Someone on Flickr asked about this photo recently and I thought the story behind it is quite interesting, so I decided to blog about the incident.This photo was taken on a trip to Taman Negara in 2003. There were four of us on the trip, but only three of us made the trip to the hide where this photo was shot, as one guy left us for KL a day earlier. It was our last full day of the trip. We had to leave the next morning.
A guide had told us that Malayan tapirs (Tapirus indicus) had been spotted recently at Kumbang Hide, so we decided to spend the night there and check it out for ourselves. Kumbang Hide was supposed to be an easy 5-hour hike from the park headquarters or an even easier 45-minute hike from Kuala Trenggan. Since we did have the whole day, we decided to hike from the park headquarters and arranged for a boat to pick us up at Kuala Trenggan the next morning.
The day started off well; the weather was good and we found out that it only costs RM5 per person to spend the night in the hide and there were vacant bunks for us. We started our hike late in the morning and soon came across a crested fireback pheasant (Lophura ignita) in our path. We had only been walking for about an hour when we decided to stop for lunch at a little jetty by the river. I can’t remember what we had, but it must have been something simple we had packed earlier.
After a refreshing rest, we continued on our journey. If I remember correctly, it only started raining after lunch. Soon, the hike became torturous in the rain and our backpacks started to feel like they weighed a tonne, and we were getting bitten by lots of leeches. I don’t usually get bitten by leeches as I can usually feel their cold bodies crawling on me, but I just couldn’t feel them when I was drenched in sweat and rain.
There was some occasional reprieve whenever the rain stopped momentarily, but the mud and leeches were still annoying. Our spirits were really lifted when we came across some tracks left by Asian elephants (Elephas maximus), including juveniles. At that time, that was the closest thing to a wild elephant any of us had ever seen.
The map that we had was very straightforward, showing a single trail along the river which veered away from the river and crossed a little stream. However, the trail we were on split occasionally and was sometimes ambiguous. We were definitely not very sure that we were on the right trail but were fairly confident that we were walking in the right direction and just made guesses whenever the trail split. We thought we had crossed the stream until we came across another stream, and then another. By now, we were getting a little worried that we might be somewhat lost as it was going to get dark soon.
Eventually, we came across a river and realised that that was the ‘stream’ in our map. It qualified as a stream I guess, but what I had in mind was more like a brook. I remember it to be about thigh deep and about 10 to 15 metres wide. I think there was a rope to help us get across. It certainly wasn’t an easy task, but not altogether life-threatening.
Now, if the trail before the river was ambiguous, the trail after the river was downright puzzling. If memory serves me well, the map showed a straight trail broken by a stream. However, after crossing the river, there was little clearing and two trails leading to completely different directions, none of which were straight ahead relative to the trail before the river! Suddenly, we were again unsure if we were on the right trail. I can’t remember which trails we took but we did eventually get to Kumbang Hide, albeit via a different trail, we suspect.
When we arrived, after 7 hours of hiking, I counted over 30 leech bites on my legs, which were oozing with blood all over. As expected, the shower was cold, but the door was missing, and it faced the steps up the hide, i.e. the first thing one sees when climbing up the hide is the doorless bathroom, and perhaps a naked bum. However, we were covered in sweat and blood, at least I was, and badly needed to shower, so we took turns to shower and no one walked in on us up the hide.
After we had cleaned up, a family arrived at the hide. They had come from Kuala Trenggan and had taken the correct shorter trail and gave us directions on how to get to jetty at Kuala Trenggan.
We were seated at the viewing window of the hide and waited in the dark. We were not sure if we were supposed to be shining a light around or just wait to see something in the dark. I already had on hand a rather large torchlight which I had bought for the trip. We were sure we weren’t going to see much in the dark but thought that perhaps light would frighten any animals away, so we waited a little while.
Hmm…to shine or not to shine, that is the question. We finally decided to just try shining some light around just for a while, just to take a look. So I turned on my torch and shined it in front of us. Lo and behold there stood a tapir before us, completely unbothered by the light. It didn’t stay long after we spotted it but soon another came along and this one stayed for over half an hour. This is the animal photographed above and the light was supplied by my trusty torch now christened the ‘tapir torch’.