Telok Limau: The First Time Experience!
These are the questions that one normally asks when treading the Telok Limau trail for the first time: “how much further?” and “does this trail ever end?” By jungle standard, a 10-km trail would usually take around 4-5 hours of walking. But Telok Limau is slightly different.
I will always remember the first time I attempted this trail with my uncle Scott a few years ago, who self-claimed himself as an experienced jungle trekker. But really, he grew up in the village life of Bario and have trekked those torturous mountain ranges during his hunting-and-gathering days. He has several certificates to prove that he scaled Mt. Kinabalu many times – even though he’d to start from Laban Rata. And all other hikes to unknown places of Borneo! Of course, as an experienced hiker and an uncle, I looked up to him as my sifu of jungle hiking. After all, what did I know about jungle hiking? I only lived with the Penan for couple of months in Belaga and all they taught me was to indulge in cap apek. I've developed that skill quite rapidly compared to the necessary skills of barking sago palm, walking silently (and fast!) while hunting in the forest, the art of smelling wild boars, deers and things like that. And the only jungle hiking that I’ve done before Telok Limau were other easy trails in Bako. So, we made an effort to do that Telok Limau trail. We started the first day by relaxing at Telok Assam, the Bako national park HQ. Beers (or other form of liquor) and barbequing activities – esp. pig head – are almost necessary when making a trip to Bako national park. We even did ‘warm up’ trekking on the Lintang and Telok Pandan Kecil trails, a combination of trails that is expected to take up a total of 5 hours as indicated on the trail map. But we were proud to complete it in 3.5 hours and seriously thought that all the trails in Bako were badly mistimed. Either that or it is meant for slow hikers who prefer to stop to take pictures at pitcher plants, insects, weird animals, etc.
We spent the evening BBQing as how it should and drank lots of beers with the national park wardens. Very friendly bunch of guys. We talked to them about our trip to Telok Limau the next day and also didn’t fail to mention our previous hiking credentials. The park guys were impressed but said that Telok Limau is a difficult trail compared to all the other trails in Bako (bar Telok Kruin). It usually takes 8 to 10 hours of trekking for an average fit hiker to complete the trail. So, it’s always nice to start from Telok Assam early, say, at 8am. But then again, my uncle sifu was not “an average fit hiker”, was he? No. He was a super-duper jungle trekker who could gulp one glass of langkau in a jiffy and smoke one batang of Marlboro red before he begins his hike. Those were like his energy fuel, an equation of the power-bar or power-gel that “an average fit hiker” would consume prior to their long, arduous hike.
The day arrived. We woke up at 8.30am. I looked at my watch and said “don’t you think we should do the trail now?”. He groggily said “yes, but let’s have breakfast first and take some photos of those noisy silver-leaf langurslangurs, we started walking very slowly. His backpack was filled with his camera equipments and a tripod that weighed a ton! I carried the water, food and the tent, which weighed less than his because I was the inexperienced and weaker one among us. Our aim was to cut the 2.5-hour walk to Tajor Waterfall into 1 hour, which we did. As a minor celebration of this feat, we spent 45 minutes at Tajor tempted by the idea to slaughter the friendly soft-shelled turtle at the waterfall. We kept reminding ourselves this is a national park. Do not kill animals. So, we did not. But I could see the saliva dangling on the corner of my sifu’s lips. outside our hostel”. And so we did. Our breakfast consisted of Stella Artois and instant Maggie noodles with poached egg. Why hurry, right? If we can cut all the Bako trails by 1.5 to 2 hours, the 8-hour trail to Telok Limau should take us around…hhm…around only 6 hours maximum. No problemo! After taking some photos of the
After Tajor, the trail to Telok Limau should hypothetically take 4¾ hours as indicated on the trail map board. “Aiya, 4¾ hours should be cut into 3 hours lah”, so we both thought. We walked. And we walked. And we walked. Okay, several steep hills along the way. No problem. We walked. We walked. Another hill, steeper than the one previously. The path was poorly maintained with trees falling over it. Then we walked, and we walked. More hours passed by. We walked some more, then a series of ridiculously steep, long hills greeted us. “C’mmon, it can’t be…” Then, the series of questions arrived: “How much further?” "Where does this trail end?" "Why is the stream flowing in the opposite direction of the sea?" "Why are there so many hills?" We thought the trail should have appeared as soon as we heard the sound of the sea close to us. Then, as we walked further along the trail that sound eventually disappeared. Not only that, more hills greeted us! At each slope, our mental strength was purely dedicated to finishing that hill and convinced ourselves that it’d be the last. But more hills came. Worse, darkness gradually came with it. Our aim then changed from “expecting to arrive at Telok Limau” to “find the Telok Kruin junction”. If we’d found that evasive junction, we knew Telok Limau was less than a kilometer from there. But we never found the Telok Kruin junction. The last slope was the killer. My highly experienced sifu decided he could not take anymore. He pengsan (passed out). Looking at his exhaustive expression, my mental strength immediately drained out of me like diarrhea.
With the little strength that was left of us, we set up our tent on that very steep slope. It was already pitch dark. My uncle sifu – who did not bring his torch light – decided that this was the best place to set camp because the trees around us were big and ‘fresh’, which meant very little possibility of falling branches. Good idea, as I never thought about that before. I mean, I could only imagine the newspaper headlines writing this the next day: “Two inexperienced hikers died on the Telok Limau trail, killed by falling twigs” Actually, I was so disappointed with my sifu and the fact that we couldn’t finish the trail on that day. I went into the tent to sleep off the exhaustion and told sifu that we should walk back to Telok Assam by dawn tomorrow morning. I was sulking while he was quietly digging a hole near our tent. I asked him “what are you doing?”. He replied “what to do with the tilapia we brought?”. In my mind then, I thought “why is he thinking of eating at this time?!” So, I told him that we should just throw away the fish for whatever strange creatures out in the dark that might be lurking on us now. Besides, it'd reduce the weight of our luggage. But he took out the tilapia anyways and started making a small fire. Being a brilliant cook, the smell of the BBQ-ed fish drifted into the tent. I was hungry. So, I came out of the tent and asked if I could taste the fish. It was delicious! He even brought a BBQ sauce!! He did not bring a torchlight but brought a BBQ sauce! Talk about priorities, man! We ate the fish with bread and some water from the stream, and it was easily the best dinner I’ve had in any jungle setting! As the night progressed, we joked about ourselves and how we have mistreated nature by disrespecting the trail. “If only the people in the village hear this story, they’d make fun of us!”, my enlightened sifu claimed. I pondered on it and I definitely did not want to be remembered for that. I mean, what kind of orang ulu would that make me? Or us?
After that nice meal and deep but amusing reflection on our failure (also a bit of stupidity) to finish the trail, we woke up a little bit after dawn. We walked back along the trail at a relaxed pace armed with a half loaf of bread and dark-colored stream water. When we arrived at Telok Assam, we were very happy and I thought I’ve become that wedding groom in Coleridge’s "Rime of the Ancient Mariner". The guys at the park and tourist guides were eager to listen to our Telok Limau stories around the BBQ. We narrated to them our stories, of its success rather than the failure of NOT reaching Telok Limau. We said “next time, we will!”.
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Published on 7/19/07