The time was 1435 (2:35 in the afternoon for normal people). Groups of academicians, mentally into-the-jungle-unprepared, misfits and compass-illiterates, being sent off to find their ways in unknown territories come day or night. Sounds so unrealistic but I would put it as plain stupid. We were sent off in full military grandeur with the groups marching out through the colorful smoke and a few claps in a gesture of good luck and hope-to-see-you- soon mood. The afternoon air was still fresh from the morning breeze. In the horizon we saw our destination (so we thought!)…so calm and quiet. None of the kampung activities was in sight. Nobody was attending the cows, or the many kebuns that cover from end to end. It was as if the world says, go ahead it’s your turn to graze the land, we’ll step aside and give you the way. And we did. One step after another we set forth to realize our destiny. We went across a few kebuns and tembakau plantations. Far at the back I could still see the base camp and as we went further away the camp has become smaller and smaller. As we entered the high growth, I could feel the journey has started to go into a new phase. The time was about 4 pm when were really inside the jungle.
As we brave into the thick forest, our minds ran wild with what might be watching us.The place seemed so strange that it was not in my wildest dream to spend my days finding my ways between the spiking leaves and muddy trails of wild pigs.I kept my eyes open to watch over my buddies, you know, if anything happen. Ust Dzul who always in the front should be my primary concern as he kept popping on and off . The gals are doing very well although Dena sometime stuck in the mud. But she never complained always throwing away her crispy smiles and tickling us with her naive questions of the flora and fauna. Most of the time Che Him will answer them in great details. Che Him seems to know everything and nobody argued. Sometime a deep silence struck us and all we can hear is the sound of the wind blowing away the heat of the forest. Berhenti ! Ooi berhenti laaa! and all of us stood still as if we were rehearsing a stupid dance. It was a sound of our super navigators Azahar and Khirzan. They hailed us every now and then to get the reading right. Juggling between the map, a compass and that half-circle thing is just too much for me. Let them lead us through, it is easier that way. Tn Haji Maksom smiled at me and asked if I’m alright. Yeah, I’m fine thank you. He seemed very steady himself and volunteered to be the marker. You know when the guys try to read the compass they need a marker to set a point; some people use trees but we prefer Tn Haji better. So bit by bit we edged ourselves into the forest. We stumbled upon strange things as we dragged our tired legs through the forest like: wild pigs puddle, one after another, I guess this is where they spend their afternoon. The trees that are used to make chopping boards…what’s left of it. I wonder whether they paid for the trees or just chop it off like that. Who’s gonna know !?. We came across a dried stream, it’s like a small road in the middle of the jungle, so fantastic. The thing that I remember the most while going through the rough leaves and branches were the serenity of the jungle. There were trees all around and if you sit down and keep quiet for a moment, you would be wrapped around by a total silence, cold and empty. When we stopped at one point for a rest, I think we can all feel this like a cold water dripped upon your heart, so far away from the outside world and nothing bothers. It’s me and myself. I could hear my heartbeats. The time is way into Asr and we haven’t got out of the forest. On the map it seemed we were already on the edge of the jungle but I didn’t see any clear land ahead. The way ahead is still uphill and as difficult as the last hill we climbed. Oh my God, I grumbled to myself, what have I got myself into now ? We have to chop our way through now. Luckily Wan Manan brought his shiny golok.The sound of people gave us hopes for this gruelling experience to be end soon. It was another group led by Dr Wan and navigated by Md Lehan & Co. Oh no not this people, I thought it was the checkpoint guy. I think this group has lost their way. But something incredible emerged from this convergence…we decided to unite and walk together. The more the merrier so they say. I’m glad we did. We put aside the fact that we are competing for the moment and try to get out of here safely and quickly. We were in the middle of kelapa sawit plantation. We really discussed and concluded that we should join the group and follow the compass. The team spirit really worked out very well here as some suggested that we just follow the road as the compass might get us back into the deep jungle. But we agreed anyway to use the compass and it eventually get us deep into the hill and kelapa sawit trees. Around 6.30 pm we finally saw the road and that means the end of the jungle. We had to walk for another half an hour but we didn’t mind, I was just glad to be out of the jungle. And we were very lucky to be out before the sunset. Reached the checkpoint just enough time to perform the Asr prayer and waited for the night fall. This is where we joined the surau people for bubur lambok and all.I could not enjoy the celebration as I was too busy nursing my cramped legs, thighs,bums, groin ,knees and just about every other joint in my body. Ust Dzul joined me as his legs were giving up as well. Dena was in pain as well and thought of quitting the rest of the journey.Don’t worry, I said trying to make everything looks okay,we’ll rest as long as we need and move whenever we are ready. That didn’t comfort her at all and decided to call the ambulance. So it turned out that Ust Dzul and Dena will not quit after all but will wait for us at the next checkpoint. Talking about high spirit and team building, these two people could not be any better example Their determination to join us later despite the injury they encountered is a proof of superb personalities . God knows I was in pain myself, but I promise to myself that I will finish this against all odds. Other members in our group were also tired, hungry and on the edge of giving up. This has become more and more ridiculous. We had no plan or strategy; all we knew were to walk and walk and this time we’ll follow the stars. The night was great as if there was a celebration in the sky. The stars glittered and greeted us every step of the way. Despite all the grutches we finally set forth to our next checkpoint at 2115 hrs. There were only six of us now: Azahar, Khirzan, Wan Manan, Che Him, Tn Hj Maksom and myself. Dena and Ust Dzul had gone away with the ambulance and Ras being alone in the group joined the other syndicate This time around we’d walk by the roadside and followed the stars. The journey took us a bit over an hour . We talked, sang, told stupid jokes, made fun of some people (of whose name I could not write here) or just made noises that have no meaning whatsoever. It was like going back from mengaji al-qur’an at the surau when we were kids. Suddenly we saw lights, bunch of lights coming towards us. Could it be one of our syindicates ? which one ? As we approached each other it had become apparent that it was indeed one of us. Which group, is it ? I whispered to myself. DAMN! It’s group No.1, the one with a Chinese name. Oh no! we are in trouble. I thought they had given up already. Somebody told us that;or was it a consipracy. That means they are leading because this should be their last checkpoint and we’re going to our second checkpoint.. Never mind, I said calming myself, stay on course and move forward. We reached our next checkpoint shortly and as planned Ust Dzul and Dena rejoined us. I was assigned to read the compass. It was so difficult in the dark so we decided to follow the stars again. The next checkpoint was quite easy (so we thought!). We’ve been there during the practice earlier in the day.
