January 15th 1984

posted in: The way back | 0

Up at 6 with the aid of the alarm – I was so dead to the world I asked Val what she was doing, wandering around with the light on – I didn’t hear the alarm at all.  Woke up Cliff, an Aussie staying in the room opposite, who is also going to Bako.  Then had a remarkably hearty breakfast, packed our bags, + set off with Cliff – we’d been told to be at the jetty at 7.30.  We made quite a contrast.  There was a heavy rain shower, so Val + I, with massively-laden packs (our food supplies more than compensation for the weight of the parcel sent home) also had our blue capes on, while Cliff, having left most of his gear with the guest-house caretaker, had a barely-filled haversack, shrts + a T-shirt + no rain gear.  He looked as tho’ he were going to the beach; we looked set for Everest.


We were a little bit pushed for time, so we rushed down to the wharf at double-pace.  We needn’t have worried however, for it was 8.15 or so that we cast off.  A very strange-looking boat, long + narrow, dark + dingy inside (tho’ when the rain eased shutters were slid back to let in light + air), with the engine sitting in a cage in the middle.  We set off down the river at a fast speed, sending out a deep wake behind us, troubling to the fishermen in their small boats, tho’ they seemed to accept the rocking as an unavoidable fact of their lives… as, indeed, it is.  Their boats were interesting – they were like broad canoes, with the oarsmen standing at the back facing forwards, propelling the boat by pushing on long oars fixed into high rowlocks.  He also operated these paddle fashion, alternately rather than both together as in rowing.

Val + I were standing out on the stern section, a small covered deck open to the back + sides, leaning on the hand-rail, watching the river go by.  “Got your money-belt?” she asked, + I felt a wave of alarm, for I hadn’t.  I looked at her in panic, + saw that she was grinning.  She was playing a trick on me, I realised, as well as teaching me a lesson, as she had done yesterday.  A huge wash of relief.  “Where have you put it?” I asked.  There was no reply, she just grinned again.  “Where have you put it, Val?” I repeated.  “Not very convincing,” she said.  A moment, then the realisation burst again, the true one this time.  “Val, I’m not wearing it.”  She didn’t believe me. “Val, I’m not wearing it,” I repeated, more forcefully.  She stared at me with a look of horror, then rushed back inside to check the bag.  It was a forlorn hope, tho’, + we both knew it.  Val hadn’t packed it in the bags, + I knew where it was – under Val’s pillow in our room.  Which was a pity, since Val had checked under my pillow.  We both felt totally struck down, since it wasn’t now possible to go back without huge disruption to our trip (to the point of wrecking it.)  Just about the only consolation was that, if I had to leave a money-belt somewhere, just about the best place would be the guest-house of the Anglican Cathedral.  I stood out on the back section, watching the wake disturb the glassy river (we were fair bombing along), + feeling sorry for myself… as well as furious.

We were in a bit of a state all round – when we arrived at the fishing village, the end of the line for the express boat, we got off + managed to leave our ponchos hanging drying on a hook.  The boat had moved off before we discovered their loss, to another mooring 100 yards down stream, so I galloped along the rickety plankwalk that is used to connect the houses on stilts on this side of the river, + then out to the jetty across the platform that serves as somebody’s back yard.  I was able to retrieve the ponchos, tho’ the captain must have thought we were a couple of particularly useless specimens – I’d just given him a letter to forward to the caretaker of the guest-house, explaining our loss.  And I felt rather foolish when, returning to the main jetty, the boat followed me, + tied up again, having merely gone downstream to deliver some provisions.

We had a further upset when we had difficulties hiring a boat.  When we had got off the other boat, we had been told that the larger long-boats weren’t available, so that we would have to take 2 boats, there being 7 of us altogether.  We left the negotiations to Brian, one of the other 4, partly because he put himself forward as such, but also because we were assured by his wife that he would be sure to get a good price.  This did not prove to be the case.  He was quoted $20 for each boat, + he didn’t question that for a moment.  They 4 simply climbed into their boat, + after a short wait to see what was delaying us, motored away.  We were more inclined to question the matter, + tried to bargain, but we were left with little leverage now, + our driver was stubborn.  From his point of view, I suppose he didn’t see why he shouldn’t get the same reward as the other feller for doing the same work.  From ours, it meant paying $6.60 per person each way, when we’d banked on just over 4.  For a time it seemed we might be OK, since a young guy there reckoned his father would take us for $15, but the man didn’t return from fishing, + worrying that we might be cut off from the Park by the tide, we reluctantly acceded to his demands.

It increased our bad mood – there’s nothing so dispiriting as utter defeat – which was a pity, since the trip was pleasant + long.  We followed the river out to the sea, + then hugged the coast around until we came to a large bay, at the end of which we could see some huts.  We rode over to the far end of the beach, + climbed out.  It was, however, only under pressure from the Park Ranger that we agreed to charter the boat for the return trip on Wednesday.

Our hut

Our trip to Bako had not begun well – the rest of the day, however, barring one small upset, was fine.  We were shown our cabin, consisting of a dormitory with 5 beds, a separate kitchen, + a veranda with picnic table.  Quite the little home it was.  We had to break open our own stove to supplement, as the paraffin ones provided were fairly useless, but we soon had the kettle boiling, + were able to relax with tea + biscuits.

Afterwards, Val + I set out to do one of the walks.  It was already about 3, + the walk was supposed to take 3 to 3 and a half hours, but we reckoned on being a bit faster than this, + weren’t mistaken… not the way to see wildlife tho’.  The trail was very wet indeed , to the point of being underwater in places.  We have come at the height of the wet season – the compensation is that we 7 have the place to ourselves.  The Park Rangers have done a fine job – on this walk at least there are plankwalks + ladders to help one over the difficult parts, + each trail is colour-coded, with painted splashes on trees + rocks every few yards – it’s very difficult to get lost.  Towards the end of the trail – it went in a loop – we saw some wildlife, some monkeys way up in the trees.

Upon our return we cooked tea.  Final mishap of the day occurred when Val dropped all the cooked cauliflower in the dirt.  This would have meant cauliflower cheese without the cauliflower, but she was able to rescue it, + we had a splendid meal.  Watched TV for a time in the canteen, but retired early.

Quite the catalogue of disasters, one way and another, but we were at last able toreach Baku, and from ythen on, all seemed well (despite the cauliflower.) And it did seem to be a splendid place, so we were glad we had made the effort.

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