22/08/2011: Day 43
Today was our final full day in Saigon, and with that our final full day in Vietnam. We aimed to make the most of it.
Given that James is starting a history PGCE in September and both me and Catherine had developed an interest of our own in the Vietnam war we decided to visit the Cu Chi tunnels. In fact, it would have been a worthwhile visit had we not even had any interest. The tunnels are an underground network used by the Vietcoms in order to protect themselves from americans and offer surprise attacks. The underground tunnels are so advanced that they stretch between towns and even reach rivers.
Once we were up we made our way downstairs with the view to buying some breakfast before our bus departed to the tunnels. To our surprise Pollyanna was already downstairs awaiting her arrival. We had suggested that she joined us the previous night but given the early start we didn’t know that she would actually come. Nonetheless it was good to have an extra body, and she turned out to be a major source of entertainment for the day.
We were then a foursome on our way to the tunnels. Despite being only a few kilometres away we were told that the journey would last two hours. We later found out that the reason for this was that we took a detour to a toilet that was twinned with an embroidery factory housing workers who were second generation victims of American napalm and agent orange. Despite their disabilities these people were very talented.
We later arrived at the tunnels and were first introduced to the passageways from above ground. Pollyanna got a bit too excited too early and started running and looking into an empty hut which had no relationship with the tunnels. She then joined the wrong tour group and had to be called over. We couldn’t help but smile when we looked at her and her large lenseless glasses. The entrance to the tunnels was so well concealed that we could imagine how the American soldiers were puzzled as to where the Vietnamese disappeared to in the forest. Not only this but there were also a series of ‘termite hills’ within the forest. We were told that these were artificial and that the holes led directly to the tunnels below so that a steady airflow could reach the soldiers hiding below. clever.
Our guide then showed us examples of traps set up by the Vietnamese. These were often shockingly brutal. For example, digging a six foot hole and placing sharp bamboo sticks at the bottom. There was ten a camouflaged swinging door placed on top so that when someone fell in they stayed in. There were lots of spikes and traps going on, things I was more familiar with seeing in video games like Sonic the Hedgehog. Apparently they were real. Since the Vietnamese were using limited or backdated weaponary many of the traps were created using recycled american weapons. Their resourcefulness was incredible.
After this we were encouraged to go to the shooting range and try out the gun of our choice. We chose the cheapest one as they were about 70p a bullet. Myself, James and Pollyanna shared a round. Catherine, quite nobelily, stood by her stance of non violence by being the photographer. As I was not wearing my glasses I have no idea if I hit the target. All I do know is that I didn’t kill anyone else. Pollyanna, being about 5ft 1 didn’t quite suit a rifle. The again, I probably didn’t either. We came away from the driving range with our ears ringing from the AK47. Its hard to imagine what months of conflict with them could do to your ears.
What followed was the highlight of the day; actually going into the tunnels. We were told that the average Vietcom fighter in the tunnels weighed around 40kg and was probably only a little taller than Pollyanna. This made life in the tunnel for myself, Catherine and especially James incredibly challenging. James in particular came out with bloody knees. We were able to transport ourselves through the narrow tunnels battling against claustrophobia by crawling on our hands and knees and crouching where possible. There is no way that the VietCom were comfortable in these tunnels and it came to show what they were willing to do to fight the Americans. Pollyanna managed to walk most of it as we struggled behind. As I came out one of the exits a bat managed to fly in. James spotted it and managed to get a picture of it flying. It seemed like the bat was much more suited to the tunnels and flew happily in there for a few minutes. When we were all out we were all soaked in sweat and dirt. It’s hard to imagine considering the tunnels a home. I was surprised the Americans were not able to discover them as they were definitely exposed if they were discovered. An amazing war story though.
We then returned to Saigon city in a much shorter time than our first trip, dropping Pollyanna off on the way. This gave us the opportunity to change our dirty clothes before spending the rest of our day in the city. We decided, as it was our last day in Vietnam, that we would go to the market for some souvenirs. I wanted a T-shirt, not only to remember Vietnam but also to own some clean clothes.
We walked around the market for about an hour and bought a few bits and bobs. Since we still have 2 weeks in Malaysia to go I was a little discouraged from buying too much to add to the weight in my bag. Naturally we were to stumble across something familiar in the market, yep, Emily. After a brief discussion we organised to go back briefly and meet up later for dinner. We returned to the hostel.
