Last week I was in Taman Negara (Peninsular Malaysia’s main national park) with Perhilitan (the wildlife department here in Peninsular Malaysia).  This was on a programme known as the CAT TRAILBLAZER organised by MYCAT who are an alliance of NGOs in Malaysia focused on protecting wild tigers.

We spent four days in the jungle checking the border and remarking it as a deterrent to any illegal encroachment or entry by poachers.

The CAT TRAILBLAZER is an ongoing programme and is a truly marvelous opportunity for anyone in Malaysia who wants to go into the jungle and help conserve her forests: the organising is done for you; you get the opportunity to enter parts of the forest closed to the general public; you trek with members of the wildlife department who are skilled in junglecraft (and at spotting signs of wildlife and identifying tracks), and, most importantly, you can do your bit to support the conservation of Malaysia’s greatest natural resource.

…and, MYCAT are looking for more volunteers for future trips.

I had an absolutely fantastic time and would thoroughly recommend this programme to others….so, if you are interested in getting off the beaten track, contact MYCAT and volunteer for future CAT Trailblazer excursions – your rainforest needs you!

I took along a newly purchased Olmpus TG 610 point-and-shoot camera to record the trip.  The video gives you some idea of what a typical extended camping trip is like in the jungle (perhaps a bit wetter than most, but not much) and, for people thinking of volunteering, will hopefully let you gauge whether this is something you would enjoy or not.

I apologise for the poor quality of the video – the Olympus had a couple of irritating problems (a recurrent ‘clicking’ noise on playback and an inability to maintain focus!) and my hand is not as steady as the tripod I usually use, but it should give you an impression of what a longer trip in the jungle is like.

I thought it would be useful to cover some more general aspect of junglecraft related to this trip – namely how to enjoy being in the jungle when it is at its most uncomfortable (we had persistent rain throughout the trip).  This is partly a psychological aspect of junglecraft and partly to do with the kit you take in and, in some ways, also applies to survival situations.

Travel light

I made a rookie mistake on this trip – I had been told that we would be making day treks from a permanent base camp and decided to take along my Berghaus Vulcan rucksack and fill it with just about everything bar the kitchen sink (intending to use the side pockets as a day pack).  But the plan changed and, to my dismay, we had to lug everything from one campsite to the next.

A lesson relearned – always travel as light as possible – because plans may change but your rucksack will weigh the same!

Have something to look forward to

Trekking in the jungle can be wet, unsurprisingly hot (and, when wet, surprisingly cold!) and tiring – however, at the end of the day I know that I have dry clothes to change into, a comfortable hammock to lie in, my Snugpak sleeping bag to get warm in and I can fall asleep listening to an audio book on my ipod….all of these items safely stowed in a heavy duty dry sack that will keep them dry even if my rucksack gets dropped in a river.

…this is very psychologically important as it means that any discomfort during the day is easily shrugged off by the prospect of total comfort at night –  I sleep better in the jungle than I do at home!

Have a luxury item with you

For me, a cup of a coffee (and, I am sorry to say, a cigarette) sets me up for the day ahead.  These are important to me and make a big different to the start of my day, so I take in sachets of three-in-one Nescafe and enough cigs to last the trip. Could I live without them?  Yes. Do I want to?  No.

For others it might be sweets, or a tot of whisky at the end of the day or some favourite food item – as long as it isn’t too heavy, a luxury item or two can make a big difference to your feeling of well-being.

Go slow

Parts of the jungle can be hard to walk through – swamps that try to suck your boots off, vines and rattans that catch you and pull you off balance, muddy slopes that are a real struggle to climb (or descend, for that matter) – and it is easy to lose patience and try and fight your way forward: to ‘get out’ of the area as fast as you can,  This is almost always a mistake – if you find yourself rushing, force yourself to slow down and you will trek more safely, conserve more energy and find everything less aggravating.

…never fight the jungle, it will win!

Stay hydrated

It is surprisingly easy to forget to drink water as you trek and become dehydrated.  Before leaving camp I drink about a litre of water and then keep my water bottles handy to top up as I go.  If you are sweating heavily, hydration powders (1 or 2 a day) can really help as well.

Keep some water purifying tablets handy so that you can refill from streams as you go along.

Don’t use a tent

Long ago I converted to hammocks and would never dream of using a tent in the jungle but, in case you are considering using a tent, here are some of the (many) disadvantages: 1) the jungle floor is a packed with tightly knotted roots close to the surface which will dig into your back at night, 2) the jungle floor is also host to leeches, centipedes and other insect that will bite you – you will want to get off the jungle floor,  3) in heavy rain the jungle floor turns to mud and often forms water pools where you’ve camped (no problem in a hammock, big problem in a tent), 4) often you will camp on sloped ground and, in a tent, will wake to find yourself slowly sliding towards the entrance, 5) tents can be claustrophobic and too hot for a tropical climate, 6) you will need to clear more of the surrounding jungle if you want to pitch a tent.

Early to bed, early to rise.

The best time to trek is early in the morning (while it’s not too hot) so don’t miss this opportunity by sleeping in late.

I also prefer to camp early (by about 4pm) which gives you plenty of time to set up camp, wash, start a fire, cook and relax.  In the tropics night falls quickly (at about 7pm) and everything is more difficult to do in the dark.

In a survival situation the same principles apply – if you give yourself time to start a fire, make a comfortable (and waterproof) shelter you can look forward to a reasonable nights sleep, and it will give you a huge psychological boost to face the challenges of the next day.

Only clear when necessary

There is temptation when using a parang to hack away at the undergrowth and ‘take revenge’ on the jungle rattans and vines that impede your progress.  Learn to cut only when necessary – if you can side step the rattan, or push that branch to one side instead of cutting it, then do it.  Why waste energy slashing at the jungle when you don’t need to?

Be flexible

This last point applies particularly to the CAT Trailblazer programme – remember that you are there to help the wildlife department: they have a job to do and their own way of doing things, you are there to help them and the onus is on you to fit in with their plans rather than the other way round.

Just do it!

If you are not a hardened jungle trekker don’t be put off by your lack of experience – the only way to learn is to get out there and try it for yourself.

As long as you are fit enough to trek with a heavy pack (to give you an idea, the longest trekking we did in a single day was 9 hours), don’t mind getting wet or being bitten by leeches and have a positive and flexible attitude, then the MYCAT programme offers a fantastic opportunity to go into the jungle with seasoned trekkers,  see it for yourself and help with MYCAT‘s tiger conservation efforts.

…so don’t delay, get in contact with MYCAT and apply for their next CAT Trailblazer trip.