Electing to play it by ear, we plumped for a taster session today in a day trek out of Bario to a spot known simply as The Gap, a small clearing which had been cut out of the forest to leave a distinct square shaped notch on the treeline. The local Kelabit retained a tradition of marking their environment to note special occasions, and this cleft in the forest had been recently created to mark the millennium. It was simply a case of following Bario's main "road" in that direction, a rough sometimes muddy track which eventualy ended at a sweet prairie setting where we discovered some bush strawberries growing by a stream. A pipeline descending the approaching hills betrayed our further progress, as the incline commenced the forest closed in and pretty soon we were enveloped by a curtain of green. This soon established itself as being perhaps my hardest trekking to date, with the track deteriorating into a narrow slippy trail encroached upon by fallen trees, undergrowth and sometimes a precarious drop to one side. Rivers and gorges had to be negotiated via slippery rocks and bamboo poles and then the crescendo of the assault was an extremely steep and slippery scamble up eroded faces to finally realise our goal.
A surprisingly small clearing atop a summit conveyed a view back down across Bario and its entire valley, we had begun to wonder if we were still on the right trail, but clearly this was it. The wildlife along the way had proved typically elusive, redeemed only by my double sighting of a bird of prey which we later guessed to be a Crested Goshawk. More concerted attention was paid though by an army of leeches, with my 100% DEET proving highly effective in keeping them off my bare legs, but meaning that they just went for my feet instead. It was a palaver trying to extricate the suckers from inside my boots as swarms of wasps were attracted by their sweaty hue, I finally managed to free myself of their persistence but only after 3 leeches had hit their target with a telltale nip. Perversely it was something I had aspired to, I couldnt very well profess to have done any serious jungle trekking if I hadnt endured all of its vagiaries. The slithery return descent was tricky and inevitably there was the odd mud splattering stumble and feet drenching dip, but we made good progress back into Bario happy that we had redeemed our lack of an established itinerary with at least a good initial venture. Upon arrival back my feet still ran red as the leech's anticoagulant persisted, and a supercold shower was a bit of a shock after all that heat. Not much to do in sleepy Bario at the best of times and so chill out mode over reading, writing, coconut buns and the odd beer filled in the gaps.