Sunday 20th March
In the morning I examined myself and was alarmed at the state of my body. My arms, unprotected by the Rolling Stones tee shirt, were badly scratched and covered with dried blood, my hands were like pin cushions from thorns, most of which I couldn't remove, and my legs were in an apparently worse state. I was worried that the wounds would become infected and I had no means to cover them. I filled my two empty water bottles with river water, which I was convinced I wouldn't need, put on my wet pair of second socks, wet boots, kept on my long trousers, packed my rucksack and ate a hearty breakfast of a whole (crushed) shortcake biscuit, washed down with water. I remembered that I'd lost the towel in the stream the previous day but, hey, I wouldn't be taking a bath, would I? I made bandages for my still bleeding thumb and finger with toilet paper covered and tied up with portions of plastic carrier bag. Today was to be the day of my rescue!
Getting to the top of the bank was a rather more difficult proposition: it was extremely steep, covered in dense foliage, obstructed by trees, bushes of all sorts of ferocity, creepers which clutched at my legs and brought me down from time to time. When I did reach the ridge an hour or so later, already pretty knackered, I still couldn't get a phone signal. I had to get higher. In this case, before going up I had to go down, crossing another very small stream and then up again. The down was as difficult as the up, often culminating in a painful slide through those bloody thorn bushes and more than once ending in a painful encounter with a tree on what seemed to be the edge of a precipice. I eventually reached another high point, had a drink, by now river water which tasted quite okay, and again tried to contact the outside world; once more to no avail. I had to climb down and up yet again and reached a ridge along which, with difficulty I was able to make some progress. In the few gaps between the trees I could make out other hill tops, although none of them were familiar. Eventually I reached what appeared to be a path, followed it around a bend and found a small leafy clearing about 4m x 1.5m and I could get a signal.
I called Noelene and she answered very quickly, despite it being about 4 o'clock in the morning in the UK. I don't remember exactly how the conversation went but it was a bit like this:
|"Hi babes, listen, don't get upset but I've got a bit of a problem"|
|"Are you alright?"|
|"Yeah, but I'm not exactly sure where I am"|
|"What do you mean?"|
|"Actually, I'm lost"|
|"Stop taking the piss, will you"|
|"No, seriously, I'm really lost this time. It's okay, I'm alright, no injuries, apart from a few scratches and bites, bumps and bruises; but I need you to get help for me.................."|
Noelene was terrific. Once she got over the initial shock she set to work putting a rescue plan into operation. I had no phone numbers for any of the Malaysian services; I only knew that I was checked in at the Old Smokehouse Hotel, Fraser's Hill. She picked up their phone number from t'internet, called them, spoke to Soe Naing Aung, the Manager, he contacted the local Polis (Malaysian Police) and a small search party was set up.
One fact was that I had no clue where I was, having already walked for at least nine hours from Pine Tree Hill and, having rescued a few foolish foreigners before, the first search party went looking for me in that area. I was put in touch directly with Durai, the local guide who works for the Fraser's Hill Development Corporation and tried to describe where I'd been. Phone contact was rather intermittent and the link was frequently broken. I spoke to Noelene several times and she was constantly in contact with the Old Smokehouse and Durai. She contacted the Hyatt Saujana where I was due to stay that night, and who were sending a car to Fraser's Hill for me, to cancel the booking. She tried to phone my Aussie mate Kev to get him to get in touch with people from our company in Malaysia to cancel my Monday business meetings and despite her own, no doubt, low spirits, kept mine up.
As the afternoon wore on my battery started getting low and we resorted to texting and I had to learn the teenagers method of rapid thumb movement pretty quickly! I got a call from Durai to say "Mr. John, can you hear us?" and, via the phone, I could hear people shouting my name. But they were still on Pine Tree Hill. I thought that maybe they'd send a helicopter and felt sure that I heard an engine but it was, I guess, my "mirage in the desert". I was asked to light a fire, using a compass or by rubbing two sticks together, so that my position could be more easily seen but the sun was obscured by trees, I had no compass anyway (almost all map reading compasses, including mine, have a magnifier) and try as I might I couldn't rub hard enough to get the two sticks I found to even get warm. I guess I should have been a Boy Scout. Whilst waiting, and there was to be a lot of doing that in the next few days, I noticed human markings on some of the trees, the first sign of any human activity I'd seen since early the previous day. There were numbers, letters, strange drawings and other marks on the trees, obviously made with knives and, by their state, I guessed several years old at least. I supposed that that was how come there was this small, although very overgrown, path; there had probably been an Oran Asli settlement not far from here in the past and that gave me some hope. Maybe I'd be able to follow the path and find them the next day.
Eventually as the afternoon wore on I came to the realisation that I would have to spend the night on the hill: I would be "The Fool on the Hill" and started to gather leaves to make something approaching soft to lie on for the night. Rather ominously, I had only about 200 mls of water left. Unlike my previous night's accommodation, by the water's edge, I was plagued with mosquitoes here on the hill. This was unexpected as I had always thought that they preferred to be close to water (maybe it's just stagnant water that they like). As it began to get dark the noises in the forest started as the previous night; the whoops, screeches, noises of what seemed to be very large cicadas, bat noises as they flitted in and out of the trees, high pitched bird squeaks and calls and numerous others, making a real cacophony of sound. At about half past seven I removed my boots and lay down on my bed of leaves, my rucksack as my pillow, for another long and, no doubt, restless night. I sent Noelene one last text and she replied, confirming that the search had been called off for the day but would start again tomorrow with greater resources.
During the day's walk my boots had dried out and when I had arrived on the hill I made sure that my socks were dry; hopefully my feet would be warmer this night. I had to drink some of my water but maybe only 10 mls at a time and as I lay awake in the dark, the moon shining through the trees providing some light, I knew that my priority tomorrow was to get water; without it I wouldn't survive. I lay with my hat on and my, by now very smelly, handkerchief hanging from it across by face, secured by the safety pins I'd found in the rucksack, in an attempt to keep the mosquitoes and midges away. For warmth I kept my hands inside my sweatshirt with the neck of it over my nose and breathed my own breath into it to help warm my body a bit. After two days hard walking, it wasn't a pleasant experience. Worse was to come!
I got up a few times in the night, to do what gentlemen sometimes have to. But with my dwindling water supply I realised that I'd have to save every drop of this "recycled water" for possible emergency use; so into an empty bottle it went! There was a very small clearing very close to where I slept and a couple of times I put my boots on, walked the half dozen steps to it and looked at what stars I could see. I believed that I had spotted part of the Ursa Major constellation (the Great Bear) with its tail forming the Plough and knew that the position of Polaris, the Pole Star (north) could be found from it. From this I guessed that the hill (actually the end of a ridge) ran east --> west, that north was in front of me and south behind. I could see a red flashing light on another hill top maybe 5 kms or so distant. I made a note to let the rescuers know about this. Maybe it would help them position me.
©John Gillatt, 2005