Saturday, May 18, 2013

"Stay at the Rustic Jungle Inn"

I've never lived in a house that wasn't connected to a road. In this day and age it seems like such an odd outlier. How many people in America, or even Malaysia for that matter, inhabit a joint that you can't park in front of, whether it's a car, motorcycle or bike? But that's where I find myself typing this blog up: in a wooden jungle house that no road reaches.
The Lady smiling from the kitchen window of our jungle home. *** All photos can enlarged by clicking on them.***
Our latest home is only accessible via a wood pontoon buoyed by plastic jerry cans (once used for transporting petrol) that drops you off at a footpath leading here. Or you can wade across the mangrove mouth at low tide avoiding slippery rocks of slime, swim across if the water's high or take some kind of boat if you don't fancy getting too wet, like a kayak. 
Myself maneuvering the pontoon across the lagoon.
We're not that high on the remoteness scale out here though. I can see the pontoon from our porch and can easily hear the motorbikes ridden down to the end of the road where you catch the boat. We're just across a small lagoon from where we're working out of this summer, yup, it's called the Lagoon. We can hear people at the beach sometimes, and next door to us rubber trees are tapped and bushels of tapioca rise upward.
View from the pontoon. Our house is just behind the vegetation in the middle of the photo.
Our home is more vacation locale than a Ted Kaczynski outpost. “Stay at the Rustic Jungle Inn” our promotional material could proclaim. It's set back just enough from the shoreline to blend into the jungle, which surrounds it. The land wasn't cleared and for the most part you can never see the house from shore, except at a few precise vantage points. 
Looking back at the lagoon from our porch.
The fact that no road passes by or ends here ratchet-ups its remoteness feel, even if I can be on cement in five minutes. In Juara, and most places Alli and I've been to in Malaysia and Indonesia, if there's a way for a motorbike to get there, it will. Up a steep dirt path to a plot of land enveloped by durian trees, through a nutmeg plantation, or careening through sidewalks skirting gobbling turkeys and front porches en route to a lake's fish-farming baskets, no problem at all.

The end of the road in Juara, on the south end of town. This is where our raft journey to our house begins.
Here in Juara people love their motorbikes and zip around all day long on them, with most houses and establishments lying right along the road, soaking up all the accompanying noise as well. People are constantly stopping to chat or just driving around for kicks. Reminds me of when I was 17 and just got a 1992 Buick Park Avenue. I cruised around constantly, smoking cigs and cranking Jay-Z's classic “Reasonable Doubt” album. I thought I was a lot cooler than I was, but my steer was a boss hog. Gas mileage efficiency? Hell, this was pre-9/11 where a gallon of gas cost the same as a bottle of King Cobra malt liquor. 
Laundry day.
But out here where no motorized transportation swings through; privacy actually exists. To get here you have to actually put in a little effort, and will probably have to get your feet or tush wet and/or muddy, receive some jolting ant bites or break a spider's web with your face as you walk along. So that's a deterrent to some. The bonuses of living out here are bulky though: encountering Reticulated pythons (Broghammerus reticulatus) slowly progressing across the forest floor on your way home from dinner; rockin' an outdoor shower; witnessing sea eagles, kites and ravens scrappily tussle over mangrove canopy space; and sipping coffee while rain pummels our roof. Plus no one ever bothers you, just the occasional tourist who's lost the waterfall trail. 

Reticulated python (Broghammerus reticulatus) recently spotted above a tree in a Juara river. Unfortunately the photos of the python I spotted on the way home the other day were deleted by my camera, and of course they were the best photos I've gotten of this snake in Asia.
In addition to the remoteness factor, one thing that we are constantly reminded of is how quickly the jungle wants to take back the house. Cleaning the digs up after it experienced the drenching monsoon season all by itself took a few days. The owner, a lady from Germany, uses it a for a few months every year, but the rest of the time it sits, and the jungle around grows. I had to wield a machete for a few hours to clear the trail here, and then we spent the rest of the time making it livable.

Mopping up the floors, which had a nice layer of gecko poop on them.
Geckos are beyond prevalent out here, like feral cats in American cities, except these lizards take shelter in the rafters and rain poop down, in drastic numbers sometimes. The collection of gecko crap inside the house and on the mattress (we got a new one) was by far the most I've seen. The resplendent Kuhl's Gliding Gecko (Ptychozoon kuhli) lays its eggs on vertical surfaces, which outside means tree trunks, but in here it's our walls. The hatchlings pop out, leaving white painted dots the size of M&Ms behind. You'd a thought a vat of brown Tic-Tacs had spilled down from the ceiling. Spiderwebs covered most open areas. A layered chocolate cake mound of ant life shared a wall with our bathroom and kitchen. Yellow larvae (silkworms maybe) swooned around our porch like puppets maneuvered by a wino. We've had a few rats, too. 

