Thursday, December 23, 2010

In the Jungle, Part 2

The boat sped upstream, drawing its abhorrent sound of motorized technology from the forest. Forgiving the intrusion, birds began to call. Cicadas resumed their chirping, and the rainforest, for the moment, forgot we were there. We stood together, the three of us, glancing from the sparsely detailed map, to the encompassing vegetation. We knew we had to make it to Bumbun Blau that night or risk sleeping in the open jungle, nothing between us and the odd tiger but a $20 mosquito net. Unsure if tigers were repelled by deet, we proceeded on the most promising looking path. How, in the mangled, proudly overgrown jungle did we know we were on the right track? Well, we just followed the large, road-worthy street signs. A seamless mark in nature? I think not. But when weaving along root-blanketed trails you appreciate a bit of reflective direction.

We weren't five feet onto the trail when Jim called out, "Hey is this a leech?" Eagerly Bob and I crowded by Jim's feet to find a skiny, inch-long leech on the ground. It stood vertically like a body-building earthworm, innocently waving its sucker in the air, hoping in its little mind we'd step close enough to latch on. From that point the warning 'leech' was often called, as, alerted by the vibrations of our feet, more parasites began wiggiling for a free ride. Other than the occaional leech call we were fairly quiet, yet the noise of our packs and waterbottles gave us away. An unseen bird or monkey would sound a warning call at our approach, creating a bubble of silence around our steps.

Occasionally we'd come across a train of ants or termites busy foraging or returning from a raid. Their glossy black and red bodies created a bobbing stream along the soil. Not wanting to become another object for them to bite, we took care after we stumbled upon them. Jim made a surprisingly useful observation that they made a popping noise (very much like pop-rocks) when on the move. So now, in our brief travel through the jungle, we had created two warning calls. 'Leech' and 'Pop-rocks.'

Bumbun Blau rested in a small clearing threatened by beautiful trees with little regard to personal space. We found the hide much nicer and firmer of structure than we had expected. Upstairs in the open windowed room were four, sturdy if dusty, wooden bunk platforms. It even had a bathroom, though the ranger back at headquarters had been right; water hadn't flowed to the building in a long time. The toilet was full to the rim with poo....lots of poo. While it made a lush home for the leeches and maggots that sludged happily in its' filth, it wasn't the most welcoming facilities we had seen. But that was ok, we were in the jungle, we weren't expecting the Ritz. But we also weren't expecting a feces and maggot filled toilet.

Judging there was enough light for a bit more exploration we walked further on the trail. I climbed up a fallen tree to see how far a view I could get. Well, I saw about ten feet in front of me so that was pretty good for the forest. On our return to the hide we froze at the sound of a long exhalation. There was an animal probably ten feet off the trail, but we couldn't see it through the leaves. The animal breathed heavily again, with a long, Phhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh and a few branches swayed. I was so excited but mildly frustrated we couldn't identify it. I wanted to guess it was an elephant, but felt I couldn't claim that unless I saw it. When the animal became silent we went quietly to the hide, hoping to see something in the clearing beyond. We sat, sweating in the heat,eating oreos (dinner of champions) and watching the clearing silently for fear of Bob's glare each time we crunched a cookie or made the bench scrape the ground.

The sun continued its journey through the canopy, forgetting to leave lingering light as if fearful of its liaison with the night.

Unfortunately no animals wandered into our sights. Tired and extremely stinky, we hung our mosquito nets while wearing headlamps, dodging the bugs that flocked to our eyes. We played cards, listening to the racqerous night symphony and gazing at the hundreds of lime-green fireflies, and spiders that joined us for the night.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

In the Jungle, part 1

To finish the never ending Malaysia story: That Friday Jim, Bob and I eventually came to speaking terms with the GPS, who begrudgingly but finally agreed to lead us out of the city. Dodging between jagged mountain ranges, daunting palm oil plantations, and patches of dark jungle, we arrived, three hours later, at Taman Negara. The park, which flows over 4,000 square kilometers, is located across a river by the small town of Kuala Tahan.

Rickety, floating restaurants lazed haphazardly on the muddy banks, while the humidity and insects hung about our heads. The only way across the river was by hiring a local longboat. We payed the cheap fair of one ringgit each for the short journey, and laden with our hiking packs, climbed the hill to park headquarters.

