Tuesday, March 21, 2006

To Tabin...and beyond!

Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Lahad Datu was my sanctuary for the weekend and I've lived to tell the tale after all. Heh. I'm no Indiana Jones but for a laid-back semi-city girl like myself, I had quite an adventure. My colleagues and I set off on Friday morning to Tabin. I was there to write a story on the place and also to assist in the annual Tabin Wildlife Conservation Conquest. It's a 12-km race where runners find themselves battling rainforest terrain, leeches, mud and each other to be crowned champion at the finishing line.

Runner down. This guy not only had muscle cramps in BOTH legs, but both arms too. And check out his leech bites. Yikes.

Prior to the run is the Mud Race; a more light-hearted competition for both the young and old. Participants run/walk/skip to the Mud Volcano (some half hour/45 minutes from the starting point), roll around in mud and return to the starting point. The most creative mud-covered participant is crowned Mud King/Queen/Kid/Warrior. It's pretty hilarious and some people came up with really creative concepts!
Looks fun, no? Must try this next time.

The journey to Tabin from Lahad Datu airport is about one hour and let me warn you, the road is B-U-M-P-Y. Forget getting shut eye. It was so bumpy that at one point i bumped my head against the van's window and cracked my sunglasses. Yep, i'm not even there yet and my adventures have already begun. Sigh sigh. Anyway, after lunch we begin our first trekking expedition. We're doing a recce of the race course (not all 12km thank God) and decided to cover on 2 and a half km. So we trek. And trek. And trek. And i tell you...It doesn't seem to end. Now, I'm not bothered by the humidity. Nor the ridiculous terrain - we're talking rocks, mud, tree roots...And people are gonna RUN here?. The whole time I've only got one concern: LEECHES.


Those overly-intimate, super friendly, always hungry critters. I mean, I have my leech socks on but I wish I had some spaceman suit on instead. It was so difficult to enjoy the surroundings when you're busy looking for signs of blood-sucking creatures lurking. When my colleague finally spotted two - TWO - buggers sneaking up my leech socks (how appropriate), I screamed. Yes, I'm not ashamed to admit. I screamed like a girl (ok so it helps that i'm actually one). I screamed and i yelped and I swear i did a little Red Indian dance. After my colleagues had their fun seeing me in my element, they finally helped me remove them. At this point, we still had 45 minutes of trekking to go. Great. As we came to a clearing and saw light (most of the time we were under green canopies, which is nice but also leech-infested), I was so happy. I figured, "This isn't so bad. Worst thing that could happen now is rain."

Me and my big dumb thoughts.

"Please don't rain, please don't rain..."

Yep, so we trekked in the pouring rain and entered more foliage. Which means...Yes ladies and gents, more leeches. Hurrah. Why don't you just drop a big branch on me and get this slow death over with? We return to the resort (well, that's what they call it anyway), drenched, muddied and exhausted. We head for lunch. As i slip my shoes back on after lunch, i feel a soft, squishy, icky, oh-my-god-please-say-its-not-what-i-think-it-is sensation in my Nikes. Enter scream. Enter colleague calmly removing critter from shoe. Enter me walking back barefoot to my cabin.

Me and the boys at the cabin, preparing for the waterfall hike. See that smile on my face? That's because I'm still leech-free at this point.

Next day, more trekking. This time to the Lipad Waterfalls.

With miles to go before I sleep...

I was promised less leeches this time. But no one expected the knee-deep mud awaiting us. Let's just say my so-called new Nikes are officially seasoned.

We trek and trek and trek. We hear gibbons in the distance and I even saw an Orang Utans' nest for the time. We go through another green foliage area aka The New York City of Leeches, and I feel panic setting in again. This time, I actually catch the nasty critters in full glory on the leaves and grass as we pass by. I can almost hear them:

Sgt. Leech: Attention men! We have dinner approaching! Set targets!
Private Sucker: Affirmative. Target spotted.
Sgt. Leech: Leeches...Up! (all rise)
Private sucker: Suckers engaged and ready to roll...

This better be one hell of a waterfall we're going to. We finally reach our destination and I have to admit...It's mighty purdy. I search my legs and arms...All clear. Leech free!!! I dunno why but i suddenly felt the urge to touch my chest (not in a pervy way, mind you). And i thought for a second,"Hey, i have a third nipple." Wait a minute. And then i think,"Please God, let it be a third nipple."

God was having an off day I suppose. I looked into my shirt and saw Sgt. Leech engaging himself smack dab in my cleavage (of all places). He looked real comfortable there too, the bastard. So you know the rest: Me screaming, trying to remove him, me screaming some more. Sigh. I finally managed to remove it without having to touch it. Now the problem was removing it from the insides of my shirt where I had it nicely 'trapped'.

Me: HAW!!!!! put that camera down and help me here!
Haw: Where is it?
Me: In my shirt...Take it away, take it away!
Haw: Er...you want me to go in there and remove it?
Me: No la, I got it oredi but it's still in my shirt. Stick your hand out and i'll drop it.
Haw: ok (sticks hand beneath my shirt)
Me: (shake shake shake shake) ok got it?
Haw: Yeah...Wah...That's a pretty big one. Wait.
Me: What?
Haw: Don't move...turn around (removes leeches nicely climbing up my waist pouch)
Me: (screaming for my mom). Lipad Waterfall. Ok, at least it was worth the walk.
Add Image Post-leech trauma. Yep, there's always time for a Kodak moment.

Almost back to base. Washing off the mud at a neaby river.

Me doing an impression of a racoon. Don't you just love my dark circles?

Haw a.k.a Leech Remover Extraordinaire and me. All good. Till the next trip, Melissa signing off...

Watch this space: Next trip, Mataking Island!

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