For some reasons we decided to walk without the lights. Somebody handed me a rope and told me to hang on. It was dark and we could not see where we were going, so I guess the rope will do just fine. Hang on to the rope, keep walking and look at the stars. I just could not understand why I did that and didn’t bother to question. My body was about to collapse I was not in a mood to think. I just went along .
The next leg of journey was tiring but fantastically maginificent. Have you ever walk under the night sky ? I mean really walking and enjoying the darkness. Well, I could because somebody in the front was leading us. I got the rope so I could look up and see the stars. But not for long, the sky was getting darker. I think it’s gonna rain. We were heading to the bridge, follow the road and make a right turn somewhere ahead. That was the plan that’s why we put the compass away as we thought we knew the way. Night could not be more deceiving as we found out later We got to the bridge and when there was a turn we took it only to find that it was not the right one. At first it was okay we thought but as we went deeper into the field it didn’t feel right. Now what ?.we were lost that’s what happened. In the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night , we were loosing hope and easily getting frustrated. Everybody just stood there in silent and looking like chicken that have lost the way to the barn. As we contemplating our next move, we heard voices from afar. We kind of follow it. Alright ! Checkpoint!. Go! Go! Go!. We met the guys there, had some drinks and threw ourself into the bushes for a rest. Wow! Wait a minute! This is NOT checkpoint No. 4, this is No. 5 ! Oh No we are at the wrong stop. So Where the heck is our stop ? I’m not suppose to tell you this but just follow this dirt road and you won’t miss it , it’s just ahead, said the guys there. Yeah! Right! the last time they said like that it took us hours to find it. And I was right.It took us another hour and 15 minutes to reach our checkpoint. But they still got the soup. What a relief. The checkpoint was in the middle of an airfield. Dena and Ras will be our next navigators. Don’t worry Dena we would not be going any other way, would we ? We just been there, remember a couple of hours ago. So just pretend you know how to work out the compass and that half-circle thing. And off we went. Back to Checkpoint No.5. On the the way we met Dr wan’s group camping around having tea just a few distance away . Maybe they just needed the rest badly.
We reached the base camp around 02:30. That means we have been walking around 12 hours. Can you imagine that ? we were given the task now to open up all the envelopes that we collected along the way. They were letters that will make up something. We have to put up the letters on the whiteboard. We tried to finish it before retiring for the day. There was nothing to stick them up with. I went and asked for a glue. Well, you have to write a letter asking for that. WRITE A LETTER ! at 2.30 in the morning after 12 hours of walking. @#$%^& ! What a joke !……oooppsss I was not suppose to complain. I dictated the letter and Dena scribbled it on a piece of paper. So I took it and went to the office. Sorry the office is closed, please come in the morning. THAT”S IT. I am not gonna play this game anymore. I was deeply frustrated with the whole thing and it’s nothing but a nightmare. Some just never know how to let go. They have made the point, that’s it, we know what they want and we also know the true picture of the whole thing. And for me it’s a very ugly one. I was up all night. Thinking about everything and trying to put them in the right frames. The rain came down like cats and dogs. Oh dear…those still on the track must be soaking wet on top of their gruelling pain and aching body. I tried to close my eyes and told myself that things will get better in the morning. It was calm and misty. The field was still wet from the rain last night. Everyone was going about getting ready in a very quiet and lifeless manner. No morning shower songs neither freaking noises. The closing ceremony was brief and fast. At least that’s how I feel as I have got nothing to cheer. It was incomplete. No reconciliation. The gruelling pain left unsuccumbed. The broken hearts left unamended. No apologies . As if we deserved everything we have gone through. So be it.