Wild Storms to Wildlife....it's all good

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November 17th 2006
Published: August 1st 2008
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Ok, ok, ok, I have from enough of you to know I am way overdue to get
out another blast. J I have been keeping myself so busy and full of
activities, it has been a bit difficult to get to the internet cafés
to send out a blast. I finally wrote one on a bus journey the other
day and am now sending it on to all y'all. Hope you are enjoying the
journey thus far - you can all rest assured, I surely am!!

I last left y'all when I was on Koh Phi Phi. I didn't stay on the
island as long as I had originally intended, but enjoyed my time
there, nonetheless. I left with the intention of island-hopping my way
to Malaysia, but the reality of it all was that I wasn't actually able
to get very far, You see, first off, anything is possible, but at a
price. When you are traveling alone, things are pricier than if you
share with a traveling partner or partners. At this stage of the game,
I wasn't with anyone, so I had to see how far I could go, always
keeping the bottom line in mind.

I bid the beautiful island of Phi Phi adieu and took off with one of
my local friends to Koh Lanta (Koh means island in Thai, by the way,
for those that didn't know), a couple hour ferry ride away. We spent a
few glorious days there, with many an orange sunset right over the
water. I even went caving one day, having to traverse some seriously
steep ladders, skinny wooden bridges and slippery cave floors. We saw
bats, spiders (yup, some about half the size of my hand), and even a
gecko! Our guide was good, and was included in the National Marine
Park admission, all of $6.00.

I left Lanta and took a ferry to Koh Muk (oh, boy was THAT ever an
experience just getting there!) and stayed two nights there. The first
night I stayed in a fancy place right on a little private white sand
beach, the second in a tiny thatched roof bungalow (complete with
mosquito netting and thin mattress on the floor) run by a local family
a hundred feet or so behind the resort property, at a considerably
lower price. Next door to that place was a small place where one can
stay in rented tents, each with its own thatched roof to keep out the
rain. Each tent was equipped with an electrical strip, a little
mattress and a mirror. They were totally adorable, but weren't yet
open for the season. Maybe they'll be open by the end of November when
more tourists arrive, I was told. The entire tiny, very Thai, island
only has about five different places to stay.

In order for me to travel south to any more islands, I would have had
to hire a longtail boat and driver at a considerable cost, which was
well over my budget, so I nixed the idea and went overland to Satun,
the not-so-exciting jumping off town for the island of Langkowi in
Malaysia. I met a Swedish couple on the same path as I. So we traveled
together for five days or so (they have subsequently been added to
this growing blast list -Hey guys!! -- so I'll be nice when referring
to this crazy, goofy couple…hee hee). I wanted to go to Koh Tarutao
and a few of the out-islands, but it was "closed until mid-November."
Figures. Someday I will get there, someday, hopefully soon.

The three of us headed to Langkowi by ferry after spending one final
night in Thailand. I was on this gorgeous island a few years ago and
was glad to be going back. It's quite a bit larger than the other
islands I had just been to, with cars or motorbikes needed to really
see the island. We rented motorbikes for three days for under six
bucks a day and discovered little hidden gems we would never had been
able to find had we just been on foot. We found beach hideaways with
endless white sand, little local eateries, a local market that sold
everything from Malay noodles and rice dishes, satays and samosas, to
hamburgers and French fries. They also sold cheap t-shirts, jewelry,
DVDs and VCDs (the pirated versions of course!), shoes and cheap
plastic toys for the kids. The food at these markets is always some of
the most interesting and enjoyable and at the best prices, too! I
found out from my taxi driver to the ferry port on my last day on the
island, this is a "mobile" market where every night the same vendors
gather in a different location on the island. We saw
intimidating-looking monkeys sitting (and playing) on the railings on
the side of the road, watching the passing motorists; I even saw some
"flying monkeys," that dropped (jumped?) from a high point of a tree
to the foliage maybe 50-70 feet below. They just….dropped. It was such
a comical thing to witness; I really wish I had gotten that on video.

One day we took the motorbikes up to Gunung Raya (Gunung means
Mountain in Malay), and at 2700 feet above sea level, it is one of the
highest points on the island. It was a bit of a trek to get up there,
and unfortunately we were greeted at the top by heavy clouds (and rain
to follow shortly) obstructing any view we might find ourselves with,
and, oh yeah, a big closed sign. It was Sunday, a day off for the
viewpoint peeps, I guess. Oh well, the ride up as well as down was
pretty spectacular, the "closed sign" didn't bother us in the least.

