Friday, August 27, 2010

Goodbye Colonial Penang, Up the Hills, and Welcome to the Jungle

So I am a ways behind on this blog, but I will catch up as much as possible right now. In summary, we left Penang and went to a hill-station called the Cameron Highlands where we stayed in Tanah Rata. After two nights we moved on to Taman Negara where we stayed in Kuala Tenan before our 3 days in the jungle. We are in Jerantut now and off to Kuala Lumpur tomorrow.

Day 5 - Tanah Rata, Cameron Highlands - So it was up early in Penang and off to the Cameron Highlands. We caught a minibus at 6am and were in Tanah Rata by 10am. Beautiful. Cool weather as we are at the top of the hills - 25 degrees at the highest. So after settling in to Daniel's Guesthouse (with its big "F*ck the Lonely Planet" sign) it was time to rent motorbikes. Matt doesn't have his license so he rode on the back of mine. So through the hills we went, cool breeze in our hair and occasional rain on our shoulders. First stop was a butterfly garden where we saw tons of amazing insects and animals: leaf bugs, stick bugs, scorpions, leaf frogs, vipers and cobras to name a few. Then it was through the hills again to Boh Tea Estate where we had some tea sans crumpets. The Philistinian I am, I drank iced tea and the Philistinian John is, he added sugar to his tea. Unlike those nobel Brits, us people from the land of Philistine don't know how to enjoy proper tea (/end British mocking). Heading to the tea estate there was a very steep hill to climb. Dropping my bike down to first gear I spun into a wheelie and threw Matt off the back. Luckily he was ok and I caught the bike before it keeled over. After the tea it was back to the bikes and through the hills for another hour until the rain fell hard. Rain meant stopping at a very small, remote village and eating the most delicious Indian food imaginable. Once the rain had passed it was an steep uphill battle back to Tanah Rata. Johnny had to keep waiting for us as Matt and I struggled up the hill with our combined weight. John then had his turn at a wheelie; he started hard in first gear and got his nose in the air. Safe landing with smiles, we all had a good laugh. The evening was spent drinking Thai Chang beer, playing cards, making friends, and sitting around the guesthouse bar's fireplace. Two of our new friends, German Fredricka and Dutch Sophie, joined us to Taman Negara. I got my Malaysian flag!

Day 6 - Tanah Rata, Cameron Highlands - Our last day at the hill station was a rather quiet one. Lots more Indian, Chinese and Malay food, a short little hike to the waterfall with Fredricka, reading, napping, and .... no beer. Not drinking is the start of a new trend.

Day 7 - Kuala Tahan, Taman Negara - In the morning we caught an 8am bus to Kuala Tembelling where we had to wait til 2pm to get a river boat up to the Taman Negara National Park enterance at Kuala Tahan. Beautiful boat ride. From there we met our tour guide, Rosali, who Sophie had contacted. We chatted and did preparations for entering the jungle the next day. The Taman Negara jungle is the oldest in the world, 150 million years old. We spent the night at Rippi Guesthouse.

Day 8 - WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE - John, Matt, Sophie, Rosali, Leebam, Sali and I caught a long-tail boat two hours up river and from there we were to take three days to trek back to town. Riding up the river we sang a beautiful rendition of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." Along river banks we saw monkeys and a montador. So cool. The treking was amazing. Six hours up and down sweating ourselves crazy; John would stop, take off his shirt and wring it out like a wet rag. We got off to a late start and were held up when Rosali (Lee) was stung four times by wasps, he is allergic. So we stopped, Rosali took his medicine, and then lied on the ground for nearly half an hour. After vomiting  and nearly passing our, he recovered. But not after scaring us silly and leading it to get a bit dark. We got to the cave where we spent the night at 7:30. Bats were alive and everywhere by the time we reached the cave and tree roots were beginning to look like snakes. We lit candles, cooked curry, washed in the stream, and just relaxed until falling asleep. I got my first of two leeches washing in the stream, while Matt got a pair of his own. In the night the rats came wanting some food. John woke Matt up to fight the rats, but Matt wanted none of it. After that John didn't sleep. I didn't help... mid dream, I yelled out "HELLLOOOO!" which echoed through the cave, followed by "WE'RE TRAPPPED IN HERRREEE." It woke everyone up... bad dream I guess. As you can imagine, I was the joke of the day for our next day trekking. We were hoping to see more jungle animals, but fresh elephant dung and tracks was the closest we got.

Day 9 - Taman Negara Jungle Trekking - We woke up late, 10am, and by the time we had cooked breakfast in the cave, washed in the stream, relaxed, and packed it was noon by the time we were off. Around 3pm we stopped by a small river where we cooked noodles for lunch. I took a nap in a hammock for a bit before we were off again. We reached the treehouse hide as sun was setting. It's named a "hide" as the treehouse faces a clearing with a salt-lick in the middle intended to attract lions, pumas, ant eaters and other jungle life. So after another dinner of veggies, curry, and rice it was time to take shifts all night watching for animals. I think the full moon worked against us as the only animals we saw once again were rats (stealing our tin cans) and bats. I sat up the 12-1am shift and the 4-5am shift but didn't see any exciting animals. The highlight of the day was seeing a nomadic trip moving villages. Four families with twenty people, mostly children, packed up everything they owned and carried it on their backs. They walk for maybe 3 weeks before finding a new place to call home where they build bamboo huts and live off the land. They have no contact with the outside world, no phones or pots or radios. Everything they need to survive is in the jungle; it is their jungle. These children do not read or write, go to school or have health-care. Rather, they climb trees, kill animals with poisonous blow-darts, light fire by rubbing wood and live off the jungle. An amazing life. Turns out Sali and Leebam are from a similar trip. Leebam would climb up the trees a hundred feet high and bring fruit down. Amazing.

Day 10 - Jerantut - Today we had a short trek out of the jungle where our boat was waiting for us. We went to the tourist canopy walk where you walk on top of trees and look down at the jungle. We then went to Sali's nomadic village where he showed us how to shoot blow darts and light fire using the jungle. I killed an elephant (terrible accuracy) and a squirrel (good accuracy) with my two shots. Amazing lifestyle. We then caught a bus to Jerantut where we are now. In town we had a wonderful dinner of different small finger foods at the ramadan market for calling it an early night and heading to bed.

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