Since I still had no t-shirt and Catherine had not fulfilled her shopping cravings we continued exploring whilst James and Emily had a quick rest. When we did eventually return we had a short time to prepare ourselves for the evening ahead. We had arranged to meet Emily at 7pm but were running a little late. We heard a knock on our bedroom door and assumed it was Emily asking why we were late. Half apologetically we opened the door to an already beaming (and still wearing the large lens less glasses) Pollyanna. ‘Do you mind if I join you?’. We had a new member of the gang. And what a member. If anyone was to draw a Chinese girl it would be Pollyanna complete with her Angry Birds t-shirt. Her innocence makes her all the more fascinating. I hope she adapts to university life in England and I hope people welcome her in the same way we have. Although I fear she might have a more romantic view of England than reality.
Anyway, once we met with Emily we went down a backstreet for our last dinner in Vietnam. I chose to eat Vietnamese curry since I felt the need to have Vietnamese food on my last day. We all had a pleasant and rather cheap meal before going to a bar for a few drinks. Initially I was a little concerned about Pollynana (paternal instincts) as she was drinking her beer a little too quickly and I feared (having met a few Chinese girls like her) that she hadn’t really built up much of a tolerance to it before. I tried to raise the issue with her without patronising but she responded, with a sight slur, ‘I am good a drinking beer’.
Later in the night, and after a few beers, many of which were downed or drunk quickly, my fears appeared to be justified. The first sign was when Pollyanna asked her friend for a cigarette. From the way she smoked it was clear that she had not smoked before. although this was incredibly comical it was also a little concerning as she was already slurring her words and I couldn’t help but feel slightly responsible. Still she was still with us, just. We then joined a few Malaysians on the dance floor. Pollyanna decided to dance with us but ended up lying on her front on the dance floor. Had she fallen over? no. She had decided that the dance floor looked the most comfortable place for rest. Pollyannas bed time? A Malaysian man bought her a red ball to ‘get her dancing again’ but I didn’t think this was what she really needed so bought her some water and took her, with Catherine help, to her hotel. Pollyanna was still in good spirits and perhaps an even funnier drunk than she was sober. It was certainly an entertaining night.
We all retired to bed in Vietnam. For myself and James it was our final sleep. To sign off James gave a beggar boy the equivalent of about £7, a lot of money to him. We could only hope that he was the one who benefited from it.
23/08/2011: Day 44
Today was a bot of an odd day as we had to acclimatize to not only a new city, but to a new country.
Our flight from Saigon to Kuala Lumpur was due to leave at 10am, which meant we had to get to the airport for check in at around 8am. For only the second time since Hanoi we got in a Vietnamese taxi and had no trouble this tie since we paid up front. In fact, I slept the whole was so have no idea how far we travelled and how long it was.
Once we had checked in we made our way through customs and said our goodbyes to Vietnam. Looking back, Vietnam offered us an amazing amount of variety from countryside to mega cities, from con men to amazing acts of generosity and from sand dunes, paddie fields, rivers and mountains to underground tunnels. Vietnam had more or less everything.
That said, we were now to embark on our new adventure.
Because we had booked our flights at different times we were not sitting together. The allowed us to sleep most of the flight, which I took full advantage of despite the lure of the Dalai Lamas autobiography :P. The flight went quickly as expected, and as preparations were put into place for landing the man beside me decided to start a conversations. He was an interesting man and told me about his job; an events manager. He was flying to New Delhi, via KL, to organise an Asian gold tournament where the winner meets the winners of other continental tournaments in Germany. He also told me his plans for a Gran Torismo race in Vietnam. He was either talking rubbish or a very successful man. I believe the latter. When I told him about my role in China he offered to interview me, stating that he could provide me with a classroom and all the necessary marketing to make a successful career in Vietnam. What a tempting offer!? He gave me his details and told me to stay in touch. Maybe I should.
Once we landed we were in Malaysia! Malaysia! We were in Kuala Lumpur, the capital. despite being less than a couple of hours by air from Vietnam the people were immediately different. Not only were they all able to speak english but the multi cultural atmosphere in the city was overwhelming. There were western people, Indians, Chinese and other ethnicities from all over the world. Kuala Lumpur is clearly a very multi cultural city.
