The trek into the jungle was pure hell. I'd set my sights on the lodge at Kuala Perkai, some 28km from park headquarters, as a good place to get away from it all, and reckoned that two days' walking, one of 11km (staying the night in a hide called Bumbun Kumbang) and one of 17km, would be fairly acceptable. How little I knew of the rigours of hardcore tropical jungle; the first day took a little over five-and-a-half hours of hard slog, and the second a whopping nine hours.
It's not all unpleasantries in the jungle, though. Despite the fact that the going was tough, it was a unique and quite fascinating walk. My destination, a fishing lodge on the confluence of Sungai Keniam and Sungai Perkai called Kuala Perkai (see the logic of Malaysian place names?), had been described as an isolated paradise by the ever-effusive John, and although I felt that was a bit of an overstatement, it certainly was pretty. Actually, he'd said it would be a perfect place for a honeymoon, but seeing the lodge and remembering that John was from a country whose divorce rate is among the highest in the western world (if not the highest), I remembered too late that objectivity is always subjective when it comes to the opinions of travellers.
The journey was not without its interesting parts. My stay in the hide1 at Bumbun Kembang was considerably enlivened by the presence of a white cat, who had obviously decided he was living there and that was that. As I stomped up the stairs to the hide and dumped my dripping pack on the floor, the cat shot me the look of a superior being, as if to say, 'I live here, so don't get any ideas, buster.'
'Yeah, well I've paid my five ringgit to stay here, which is more than you have, cat,' I replied. 'And don't get any ideas about stealing my food in the middle of the night.'
'Who, me?' yawned the cat, wide-eyed and innocent. 'I'm a cat of the jungle, my friend, and I catch my own food. So there.'
'And no pissing in the corner, either,' I said, noticing an unpleasantly familiar smell coming from the corner where it sat.
'Harrumph,' said the cat, scratching his neck and studiously turning away from me, staring out of the window as if I didn't exist. Not surprisingly he came and went as he pleased, and I hid my food in the mattress locker, which he obviously hadn't mastered yet.
The only tourists I saw were a young couple, fleetingly, whom I met just five minutes from the hide, and a Kuala Lumpur man called Pati who also stayed the night in Bumbun Kembang. I did come across a good example of the tourist trade at Keniam Lodge, a decent-sized collection of luxury huts and central eating areas that looked amazingly tranquil in this, the closed season. All that was left of the tourists was a menu board showing overpriced standard meals, and a sign tacked up saying, 'Closed from 1.11.97 to 31.12.97.' I dumped my pack, discovered flowing water in the toilets, and had a cup of tea, overlooking a picturesque bend in the Sungai Trenggan. It felt like something out of The Shining, this ghost town of a resort, normally bubbling with life but now silent and home only to spiders and piles of leaves. It was strangely moving.
1 Hides are so called because they are perched high up on stilts, affording a good view of a grassy patch which wildlife frequents only when nobody is in the hide, of course. It wasn't as pleasant as the fishing lodge, but it served its purpose as a break in the walk, and it did have a pretty view.