Thursday, October 28, 2010

Welcome to the Hotel Paya Maga

Dearest Friends,

To say this post is overdue would be a heinous understatement. But life since coming back from the expedition has been busier than ever (Countless photos to edit and send to different people who need the pictures for work; dozens of plant samples to process; combating some unpleasantly belligerent bowel movements from some unclean water/food i must have taken in) Anyways, enough excuses...let's get to what everyone wants to hear- what the hell was my expedition into the virgin jungle like?

For one, it was fucking wet. We literally were in the clouds, with the humidity in most cases around 95%, and rain coming down with a vengeance sometimes on the hour. Also it was way cooler here, dipping to as low as 13 degrees Celsius at night. For me this was very refreshing, for the rest of the cold-unadjusted crew, this was sheer misery- people were bundled up in 4-5 layers as if a blizzard were sweeping over our camp. But taking baths (which consisted of pouring cupfuls of ice cold water over your body) was an experience...other than the cold and much cursing, there was always the walk back to bed through muddy terrain. Usually it was not possible to avoid that step into deep mud, undoing the hard work of the recent bath.

At night, the moths were out to play. They were not shy at all, perching on your head, face, computer, even glasses, usually flying straight into you. Those stupid bastards would always drown in my tea, I really never understood what led them to commit was probably the reflection of the light (for them it must be like a black hole with a bright "Enter Here" sign)
The size of these moths was just astounding- many of them were as big or bigger than the palm of my hand. i hope at some point some moth specialist will conduct a big study of the moths in this area. When the generator would turn off at 11, i would use my head lamp to get around and read...well at points i felt an entire army of moths attack my net, looking for ways to come closer to the Light. And the force of these guys was terrifying...i felt like they would rip my net in many cases, so would just hurry to turn off the light.
Ok so even though it sounds like i'm complaining, i loved every aspect of the expedition, even the moths, cold baths, and muddy walk back. On the first night at our camp, I woke up at 2 am, and looked up to be surprised by the most stunning starlit sky I have ever experienced. It looked densely pack with stars, and somehow was clearer and closer than I had ever seen before. That first night, I already felt this sense of great calm wash over me. On some level, I felt like this amazing place was healing the anxieties and scars of a busy urban life...for a moment I imagined myself being healed by this island (Borneo) as was John Locke from Lost (the baldness helped this relation). Like Locke, on the island, I feel myself able to tap into a whole new store of energy within me. That proved so important for the hiking I would do.
So over the next few days we did many hours of great hiking through the various trails in the area, searching for interesting and new plant/fungal life. We trekked across some precarious clay-covered log bridges, nasty mud, and trails densely packed with those needle-thorned plants just aching to pierce your skin. Leeches were commonplace, and I always found a minimum of 5 hiding in my shoes at the end of the day. We got to see some wicked plant life, most notably orchids...this area seems to be some sort of orchid haven.
At night, some of the fauna groups would go on hikes, since so many animals come out to play in the dark. I joined in on the last night hike, and definitely had to overcome some serious fears...I mean in the first 5 minutes we stumbled across two poisonous snakes...this viper that was particularly ticked off, and another called a boega, which was calm enough for me to hold with my hand. So hiking in night is actually really fun, and you get to see so much more...seems like all the coolest animal life can only be seen at night...all these frogs, stick insects, centipedes, snakes, geckos...and one guy even saw a slow loris. But it's definitely scarier, since you can easily step on an unsuspecting snake, or some unsteady ground (though good use of a head lamp really helps). But I guess it's something that comes with experience. At the end of the hike, we saw this orchid that blooms only at night. When I shined my UV light at it, the tentacles (it looks exactly like a jelly fish or something out of Alien) fluoresced bluish white.
Oh and i got to meet some of the coolest people ever- 55yr old adventurers who spelunk (one of them led the national geographic expedition into the Mulu Caves), and hike for entire days at a time. Also one of these guys is both a scuba diving and paragliding rad. We had some epic conversations about the meaning of life, and well, this trip made me realize how much I really do love adventure. I think I have a problem. Adventurers Anonymous?
And well, there is much more to talk about but I will come back to it later. this post is long enough.Stay tuned for my trip down on this makeshift RV, which we dubbed the Sarawak RV.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Last words before The Trip

Hey friends. This’ll be a longer-than-usual post because I’ve not posted for a while, and because this is my last post before THE TRIP. That’s right, Tuesday I am departing for a trip that might just change Everything. Not to be too dramatic about it, but seriously. I have no idea what is in store for me in this Paya Maga place, except what we can derive from the name, which roughly translates to: Swamp in the Highlands. That means it'll be wet, dirty, high up in the clouds, and cold as a popsicle. Photos taken by a small group of Forestry dept. scouts showed prints from the Clouded Leopard, some suggestions that the Sumatran rhino may call this place home, and definite signs of annoying bloodsuckers. I am doing my best to also leech on (you see what I did there?) to the fauna group, so perhaps I can see some sick beasts in the jungle. I wonder what I shall eat tomorrow night, which I will avoid calling my Last Supper, for obvious reasons that include not distressing everyone who cares about me.

Ok, now let’s backtrack to the happenings of this last week. Well, quite uneventful for the most part. I’ve been trying to really plan out what I need to do while on this expedition. These things I have to do will include good photography, plant collection, collection of ‘exotic’ samples (i.e. rhino poop, swamp water, cave soil, cave scrapings, limestone, etc.), mingling and getting to know all the cool people on the trip, joining fauna group on night hikes, being ready for anything interesting that arises, and just plain having fun. Also finally finished my medical school secondary applications, and am now just waiting, wishing, hoping for good news. Good thing I have this expedition to keep me busy, or else my mind would wander and obsess.
On Thursday night, Gilbert took me to this restaurant, Bla Bla Bla, where we enjoyed their specialty, Coffee Chicken. And holy shit was this was an excellent dish. I know I probably say this too often, but this was a sort of religious experience. It got a little bit embarrassing at one moment because Gibert was trying to catch my attention, but all I could do was stare at the last drumstick on the platter.
Oh, and Friday, a bunch of us SBC’ers went to do Karaoke, which was just a load of fun. Of course I was very upset that the karaoke machine at this place did not have Don’t’ Stop Believing, Piano Man, and Roxanne, some of the most awesome songs to sing to.
Today, Gilbert made some excellent roasted chicken in his measly toaster oven, while I baked some rosemary-onion-parmesan focaccia, and hope to bake some banana bread later tonight, so that I may bring it by the lab. Lastly, I was surfing the web for some useful advice on how to take good photos when on an expedition, and stumbled upon a photo competition hosted by National Geographic. At first it seemed like you could just send in photos from any expedition, and have a chance to win a spot on Nat’l Geographic’s expedition to Antarctica. But actually the photos have to be from one of the expeditions they sponsor. So then I looked further and found that in March, they are leading a trip to Bhutan, a country in the Himalayas with Gross National Happiness as their primary economic indicator. The trip is officially called: Bhutan: Kingdom in the Clouds. As long as one is willing to dish out some bucks, anyone can go I think. And going to Bhutan would be difficult on my own, because they do not just take any visitors in. I have to go on this trip, it sounds absolutely sick, one of the people going is this medical anthropologist who is an expert in ethnomedicine. This is a sign right? Should I go? I’ll never have a chance like this again, probably.