What the f— is glamping??
I don’t know, and I don’t care. What I do know is the real deal meat of camping lies in between the sandwich loafs of discomfort and natural wonder.
This last weekend, for my birthday, I definitely ate that sandwich. It was terrible, and amazing all at the same time. I think you know the feeling. I had the fortunate opportunity to make a guest appearance guiding for Sticky Rice Travel, as we took some clients on a two day, one night, 12 km trek through the Crocker Range, ending at Mahua waterfall.
We started early Saturday morning, driving up to the range, wiping the cold out of our eyes. When we arrived there was a cool breeze to combat the deep heat Borneo always pelts you with. The forest up here is stunning, we traverse through ultramafic forest type, with pitcher plants, mossy gardens and orchids all around, through bamboo skyscrapers tunneling overhead, and down through your typical lower montane Borneo rainforest.
Alright, so we began our trek around 9am, myself with the whole campsite on my back. I’m about 180 lbs, and I think I know now what it would be like to trek if I was Lebron James. (He’s about 280 lbs? Right?) We took three hours to get to our first stop, a makeshift hut at the 3km mark where we could stop and eat. I pulled out the rice and sardines from my pack and we cooked up. It being only 1 in the afternoon when we finished, the decision was made to keep trekking, and campout at the 6km mark. Even with the time taking roughly one hour per kilometer, it seemed silly to stay there the remainder of the day and night, when there was another shelter three hours away.
Oh, wait… there wasn’t?
Damnit, not exactly what you want to hear from the ranger after you’ve already put in an hour of that three hour trek to the “campsite.” I only say this though, because rain was a guarantee. Up that high on the range, we were pretty lucky we hadn’t been hit with it yet, but I knew without a structure to string the hammocks under, it was going to be a wet night. Regardless, we moved on.
Through bamboo tunnels we cruised, keeping our heads to the sky, on the lookout for giant pitcher plants hanging from the trees above. Every once in a while a window to the outside would poke itself through the forest enclosure, letting us know how beautiful of a day it was just beyond the moss covered towers overhead.
Three hours later, we arrived. And he wasn’t kidding. They were in the process of building a camp, which meant there were some wooden stakes stacked around a semi-cleared area of jungle. While I set up the hammocks for everyone, Azriel (my coworker) started the coffee and tea and prep for dinner. Our camp turned out alright, the trees were kind enough to be spaced just perfectly so our clients could sleep side by side. I threw up a couple tarps up for them, hoping it would be enough if the rain came hard and heavy in the middle of the night. My hammock was strung up on trees spaced a little ways away, which meant I would dip down leaving the tarp cover too many inches above me. Sideways rain would get in no problem.
The wood was too wet for a consistent campfire, leaving us with a bottle of petrol to spray on the dying embers every few minutes.
Lets go for a night walk instead. Cruising with our torches we set out into the mist. Fog had come in heavy on the ridge at this point, winds swirling all around us, reminded me of a cool San Francisco night. Unfortunately mammal life isn’t crazy up here, but amphibians, including the endemic Bornean Horned Frog were rampant. So many frogs are unseen and well heard, but if you look hard enough you will find these lazy guys everywhere. Their defense mechanism is to literally stand still and say “Please don’t see me, please don’t see me.” Luckily we weren’t in the mood for frog porridge!
Thunder cracked in the distance, and not knowing which way the wind was blowing from, we made the call to turn back. We had gone a full day with no rain; we were due to get hit hard, and wouldn’t you know it, not more than 3 minutes after arriving at camp the rain hit! The clients changed clothes, hopped in their sleeping bags and were out. I had a fleece blanket, jeans, one pair of socks, and three long sleeved shirts on, with my rain jacket as well.
Lets just say I did not sleep well. Easily the coldest night I’ve had here in Borneo, I’ll generously put it at 3 hours of sleep. Rain dumped on us all night, never relenting. Thankfully I had my rain jacket on with the hood up, so I stayed relatively dry. I think my shivering kept the water off me as well…. like a dog getting out of a pool.
Alright I’ve described enough of the “terrible,” lets move to the natural wonder. As my toes wiggled to regain blood flow and warmth, I look out to see steam rising with such abundance you’d think the forest was on fire. The rising sun split the trees with its rays, illuminating the freshly wet greenery around us. Azriel cooked breakfast in a godly manner with his one leg up, sunrays shining bright behind him… it was pretty magical. There wasn’t much of a sleep to wake up from, but this morning was absolutely gorgeous. All of us just stood around in silence, soaking in the sun, the scenery and holding our coffee close with two hands. The only noises were the birds waking up and the droplets falling from the trees above. After a morning meal and lots and lots of coffee, we packed up our bags and continued on for the 6 kilometers we had left. Eventually we arrived at the Mahua waterfall, feeling exhausted and a little jealous of the families who drove there to barbeque. In retrospect, the minor discomforts weren’t all that terrible once we witnessed that glorious morning. That’s the beauty of camping. Being out there in the jungle, with the “back to the roots” feeling, will wipe away all those aches and pains, the shivers and bruises, and will fill you up with pride and excitement, a sense of accomplishment, and a much needed waterfall shower.