River, and just above the first set of rapids and below a major bend in the river, the eco-lodge backs into the beginnings of a tropical rain forest protected area. Dwarfed by high jungle covered hills, it is constructed of deep and darkly stained rain forest timber with an open, airy décor. The dining area, on a veranda, overlooks the river.


My daughter Christine and I alighted from the boat and climbed the bluff to our weekend home. First singly and then in clouds, mosquitoes soon engulfed us seeking new blood. We began the slapping dance which would continue for the length of our visit.


The 40 rooms have two double beds, air conditioning, and private bath with a small hot water heater, a desk, chair and table. Powered by a generator, all electricity ceases at 9 A.M. and does not return until 3 P.M. Television, internet and phones are not available.


After our orientation, we showered after the hot sweaty trip. Our billets, typical hotel style, lined two-story long sections. Between, a garden growing colorful tropical bushes and plants separated the two buildings.


The menu presented both Asian and Western cuisine. My mouth watered for one of the two steaks on the menu. I ordered, but they didn’t have any. I requested the other and they were out of that one, too. I then selected a rack of lamb. Out of that I was informed...


“Well, what do you have?” I inquired. I settled on mixed fried rice with some veggies.


A night nature walk, part of the agenda, began at 7:30 P.M. I was expecting a nice slow pace not unlike a stroll through the woods near Middletown. The guide took us on a boardwalk and then to the base of a huge hill, similar to Braddock Mountain. The trepidation and climb began.


I swear it was straight up. We had cables to pull ourselves higher and higher in the darkness illuminated only by flashlights. Dripping in sweat, insecticide running into my mouth and eyes, and the disease causing intense vertigo and fatigue, the only choice was to keep going. Backing down was impossible.


We finally stopped on what I think was a ledge and listened for animals. Nothing. Then down the other side with me using the cables to keep from careening into what I swear was an abyss. Remember, it was dark.


Christine, in line ahead of me, allowed me to loop a hand through her belt with the other on a cable. We made it to the bottom. I thought that was it. But, oh no! We had to climb another one. Steeper and more difficult than the first. Up again we went and then back down, not seeing anything of wildlife. We reached the bottom of that climb and sloshed through an ankle deep stream.


The guide, a jungle tracker, stopped and pulled the attached and unattached leeches off Christine. For some reason, I didn’t get any, not that I am complaining. I am sure he wondered why this specimen of American manhood was having so much trouble. The reality: I am a pill popping, disabled, old fool on a fool’s errand. After the leech removal session, Christine helped me the rest of the way over a smaller hill.


We did see the rare Borneo toad, a walking stick insect and a few lizards. At that point, I didn’t care, as we me made our way blindly back to the lodge.


Upon return, I thanked the Christian God, the Moslem god and the tree worshiped by the animists for my delivery from what I concluded was certain death. But I was proud of myself, and Christine was proud of me for my journey. I didn’t quit, kept on going and stretched my endurance and disability to the very edge.


Was it worth it? Well, yes! Would I do it again? Hell, no!


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