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As Long as We Remember...

January 23, 2013

Jungle Trekking with Dzul

Tom McLaughlin

Gunung Gading, Malaysian Borneo – The rafflesia* is in bloom! The small poster informed on one of our walks through Kuching Town. My wife Suriani had never seen the world’s largest flower and I immediately made reservations for a car and driver to take us to the forest.


This rare event only lasts for three or four days with the third day being the most spectacular.


I had seen the rafflesia four times before, twice on the island of Sumatra and twice here in Borneo. The first time was here atop a small hill and was very difficult to access. I was with three biologists from London and we spent four hours examining and photographing every nook and cranny. I think they must have used up two of those subscriber identity modules (SIM) cards as well as a few battery packs for their research.


The flower, on my next two observations, was located on the side of an excellent road on Sumatra, where one could pull off and have a picnic lunch. Children were dancing around and people were taking pictures with every conceivable device. I thought of those who trek two days inland and sleep in hammocks just to catch the flower and then pack out, usually five days in all.


Dzul, my two-year-old son, has been with us in the forest since he was about six months. Suriani carries him in a sling-like device where he hangs in front of her. To balance, she shoulders a back pack. I carry a small camera.


No, I don’t treat my wife like a mule. I just don’t know where my feet are in time and space and have tumbled a few times onto the soft forest floor, usually ending up against a tree. Everybody gets very concerned, but I just get up, smile and keep on going.


Most people from the west, when they hike the jungle, have a drive to get from A to B. I like to wander, stop and look at a flower or bug, not really caring whether I reach the destination or not. Many times my party will come back toward our point of origin surprised I had never made it to the top, or to the waterfall, or to the over look.


“Oh, time to go back,” I ask, not the least bit disappointed that I had not reached the objective. To their consternation, I share images of all the butterflies, bugs, lizards and sometimes mammals I discovered along the way.


One of the problems in transporting a terrible-two around here is that there are no child car seats here in Malaysia. Dzul thrashes around the back seat, tries to change the gears between the seats, pull up the emergence brake and is an utter nuisance. No matter what we try, books, toys, singing, or a combo of all three at the same time, nothing seems to hold his attention longer than a micro-second. We try to limit our in-car time to about two hours, but sometimes blinding tropical rain storms force the car to travel very slowly.


However, when we get to our destination, the child immediately changes. He enjoys being strapped onto Suriani and is ever so alert pointing out all sorts of wonders of nature. When we trek, he is quiet, keenly looking around and ooohs at the marvels of this magnificent world I point out to him. Where we can, we let him walk along the path strapping him back in where there are steep slopes or rivers to negotiate.


The rafflesia flower was 73 cm (almost 29 inches for the Americans) in diameter and a bright deep red. We unstrapped Dzul and told him not to touch as we wanted a few pictures of him with this incredible master piece of nature. He did exactly as he was told and I was so proud of him. He oooohed and ahahahahed as we all did because out of the four I had seen, this was the most spectacular.


Back in the car, he was back to his old rambunctious self but mercifully fell asleep for the last hours as the skies poured heavy rain. Suriani and I were happy we had seen the rafflesia. Our next trip will be with the Bidayu people. The three of us will be off again roaming this mysterious island of Borneo.


…Life is good. . . . .


*rafflesia (răflē´zhə) – any of a genus (Rafflesia) of parasitic plants native to the rain forests of the Malay peninsula, Sumatra, Borneo, and the Philippines. The plants have no roots, stems, or leaves, consisting of threadlike growths on the tissues of the vine that hosts them. They produce large buds that may take 10 months to open into huge five-petaled flowers, which in the largest species (Rafflesia arnoldii) measure a yard (1 m) or so across. The flowers of most species have the distinctive odor of rotting flesh. All species are endangered or threatened. []

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