The second day on our way to Bario is short. We set camp at 14 by the last sungai and before a long, steep climb on the side of a hill. The trail has started going up.
The advantage of leaving the muddy, slippery, rugged side of rivers is that the terrain becomes drier, more regular, and harbors less leeches. In this environment I can move more easily, without stumbling every three meters, but still I would be lost without my guides. Walking in the rainforest is a humbling experience.
At low altitudes the forest ground is dotted with boulders and covered with mosses. Higher up there are Agathis, Eucalyptus, and Tekalit (tropical oaks) trees. Both types of forest remind me of some European latifoliae forests, if I do not account for the palms, rattan, pandanus, and the epiphytic ferns.
This relaxed day is preamble to a much longer and tiring one. Right after breakfast we set to climb a steep hillside covered by rocks and boulders held in place by roots, all covered by mosses, orchids and the occasional Nepenthes pitcher plant. This first stretch of the walk lasts less than two hours, but it is one of the most physically extenuating experiences I have memory of. Once on the hilltop, Ukau points at a tall hill in from of us, with a characteristic karstic wall of white limestone emerging from a side. They make me believe that the way to Bario passes through it and for a moment I flinch, before realizing that they are pulling my leg. The tall hill, called Batu Tamabu, is one of the landmarks traditionally used to find the way to Bario, but the path passes around its foot.
I smell. I smell of sweat and campfire, which is not a bad smell at all, but I do smell. In the evening I profit of the sungai by the camp to have a mandi (bath) and, at the same time, do the laundry in its coca-cola-coloured waters. It simply alters the balance between the smells of sweat and campfire, but it is refreshing.