Our plan was to hike a few hours to a Bumbun (a hide (open cabin on stilts) ) and stay the night. The next day we'd hike back to headquarters and treat ourselves to a shower and night at the resort. I knew it was highly unlikely, but I hoped to catch a glimpse of one of the tigers (at a safe distance), rhinoceros (at a safe distance), elephants (at a safe distance), leopards (at a safe distance), or tapirs (close enough to ride), that roamed the forest.

Because we arrived later than planned (due to my birthday drinking the night before) only Bumbun Blau was available. The ranger told us we might find water there, but the site hadn't been visited for a while so we should bring all the water we needed for 2 days. Well, in a humid, breezeless rainforest, that's a lot of liquid.

We weighed ourselves down with extra bottles from their shop, then grabbed a quick meal at a floating restaurant. As we chowed down on steamed rice and spicy meats, a man came with his longboat to take us to the trailhead. The three of us stepped carefully in so we didn't tip, then began a beautiful ride downriver. Jim's head, like the rest of him, was often in the way.
Bob was happy, it just wasn't his best day for pictures.It was hard for me to elude pictures while stuck on a boat.

At an indiscriminate break in the overhanging foliage, the man deftly pulled his boat alongside some very out of place concrete steps. I told Jim to take one step back but unfortunately he was too smart at the moment. We handed each other our packs, tucked our socks stylishly over our pants to help keep out leeches, and, as the man sped off in his boat, suddenly became alone in the rainforest.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Truly Asia? Part 2

On a hot and muggy Wednesday Bob left for meetings and I took a walk through some construction areas to get to Kuala Lumpur Craft Complex. The complex sells batiks, clothing, and all manner of touristy wooden craft. Beyond the florescent lights and high price tags, rests a small garden where several artists' huts reside. I wandered around till I found a Malaysian woman making beautiful batiks. She and her sister went to art school, then applied for a hut to sell their batiks, and for $20 ringits, let visitors make their own. Eager to sit out of the sun I plopped down at the table, picked a design, and got to work. Batiks are made by 'drawing' hot wax on a piece of cotton or silk. You then paint the canvas, with the wax keeping the colors from mixing. When finished the wax is removed and colors set. Because I am artistically challenged, I had to have a little help with the wax (my lines would have made a 3 year-old blush with embarrassment). But in the end I made a beautiful piece of artwork that looks a lot harder than it was because it would have been if I hadn't cheated.

Bob returned with the afternoon rainstorm. We hopped in a taxi and took the 20 min ride out to Batu caves. I was really excited to see the limestone caves, dotted with statues of Hindu Gods. We arrived in a light downpour, walked past the massive golden statue of Lord Subramaniam, and made our squishy, rain soaked way up the 272 narrow steps to the temple cave, only having to skirt around one monkey.Within the cave were various statues and shrines.Though the cave was really impressive, I was expecting a sacred feeling, with the massive natural caves adding to the spiritual effect. I was not expecting tacky tourist shops blaring music, flashing light trinkets, and scaffolding and bags left haphazardly around the caves. Bob and I caught our breath (from the stairs, not the sights), passed the ice cream man and his freezer of snacks, and headed back to the taxi.
That night we met Jim and went to a street filled with food hawkers. We ate at a plastic table set up by the curb, ordered some Tiger beers, and ate some yummy food while ignoring the man that tried to sell us the same basket and blinky green light three times. After a few beers Jim asked me what time it was. I looked at my phone and said, "It's two past midnight." "Happy Birthday," he replied. And holy crap I was 30.

We walked around the corner to a massage place (open till 2am incase you feel the need) and Jim treated Bob and me to a good but painful couple's massage. I had a rather large lady punching my back and as I lay there trying not to squirm and wondering when it was supposed to feel good I heard SSSsssnnnnooorrre! snooooore! I lifted my head, looked to my right and found Bob completely asleep and snoring away.

I started laughing into my pillow, the lady massaging me started laughing, then the one massaging Bob. My lady asked, "Oh, so sorry he snore all the time?"

"Yes," I replied, "All the time."

"Ohhh, tsk tsk."

Bob woke up at the end of the 45 minutes and said, "That felt good, but it was so short."

The next day I wrote at the Sky Bar while drinking mojitos and eating sushi, two guys tried to take my purse (they failed) when I walked back from the mall, and Bob, Jim, Brad, and I went to a nice Malaysian restaurant and had more mojitos. Jim was getting a cold so he left after dinner while the rest of us went out for more drinks. We were supposed to meet Jim at 7am to head to the rainforest. Due to accumulated drinks and age we didn't make it till noon. It was a fun birthday.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Truly Asia?

