Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Into the wilds of Batang Ai - Man versus mild

"Now I need to find a good place to shelter for the night and cook those maggots.”

And with that line from Bear Grylls, I decided I was not going to make it through the first episode of Man Versus Wild I had ever attempted to watch.

But somehow, I've since found myself returning to Grylls's weekly adventures in the wilderness where he eats all manner of bugs, drinks his own urine or, on one memorable occasion, rehydrates by giving himself an enema.

I was hoping my own wild adventure, into the Borneo rainforest of the Malaysian state of Sarawak, would not be as extreme. Fortunately I was right, but I also discovered that heading into less-developed places such as this can have their dangers – often where you least expect them.

But more on that later.

The first indication I had that my Borneo visit would not quite be as uncomfortable as a Bear Grylls adventure was approaching our accommodation. Batang Ai Longhouse, managed by the Hilton group, is a resort accessible only by boat, located on the lake from which it takes its name, on the edge of Malaysia's Batang Ai National Park.

The hotel's design is roughly based on the traditional longhouses of the local Iban people – though much more luxurious of course. We may be in the jungle, but we've got access to air-conditioned rooms, terrific dining options and an irresistible cocktail menu.

That air-conditioning is essential, as Sarawak is currently in its dry season and the heat is extraordinary. In fact, an afternoon dip in the lake feels more like a warm bath, such is the temperature of the water near the surface.

But we're not here to spend all our time relaxing at the resort – we're jungle bound. Batang Ai National Park, given its status in 1989, covers 24 square kilometres and abuts two other national parks – one in Malaysia, the other in neighbouring Indonesia.

While the national park is home to Borneo's famous orang-utans, we are warned that coming across them in the vast area is not likely.

Like the resort, Batang Ai National Park must be accessed by boat – we settle down in two narrow longboats for our journey up the Ulu Ai river. Due to the aforementioned dry season, the river depth is low in points, forcing our guides to occasionally pull up the outboard motor and drag the boat along as they wade through the shallows.

Despite the shade provided by the thick foliage, the heat remains stifling. Our boat drops us at a hiking trail, where we take a mercifully short walk that leaves me utterly drenched in sweat. While we don't see any, there is one obvious sign that orang-utans are in the neighbourhood – a large pile of fresh, orange-tinged dung right in the middle of the hiking trail. Unfortunately that's the only sign we get of the jungle's most famous inhabitants.

On return to the riverbank, despite none of our group having brought bathers, we can't resist stripping to our undies and taking a dip in the river to cool off. It's wonderfully refreshing. It's also teeming with life. While we've been hiking one of our boatmen has busied himself spearing fish for our lunch, which are now staked over a fire on the bank. It doesn't get much fresher than that.

Continue reading at: Into the wilds of Batang Ai - Man versus mild

Take a look at the wilds of Malaysian Borneo in Batang Ai National Park at: PHOTO GALLERY

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