Sunday, November 23, 2008

Essential Gear for Jungle Trekking

St. Luke’s Prickly Heat Powder
Also sold as “Snake Brand”, this powder is widely available throughout South East Asia. It is marketed as “the original cooling, refreshing and soothing powder, which is effective in relieving itching, prickly heat rash, and skin irritation from hot weather”. One of the active ingredients is Triclocarban, which is an anti-bacterial and anti-fungal agent.

Adidas Kampung
These are cheap, super sticky rubber soled shoes with rubber uppers. I used my TNF Hedgehogs Mid GTX XCR and they were probably better performers, but at many times the cost. The ‘Kampung’ Adidas will do the job for only RM$5 (about USD$1.40) a pair. The only problem is that they may be hard to find outside of the kampung (village).
Adidas Kampung images courtesy of shoesjournal.blogspot.com

Homemade Citronella Repellent
I hate creepy crawlies, especially leeches. I keep them out by liberally applying DEET on my ankles and on my feet before I put my shoes on in the morning. It’s worked well for me, but the problem is that DEET gets absorbed into the bloodstream through the skin and long-term use has been linked to neurological damage, liver damage and cancer.

My friend Kiwi, who is much more experienced in the Jungle, uses a homemade concoction that can be more effective than store bought versions.

Kiwi’s Citronella Repellent Recipe
5% Citronella Essential Oil
45% water
50% Oil base (baby oil, virgin coconut oil, sunflower oil etc)
Mixed in a small spray bottle.

A Hammock
Sleep off the ground if you can. If you have to sleep on the ground, try to use a tent with a bathtub floor - A waterproof tent floor where the edges connect with the tent wall a few inches above the ground. This will keep the creepy crawlies out. If you have to sleep on the ground without any of these, clear the ground completely of dead leaves, which could hide leeches, scorpions or centipedes.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Cemerong-Berembun-Lansir Hike

The guys chilling out in the Sungei Cemerong. Nikon D300, 18-200mm,1/80 f/8, ISO200.

I’ve just returned from a 3 day/2 night backpacking trip to the Cemerong Forest Reserve in Terengganu, Malaysia. Malaysians are lucky. They have miles of pristine jungle trails and rivers of cold, crystal clear water.

Hiking, and lovin' it... NOT! Nikon D300, 10.5mm, 1/10 f/4.5, ISO200.

My friend, Kiwi, who runs the nearby Paka River Camp, invited me along for this trip that he’d organized for his son and a few of his son’s friends.

Come On In! The Water's Great! Nikon D300, 10.5mm, 1/50 f/8, ISO200.
From the Park Headquarters, we hiked from the bottom of Cemerong Waterfall to the top. At 640m, Cemerong Falls is one of the highest waterfalls in Malaysia. At the top, we did what must be the most insane thing I’ve done this year! We crawled over slimy rocks, slick with flowing water, out into the middle of the waterfall and peered down over the edge! I’m sure it must be safer than it looked to me because Kiwi wouldn’t let his son (or his son’s friends) do something stupid and dangerous.

Getting our 'macho' shot at the top of Cemerong Falls. From left: me, Yogi, Kisnu (our guide with the blue hat, obscured), Kelvin and Ee Feng. Marvin is taking the picture.

We spent the night in Camp ‘Y’ and hiked over the top of Gunung Berembun (1034m) the next day to Lansir Falls. It was a beautiful walk along a small trail beside the Sungei Lansir stream. The trail would crisscross the stream a few times. We spent our second night camped out on the granite shores Lansir Falls. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos to show you because my camera died on the morning of the second day.

Friends helping out each other during the trek. Nikon D300, 10.5mm, 1/60 f/4.5, ISO1000.

The distance hiked each day was short, but if you looked at the distance and were expecting a short and easy walk, you’d be mistaken. The hiking was fairly technical, which is typical of this sort of jungle trek. There were a number of stream crossings, and some pretty steep ups and downs. In places where the trail splits, there may be no obvious signs which way to go. That, plus the lack of good maps, means that if you want to do this walk, you’ll probably need a guide. I suggest you email Kiwi at pakarivercamp@gmail.com or check out his website Paka River Camp for a heads up.

Kiwi (extreme left) supervising a Stream crossing. Nikon D300, 10.5mm, 1/100, f/4.5, ISO200.

On the third morning, we hiked back out, stopping along the way for yet another swim in another crystal clear, cold stream.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Homemade Alcohol Stove

Mark Jurey's Penny Stove. Photo by Forbes Conrad.

The lightest, cheapest, most reliable, easy-to-find-fuel-for, stove may be a homemade low-pressure alcohol stove.

Like a lot of backpackers, I’ve owned an assortment of stoves over my lifetime: Coleman (white gas), MSR (multi-fuel), Camping Gaz Bluet (canister), Esbit (solid fuel), Snowpeak Giga (Canister). My biggest problem is taking the stove on international flights, and finding fuel for it at my destination. I’ve never had an alcohol stove, but it seems to solve both these problems.

The low-pressure Penny Stove, designed by Mark Jurey, may be the best of the homemade alcohol stoves. Instructions on how to make your own can be found here. If you are unable to find a suitable Heineken can, you can make a similar stove out of soda cans, like this:


There are some precautions to be taken when using an alcohol stove. Tipping over a lit alcohol stove and having that spilled fuel ignite in a tent can be disastrous. Another drawback of this stove is that the flame can be almost invisible and trying to top up a stove that is still lit can be… er… very bad.

One good thing about making your own homemade alcohol stove (other than saving money) is that you will be recycling aluminum cans, and keep another gas canister out of the landfill.

Update Nov 13:
Well, I've built my first Soda Can Stove. It took me about an hour and some. The design is pretty forgiving. I didn't didn't use any high temperature tape or adhesive, and I used the smallest drill bit I had (1.5mm) and made just 8 holes. It works well. Here's a template to help you out, courtesy of zenstoves.net. Incidentally, here in Singapore, our Heineken cans are shaped just like regular beverage cans, so I couldn't make Mark Jurey's Penny Stove.