Slogans of "Malaysia, Truly Asia" pepper the angular, architecturally pleasing airport. Two passengers disembark from Singapore Airlines. The male worries about his meeting the following day. The female's elbows are sore from jabbing a sexist man that had sat beside her, thinking that because she was a woman she deserved no leg, arm, or breathing room. She smiles knowing that the ignorant man will have sore elbows too,and perhaps a sore rib or three.

The couple gather their bags packed with 6 days of clothes, step out of the airport, and, promptly, get bitch-slapped with a wall of humidity. But first, the backstory:

One week before my 30th birthday Bob came home with a hopeful/horror-stricken expression. He sat me down and said, "I have some bad news, but possibly good news."

He was told by work he had to visit Kuala Lumpur for a week. Unfortunately he had to go during my birthday. Not great timing. I called my boss. She was awesome and encouraged me to go, the pups could wait. Bob and I looked at tickets that night, but they were too expensive. Two days later, with a gargantuan stroke of good luck and a great deal, I got to tag along!

I had less than a week to learn about a country. But even more daunting, I had less than a week to try to get Bob and his brother Jim to be decisive. Putnam boys are not know for decisiveness. They're more of the "go with the flow" mentality. Which is normally great, but needing to make travel plans with companies without websites or telephone numbers takes a bit more forward thinking.

The week flew by and on Monday morning we left our home and cats, telling Darwin to be nice to Dingo, and Dingo to be nice to our house and not pee on anything.

A cab playing, "Eye of the Tiger" drove us haphazardly into the muggy, Kuala Lumpur night. A silver skyline glittered on the horizion, the elegant spires of the Petronas Towers welcoming us to the modern wealth of KL. We arrived at our beautiful hotel, then met Jim, who has been working in Malaysia for two months, and his boss for dinner. I was groggy from the 9 hour flight and dramamine, so I don't remember much of that.

Tuesday I went to breakfast with Bob. I was amazed by the varied dress of women. Depending on their religion (Islam is the official religion in Malaysia) women wore burkas, headscarfs, modest clothing, or fairly skimpy outfits. This wide scale of apparel was seen all about the streets of KL as women headed about the city. I chose to go with modest capri pants and three-quarter sleeves. Modest enough I was unlikely to offend anyone, cool enough I was a little less likely to pass out.

Bob headed to work so I took a cab to Thean Hou Temple, dedicated to the goddess, The Heavenly Mother. On either side of her rested Guan Yin, Goddess of Mercy, and Shui Wei Sheng Niang, Goddess of the Waterfront. I examined a painting on the outside of the temple and decided these are some handy goddesses to have around...particularly if you're being attacked by a tiger.

After admiring the temple, and the oddly tacky sculptures guarding the parking lot, I headed to Menara Kuala Lumpur. The tower rests within a small rainforest boarded by the bustle of downtown. I took in hazy views from 276 meters in the sky, then wandered by the "KL tower pony rides" to walk in a bit of rainforest. I strolled the paths for a short while, until the soggy trail, biting bugs, and oppressive heat reminded me I was unprepared for a hike in the mud. I went back to the tower, grabbed some water, and met Bob for lunch at the base of the Petronas Towers. There I had to withhold the temptation to sit on the escalator because, apparently, it was illegal. Bob had to work on the computer that afternoon, so I swam in the hotel pool and drank a martini, rough life, I know.

That night we met Jim at Central Markets where we perused aisles of souvenirs made in China. Jim expertly haggled with a cab driver that was trying to rip us off, then we shortly arrived at the dilapidated wonder that is the Coliseum Cafe & Hotel. A friend recommended the hotel to Jim as a great place for steaks. Built in the 1920's I don't think it had been repainted or cleaned since. I sat at our grim table, trying to not look like I was fearing for the life of my digestive track. We ordered 3 tiger beers, then our old waiter shuffled up. Turns out he'd been working there for over 40 years. He took one look at us, flipped past the 4 pages of mains, and stabbed his pen below the list of steaks. In rough English he asked, "Which one?" We promptly and politely ordered our pepper steaks, and another round of tigers.

