September 24, 2006

In the Jungle: Taman Negara

From the Cameron Highlands I took a van for a couple hours in order to catch the jungle train that runs to Jarantut. In the van I met a Korean girl named Jung and it was like meeting someone from home. After her initial confusement of meeting a white girl in Malaysia who speaks (bad) Korean we reminisced of back "home": the kimchi, soju, the saunas. The train we were supposed to catch was over an hour late and once we boarded and started moving I could understand why. I think my Dad running could have kept up with or even beat this train in the 4 hours it took. Judging from it's condition the train probably has a few years on my Dad though. No air con on this ride. It was muggy, we were barely going fast enough to create a breeze inside. I went to the toilet and found a seat that emptied straight down on to the tracks below. The train went straight through the jungle so the scenery was great the entire time. After the train we had another bus to catch and finally after 11 hours of travel time we made it to the rainy Taman Negara main camp. Jung and I found a somewhat clean hostel and checked in for the night. (Traveling now, I've once again realized that clean is definitely a relative term. That goes for clothes, hostels, bathrooms and myself.)

The next morning Jung and I took off on our separate ways. I wanted to sleep in the jungle for the night so I found someone to take me up river towards a hide a one hour hike from the river. Asri, a local who had lived in the jungle his entire life, was my boat driver. He planned to pick me up the next morning. After lending me his rubber shoes (to go through the mud), his powerful flashlight (to spot animals at night), and giving me some advice to survive the night, he was gone and it was just me and the jungle. On the way there I couldn't believe the insects I saw! Ants as big as my pinky finger, never-ending trails of termites that chattered creepily, butterflies that kept landing on me. The trail signs were less than accruate and I managed to get lost for a bit. Then I felt a weird itchy feeling on my foot, pulled off Asri's rubber shoe and found three leeches attached to my sock. I pulled them off with a leaf and kept walking. I realized that the weird worm-looking things that walk like a slinky that I saw earlier were actually leeches. Creepy looking things, standing straight up feeling around for their next bloody meal. When I made it to the hut I was drenched in sweat. I pulled off my shoes and another leech from my now bloody socks. My feet bled for the next couple hours.


The hut was simple wooden room on 20 feet stilts with wooden bunk beds, no mattresses. It was quite literally in the middle of the jungle and for a while I was the only one around. Eventually four others showed up. We heated baked beans for dinner and when it got dark we looked around for animals. Once it got dark we sat in front of the long rectangular window opening and watched the fire flies flashing in the starry sky with occasional flashes of lightening brightening the sky. The sound of the jungle at night was really something-- so many different animals and insects making their own unique noises and blending together perfectly. It rained that night and I slept well.

Hut in the jungle.

Early the next morning the sounds were equally harmonious but altogether different although I can't desribe how. On the way back to the boat I fell in the mud, slippery from the rain, backpack and all. I met back up with Asri and he took me back to Nusa Camp, a small place right along the river, where I was the only guest for the day. We took the river boat to the Canopy Walkway, 10 wobbly bridges that are suspended 25 meters above the jungle floor, and afterwards swam in the river. I was planning on leaving the next morning but without too much effort Asri convinced me to stay one more day in the jungle.

Orang Asli village. See the small hut on the left? That's where I slept my last night in Taman Negara.

September 22, 2006

Cameron Highlands

The Cameron Highlands were beautiful, the green hills of tea leaf plants looked unreal, so bright and like someone took a giant comb to them. I made a friend named Bio from Pangkor Island, Malaysia on the bus from KL and we walked a lot around the area; the first day there I think we walked around 25 km and then hitchhiked another few when we could. We walked up to one of the highest hills in the Highlands at 6,666 ft. At the top we tried to take the jungle trail back down the other side but after a couple minutes we were already nearly ankle deep in sticky red mud and crawling under and through vines. So it was back down the way we came. Besides tea, the area is also known for strawberry farms. We stopped at a couple vegetable and strawberry farms and picked up some fresh lettuce and strawberries and had freshly made strawberry juice. It was the best salad and strawberries I've ever had!