Kuhl's Gliding Gecko (Ptychozoon kuhli) in our kitchen.
Not the most pleasant creature to wake you up at 3am. That's what happened for awhile. The said rat would mosey around the chocolate cake ant mound into the house, knocking off a few dishes on its way to the ground, in general causing a ruckus. That's when I'd wake up, put on my headlamp and in a sleep stupor actually think my swinging a broom in its general direction was going to finish the rodent. Fat chance. After a few nights my strategy never gained gumption and it was clear my baseball swing was still at tee-ball level. Cue the rat trap and a dangling piece of pseudo-wheat bread. Later on that night I was woken up by Alli, who definitely heard some commotion in the kitchen. And there it was, the hair-less tailed mammal, flailing about in its trap. Success. 

The rat that was lured into my pseudo-wheat bread trap.
We had another visitor a week or so later. This one must have smelled the garlic sizzling and marinara bubbling. I first saw it in the yard when I was taking a shower and later on when it zipped into our kitchen only to be chased out by me. Figured it was time to set another trap, which yes, was another success. These guys are quite predictable. But what to do with a live rat? I tried the poison I found in our bathroom, but I think tropical humidity and time had won out. The pellets crumbled like ancient pencil erasers and never worked. Drowning was the next best option and that did 'em in. 

The pink poison that didn't do jack.
Because of our distance, and location across a mangrove lagoon, no cats claim this property as home. Almost every house and building in Juara has a few kitties milling about, being lazy in the sun and offing a host of jungle creatures: lizards, bugs, snakes, birds, and of course, rats. Neuter and spay services don't exist here. Just having the felines post up is enough to prevent a visit from these nocturnal nuisances. But bringing a cat over here and starting up a rogue, minuscule rat-killing colony is not the answer.
First trash fire ya heard!
Part of being disconnected: from the road, from the town, from enjoying the perks of non-neutered felines, is to accept the remote-ness. Along with peaceful cups of coffee in the morning and lack of motorized visitation you have to get used to a few pests, and accept that once in awhile your toes will get stung by marauding nighttime ants or your kitchen, with its sweet Milo stash, will draw in a rat.

Every self-respecting jungle house needs a healthy Milo stash.
As a whole, humans the world over have transformed landscapes,slicing jungle or desert here, adding in roads and black-top there. The trade-off with a secluded jungle house is exactly that, you have to accept living in a secluded jungle house. Trying to make it something it's not just doesn't jibe. We have certain staples of modernity here: electricity, running water and a laundry machine to name a few; but obviously other staples don't show face. Plus, without cats around I've had to do a little more dirty work. 
Attempting to put in a palm frond shower wall thingie. Sadly it only lasted about 24 hours as a fierce thunderstorm came in, and big bag wolf style, blew it all down.
It was strange killing the two previously-mentioned rats, watching them convulse about in the underwater trap. I'll stamp out mosquitoes and bugs without a thought, but I get all pissy and mad when I hear people talking about killing snakes or lizards. And truth be told if a snake slithered into my abode I'd be ecstatic. It's strange to ruminate on these thoughts while watching a rat struggle for its last breaths. But the fact is if we wanna live here we can't have rodents scurrying wild in our kitchen, trying to nibble on everything from oatmeal to packaged noodles. That would be way too rustic. 

Porchin' it at our new digs.
Sunrise our first morning back in Juara.
Getting the kitchen in order.
Gotta take a beverage break when cleaning.
Outside sink and counter area.
Our hammock is a low-rider model.
I got a bookshelf! Pretty absurd to think I was carrying most of these around with me while traveling.
Complete with some gliding gecko eggs underneath, hanging above my clothes.
Red ants running wild on our deck.
Futurist spaceship moth we found one morning.
Mass of spider eggs above the kitchen sink.
Above two photos: Kuhl's Gliding Gecko (Ptychozoon kuhli).
Beetle on our bedroom wall.
Another python found recently. Not near our house, I just like pythons.

Moth that had taken a liking to my towel.
Above two photos: backpack laundry in a bucket. It was time to wash Nepal sweat off Alli's bag.
Spider in our sink one night.
Mantis bowl!
Rubber trees and tapioca: our neighbors to the west.
Part of the footpath we have to take to get to the house.
At low tide we can cross the mouth of the lagoon, which is right at the end of the beach.
Most of the walk is through mangroves to get to and fro.
Alli on the raft.
View looking west up the lagoon, amongst the mangroves and a sunk sailboat on the right.


  1. Awesome house! Also, did you pet the gecko? I want to pet his tail. And his weird toes. Mostly the webbing. I bet it's soft.

    1. Oh yes, I've touched the gecko. It took some time but I made it happen. The tail is quite insanely awesome. I've yet to mess with its webby toes. I'll let ya know if that happens.