Sizzling griddles were rolled out on a cart and our steaks, rare, medium rare, and well done (guess which one was mine) were plopped on our respective plates then doused in enough gravy to sink a boat. The boys dug right in. I took another swig of beer, looked at the cobwebs in the corner, then took a bite of the best steak I've ever had. So equally summing up my first two days in Malaysia: different than I expected, but hidden with pleasant surprises.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Dingo and his minions

Well, it's been a while . . . about six months. I took a novel writing course a while back and have been focusing on writing when I'm not walking pups. But still, a sorry excuse for my blog's abandonment. I'll try to be more regular in my posts incase anyone's been extremely faithful in checking. If so, kudos.

In an earlier post I mentioned our cat Dingo and how he got his name. Well in January poor, unsuspecting Dingo made the trip to Oz. He did great and is happily enjoying the warm weather and the ability to chase lizards on our deck. He had previously been staying with my awesome sister-in-law and had two feline friends at her place. Noticing (or at least thinking) he missed having some cat company, we fostered two feral kittens in April. They were staying in a foster carer's apartment where their mom had the stress of living with 17 other cats. Needless to say she wasn't the most attentive mother. We took two of her extremely thin kittens and with special diets and weekly vet checks got them to the appropriate weight.

Dingo hissed at them the first day, then became increasingly curious, often leaning over the divider to watch them play. We called the black kitten Pip, because of the white tip on his tail. And the gray kitten we named . . . Gray.We weren't sure which kitten to keep and which to adopt out, so the first week we had them Gray tried to help us decide. We have a loft house and the kittens finally found out how to go upstairs. Gray was so pleased with his accomplishment, he tried to jump on top of the banister. Unfortunately the banister is varnished and fifteen feet from the floor. So Gray fell . . . a long way. He couldn't put weight on his front paw so we rushed him to the emergency vet, because of course it was after hours. $250 later the vet concluded that he was bruised, but fine. So we decided we'd keep his brother Pip.The following week it was 11p.m. and I went to go to bed. A small blob of fur bumped down ten stairs, hit the lamp, the table, then hit the ground. It was Gray. Once again he was ok, but confirmed the suspicion that he was vertically challenged. So I decided, we should definitely keep Pip. Bob on the other hand, wanted to keep Gray. I did tell him the kitten would be his to pick and name. So Pip was adopted by a lovely family, and we kept Gray who is now named Darwin. I don't know how well he'd fair in the undomesticated world of natural selection, but so far he's surviving well in ours.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

An Exercise in Sunsets

On a trail surprisingly close to the steel bones of the Harbour Bridge, discarded leaves rustle at the hurried slithering of lizards from my path. My feet brush the dirt trail in fluid strides as I run through a forest of ethereal eucalyptus trees.

Etched in gold by tendrils of a taunting sun, the trees shimmer in the day’s final, amber light. Jealous of the rich hues the sun swirls into the sky, a flock of rainbow lorikeets take to the air, their protesting screeches urge my stride.

Cresting the last ridge, I leave the forest as the sun dives into the waiting horizon, taking with it the scent of warm earth. Unleashed from their day’s restraint, shadows creep while the wings of a dozen fire-touched rainbows fold for the night. As the long black wings of bats battle the air, the evening and her creatures lay claim to the sky.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Year of the Tiger

(even though that's a picture of a rooster)

6:30 P.M. The sun is shading the fig trees in dappled brilliance, St. Mary's Cathedral looms over the lushness of Hyde Park, and a dozen Chinese performers are trying to say, "Happy New Year" in sync. Suddenly, a red-ribboned dragon rises from the ground to dance tauntingly around the Archibald Fountain, while men dressed in black gis kick and punch the air. It's an hour before Sydney's Chinese New Year Twilight Parade begins and the performers are warming up, practicing, and (at least for children dressed as tigers) practicing their roars.
With jubilant performers, thousands of spectators lined the streets of downtown Sydney to watch the parade. Bob and I headed downtown a bit early to take in the atmosphere. I wanted to watch the parade, and Bob wanted to drink. So we made a compromise and watched the parade from the window of a pub. The parade started at a slow, sauntering pace, but then picked up in speed and color. Glowing denizens of previous years trolled down the street, such as this friendly dog, portly pig,and slithering snake . . . oddly followed by women rollerblading inside tables.My only question, well besides, "Why are there women rollerblading with tables on their hips?" Would be, "If one unfortunately falls, how does she get back up?" And to usher in the new new year of 2011, a sneak peak of an illuminated rabbit tagged the end.Men dressed in freakishly fetid bunny costumes closed the parade in haphazard hoppings. They threaded the streets on wild pogo sticks, leaving little doubt that preparations for next year's parade will begin as harried, crazy, and quick as a bunny.