Our first task, despite our heavy bags and tired eyes, was to find our hostel. James had found one with good reviews online and we decided to head towards that one. On the map it appeared to be well out of town but in reality KL (as it is colloquially known) is a very small city. We arrived at our station, Chow Kit and had little indication about where to go after that. Instead we decided to walk around for a while and ask for help. Different people were giving us different directions. Eventually, after walking through a local market we appeared on the correct street and found our hostel. From the outside it doesn’t look like much but inside it is great (although mum would not agree). What we found most appealing about it is its traditional Malay culture, run by Malaysians. We were required to remove our shoes before entering and were told of specific customs within the hostel. We were sharing with a Pakistani man who was now asleep for the afternoon to take his mind off his Ramadan fasting. We were lucky enough to be in Malaysia as Ramadan was approaching its climax.
It was now late afternoon and we hadn’t really done much with our day (if changing country doesn’t count as ‘much’). In our hostel we met with a girl called Marina who had visited Kuala Lumpur 25 times and told us that she thought it was the best city she had been to. She invited us to join her at a restaurant in Little India for some curry. naturally we jumped at the chance.
Marina had no trouble in finding her intended restaurant. Both myself and James had naively assumed she would be vegetarian (stereotyping her) and both crossed our fingers that she would take us to a restaurant containing the meat we desired. We needn’t have worried since she was very much a meat eater. We sat at the table and looked at the menu. Having been used to Vietnamese small portions we both ordered two dishes, some rice and some naan for our dinner, as did Marina. We then washed our hands as we intended to eat as the locals do, with our hands (not that we wouldn’t wash our hands before eating anyway :p). When the dinner did arrive it was clear that the portions were not from Vietnam. They were huge! We had a banquet on our table and we were all salivating far to vigorously at the prospect. We had a variety of different curries which we all experimented with. Each one was as delicious as the other and we just wanted to eat all night. I cannot describe how nice a real Indian curry is. I guess being in Little India, Malaysia is the next best thing to actually being in India. If the food is anything to go by India has moved to the top of my ‘places to go’ list. Eventually though the food did beat us. For the first time since we left China we were full and it felt amazing. Perhaps now is the time we put on the weight we have lost in Vietnam? We shall see.
Following our massive and incredibly flavoursome meal we retired back to the hostel via the efficient monorail. As after all great meals, tiredness soon sets in and we were in bed in no time. If the food was anything to go by we are destined to love Malaysia.
24/08/2011: Day 45
So this was our first full day in the Malaysian capital. And we aimed to make the most of it. We have calculated that we could use this day to get a grasp of the city before extending our journey to further places in Malaysia before completing our KL adventure to end our trip. But there does seem to be so much to offer us here.
Our first task for the day was to locate China town and have a walk around there. We had a recommended walk that would enable us to see the majority of sights in China town within a couple of hours. However, once we arrived at the correct monorail station we immediately diverted towards a cricket stadium and then down the famous china town shopping market (which was where we intended to end our walk, it drew us in). We explored many areas around China town including and ended up eating at a nearby restaurant. ummm chinese food again! Although the noodles we both chose were not quite up to ‘Chinese’ standards. We let them off.
Thankfully we managed to see the worlds tallest flag pole just outside of China town. Aren’t we privileged?
Not before long we found ourselves in Little India once more. It was at this point that we realised that Kuala Lumpur city is smaller than we even thought possible. We had been walking for about 2 hours and already walked through China and into India. The shift in items being sold between China town and Little India gave us another indication of the diversity in culture, religion and life in Malaysia. It is a very interesting place.
Given that KL is synonymous with the Petrona Twin Towers that dominate its skyline it would have been neglectful to not visit them whilst here. So, having them in our sights we made it our goal to reach them on foot. I decided that they probably looked closer than they were so guessed that it would take us 45 minutes to reach them. James, on the other hand said it would take no more than 30 minutes. I laughed at his naivety.
15 minutes later we arrived at the base of the Petrona Towers. I blamed my eyesight. The towers are actually spectacular in both size and aesthetics. They are really impressive. We got the impression that we had approached the towers from the wrong side as their was heavy traffic and only a few people dotted around. We decided to try to get to the other side. And to my surprise the towers were actually open to the public to walk straight through. I don’t know why but I had wrongly assumed that it would be a private building. Instead one of the towers is a large shopping mall featuring designer and high street shops. However, we managed to reach the other side where there was a nice park for us to rest our weary limbs in the luke warm sun. Romantic? This also gave us a nice photo opportunity.
