Eric Prochaska Faculty Instructor Dept. of English Language & Literature
A few years ago on a trip to Malaysia, I met some interesting people.
First, there was Collin. Collin was an Englishman who was travelling the world after his divorce. We met on Tioman island, and traveled together to Teman Negara? an immense national park in the heart of the Malaysian rain forest. The only way into the park is by longboat, and they only depart a few times each morning. So, waiting for our boat, we happened to meet two other travelers: Ann and Zeta.
Ann was an Australian woman in her early 40’s. Zeta was a spunky young Scottish woman, whose accent I had terrible difficulty understanding. It was the off-season, so the park was not very crowded. There were several European tourists, but most of them were middle-aged folks who had no intention of hiking into the jungle.
Not so with Collin and me. We spent the whole journey from Tioman Island talking about all of the animals we would see in the park.”A bloke I had a pint with in Singapore said he spotted two elephants in here a week ago,” Collin said. “Yeah, and the guidebook says there could even be some tigers left in here,” I said. “Tigers? How pleasant.” I really wanted to see a tiger.
Of course, the trick is that you don’t want the tiger to see you. Otherwise, you might become a snack. Well, the first day in the rain forest was disappointing. We arrived in the afternoon, so there was no time to start our jungle trek before dusk. Instead, we took a short trip across the river and into the forest just to stretch our legs.
The sound of monkeys playing far overhead in the colossal trees of the jungle canopy was like an appetizer for the next day’s main attraction: tigers! We slept in a cheap bunk house and ate our last delicious cooked meals before heading into the jungle the next morning.
That night Collin and I studied the unfolded map of the park, plotting a course which would take us far from other humans, and into the private realm of the most exotic creatures on earth.
At the crack of dawn, when the mist was still as thick as a curtain across the forest, when the wings of jungle birds could be heard flapping far away in the absence of all human activity, we rose and ventured into the rain forest. Of course, it rained. “Why is it raining?” Zeta complained. The girls talked non-stop during the hike. “Shh!” Collin said. “You have to be quiet not to scare off the animals.” “What animals?” Zeta asked. “With any luck, tigers,” I said. “Tigers?!” both of the women blurted.
“Shh!” Collin repeated. Zeta spoke in a whisper to appease Collin. “We’re looking for tigers? Do we really want to find a tiger? That sounds dangerous.” “Don’t wo-rry,” Collin said. “If a tiger pounces on us, I’ll slit it open with this.” He pointed to the long machete he carried. “Oh,” Zeta said. The ground was deep, slimy, slippery mud, populated with leeches which somehow attached themselves to spots everywhere below our knees.
There was nowhere to sit and rest, because the jungle was alive with monstrous insects. Sit on a fallen tree and you might have a hundred ants, each 3cm long, scurrying up your leg. The going was tough through that thick mud. Finally, we emerged at a river. “According to the map, our hide is just on the other side,” I said.
We took off our bags, held them over our heads and marched, single file, through the swift current. Once on the other side, we found the hide Ñ a small hut elevated on posts for viewing of animals Ñ and dropped our gear for the night. That night was fiercely cold and damp.
The mist that descended over the rain forest was so thick that we couldn’t even see the bats whose wings we could hear flapping by our windows all night. In the morning, no one had gotten enough sleep, but we had to continue into the jungle if we wanted to find some wildlife.
Somehow, despite all of our efforts, the girls continually managed to take the lead. Collin and I were increasingly frustrated by their chattering. Suddenly, the girls let out terrified shrieks, and we heard something crashing through the brush.
“What is it!” we called as we rushed to catch up with them. “Oh, it was just some big animal,” Ann said. “But I think we scared it away.” Finally, Collin and I demanded that we lead the group. I was walking a few paces ahead of him, trying to watch carefully for animals, but the trees were so thick that I could barely see three meters in front of myself.
Then, before my mind could register it, my eyes had caught something. I froze in my tracks. There, up ahead, maybe five meters away, was a small patch of orange among the criss-crossed branches and leaves. I waved my hand behind me silently to Collin as a signal not to move.
I squinted and peered to see if the tiger had noticed us. Indeed, there, in the dark forest, I met its stare, and knew that it was watching me, too. As its massive, sinewy form crept forward in a low, crouched posture, I reached behind me and pulled my running shoes out of my ruck sack.
“What’s there?” Collin whispered, cautious of the danger he could not see. “A tiger,” I responded, lifting one foot to tie the laces of the running shoe. “Are you crazy?” he said. “You can’t run faster than a tiger.” “I know,” I said, tying the second shoe. “But I don’t have to outrun the tiger. I only have to outrun you!”