The next day I went on a jungle trek with Yen, the guide from the hostel. I was the only one who showed up so I had my own private guide for the 5 1/2 hour trek. While we walked he told me about the plants, animals and insects. He talked about the Highlands and how the development is making the animals and insects much more scarce. He talked about Malaysia's economy, people, history. It was very interesting, Yen would make a great teacher. And what a great environment to learn in! The weather in the Cameron Highlands is very cool compared to the rest of Malaysia so it was a great break from the heat but after a few days it was time to move on to the next stop and step back in to the heat wave.

September 13, 2006

And the Malaysian adventures begin

Going up the many steps at Batu Caves.

Hindu statue at the entrance of Batu Caves.


A monkey and her bananas at Batu Caves.

I flew in to to Kuala Lumpur from Seoul last Monday night. I couldn't believe all the palm trees I saw below as we were landing. As I walked through customs I vaguely saw through the glare on the glass wall in front of me a figure wearing a bright Hawaiian shirt jumping up and down and waving his arms. It had to be the Mad Man himself. And of course it was. We headed home driving on the left side of the road again, reminiscing all the way on the good times had back at Arscott dorms in Australia and where everyone is in the world now (everywhere it seems).

Eddy (aka Mad Man) lives with his father in a house in Kepong, a suburb 15 minutes North of Kuala Lumpur. On the corner lives the coconut man who has huge trucks overflowing with coconuts to sell to local drink and food vendors. Ah, and the food here... it's delicious! Eddy has taken me out to try several different dishes and I've loved them all except for these green jelly strings put in a certain drink called cendol. He thought it would be difficult eating vegetarian in Malaysia but it's extremely easy after living in Korea for a year. Almost every street, food court and market has at least one purely vegetarian restarant and ordering vegetarian at the Indian restaraunts is guaranteed. Eddy took me to one vegetarian grocery shop and I couldn't believe what they did to tofu and vegetables to make it resemble meat and fish. There was frozen "fish" that seriously looked like the real thing. The point is kind of lost on me, personally I'd just rather eat vegetables that look like vegetables but whatever... it was quite a work of creativity to say the least.

Some quick observations about Malaysia so far in no particular order:

This is one seriously diverse place after being in the hermit country. Eddy speaks five languages (his father speaks six) and often times speaks to his friends in a sort of merged together slang version of several at a time. I'll hear an English sentence or word here and there and then it's Cantonese and then Malay, usually with "lah" attached to the end (basically a meaningless word attached to the end of almost anything). Almost everyone here speaks English and when I've gone out with Eddy and his friends they all speak English as their primary language. The people in Malaysia are a mix of Chinese, Indian and Malay and therefore, so is the food.

After living in the land of high speed internet for a year, the connection speed here is excruciatingly slow. Slow speed or not I will be staying away from computers for the most part (I'll try to keep this site alive but no promises).

No staring at the sky while walking in Malaysia. I need to pay attention where my feet are going or else I may end up in one of the several gaping holes in the sidewalk that lead at least several feet down into a dark unappealing void of nothingness. A bit dramatic but seriously, there are very dangerous holes everywhere. Eddy says people steal the concrete squares or metal grates and sell them.

I've mentioned it already but I'll say it again, the food here is amazing! Several locals have said to me that Malaysia is all about the food. Sooooo good!

And the drinks! And they're all so good! Coconut water, tea with lime, soya drink, sugar cane drink, lime drink (very sour, I could barely handle this one), lime plum sour, juices, teas and so many that I haven't tried yet.

So much more to write about but for now I'm going to bed so I can get up early and do some jungle trekking. I'm in the Cameron Highlands escaping the heat for a couple days and then probably going to Taman Negara to sleep in the jungle and do my best at avoiding the leeches.