Am at present taking a well earned rest in a very laid back town called Kota Bharu in the north east of Malaysia by the South China sea. It is
in the province of Kalantan which is the most Islamic province in Malaysia so the call of the mosque is ever present and the women all wear head scarves.
I have spent quite a bit of energy en route, as follows:
Leaving Doreens kind company in Ipoh I headed for the hills, the Cameron Highlands to be exact. This is an area developed in the British era as a
hill station and somewhere to grow the tea. It certainly is a lot cooler and a welcome relief after the sticky humidity of the lowlands. After following a scenic windy road through the lush vegetation and
past pictureque waterfalls I finally arrived in the main town and found a delightful guest house to stay in while I explored the jungle walks marked on the area map.
I spent a couple of days in ideal
weather and surroundings, playing the fiddle by a waterfall in the mornings and visiting the Boh tea plantation and a butterfly farm.(Guess what tune I am now practising!)
Having made up my mind to break
the spell and get on my way to the Taman Negara National park, I was all packed up and ready to go. However, Suzy had other ideas and refused to start because of a flat battery. I found somewhere to get it
charged but decided to backtrack to Ipoh the following morning to find a new one.
It seemed that Suzy knew something that I didn't as, that afternoon, on going for a walk who should I find but Skip and
Rachel on their Honda who had just got in to town. They thought that I would be long gone so were surprised to see me. We had a great evening catching up on the news since we had last met in Loas. They had
had some pretty hairaising experiences on the muddy roads in the wet which reconfirmed my feelings that I had got out in time!
After calling in at a bike shop in Ipoh and having no trouble replacing the
battery, I resumed my planned route. Taman Negara is a large National Park in the central northern part of Malaysia and , in fact, is administered by four different states as it has an entry point in each.
The most southern entry is closest to Kualr Lumpar and is the most visited and developed site. However, as it was school holidays I felt that it would be too crowded so went to the easterly one where I was
the only tourist! At this point many groups leave to climb Gunung Tahan, the highest mountain in peninsular Malaysia at 2187m. It only takes 4 days to do the ascent and descent from here as opposed to at
least 7 from the other points.
A guide is compulsory and, as I couldn't afford it on my own, I asked if other groups were coming that I could join. I had to wait for two days and in the interim practised
the lowland jungle walks finding that the leeches had all sorts of ways of getting into your shoes and the first day I spent trying to stop my feet bleeding as their anticoagulants increase the flow if you
pull the wretched things off before they have finished!
They really are ferocious and I was very careful piddling in the jungle!!!!!
When the group of 9 Chinese from KL arrived they very graciously said
I could join them. My main problem was that my small pack is not made for carrying a tent and the tent, at 3 kgs, is not made for backpacking by one person. I also had to carry food for 4 days.
solution was that one of the park people lent me a bigger pack, but when I put it on with all my gear I needed someone to place it on my back as it was sooooo heavy.
The first day we walked for 5 hours. I
had borrowed some rubber jungle shoes from a park woman who said she had used them on her mountain trek and, sure enough several other people used this type. Having sprayed my shoes and socks with Baygon I
was more confident about the leeches but was really struggling with the weight and wondering what to do. That night I asked the young, strong guide to carry my tent (for a fee, of course) and the next day
fairly skipped up the mountain. It is very steep and very boggy, nothing like any other terrain I have encountered. You have to pull yourself up using the roots and branches of the jungle trees and there are
ropes in some places to use for help on the way up but more for absailing down. We camped 1 hour short of the summit which was conquered in the drizzle at sunrise the next morning.
I tried taking the tent,
minus the poles, down by myself the next day but the descent was worse and my feet began to suffer from the rubber shoes which had softened the skin and made blisters. All day you walk with wet
because of the bogs so plasters fall off. I was trailing badly getting into base camp. I had to pay the guide to take my tent again the final day and walk in my sandals. However, it was a great experience
and the Chinese men were wonderful, feeding me and making sure I was ok. It was great of them to take along an unknown quantity like me and I shall be forever grateful. I tried to make myself useful by
playing the whistle and telling the story of Stanton Drew around the camp fire.
The Chinese drove straight off to KL that evening and I settled back in my tent to observe some sort of official function
that was happening at the camp site. I was invited to dinner with the manager and the local MP and found that this was a send off for a group climbing the mountain the next day in order to be on the
summit for Merdeka, 31st August, Malaysia's Independence day. There was to be a live TV recording from the top, linking with other groups who were climbing their own states highest points on that date. What
a great idea!
That night it poured with rain for about 3 hours and I was extremely lucky to find some plastic groundsheets left behind by the officials as I desperately needed them for my tent. That bloody
French Quechua not only has weak poles but a completely unwaterproof groundsheet. Fortunately the staff said I could keep the plastic so now I should remain dry.
After drying everything out the next
morning in the bright sun I moved off to the next park entrance which was a lovely spot but not set up for tourists at all, just education groups and researchers. With no marked tracks and a washed out
bridge there was no access for me so I just rode through the palm oil plantations, spent the night and moved on. As the new road east had not been completed my only route was north and so here I am in Kota
It is going to be difficult to leave. I have found a lovely Guest House, in an old malay wooden building which has a kitchen, living room, telly, garden and undercover parking for my bike
and....free tea and bicycle use! The only other occupants are two retired Japanese men who keep the place spotless. There is a roti shop close by for breakfast and many lovely different foods to choose from
for dinner, malay, chinese, Indian. Everybody is so friendly I feel a bit like the Queen because I have to keep waving at them all.
Having done the museums, which include one on the Japanese invasion and
total routing of the Brits here in the 2nd WW, I went to see a show at the cultural centre of their traditional martial arts, games and percussion instruments. On 31st there was a parade which culminated at
the stadium and it was great to see all the lovely colourful costumes. This is an area where they make batik and the place is alive with may different designs and hues.
While out on the bicycle exploring
the delightful back roads by the river I was hailed by a young Malay man on a sporty bike who invited me to come to his village the following day. We took a bus and I found it to be a little fishing village
very close to the Thai border. His mother and grandmother fed me tasty fish and rice dishes and I slept on the floor with them in the spacious old wooden house. Last night I discovered that there are
traditional singing competitions in town and was up till all hours watching these mens groups singing and swaying to their percussion bands. Wonderful!
But, time is marching on and I must try and be in
Indonesia before the monsoons hit there so I will have to rouse myself. My feet and legs have recovered from the mountain and I have cleaned and oiled Suzy's chain so tomorrow I head south.
Thanks to all the people on this part of the trip, especially my Chinese mountain mates.
Lots of love