Coming in as the 41st team to finish the Save Our Rainforest Race (SORR) 2016 several weeks ago wasn’t too bad. My teammate, Melissa Lua, and I were instead feeling rather jubilant about the whole event.
We had gone 15km into the Sungai Menyala Forest Reserve in Port Dickson. We had also wound in and out of oil palm and rubber plantations, and gone to an Orang Asli settlement.
We had really been looking for opportunities to do something for the environment since we realised that we had to give something back instead of just being consumers of earth’s precious resources. Since SORR 2016 presented this in a really fun way, we signed up to plant a tree while racing.
Despite the word “race” in the event, there was strictly no running – the many tree roots along the trail were a hazard which might trip people over.
Rather, some 2,000 participants competed to plant forest trees and go through various nature-inspired games and trivia quizzes.
The Sungai Menyala Forest Reserve is one of the last remaining lowland dipterocarp forests in Peninsular Malaysia. What “dipterocarp” usually means is seriously tall timber trees.
I must say that this regenerating forest reserve is a very beautiful one and I would recommend that visitors going to Port Dickson’s beaches should also stop by here.
To get here, take the Seremban-Port Dickson Highway for about 30km until you arrive at the four-way intersection with traffic lights. Then turn left and drive on for about 2km. Look out for the entrance (with an archway) on your right. This forest is about 5km from the coastline.
Tall, shady trees
Tree growth in this forest had been good since it was selectively logged some 65 years back. The tall trees at the starting point, the Sungai Menyala Eco-Edutourism Centre, were impressive They provided sufficient shade from the rising sun even at 9am, allowing the participants to engage in synchronous warm-up exercises before the flag-off.
The race was about teams doing tasks at various checkpoints. Friendly volunteers from our very own Malaysian Army were the marshalls who ensured we completed what was required.
Each team had to weave coconut palm fronds, with guidance from Orang Asli master weavers. This wasn’t an easy task for any first timer as the sequence of weaving was rather intricate, and my partner took some time to get the hang of it.
Another activity was to deliver provisions to a selected house in the nearby Orang Asli settlement of Bukit Kepong. We were told that this settlement was the runner-up of a competition for the “Cleanest Orang Asli Village” in Peninsular Malaysia.
Delivering the provisions was not straightforward as the houses weren’t numbered in sequence. We were running all over the village with a bag of rice looking for the assigned house, which was located at the other end of the village.
Once delivered, we could tell from the faces of the receiving villagers that they were truly appreciative. The villagers must have seen us huffing and puffing all over the place!
The highlight of the tasks was the planting of one Meranti Tembaga (Shorea leprosula) sapling by each team in an area which had been previously encroached upon. Here, many tall trees had been felled and the ground was overgrown with thick brush.
Care had to be taken to ensure that the transfer of each sapling from its plastic bag did not damage the root ball (the cluster of earth holding the roots), to ensure that the tree would have a better chance of surviving. Some water was poured on the newly-planted tree to complete this task.
We were doing the course of the race in the middle of the hot season, and it was evident that the shade from the oil palm and rubber plantations were pale comparisons to the much cooler forests. It must have been the effect of the multi-layered forest canopy, as each level of leaves filtered out the heat of the searing sun. Nature certainly has a way of cooling the environment!
Black box screams
The later tasks got easier. At Checkpoint 6, we were required to piece together a picture puzzle of the race logo, which was completed in a breeze.
At the last checkpoint, we were confronted with various black boxes. The task was to find the rubber stamp that would be used to validate our race passport.
While we did not struggle with this, we heard screams from other participants. Later, we heard that some boxes had been filled with creepy crawlies! Luckily, we had picked the right box...
Towards the home run stretch, many participants were showing signs of dehydration and muscle cramps. At one point, no more sweat was forming on my skin!
Thankfully, generous amounts of isotonic drinks were offered at strategic hydration points to replenish the electrolytes lost during this arduous walking race.
At the finish line, both of us clocked in at about three hours. Certainly not bad at all considering that there were 1000 teams in this race. It was great on the part of the organisers who managed to arrange lunch for everyone (on top of breakfast earlier).
More importantly, we earnestly wish that this forest will remain protected. We also hope that the cultural heritage of the Orang Asli will continue to exist here. Forests and native culture are what make ecotourism meaningful to me.
Some time in the future, we will want to return here to visit the Orang Asli again and to see how the saplings we and others planted have grown. Hopefully, they will be thriving, tall sturdy trees.