Following this we decided to try to make it to our hostel on foot. Thus completing a walk from south to north of Kuala Lumpur in less than a day. This was a little more challenging than the map suggested as we had to walk east to find a bridge to cross the canal/river/motorway thing before getting close to our hostel. This took us a little out of the way but meant we were able to see a few areas of Kuala Lumpur not yet exposed to the tourist trade. Within an hour we were back at our hostel, tired but happy with our days work.
With the curry from last night burnt off we decided to look for some local food around Chow Kit. We explored the area and eventually decided upon a restaurant because others were in it.Never eat in an empty restaurant! However, they left as we walked in, leaving us alone. We went ahead and ate anyway, deciding one fewer dishes but sticking with the curry. This meant I had 4 curries on 4 consecutive evenings. My bowels were not happy.
I then took an early night in order to ensure I could watch the Arsenal game at 3am and still maintain a good mood the next day.
25/08/2011: Day 46
When researching where to visit in Malaysia there was one place that stood out to me; The Jungle (Tamen Negara). The next three days were my chance to find out if my expectations were justified. I was already in a good mood because Arsenal had got themselves into the Champions league proper during the night.
Despite their being several tour operators offering trips to Tamen Negara we decided to make our own way there via public transport. Not only is this a less expensive method of transport, but it is also more fulfilling.
We made our way to the bus depot at Titiwangsa station and boarded a bus to Jeruntut, about 3 hours from KL. This bus was incredibly comfortable, as had the bus from the airport been, and even gave James ample leg room. The buses in Malaysia were already seeming to be a complete contrast to the cramped and smelly buses of Vietnam.
Once we arrived in Jeruntut we were greeted by two men who were offering us a boat journey to the jungle settlement that we intended to stay at. However, on closer inspection there was a grubby old public bus that was offering the same location for about £1.50, whereas the boat would cost us £6 each. We may have missed out on a great boating experience but we had saved ourselves half a days budget. No regrets.
Since the bus didn’t leave for another 20 minutes James took the opportunity to find an atm to withdraw some more money. However, he was not able to find anywhere that accepted his card. I had about £20 on me so I told him I could cover him. It wasn’t until later that we realised we would struggle.
Following an additional 2 hour bus we finally arrived at a village named Kuala Tahan. The sun was out in force and we decided to quickly find some accommodation before stress levels could grow in the heat and with a heavy bag. The guesthouse I had researched online had philosophical quotes dotted around the place and a very quirky looking building. It looked like fun but was out of our price range. Instead we ended up at the Rippi; a hostel featuring nothing more than a bed, a mosquito net and a fan…what more do we need. And what is more, we were on budget.
Once we were settled we were able to work out how we could use our money. Given that we had paid £2 each for the beds we now had £16 to last until we left, including money to get ourselves out. We realised that by obtaining our jungle permit, buying food and water and additional items for our trek meant we were pushing it fine. I love all that.
Nonetheless, we explored the village hopelessly in search of an ATM. There wasn’t any. Thankfully there was a tour operator there that was able to use James card to book the next leg of our journey, to Penang. But this wasn’t much use to us at this moment in time.
There was nothing we could do about our lack of funds so we decided to buy everything we needed for the trekking we would be doing over the next two days. We will be staying in the jungle so it was most important that we had enough water and food to keep us going. Against the park advice we also decided not to hire a guide, as we don’t have the funds. This was all getting very exciting…although I am not sure if I still have travel health insurance?
Around 5pm, the sun began to disappear and the rain came plummeting onto out roof. It was this that made us realise that we were truly in the rainforest. I couldn’t really hide my excitement about the two days ahead. I think a combination of the heat, the rain and the constant movement sent us both to sleep for about 2 hours in the early evening. Thankfully the french girls in our hostel did the same and were in no position to judge us. When we did eventually wake up we decided to have our ‘last supper’ before entering the jungle in the morning. We both had a budget of £2 each. Which we stuck to with ease but without a full stomach.
It was then time for our last sleep before the trekking adventure in the worlds oldest rainforest.
26/08/2011: Day 47
Day one in the jungle: Wow!
