When I hear someone say they are headed off for a girls’ weekend, my mind instantly jumps to images of women wearing fluffy white robes with mud facial masks spread across their faces and cucumbers over their eyes. Or maybe the still photo in my mind is of a line of women sitting in large massage chairs with their feet in tubs of hot water, prepping for the Barbie pink mani/pedis headed their way. If not those images, then one of well-dressed ladies enjoying a nice white tablecloth dinner on the patio of a ritzy restaurant, glasses of red wine in their hands and pates of tapas on the table. The problem with each of these pictures is that my mind can’t really place me in them anywhere!
So, what’s a girls’ weekend to look like when I’m not willing to spend my entire paycheck on fluff and frill? Picture the exact opposite of all of the things above. Instead of billowy bathrobes, imagine sweat-soaked tank tops. Instead of massage chairs and pedicures, imagine long boats and millipedes. Instead of expensive alcohol and pristine table settings, image bags of melted trail mix and bottle after bottle of potable water.
Now those are the building blocks of a fantastic weekend getaway.
I first saw photos of the Malaysian national park at Taman Negara almost a year ago and have wanted to make the three hour trip north, but it seems like weekends are quickly overtaken with school requirements and work obligations. A few weeks ago, sitting at an outdoor steak restaurant (corrugated metal roof, folding tables, plastic chairs and the best Australian beef in town!), the idea was floated and we quickly had five ladies signed on for Labor Day weekend. No froof and fluff for us. We were off to the jungle for a weekend of hiking, river swimming and insect inspecting.
The most relaxing part of the weekend was the longboat ride up the river. Forty-five minutes of peace (minus the outboard motor), complimented by kingfishers sailing by, monkeys catching fish on the shore and one lazily swimming monitor lizard. Once we reached our upriver destination, it was a short twenty-minute hike to a place where the rocks create a natural whirlpool tub, complete with a massaging waterfall. (Maybe our girls’ weekend had a bit of spa-day included after all!) Since all things nature-y freak me out a bit (ironic, no?), I did spaz out a bit each time a leaf wrapped itself around my ankle, sure that it was one of the lecherous leaches we had been duly warned about before leaving Kuala Lumpur. Soon, our secluded swimming hole was overrun by late-arriving tourists (kudos to our guide for always getting us to destinations ahead of the masses, so we were able to spend a chunk of time unmolested by the other jungle trekkers), so we threw back on our wet shirts and shorts (from the sweaty hike) over our wet swimsuits (from the river) and made our way back down the hillside for another idle ride on the river.
The most unexpected event of the weekend was the night trek. I saw this outing on the original itinerary and didn’t think a whole lot of it, but quickly learned that it would have been more appropriately labeled the “Let’s Marvin Gay and Get It On” insect tour. That’s right. I don’t know if the rainforest is that (re)productive every night, but last Saturday there was some serious breeding going on. We were witnesses to everything from stick bug sex (which then led to a long conversation and later, several Googled articles, about what exactly a pregnant stick bug would look like) to leaf bugs and jungle-sized grasshoppers doing it. (Not together. That would make a strange set of baby bugs.) This entire walk took place in the pouring rain, which was no deterrent for the tiny tropical nightlife, but did teach me that my China-made/China-purchased raincoat had absolutely no waterproof abilities. I was as wet as anything out there that evening.
Our ladies’ weekend wrapped up with the biggest undertaking of the trip- a two kilometer trek up the mountain, through the rainforest, to a beautiful viewpoint at the top of the ridge. As with many (most?) Southeast Asia treks, this one was comprised mainly of stairs. So many stairs. And, keeping in mind that I am pretty wimpy when it comes to physical activities, I did my best to not fall behind the pack. (Considering the five month pregnant woman was leading the line most of the time, I had some strong-stamina shoes to fill!)
Up the stairs.
Up the stairs.
Up the stairs. Every time I thought I saw an end, we’d round a bend and I’d look up to see another endless set.
Essentially, I hate hiking. I always have. I love the view from the top and I am enamored with the possibility of seeing animals on the way, so I lace up my shoes and head out time and time again, but in the moment, I hate it. As much as I dislike hiking, I fear heights. So, what better way to end the weekend than with a canopy walk on the way down the mountain? (I’m apparently a sucker for self-inflicted torture.) The thing with canopy walks is that I’m terrified of being 150 feet in the air on a tiny walkway with nothing between me and the ground but a layer or two of tropical leaves, but I can’t walk away from the potential awesomeness that exists up there. So, once again, I tightened my backpack and struck out across the dangling bridges, keeping my eyes straight ahead and trying to steady my knocking knees. As I climbed the first set of stairs to the initial bridge, I asked the worker how many bridges there were in the course. He promised three. At the end of that first one, I posed the same question to a worker stationed on the platform. His English was less polished, but he seemed to understand me and answered, “Five.” Hmmm… Those two answers didn’t match up, but the thing with canopy walks is that once you start, you are in it for good. There are no emergency egress routes. There are no escape hatches partway through. The only way out is forward. Now thinking I had four more lengths to go, I headed out, with a mind only to getting through.
Three more to go.
Two more to go.
One more to go.
But wait. That was the fifth one and I was still fifty meters in the air. Someone did not tell me the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. As it turns out, there were eight sections in total, one a swinging staircase that had even the most height-loving of our group regretting their canopy walk decision.
While it wasn’t filled with cucumber eye masks or glittery nail polish or hard-to-pronounce French menus, this last weekend was a better kind of ladies’ getaway. As we sweated through our tank tops on the jungle trails, hummed along to Charlie Puth, commiserated over drenched clothes, and generally enjoyed clowning around in the rainforest together. If girls’ getaway weekends are about bonding, this one was definitely a success!
Photo credits to Jaclyn, Audrey and Puma