Greetings from Taman Negara, Malaysia’s oldest national park.
After a bit of a false start, I’ve finally managed to cover a few kilometres and am really enjoying riding again. The body isn’t as lean as it was before the whole messing up the hand business in Thailand, but I’m getting back into the groove of things. Helped along by the amazing support of just about everyone met along the road. The locals here wave and smile so much that I can barely muster a wave back by the end of the day. The drivers are also amazingly good when they see a cyclist and give more than enough room. In fact, if they don’t think there is enough room, such as on narrow bridges or through road works, they will slow down and only pass when the road widens again. A sensational effort, compared with the attitude of other drivers elsewhere in Asia, or Australia for that matter. Another bonus is the fact that most speak functional English, so communication is a breeze. The Commonwealth is good for something, not just the medals Australia bags at the Games!
Some of you have heard me speak of my Personal Best effort at injuring myself, namely managing to severely hurt my back turning myself over on the treatment table in my physio’s rooms – hurting yourself inside a medical practitioner’s office is a pretty special effort indeed, hold the applause. I was doing some minor work on my bike in Kuala Terengganu, when I managed to repeat the effort and couldn’t walk for a couple of days without shedding a tear. I was feeling foolish and pathetic, but it eventually came good and I was able to get back on the road again. Hopefully that is the end of it and I’ll be injury free until I make it to Melbourne (pray for me if it feels right for you, I can use all the positive energy I can get!).
The road down the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia is pretty good, not too many pot holes or rough patches, which made it easier on my poor sore hand. It’s school holidays at the moment, and there are lots of families touring around and having a wonderful time. Unfortunately, most accommodation along the coast has a surcharge for the holidays which made things a bit expensive at times. The food here is sensational, all my favourites are represented: char kuey teow (thick rice noodles with dark soy, spices and prawns); roti channai (flat flakey bread served with curry, a dippers delight), nasi goreng (the Malay version of fried rice but with less oil than elsewhere in Asia which makes it easier to consume). I haven’t had to have noodle-soup-with-mystery-meat for ages, which makes a nice change.
My trip into Taman Negara is a little salute to being a tourist, and has given my slightly sore body a couple of days to recuperate. There are a number of points of entry into the park, but I chose to enter via the Tembeling River, which was a deightful three hour cruise upriver through the jungle – Indiana Janey was in her element. I spotted some kingfishers (my fave bird), some gibbons, a water monitor (big lizard that looks like a goanna), and some wild boar. In fact, I saw more wildlife on the river cruise than I did in the national park itself. If you are thinking of heading this way, the boat is definitely the way to go.
I visited an indigenous village (Batek people) on the first day here, and as usual with these things, it was a bit awkward. A bunch of outsiders walk into a village and stare at the inhabitants while they stare back. We were all sat down in what is likely their village meeting tent and our guide told us about their life on the river, their hunting practices and their relationship with the Malaysian government – they are the only people allowed to hunt in the national park and the government only provides material assistance rather than financial (in keeping with the wishes of the Batek people). We had a go at starting a fire using a strip of rattan, a block of wood and a lot of muscle power. A man from the village showed us how they make the darts for their blow guns and we had a crack at the using the gun (trust me when I say the wildlife is in no danger from me, and that I’m unlikely to be invited along to join a hunting party any time soon). Then our guide suggested we go and look inside their huts, which was too weird for me… imagine sitting in your house and strange people poke their heads in unbidden. No thanks.
In the evening, I joined a (too large) group for a night walk in the jungle. We saw lots of insects, but the highlights were a gigantic bird-eating spider and catching sight of the arse-end of a flying lemur sitting high on a tree. This morning I took a hike through the jungle and traversed the Canopy Walkway which takes you 45m above the jungle floor, but alas there was no wildlife to be spotted. My guess is that the interesting animals are somewhere in the other 4,000 square kilometres of the park, well away from the noise and dangers of civilisation – fair play I say.
The plan from here is to head back to the main road to Kuala Lumpur, ride to the outskirts of the city and jump a train past the craziness and stay with my ‘sister’ Echo, who we last saw in Cambodia for her birthday. Whilst in KL I have a bit of shopping to do and have to apply for an Indonesia visa. I’ll then head down to Melaka and grab a ferry over to Sumatra. I’ve not been to Indonesia before, aside from a little trip to Bali when I was a teenager, which doesn’t really count, so I’m excited by the prospect of seeing more of the country than the beach resorts of Kuta.
I’d like to wish my dear Mummy a very happy 70th birthday, she’s been over in South America hiking the Inca Trail and hanging out in the Amazon jungle, where there was plenty of wildlife to see. Go Mummy!
Also a happy birthday to Jo M – see you when I finally get to Sydney!
A reminder to all Aussie tax-payers: the financial year is almost at an end, so if you’d like to minimise your taxation payments and donate to a very worthy cause, feel free to click and donate to my melanoma research fund. All donations over $2.00 are tax-deductible for Australian residents: Donate directly to the Cancer Council and help me to reach my target!
PS. Thanks to everyone for their wonderful comments and emails, your support is humbling and very much appreciated.