Monday, May 09, 2005

Taman Negara

After Tioman I returned on the ferry back to Mersing, from here I cycled onwards to Rompin for a night, then Pekan the next day and Kuantan next. This was my first big town in Malaysia and traffic was heavier, but I still had the inside lane mostly to myself. After cycling around town I found a hotel, more expensive than I wanted but I was feeling tired after cycling over 200km in the past 3 days. Besides I was going to be leaving my bicycle at the hotel for a few days and I wanted it to be there when I came back! Having a look around Kuantan, I came across this shop, yeah well same to you, buddy. With minarets popping out above the skyline, the mosque is one of the focal points of the town.
I walked down to the bus station and tried to find out when the bus left. One man suggested I would get the bus if I turned up at 07:00. I took that as him meaning he didn't know when the bus left! I manged to ask a driver and he said 09:00 much better. So I headed off to Jerantut on the bus the next day, from here I caught a 3 hour boat ride down Sungai Tembeling to Taman Negara (literally National Park). On the way down we passed the occasional building, who built this??. Some people going in the other direction whizz past. Later on some water buffalo cool off in the midday sun.

After more wandering about with my bags, not so easy with two daysacks compared with a single backpack, I came across a hostel. The manager, Professor Halam was certainly a character. It turned out that he lives in the jungle for three months of the year with the local tribal people and is a mediator between them and the government. On the other hand he spent his time talking about how all new TV's have webcameras in them so 'they' can watch you, and how they force people to upgrade by switching off analogue transmissions in the near future, whilst animatedly waving his arms about and then laughing his crazy chuckle. Then he was off starting on world politics and he had some interesting ideas, seemed well informed but mad as a mongoose.

I lent him my book one afternoon as I went out and he'd read a fair portion by the time he came back, then he gave me a photocopy of an essay about "Who runs the world? - An overview of what's really behind the 'New World Order' ", Anyway, back to reality I was sharing a dorm with Sarah, who was also cyling about Malaysia and had previously cycled from Bangkok to Singapore which was interesting. The other person was Hamish, yep he was from Scotland, only eighteen.

The three of us headed off to go on the canopy walk in the park. The canopy is the longest in the world. Although I knew this once I was high up there in the trees it did indeed seem a very long way down. Don't look down, don't look down! Not to be done if you are very afraid of heights as it is a long way off the ground on a swinging rope bridge with a quite narrow couple of planks of wood to walk across. At each section there is a small platform attached to a tree, linking the bridges together. Then at a couple of points there is a ladder to climb even higher onto the next bridge. It is 400m in all. I was pretty glad to get back down, my legs were a bit shaky as I'm not that keen on heights, but glad I done it. In the meantime Hamish obviously has no fear of heights as h stomped across the planks confidently, while I was behind gripping the hand rope with white knuckles wishing the bridge would stop swinging.
After that we went along to a water hole, past a campsite with lots of signs, where some people went for a swim and I took some close-up photographs of butterflies, apparently drinking the water, but I was still suprised they didn't all fly away with a big lens in their faces! Tried to take some photos of the canopy, but it just a lot of leaves.

Later that night we headed out to a rather posh hotel, Woodlands Resort. It was the only place in town where you can get a beer :)
As it was Sarah & Hamish's last night we had a few beers and games of pool, then we headed downstairs and found a small room with a few people singing karoke. A couple of enhustic Malayasians were singing away happily and a tourist who thought he was Elvis. The hotel ran out of lager, so we ended up drinking cans of Guiness, most be an acquired taste. Bit like my singing :)
Evnetually headed back to the hostel where poor Hamish had to get up to get the bus in three hours, haha.

The next day I set out into the rainforest and headed for a cave. After crossing the river I looked for the signs towards the cave and didn't see any I asked somebody and the told it was on the other side of the river. Turns out to be a Y junction, so I had to cross back to the village and then cross over the river again from there. Eventually I was underway, I walked up steep down steep hills for what seemed like half an hour and then found another signpost. Hmmm, I had only gone 600m from the jetty and I was dripping with sweat. At least the cave was only 2km further on and over much flater ground. On the way to the cave, there was some vicious looking branches, and an absolutely huge tree. Also some strange things floating in front of the path, some sort of wormy thingy. The branches are sometime really twisted, almost like a prison!
I got to the entrance and sat on the bench and gulped my water. I was a bit apprehensive about going into the cave myself. Then three other people turned up Cliff, Cecilia and David. Cliff and Cecila were from Singapore and had met David when he was working there ten years ago. They were showing David the cave they had previously been to. So I tagged along with them. They were better prepared with a powerful torch. We clambered over the rocks into the dark, damp interior and then through a few passages where we came to a chamber with bats hanging upside down sleeping quietly, cue horror photo! Further in the bats were awake and flying all around as we clambered onwards. After about fifeteen minutes we looped around and came back out an exit. It was an interesting experience, my first time spelunking! Thankfully there was no where too claustrophobic it was more a series of linked chambers with the occasional short small passage to squeeze between, and made it out for the entrance photo.

The others offered me a lift back on their boat as they had a spare seat, saving me the walk back over the hills. We had a bit of time and so we nipped into a tribal village where the Orang Asli live in the forest. A large group of tourists turned up and they demonstrated how they made fire. The guy stood on a bit of wood and pulled a vine back and forth, not particularly fast with a small travel, but I thinking he was pulling hard to create the friction. Then the vine broke and a boy picked up the wood and tipped embers into shaving and picked up the whole thing into his hands and blew repeatedly to start the fire. He got the smoke in his eyes and the other villagers were laughing at him. The camp itself was mostly full of shacks and discarded plastic and rubbish. They move every three months or so for fresh hunting. Not exactly isolated from the western world as the boy was wearing his Converse T-Shirt and using a Swiss Army knife!

Later they demonstrated a blow dart made from bamboo. The mouth piece is made from sap and the darts are dipped in a poision from a plant.
The tail of the dart was created from a soft white wood carved into a cone shape. then heated gently by the fire. The shaft was whittled down from a stick and then they skewered the tail onto the shaft. He then heated a leaf in the embers to dry it out and polished the tail, with the sandpaper leaf, to make it smooth.
They pipe is a length of bamboo with a sphere of sap to make an airtight seal between the pipe and the lips.
He demonstrated by firing a dart at a polystrene dart board about 20m away. Although he just missed with the first he got a good shot the second time.

We hopped on the boat and I arranged to meet up with Cliff & co later. Back to the hotel for some more beer! We had some food at the hotel we may have been some of the first peope to eat there. The hotel looked very new. The others took care of the ordering by writing down what to get, no need for menus! We had chicken, fish, rice, noodles and salad. A tasty feast, washed down with a few beers.

I found out that we were all leaving tomorrow going back to Kuantan. Cliff, Cecelia and David were on a different boat. I got to the jetty and waited for them but they didn't turn up. It turned out that they got stuck, the driver was keeping quiet about what the problem was. Another boat was sent back up river to resuce them. Turned out they had run out of petrol! We got some lunch at Jerantut and then headed on the bus for a 3-4 ride to Kuantan. Later that night we met up for a drink. I offered to pay for the drinks but Cliff just smiled and said I was too late as he had already paid. They were embarassingly generous saying I was their guest. Thankyou, I had a great time! After a few more buckets of beer and pool we said our goodbyes. I hadn't slept that well the previous night, shouldn't of had that coffee! But I made up for it by zonking out till noon. So much for the early start for the cycling, I decided I would stay another day in Kuantan and get an early night.

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