We got up early to set our bags full of water and yeast based foods before we were ready to set off. Since neither of us had sleeping bags or mats we were forced to enquire at the hostel about hiring them. As they were charging £1 for the rent of each item we decided against sleeping bags and James acquired only one sleeping mat. I decided against neither, considering myself hardcore when actually I would end up wishing I had got a mat.
We began our trek in high spirits and at a steady pace. To our surprise we didn’t see and human life for a long time. Instead we were soon alone with nature. All we had to do was make sure that we could still hear the sounds of the river on our right side to know we were going in the right direction.
In fact, our desired destination was a bumban (a hide) between 12 and 14 kilometres north of our original settlement (maps varied). This would end up being our home for the night before we planned to take another route back in the morning. However, the walk was not short of events;
Firstly, the path, although adventurous and exotic, was not over walked and therefore had millions of working ants tirelessly crossing it, several spiders scattering around the place and the sounds of birds and monkeys not to distant from us. There were also several trees that blocked our path on numerous occasions probably because of the recent rainfalls. Each of these were crawling with their own ecosystem. The rainforest was magical, at least I thought it was anyway.
The humidity in the jungle was very high and it wasn’t long before we were both covered in sweat, head to toe. This meant walking was thirsty work. However, we both had only 3 litres of water between us to last the 2 days. It was already clear that thirst was going to become an issue. Water was already being rationed though, so we were prepared for this.
One thing we were not prepared for, despite the warnings, were the number of leeches that would attach themselves to us. One of the french girls in out hostel had told us that she had 8 attached to her on her last trek. Both myself and James laughed this off as carelessness. However, within 2 hours or trekking I felt a sting in my foot. Leeches are meant to be painless. we took a rest and I took off my shoe. Inside was a leech who had got his head through my sock and was sucking my blood. I think that because he had become too big too quickly we was unable to get the rest of his body through my sock and therefore had a big blood bulge in the middle. As I removed the sock I took the leech with it. Leeches should not be pulled off as they make the wound worse as they try to cling on and increase the risk of infection. What was also special about this leach was tat he had attached himself to the vein in my foot. This meant the blood kept streaming out all day. Aside from that pest, I had two more on the same foot. I didn’t feel these but we were able to remove them with salt. I didn’t dare take my other boot off. Instead, resigned to the fact that both of our feet were going to be covered in blood we continued on our journey, still yet to meet another person.
The trek became more difficult and even dangerous as we had to walk along narrow ridges and use branches to support ourselves as we went down steep hills. We even had to cross several streams. I must admit that I was in my element. I think James was also enjoying the novelty to begin with, although that later changed as we got deeper into the jungle.
As the walk was getting more and more dangerous the humidity was also effecting us more and more. Despite both of us maintaining our footing, despite several near slips James was about to be reminded of the dangerous of the forest. We were walking along a narrow ridge when I heard James slip and hit the deck. He let out a loud and painful scream that must have scared all the monkeys that may have been watching us. Slightly concerned about this out of character reaction I got closer to him to see if he was ok. As it turned out he had slipped and gashed his leg on a very sharp rock that happened to be there.The rck was so sharp that I was surprised he didn’t break his leg. James didn’t feel so fortunate at the time though. He lifted his shorts to reveal the damage and presented a massive gash down the side e of his left leg. It looked incredibly painful, and from James’ reaction I am sure it was. We both used our limited first aim skills to wipe away the blood,sterilise the wound (and the big cut on his elbow) before strapping him back up again. To be fair he took it like a man. Despite his injury there was nothing more we could do about it as we were about half way through our trek and thus an equal distance between base and the hide. He had to soldier on. He is a soldier. This, quite understandably, slowed the pace of our trekking down and we made a much slower progress as he limped away.
In fact, this was probably where the novelty of the jungle wore off for James as he began to curse the jungle. I always thing cursing the jungle is a bit risky as you never know if mother Nature is listening. If she can punish you anywhere it’s probably in a rainforest full of wild animals and unpredictable weather. The map indicated that we were quite close to a lodge, which we reassured ourselves would be an ideal resting spot to get James’ leg seen too. The map was wrong and it was hours before we saw anything that resembled a lodge.
