At the crack of a time where I am rarely awake, I dragged myself out of bed for some early morning trekking before breakfast. As I left my little bungalow, I was greeted by a group of 7 red leaf monkeys: six were snacking on red leaves (three guesses as to why they are called red leaf monkeys) on the trees in front of me and one on the walkway. There was also a one-month old red leaf monkey, that is actually white when it is a baby, who was unsuccessfully trying to leap from branch to branch like his mom.
The monkey on the walkway was a little surprised at my appearance (both because it was 5:30 a.m. and nobody should see me at that time of day and also because he hadn’t expected an unusual looking mammal to materialize). He did what any reasonable monkey would do: He “smiled” at me (also known as baring his teeth) and started shaking a tree branch at me in order to scare me away. Our guide had given us briefings on various animal defensive or aggressive behaviour on day one, so I knew that I should back away. Quickly.
Once I was a reasonable distance away, the monkey felt less stressed and joined his brethren in the trees for his breakfast. (Note: I would not have breakfast for several more hours and considered eating some leaves myself).
We went on a three hour trek before breakfast to search for a type of hornbill bird that makes the most hilarious bird call. It takes the bird almost two minutes to complete one call and it starts slow and culminates in what sounds like a laughing monkey.
We passed by more interesting insects, enormous ants, monitor lizards out for a lazy swim, other lizards that glide from tree to tree, and of course, more monkeys.
We trekked by a “jacuzzi pool”, which is a small pool of water created by a tiny waterfall in the jungle. You can’t really swim in it anymore as the jungle had a small landslide and since then, the water levels are low (the pool doesn’t really fill up with water) and it’s murky and muddy. However, you can still sit on a log and put your feet in and there are tiny fish that will eat the dead skin off your feet. (Cheap spa day!)
After breakfast, we showered, changed and started a 3.5 hour trek to a viewpoint area where we had the pleasure of spotting exotic birds, butterflies, and tarantulas (those that live on the ground and those that live on trees), and more orangutangs.
The viewpoint trek is probably one of the more challenging treks, but isn’t difficult. There are several parts that are very steep so it’s going to take some effort to haul yourself up the 1,265 metres. But you will be rewarded with an amazing view of the Danum Valley in all its jungle glory. Also? It’ll be the first breeze you feel in several days and that is not something to take for granted.
We also did a side trek to “Coffin Cliff” where the indigenous people buried their dead in small holes carved into a rock cliff. There are a couple of bones next to the cliff that no one dares to touch or move out of the way as it is said that the deceased’s spirt will follow and haunt you. Since I have the grace of an elephant trying to do yoga, I ensured that I stayed far away from the bones. Let’s face it – if they haven’t been moved in hundreds of years, there is no doubt that my clumsy self would knock right into them and I do not want spirits following me.
On this particular evening I had a small break between meals and trekking to sit on the balcony of my little bungalow and enjoy the sounds of the river, animals, birds, and insects.
I would particularly recommend that you take a moment to sit outside during the time when day starts to turn into night. In this magical dusky hour, you can hear the transition from the daytime animals, birds and insects to the nocturnal symphony of frogs, insects, owls and other animals rustling in the trees. I was absolutely enchanted by it.
After dinner, our guide took us on a night walk. We equipped ourselves with flashlights and set off to go trekking after dark. To be clear, when it gets dark in the jungle – it gets dark. If it wasn’t for the flashlight, I would not be able to see my own hand.
We saw different kinds of owls, frogs, tarantulas, and lizards.
During the walk, our guide suddenly asked us to turn off our flashlights, stay still and not make any sounds. It was clear that he could hear or smell something rustling towards us. As we stood in complete silence and darkness, trying not to imagine the tarantulas we saw earlier crawling up our legs or, for that matter, any of the other creepy-crawleys we know are lurking about in the jungle. After about 5 minutes (or 30 seconds, I don’t know…), the guide asked us to turn our flashlights on and shine them to the right. Standing right next to us (like 2 feet away) was a mousedeer (also known as a chevrotain). Thankfully it was an adorable little mousedeer – if he had done that for a snake, I would not be remembering this experience as fondly as I am today.
I should mention that it rains at least once per day in the rainforest, usually in late afternoon. It doesn’t rain for long may 30-40 minutes, but it is definitely long enough to soak you through and through. I didn’t bother with a raincoat because frankly, the rain was a nice way to “cool off” from the heat while trekking (even if the rain water is actually quite warm). Also, I didn’t want the added heat of wearing a raincoat.
I did use a rain cover for my backpack to keep my camera and other gear dry. This being said, it is essential that you bring more clothes than you thought you would need because you will end up changing your clothes at least three times a day (fresh/clean, dry clothes for each trek and there are at least three treks per day) and, as my experience has been, it is far too humid for anything to dry. After four days, my clothes and hiking boots were just as soaked as the first day I wore them.
The neat thing is that because the trees are so tall (remember: tree canopy is over 70 meters high), you can hear the rain falling down several minutes before it ever reaches you. You have a three to five minute window to store your camera and cover your backpack with rain gear before you actually get wet.
I have never used walking/trekking sticks while hiking. This isn’t because I think I’m an amazing trekker or I don’t believe in their usefulness. It’s actually because I’m too lazy to drag it around with me and I can’t mentally fathom having to drag a trekking stick with me that I may or may not use.
This being said, the rainforest lodge had walking sticks that you could borrow and I found them extremely useful for steep treks after it rained. The rocks are loose and slippery and the hiking trails can be flooded with water. So the trekking stick was a nice tool for testing the ground, finding your footing, or giving you a little extra stability when descending steep areas and you don’t want to use the rope because it’s covered with fire ants.
So, I’m now a walking stick convert. How about you? What’s your position on walking sticks?