ORANG PENDEK:The River Tabir Expedition (Part 3)
In this region of Kerinci, Orang Pendek is known as Tiwau, a slight variation of the name Tirraw which is used further north around the Lake of Seven Peaks. Many here believe it to be a “hantu”entity (spirit animal),while others say it’s a flesh and blood creature that posseses supernatural powers similar to that of a village shaman. However, all agree that it has incredible strength and agility. It is said that it can uproot small trees which are then used to dam streams in order to catch fish.Another interesting story that was related to me by a village elder was that Orang Pendek rubs a magical potion over his body which gives him his extraordinary strength. If one were lucky enough to find this potion they to would gain these powers. It is also said that a large phantom panther roams one of the nearby mountains.
After the weather had cleared and our newly found guides had packed, we set out on our expedition.We hiked for four days at a furious pace,trekking up and over muddy and sometimes treacherous terrain as well as negotiating several crossings of the Tabir river. The daily routine was very simple, trek for 6-8 hours and then while the others were making camp I would head out with one of the local guides to set up my two camera traps. Once we reached our destination,a remote fishing hole , we made camp for four days.Things were a little less demanding here,as the treks were shorter and the overall atmosphere was a little laid back. The area was littered with elephant dung,tiger pug marks were numerous and every evening the sky was invaded by flying foxes.
I soon noticed that the backpack with food was starting to get smaller and lighter at an alarmingly fast rate.When I got one of the porters to finally count our rations, it turned out we had enough supplies for about one more day but we would need at least two days to make to the nearest settlement. This was not a problem for me,as I regularly hike with a high caloric deficit but for the others this was not good news and they had also run out of smokes.Hungry guides and porters without cigs is not a good combination,especially in Indonesia.
I made the decision to head back the following day and told them to catch as many fish as possible for dinner.Early next morning we packed our gear and began the steep and winding trek.Some nine hours later I finally decided that we stop and make camp.However,two starving and nicotine deprived individuals suggested that they could do a night trek to the village in about six hours. They also promised to return the following day by noon with food and other goodies.Initially I told them that it would be a waste of time and effort as water was plentiful and nobody was going to die from starvation.However,they kept on pestering me,so just before dusk they set off into the jungle following a track that was basically a game trail for the first couple of hours.
Soon after they had left I set up my hammock and strapped one trail cam to a tree about 150m away. After a quick dinner of jungle juice(cool aid and stream water with purification tablets) I climbed into my hanging bed and began reflecting on the past week. Suddenly at 6:30pm I heard what sounded like someone stomping a rotting log not far from where I had mounted my cam.There were two or three loud crunching sounds and then silence.My first reaction was that a local villager had trekked up into the forest and was setting up his campsite.This was repeated later at 10:30pm and for a final time at 5:30am.An hour later I crawled out of my hammock and went to investigate the area were the disturbance had taken place.To my surprise there was nobody there,no tent or camp as I had suspected.I then quickly unstrapped my camera and checked for a possible photo of the night time intruder.Unfortunately,nothing showed up on the photos and the field scan pic below was taken some 15 minutes before the last disturbance.
Interestingly enough this area is just south east of Kerinci Lake,which is said to be frequented by Orang Pendek due to the readily available food supplied by the surrounding planations.
As promised the two team members arrived just before noon and we all then proceeded to consume massive quantities of rice and sardines in tomato sauce which they had prepared. With full stomachs we eagerly tackled the the terrain and made it to the village before nightfall.I quickly crashed into my sleeping bag while the other chatted with friends and relatives.
This was my third and so far toughest attempt at tracking down the elusive short person of Sumatra. I plan to return in the very near future but this year I have decided to focus my efforts on the so called Hairy Man of Oz,the Yowie. (Mr. Dan)
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