(Ed. note: Before turning this over to Terry for her thoughts, I have a little quiz for you: What is this?)
Day two in Kuala Lumpur had us up at 4:45 to meet our guide and start the long drive to Taman Negera, about 4 hours north east of KL (KL is what the city is commonly named). Our driver, Jack, was a lot of fun and full of information. The sun doesn’t come up till after 7:00am so he had lots of stories for us before we could see the scenery, ‘full of nature.’ The first was about the Hindu festival, Thaipusan, taking place at the near-by Battu Caves. During the days of British colonisation, the British understood that the best way of ensuring this massive cave (big enough to hold a football game inside with a 3 storey ceiling) was preserved forever was to make it into a religious shrine. All the hills around the cave have since been levelled and planted, so I guess they knew what they were doing. Now, once a year, believers who want to improve their lot, protect a loved one or pay penance for some misdeeds take part in the colourful 13km parade to the caves by pulling wagons by ropes on hooks pierced through their skin, then crawling the 500+ steps to the shrine.
Look it up. Some 1.6 million people made the trip to KL to take part or look on. Weird, as Jack said. So we didn’t go there.
Once the sun came up, we saw that much of Malaysia is planted in palm trees, used for palm oil, the worst of all oils (I believe) and used in lots of fast foods and snacks (Ed. note: I do believe there are hundreds of millions of them in Malaysia). These plants are massive, with some fronds 10-15 feet long. We learned that they take 7 years to become fruitful, then produce flowers all year round for up to 35 years. We witnessed vast swaths of hideous landscape where palms had been clear-cut, having reached the 35 year point, but upon more careful examination, we could see that new palms were already planted next to the rotting stumps of the old palms, which are used to fertilise the soil. So it was an eco-friendly environment, even while producing an unhealthy product.
Half way to the park, we stopped at a roadside cafe and joined the locals for breakfast–Nasi Lemak for me and the same, with a side of tripe (are you kidding me?!) for Geoff (Ed. note: Fantastic! And it certainly beat breakfast the next day at Starbucks!). Nasi Lemak is rice cooked in coconut milk, with a fried egg on top, sambal sauce with dried anchovies and peanuts on the side. YUM! Then off to Negara for what turned out to be a long, hard nature walk through a protected environment.
This past December, heavy rains raised the river 78 meters, a record high, and much of the area across from the park was still sand-covered and messy. The eco-resort was still closed while they restored rooms and services but the trails are mostly open for trekkers. Trekkers, you say? Who knew? Not us, but away we went with our new guide on the other side of the river and he took us on our way.
I had asked Jack what we could expect to see. He talked about animals–sometimes large cats–leopards, jaguars, maybe wild boar, monkeys, cobras, other poisonous snakes. He had seen several wild elephants on the highways during his 20 years of traversing the country while guiding, and perhaps we would see one. Very dangerous, he said. When we asked our trek guide, Lee, the same question, he told us we would likely see no animals. “They can smell you for miles and are a long way out of this area, into the mountains.” Close to the lodge, we caught sight of a group of Rhinoceros Hornbills but it was really tough to get a picture. A few monkeys played in the treetops but mostly we had to be content with smaller critters, including the biggest ants we had ever seen–giant timber ants that were as long as the area from knuckle to nail and nasty, as well as some smaller varieties.
This guy – a gliding lizard – was so excited. In the red rectangle was the “ant highway”. Hundreds of ants were climbing from the bottom of the tree up to the top. He just sat there, in the sun, picking them off for lunch as they went passed. Apparently, ants don’t communicate well with each other.
Actually, I felt comfortable in this jungle as it reminded me of home, where every square inch of soil is home to hundreds of ants. One snake crossed our path but it was smaller than a standard garter snake. I told Lee I had seen a viper and he laughed. I got really lucky, though, with an extremely rare close encounter with a flying squirrel. We took a canopy walk on a rope and wood pathway suspended high above the jungle floor–why do I do these things? I hate heights! As I came to one of several platforms, I saw that a large rodent was sitting on the top of the railing. I thought for sure it would leave once I alighted but no, so I had time to take out my camera and get several shots.
Geoff came up in a moment and disagreed that it could be a squirrel–way too big. However, if you think about magnifying our common squirrels about 4 or 5 times, it started to look more and more like one. When I showed the guides my pictures, it turned out to be my very own Rocky! Definitely a highlight for me.
Now the trek. We climbed somewhere between 900 and 1000 steps, real steps, actual staircases. We did the same thing in Guilin in 2012 but the steps were so low, the climb was more like walking. This was a climb! Initially, the guide was a bit worried about Geoff, since I explained about his heart attack and how he sometimes gets breathless if he moves too fast. Geoff was determined, however, and just took his time and made it without incident. If he hadn’t been in cardio rehab for 3 months, 3 times a week, doing ridiculous numbers of sit-ups, leg raises, etc, I wouldn’t have agreed to it, but he is in good shape. We had no idea how much climbing we had done until yesterday when we got out of bed the next day. Yikes!
(Ed. note: It is beyond me how Terry could have minimized perhaps the most daring thing she has ever done. We knew there was a canopy walk involved in the day – just had no idea what it would actually be like.
Also part of this trip was a ride up the river to an ethnic village (I’ve lost count of how many of these we’ve been to) and this was in some ways better–not much commercialisation, no tacky photo opps, but we were allowed to take pictures and watch a demonstration. Lee explained their way of life as nomads, as people who don’t want to be told what to do or how to live.
The local Malays consider it a great success that they have convinced them to wear clothes and to use money, and are happy to move very slowly forward. Only some of their children attend school. I found the whole thing somewhat depressing. The huts, the sand and grit everywhere, lack of facilities and running water, everyone smoking, fires smoking…but there it was. Geoff added a small amount to the local economy and we headed home.
The Shoe Blog – uh no.
The building at the top is for swallows to nest in. The farmers build concrete shells, the swallows then build their nests on the walls inside out of twigs, feathers and saliva. After the eggs hatch and they all fly away, the farmers go in, remove the nests, wash them to get rid of the twigs and feathers and then sell the remaining glue/saliva to the Chinese for birds nest soup. Honest. We saw between 8 and 10 of these throughout the day.