By LEE SUE CHIEN
A pristine forest. A journey of discovery and introspection. LEE SUE CHIEN
braves long treks, wildlife and leeches for a rewarding sojourn at Maliau Basin
WHEN you yearn to touch the good earth and reawaken your senses to the wonders of Nature, where would you go? There is the formidable Gunung Nuang (used by many as a training ground for scaling Mount Kinabalu and Gunung Tahan), the rough and tumble mossy trail of Gunung Irau and Pine Tree Hill in Frazer’s Hill, to name a few.
But none so pristine and beautiful as an expedition to the Maliau Basin, reverently called the Lost World of Sabah
and reputed to be one of the richest areas of one of the richest tropical islands on Earth.
The basin — 25km in diameter and measuring 390 sq km, with the highest point, Gunung Lotung, at about 1,600m above sea level — holds the highest number of waterfalls within an equivalent area in Malaysia.
Our group of 16 went on such a trip, organised by the Selangor Pathfinders group of the Malaysian Nature Society recently. It was one requiring meticulous preparation and training to gauge our stamina and group dynamics.
Kho Ju Ming, our lead ranger, his assistants Welly Frederik Tukin and Andy Bangilon and our porters were a godsend. They were ever so helpful and perceptive of our needs, pointing out indigenous plants and trees along the way.
The expedition took us from headquarters in Agathis camp on a 9km trek to Ginseng Camp, then onward to Lobah Camp, Camel Trophy Camp and back to Agathis, all in a 41km trek on undulating, sometimes near vertical terrain within the caldera-like basin.
En route, we were rewarded with the majestic sight of the seven-tier Maliau Falls, whose thunderous waters made it dangerous to swim in certain areas, and later, of Takob-Akob Falls.
On a long trip of nine days, with six actual days of trekking, feathers are bound to be ruffled and friendships forged. And so, trekking the pristine forest was a group of alpha and andropausal males, the three co-ordinators — Soong Wye Ping, Ashley Chow and Mok Kim Jin — and “saner” individuals.
Some had the objective of conquering the hills and vales, others simply wanted to embrace all that Nature has to offer.
It was a journey of outward discovery and introspection and, to quote a friend, a humbling experience, particularly on our trek to and from the spectacular Takob-Akob Falls cascading over three layers of sandstone.
The change of scenery to the lower montane forest corresponded to a steep descend of the trail — involving a vertical drop of 180m to Takob-Akob, which measures about 100m in height.
Erosion causes the softer siltstone and mudstone in between to recede, resulting in gorgeous horizontal layers flanking the falls.
I found a meditative moment behind the veil of the falls, resting on a mossy ledge as mist, foam and the thunderous waters crashed before me.
A few of us scaled the 33-metre-high canopy observation platform built on an Agathis borneensis tree at Camel Trophy Camp. Fear set in at the thought of climbing without a harness but the desire for a bird’s eye view of the area was stronger.
The logistics of feeding 16 people over the days was impressive. We had 40kg of rice, fried fish, mutton, chicken and plenty of dried shrimp and anchovies for carbo-loading and protein. Many of us helped in the preparation and cooking.
On the trails, it was sometimes a matter of relearning the basics of walking and climbing with a pole for support.
It was essential we protect our ankles, knees and musculature by walking efficiently, heels first in a zig-zagging fashion when heading downward, for example.
We had to read our bodies’ needs by eating and hydrating well before hunger and thirst set in, pace ourselves and avoid the desire to compete.
There were no lack of funny moments. Upon hearing the whooping sounds of a hornbill, Francisco Sendra, an Argentinian exchange student, froze in fear at the thought of a predator eyeing him as prey.
Canadian ‘Puteri’ Mia, so called because of her demeanour and perfect Bahasa Malaysia diction, was such a Mat Salleh — frank, with a fine sense of humour and morbid fear of chicken backsides and fish eyes.
Imagine her consternation while eating fried rice with tiny ikan bilis (heads included) when she realised dozens of fish eyes were on her!
Those walking at a more leisurely pace were rewarded with sightings of rarities such as blue mushrooms, a striking poisonous banded Malayan coral snake (Maticora intestinalis), the orb web spider and endemic species.
Orchids such as dendrobium cinnabarium and bulbophyllum spp., the ginger Hedychium spp. and Sonerilla spp., a white purplish flower, were spotted along the way.
The trail from Lobah camp to Camel Trophy camp yielded amazing sights. Ascending to an altitude above 1,000m, the trail became mossy and we passed through a heath forest where rhododendrons, orchids and pitcher plants thrived.
On a night drive, we saw the lesser mouse deer, Malay civet and a mongoose though I’m sure other creatures would have scampered away on hearing our intrusion.
Still, there were plenty of wild boar markings on a trail and a few of us picked up ticks. We had our fair share of leeches and the redoubtable tiger leech whose offensive can only be held off by tobacco juice, Mosi-guard Natural (a mosquito and leech spray) or minyak angin.
The seclusion of the forest led to a renewed appreciation of money and other trappings of civilisation.
Out of the basin, we spent, spent, spent on souvenirs, food and drink. Tawau town, planned and built in a grid-like manner, is easy to get around.
Head to Jalan Chester for a mean serving of seafood noodles and Mongolian chicken rice, then onward to the market for fresh ground coffee, dried and frozen seafood and local handicraft. At the airport, grab an avocado shake, sit back and relax for the journey home.For information on the Maliau Basin, contact Yayasan Sabah at Tel: 6(088) 326-321, fax 6(088) 432-192 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.orgCourtesy of New Straits Times