It rained late every afternoon we were on the island, often
accompanied with rumbling in the sky. The second night we were there,
I saw the most spectacular and dramatic thunder and lightening storm I
have ever witnessed in my entire life. I sat on the porch of a vacant
bungalow, facing the beach and the water, for well over an hour. The
rain came down so fast and so furious, at times I thought I was going
to be swept away! The lightening bolts came down vertically as well as
horizontally, splitting at the ends (for MAC users only - hee hee - it
looked a bit like a firewire symbol, only twice as many "legs"
splitting off the end of the bolts). The flashes of light were so
bright I thought my retinas were going to burn up. Sometimes the
flashes lasted 2-3 seconds, illuminating the aquamarine waters and the
surrounding islands off the coast of Langkowi (which, technically, are
still considered part of the archipelago that comprises the 99-island
chain of Langkowi). It was a dramatic show - and a free one! -- and
something I won't soon forget!

After a fun-filled and full four days on the island, I caught a ferry
to the mainland, a night bus to Kota Bahru on the east coast of
Peninsular Malaysia, and walked in the wee hours of the morning to a
backpacker's guesthouse. I had been to this city before in a past
year, so thankfully knew how to get to the GH, which only took me so
far, as no one was at reception desk - in fact, the room was locked.
There was a staircase, however, leading me up three flights of stairs
to a rooftop, where I plunked down my bags and then my body. I slept
on the hard concrete until the sun beat down on my face, waking me
from a deep slumber. No matter, I saved on paying for a room! J

I took the early evening "Jungle Train" to Jerantut, my stopping off
point before heading to Taman Negara, the huge National Park in this
amazing country. Because of "technical difficulties," the train didn't
arrive into my station until after 2 in the morning, at which time it
was then too late to find the correct path to town (After being
dropped off, I felt I was a little out in the middle of nowhere - I
think I was - but in the morning, I discovered it to be a cute,
bustling place). I just spread out my sleepy bod on a bench, put my
bag under my head as a pillow (and for safety of course) and slept on
a long wooden bench at the outdoor station (sorry, Christina, it
wasn't cold enough to wear your lovely homemade scarf!).

Sometime early in the morning, I walked to town, bought a bus ticket
and made friends with the bus driver, who bought me breakfast and
local tea. He transported me as well as 6 local guys to Kuala Tehan, a
little village on the outskirts of the park (actually, he dropped a
few of them off along the way, which is typical for a "local bus"
journey), where I found a $3.00 a night dorm room with 4 bunkbeds. I
stayed three nights and not once did I have to share my room! J In
fact, other than some school kids, it didn't feel like there were that
many people there! Aaahhhhh, bliss!

My three full days in the dense rainforest took me on beautiful,
rugged and sometimes steep hikes through the jungles, and save for the
amazing sounds from some of the hundreds of bird species found there,
it was as if I was all alone out there. What an amazing get-away. I
teetered and tottered on the longest canopy walk in the world, high
above the ground and way up in the trees. What an amazing view of the
rainforest one has from way up there.

I went on an $8.00 "Small Animal" Night Safari (that was a splurge!)
where we saw bats, night birds in the trees, owls, snakes (one was
highly poisonous) curled up on the leaves of bushes on the side of the
dirt track, a couple "small" wild cats and tons of fireflys. We drove
for nearly two hours in an oil palm orchard and saw tons of the red
fruit from the trees, waiting to be picked up and sorted at the
processing plant in the nearby town of Jerantut. I was able to sit on
the roof of the Safari Jeep with the guide and even got to hold the
spotlight at times searching for the animals. Ahhh, sometimes there
are advantages of being a solo traveler….

Unfortunately, not all ended well for everyone. On one of the days I
was in the park, while swimming with some classmates, two teenage
school kids drowned in the river. This news, of course, made the KL
(sorry, that's short for Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia)
newspaper. I was told maybe once a year or every two years there is a
death in the park, but rarely two in one year, let alone on the same
day! So sad, so tragic.

I left this park behind, vowing to come back someday soon (it is so
remote and so dense, there are only four access points to enter this
huge national park. The one I entered is the most popular; now I would
like to try it from a different part of Malaysia), and headed to KL on
a series of buses.

I managed to find a cheap enough single room in KL (with a view of the
KL Tower, even!) where I spread out for a day and a half, regrouped,
then headed to the colorful, Dutch-colonized city of Melaka, southwest
of the capital, along the Straits of Melaka. Somewhere due west of
town, not far from the mainland, is Indonesia. Ahhhh, another dream….
It's only a couple hours away by ferry, which I believe costs about
$22.00. I think I'll be back.

The next installment I will touch on spending time in Melaka with a
friend I met traveling last year. Talk about 4 days of culinary
heaven. Ahhhhh.......

Hope all is well and everyone is gearing up for the holidays….ho ho ho…


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