This story took place in the Malaysian rainforest in 2013.
Ren and I went on an evening trek which began at 5 PM behind the Berjaya Hotel. There were eight other people in our group. There was a pair of German newlyweds, an older Indian couple, a young Chinese couple from Hong Kong, a lone Dutch traveler, and our Malaysian guide Jerome.
Before entering the rainforest, Jerome gave us a quick briefing on what to expect. He warned us about the slippery jagged rocks and the needle-like spines on the underside of leaves. He told us to watch out for mosquitos, leeches, and black termites. The black termites sounded particularly ominous, especially since he told us to spray mosquito repellant on our shoes to keep them from crawling up our legs.
He then told us a story about this European couple who entered this very same rainforest unguided just months before. Wearing skimpy beach wear, they went in around the same time we did with just a small bottle of mineral water between them. They climbed all the way to the top and took a few selfies. But before they could climb back down, night had already fallen. In the pitch blackness, down looked up, and up looked down. Inadvertently going around in circles, they became hopelessly lost and couldn’t find their way out of the jungle.
Luckily, the contract for their rental motorbike was good for just 24 hours. When they failed to bring it back, the operator looked for the motorbike and found it at the base of the jungle where the couple had left it. A search party was sent into the jungle and they were rescued over 48 hours after their ordeal began. Weak and completely dehydrated, their exposed bodies were covered in leeches.
“Stay close to me, do NOT wander off” was clearly the point of Jerome’s story. And with that, we entered the rainforest.
Not too thrilled with this jungle trek to begin with, Ren was practically cussing me out at this point. She’s known for being a little clumsy so she couldn’t help but fear the worst.
Ironically though, it would be me who’d get into trouble, not Ren.
Shortly after entering the jungle, the sole of my left sneaker became detached. It was dangling but still connected to my shoe by the very front tip. Weakened by age and humidity, it must have been jarred loose by the sharp rocks. Worried as I was that the soft underbelly of my shoe wouldn’t hold up to the terrain, it didn’t help that the Dutch tourist walking behind me started laughing when he saw my flapping sole.
“Your shoe! It’s…haha…it’s hahahaha!” He was laughing so hard he couldn’t even complete his sentence.
I wasn’t laughing then, but looking back now, it really must have looked (and sounded) funny. With each step, the loose sole made a *slap slap* slapping sound.
To make matters worse, it started to rain. Hard.
Within minutes of feeling the first few drops, it was coming down on us like a waterfall. Night had fallen so Jerome wisely decided to cut the tour short and head back to the Berjaya. Unfortunately, it was a long way from where we were. Though my camera bag was water resistant, it wasn’t waterproof. Jerome didn’t have any ponchos for us so all I could do was pray that my USD 2,000+ in camera equipment would hold up.
By this time, the sole of my shoe had fallen off completely, leaving my left foot with no traction and barely any protection against the wet, jagged, slippery rocks that we were traversing at a much faster pace. As if things weren’t bad enough, it actually got worse, or funnier depending on how you look at it.
If I ever had doubts that God had a sense of humor (or an affection for symmetry), all were erased after the sole of my OTHER shoe, my right shoe, became detached a few minutes later. I couldn’t believe it.
This could have happened the day before while walking up the steps to the waterfalls. It could have happened when we were bike riding earlier that morning. But no. As if to prove that Murphy’s Law did exist, my shoes HAD to disintegrate at the WORST possible time.
At this point, looking at my camera bag dripping wet, and that ridiculous rubber sole dangling from the tip of my right shoe, all I could do was laugh. Resigned that my equipment was already soaked, I tore the right sole completely off and just focused on keeping my balance whilst crossing over logs, under lianas, through ankle-deep pools of water steadily rising from the heavy rain.
Minutes later, we were out of that jungle looking like wet t-shirt contestants, but unharmed. Thankfully, my shoes held up and I didn’t slip and crack my skull. Ren got through it like a champ.
Seeking shelter, I nervously opened my bag expecting the worst. To my surprise and relief, my equipment didn’t suffer any damage. The inner lining of the bag was already wet, but the camera and lenses were still dry. It was nothing short of a miracle. Had we been out for much longer, there’s no doubt in my mind that all my gear would have gotten drenched and ruined.
We walked back to the Berjaya a little earlier than planned, but satisfied. Our trek may have been cut short by the rain but it turned out to be a night that we wouldn’t soon forget. Terrifying at that moment but remembered with fondness the next, it’s the kind of fodder that all epic vacations are made of.
My sneakers the next day. #ileftmysoleinlangkawi
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