Instead we were to meet with something completely new to both of us; a large wild mammal. I spotted something move just in front of me and stopped walking for a moment. I then saw what I thought (but probably hoped) was a big cat. I told James, whilst trying not to wet myself, that there was a big cat just ahead of us. The fact that there are wild tigers in the forest didn’t help my anxiety. Both of us, like little girls armed ourselves with penknives and large sticks as we approached what was moving in the undergrowth. If I had learned anything from Attenborough I would have known that tigers don’t make themselves so obvious to their prey. As we approached we noticed it wasn’t a cat at all but a big warthog/ pig/ anteater or baby elephant. Again, it was just my imagination that hoped it was an elephant. We later found out it was a probably warthog. We cautiously approached it was it had its snout in the mud and passed it without bothering it (except for a quick photo). We then continued our journey happy that we had seen a wild mammal in the forest. However, we turned around to see the big beast following us at quite a quick pace. We both, now wide eyed, quickened our walk as we approached the river. I assume that adrenaline must have kicked in for James as I think for a moment he forgot about his injury. We managed to cross a river and laughed about being followed by a big pig thing. Then, out of nowhere we again poked his head around the corner. The only way to describe it would be like in a horror film when the heroes think they have ran away from a monster only for the monster to say ‘boo’…I’m sure that must be a movie. We were amazed that it was still behind us and ran across another river. Crazy pig thing. About another 5 minutes of walking at a fast pace we disarmed ourselves and concluded that we had lost him. It was turning out to be a true adventure.
After crossing river after river and climbing hill after hill we became even more thirsty. But we had to ration ourselves and knew we weren’t in that desperate of a situation. A combination of our slow pace and regular stops meant we were in danger of either getting caught by the rain or the sudden shift from day to night in the early evening.
At one particular stop James took off his boots and socks to remove some of his leeches, bloody got everywhere. During this stop we met our first human, Jonas. He had been doing the same trek but had started after us. He explained that he too intended to stay in the hide we were heading for. We now had another companion for the rest of our trek. It so happened that we were quite close to the ominous lodge when we met Jonas. He also expressed the desire for water so we took a short detour to the ‘lodge’. When we did arrive it looked like a bit like Centre Parcs, except no-one lived there, it was derelict and there was no pool with a wave machine. We had no luck finding water in a ghost town in the middle of the rainforest.
Despite that we completed the final 2km towards the hide with little else to report. When we did arrive it was just as I imagine and I think James feared. It was simple a hut on stilts featuring nothing but wooden sheets for beds and a large hole in the wall for our observing. We were living in the Jungle! Tarzan and Jane. Our first task was to remove our leeches and sweat filled clothes and tuck into the bread rolls we had carried all day. We had made it! What made it even sweeter was that the rain began to pour almost immediately after we arrived. We were somewhat comforted by not being wet despite the uncomfortable squalor we now found ourselves in.
About half an hour after our arrival we were joined by an excentric dutch couple who had got a boat to down the river and walked the 2km from the river to the hide. They would trek back with us tomorrow though. That completed our gang, 5 of us.
Together we sat watching the salt lick until our eyes could not stay open any longer. We may have been a bit too loud or just unlucky but we were unable to see any wildlife come to the lake. This did not stop my enjoyment of the sounds of the jungle though. I was amazed. I was a little disappointed when James told me he felt it may have been one of the worst days of the trip for him, as I thought it was one of the best. But then I was not the wounded one. Despite his complaint I feel that he will look back and realise that he quite enjoyed the experience overall. Perhaps my enthusiasm for it was a bit too much though. As the night came quickly in the fireflies came out and the sounds changed from birds singing to frogs and other nocturnal animals flirting with each other.
It was quite disappointing that our bodies, minds and eyes could not stay up all night. But soon it became pitch black and the sights were limited. We were able to enjoy the sounds of the jungle from our most uncomfortable beds. Perfect.
27/08/2011: Day 48
So if I thought the previous day gave me everything I needed, today offered just that little bit extra.
Despite getting very little sleep on my wooden plank, and wondering why I hadn’t hired a mat, I woke up with a smile on my face. The reason: James was already up and watching out of the observation hole. I knew he was enjoying himself really!
Myself, James, Jonas, Luke and Nina all set off together when we felt ready. We felt a little responsible for leaving early as we were the ones who intended to get back in time for the last public bus at 6pm. Since we left around 8am there didn’t seem to be any danger of that.
It was certainly nicer to walk as a team and the conversation was just as good. Luke is a very interesting character and his views, twinned with a dutch accent, made him a source of delight. Jonas, in typical German fashion, was a very efficient trekker. He led from the front.
Early into our trek along this new route we came across our first obstacle’ a fast flowing river. Initially I wanted to find a way of crossing it without getting my feet wet (fully aware that wet socks attract leeches. However, when there was obviously no way of doing so we each made our way across individually using rope as support against the strong current. Perhaps this was why we were advised to have a guide with us. Still, we all crossed uninjured and were happy despite the wet feet.
The way back seemed a lot easier than the first day, partly because there were more of us and partly because there weren’t as many steep inclines and declines. This was until we made an error: somehow getting lost in the rainforest. After a short rest after crossing a small stream we began to walk up what we believed to be the correct path. After about 5 minutes it soon became clear that we were actually making our own path and were getting deeper and deeper into the jungle. Unlike yesterday, we did not have the river for guidance. Cutting our loses we decided to head back where we came from. Yet, because there was no distinct path we didn’t know where to go. There was quite a bit of head scratching. I decided that it would be easier if the others waited in one spot whilst I dropped my bag and looked for the correct direction. I was quite grateful to have the weight off of my back for 5 minutes whilst I tried to locate the right path without getting myself lost. Thankfully I arrived at the point where we last stopped and realised that our actual path had been cut off by a large fallen tree. As I looked over the tree to make sure I put my hand on it. My hand happened to land on a line of termites who reacted by gripping themselves to me. In a panic I shock them off but one managed to penetrate my skin. Horrible things.
Thankfully I found my way back to the group and we were able to continue our journey, this time making sure we were taking the right course. It was not long before we saw a group of trekkers walking the opposite way who informed us we were about 2 hours away from our destination. With this spirits rose once again. we were close to some bottled water (We had taken to drinking purified river water). When we could hear signs of human activity we came to a derelict bridge. We made an effort to take advantage of the bridge, which was actually incredibly dangerous as it was just three pillars of concrete and a 30ft drop below. We balanced ourselves as we climbed across, naturally stopping for photographs.
eventually, and 7 hours after we had left our hide, we arrived back at Kuala Tahan and what a sense of achievement. We were all glad to be back and ready for a shower. We were covered in blood and mud and actually looked like we had been in a rainforest…wait…we had. We had to wait a couple of minutes for a boat to take us across the main river and back to our hostel. As we waited another boat turned up full of clean and good-looking people. We were all quite proud of ourselves when people started staring and glaring at our blood stained ankles and clothes. I am pretty sure they thought we were ferrel. I was quite proud of all the blood down my leg and ankle. I felt like Rambo or some other hero.
Once we were back we had the issue of getting our bags back. The hostel manager had locked the storage door with a padlock and then lost the key. He told me he was too lazy to look for it so gave me the keys to his jeep so I could have a look. I took them but all I really wanted was a rest. The keys were nowhere to be found so he got into the room with a pair of wire cutters. We were reunited with our bags, albeit with a new ants nest to go with them.
we were then able to have the best shower yet, and once again were as clean as human beings. We had made it back well in time for our 6pm bus and had just enough funds to get it. Perfect.
Once on the bus I realised that I had left my walking boots out to dry beside the shower. I was really disappointed as I had become quite attached to the boots that Emily (Chinese Emily) had made me by all those weeks ago. Still, they’re only boots and my bag was a little lighter.
Upon arrival in Jeruntut we quickly made our way to a cheap hostel. When we walked in we were greeted as though they had never had any guests before, and that may have been true. Initially, whilst James went to find an ATM, I was stuck with an old man whilst he chain smoked and nodded at me. Then, after about 10 minutes, myself and James met a man who showed us to our room. Since James was wearing a football shirt he asked if we liked football, of course we do. Immediately the man got excited and invited us to his teams futsal tournament. What? Despite being knackered from all of our walking we couldn’t pass up the opportunity of playing football for a local Malaysian team. The dream surely?
The tournament didn’t start until 10pm so we had about and hour to eat and get ourselves sorted. Once we did we got in a car with the rest of the team, who were quite excited. We were told that we would be the first White people to ever participate in the tournament, and people would stare at us. Naturally, we were quite excited about this. We were then told that the tournament could last until 5am, this we were not so excited about.
When we arrived at ‘the cage’ people were already intrigued about us. We put on our Tuisyen Saujanajaya (the team name) shirts and proudly wore them as we warmed up in the cage. When we talked to the rest of the team it became clear that our team mates were not the town based Malaysians we thought, instead they were all from Tamen Negara…the Jungle. They were all from civilisations within the jungle, some were boat men, some worked for the tour companies and others were just village inhabitants. We were in a football team with the natives…it just got better.
When the football did actually start we both had small cameo roles, and to be honest we didn’t set the world alight. However, the crowd were definitely enthusiastic about our presence. James managed to pull off some skill in the middle of the pitch which brought about the biggest cheer of the night from the crowd. Other than that, given we were guests and the matches only lasted 10 minutes at a time, we were given limited playing time. However, the experience of playing for them at all was enough. After our second game we decided to head back to the hostel given that it was another hour until our final group match and we were already dropping off. When we arrived back I realised I left my sandals at the pitch. I had loved the £2 sandals since the day I bought them (except they looked like Jesus wore them before I did), and now they were gone, not because they were uncomfortable or broken, but because I was careless. I had then lost two pairs of shoes in a day…my bag was getting lighter and lighter.
With that very memorable day concluded we slept in a bed once again ready for our alarm call and the next leg of our journey.
28/08/2011: Day 49
Well the intensity of the previous few days couldn’t last forever, and we were probably quite thankful for a day of travel on our way to Penang. It was a chance for our legs to rest (and James’ to start healing).
We left early from Jeruntut by bus to the Cameron Highlands. This left a little later than scheduled which gave us the chance to eat some breakfast in a cafe and get some water. Water should never be taken for granted :P.
Coincidently we found ourselves on the same bus as Luke and Nina (the Dutch couple from the Jungle), that was until we were asked to change buses again. It didn’t seem long before we arrived in the Cameron Highlands. If I am honest it looked like a great place to stay with the opportunity for some more trekking and some great sights. However, we probably needed a rest from the trekking, and I now had no boots. We decided, with little more than a week remaining, to proceed to the island of Penang soon after.
So after only about 90 minutes in the Cameron highlands, where we were able to eat and have a walk around, we boarded a bus in the rain bound for Georgetown, Penang. To our fortune this bus only contained us and another Malaysian man (who decided to sing in a high-pitched voice at random intervals). This meant we had a row of seats to ourselves to lie down.
The journey was to take only about 4 hours but after about two hours in the continuous rain we pulled into a car park and both the driver and our fellow passenger shot out of the car. It soon became clear that it was around 7:30pm and the fasting of Ramadan had just finished for that day. This meant the driver was probably dying for food, hence his haste to get some. We followed them and decided to eat as well. It was great to see so many people eating together at the same time, everyone (other than us) fasting since 5:30am. i was glad to experience Ramadan first hand and see how the people eat when the fasting is over. At our table was a Malaysian girl who was not fasting but happened to be eating at this time anyway (she said she often fasts for fun with her friends though). It would be interesting if I could challenge myself to fast like this, if only for one day, but I fear my experience of food in Asia will never allow me to stop eating.
Eventually we arrived in Penang and the driver was kind enough to drop us off at a hostel he recommended (although he probably got some commission). Initially I didn’t want to stay there as it was £5 a night but James convinced me to stay, and I was glad I did. Firstly, the bedrooms were amazing, similar to the capsules I have seen and heard about but looked a lot more comfortable. It turned out the hostel was only 3 days old, and it seemed like it. Everything was very new. something that was new to us as well was the showers, they were hot! For the first time since….I don’t know….I actually don’t know, we had showers that were more than luke warm. I didn’t want to leave the shower but had to because the ‘big game’ was about to start and the hostel was playing it. Arsenal were playing Man Utd, or at least were meant to.
In the end I had to sit through a massacre. Initially everything was going well as I sat next to a Korean Man utd fan. Then James joined us and Man Utd scored. James returned downstairs. When he came back Arsenal immediately missed a penalty. If I needed someone to blame it was going to be James. But even he couldn’t be to blame for the 8-2 defeat (which wasn’t helped by the South African who decided to offer his own commentary throughout the second half. I went to bed in a huff a little later :P. Still even losing 8-2 to Man Utd couldn’t spoil a week to be remembered. Malaysia seems to be another great choice.