Sandakan Death March

I had some dangerously incorrect and romantic notions of what a tropical rainforest was. My notions were based upon Hollywood, the Tarzan books I read as a child, and my personal experience doing the Milford Track thru New Zealand temperate rain forest. The temperate rainforest of New Zealand is about as dangerous as walking down the fern aisle at the Home Depot nursery section.

The reality is that a tropical jungle is a very dangerous place for the naive and foolhardy. Were it not for my guide I could well be dead. Every plant in the jungle seems to want to impail, cut, trip, give you a rash, or poke your eyes out. Even the beautiful, soft looking ferns have nearly lethal 1″ thorns hidden along their stems. The density of this beautiful but inhospitable vegitation means you must follow established animal or human trails.

Now for the profusion of animal life. In the jungle, animals are wild and must be respected. Everything seems to want to suck, bite, sting, maul, gore or poop on you. The wildlife is amazing and need not be feared but it must be viewed from a distance. I would be willing to bet that 90% of human deaths in the jungle are caused by people getting too close to animals in order to take photos. My guess is that this is what happened to the woman I met last week who was gored to death by the elephant.

Mosquitos are just a nuisance but the leeches make you think twice about brushing against any plant. The small but poisonous snakes are worth giving a wide berth. The orangutans give you plenty of warning that they are perturbed by pooping on you from the canopy high above, if that fails to convince you to move further away, they throw tree limbs down, and if that fails they just come down and rip you apart. I got the message after the pooping :) Only fools would enter the jungle without a guide, glad I have Mike who is one of the best.

At the end of World War II when it was clear the Japanese were losing the war, they forced the Austrailian and English POWs who were captured in Singapore to go on death marches across Borneo. Close to two thousand started and only 8 survived. I find it challenging enough to cross Borneo with a modern mountain bike, a guide, and all the food and water I care to have. The POWs didnt even have shoes or food for the 350km Sandakan death march and if they dared to stop, they were shot on the spot.

Very humbling experience.