We have to get back to KL for Cyrus’ job interview. After breakfast we trudge up the hill to wait for the local bus, though the location of the bus stop is guesswork. We stand by the clinic for no more than a couple of minutes when the driver of an NKS minibus waves to us, then comes over and offers us a ride to Jerantut (same price as the bus would have been, so a bargain).
The journey through the beautiful forest, passing cows in the shade and bright blue birds flitting across the road, is uneventful apart from a sudden sickening loud thud which jolts everyone out of their reverie. Apparently a bird struck the windscreen or the windscreen struck it and the impact has smashed the glass directly in front of the driver. I would be so shaken I wouldn’t be able to drive on, but he pulls over just for a minute to brush the splinters from his lap then drive on. Thank god for shatter-proof glass. I don’t think he could see too much through the windscreen for the bulk of the journey….
We don’t have to wait too long at Jerantut and by mid-afternoon we are once more in the heat, humidity and jungle of the big city of KL. Once more we try Le Hotel, but it doesn’t have any affordable rooms free. Cyrus is getting irritable and impatient, so it’s lucky that the next place we try (Etica guesthouse) has a room, and it’s peaceful and cool (it looks on to the back street market which starts up in the morning. No mosque!). After a shower Cyrus and I clear the air, and I tell him he needs to be more appreciative and patient, and less demanding. