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Staying outdoors

Rhizanthes, in bud

The jungle is a formidable environment for those that are not prepared. My simple advice is to always be careful and conservative in the forest…before you enter the forest, always make sure you have enough water/snacks, a basic first-aid kit, a knife, and pay attention to the features and characteristics of the trail. Where possible, always use a local guide. It will be your only insurance out of the forest if anything should go wrong.

Camping. Generally, I do not recommend camping in the tropics, especially if you are here as a tourist. Tents do not work well in this climate (too hot by day and performs poorly in heavy downpours). My most reliable camping set-up is however: large tarpaulin/flysheet or light-weight army-stretcher-type camp beds (usually with poles from the forest) and mossy-nets. This ensures that you do not carry tent poles and heavy camping gear, but does need more time to set-up and you will need to cut pole-sized trees for the camp-beds. It does work well for long trips away in the forest.

Trekking. Use a guide whenever you can. If you are going in on your own a word of caution, I learnt recently, and it will be wise to remember this, Orang Aslis (the forest natives) will never travel alone in the forest, simply that if one is hurt, the other is there to help. The jungle is also an easy place to get lost in, so always pay attention to any characteristic features along the way. Locals use their parangs (machete) to make small marks on trees as they pass or selectively cut some undergrowth plants as they walk through. On their return, they can easily trace back their way following these markings. These cuts are also useful as I heard recently that one of my colleagues had to literally feel his way back to camp after his torch light failed in the forest. Footwear, where possible, should be light-weight and easy to dry. I often trek in my Teva-sandals, but for longer trips I have invested in a cheap pair of rubber-shoes (which cost no more than 1 US dollar!); they are call locally Adidas-kampung (or "village" Adidas). A pair of canvass shoes will also do.

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Stoves. For the most part, one can always find wood to burn in the forest. The problem is wood may often be damp, which is why having fires-starters (solid-fuel from army-supplies or pieces of rubber) will be handy. Remember to split larger pieces of wood to burn as the core would often be dry. I often carry a small stove (with spare bottles of fuel) just in case or for whipping something up quickly after a long day. I have found the MSR whisperlite stoves useful as it burns kerosene, white gas, and automobile fuel. The stove itself is easily packed and can be serviced in the field easily. The down side of this is that it will work best on "white gas", kerosene and automobile fuel burns with a very sooty-flame which makes cleaning of the fuel-delivery system necessary after each use.

Water. Either bring plenty of water or be prepared to drink from running streams, or in very desperate situations, from stagnant pools. I carry a small filter water-bottle which is handy to use whilst trekking. In camp, we boil water and when needed filter the larger particles using a muslin cloth. If you want to be extra careful you could also purify the water with water purifiers (e.g., Puritab). I usually avoid drinking from stagnant water, although having a filter or chemical water-treatments should be used if this is your only water source. If you are in upland areas, keep vigilant for water sources whilst you trek as the terrain (steep river valleys, etc) could limit (or at least make it difficult) to access potential water sources.

Food & supplies. Specialised camping food is difficult, and expensive, to purchase in Malaysia. The staple for long treks is often rice, salt, and dried food (fish, prawns, mushrooms, etc). These foods can be bought easily wherever you are in Malaysia. Do visit a local market for both fresh and sundry supplies.

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Photo: Rhizanthes, in bud. Perak - © WILDBORNEO.net


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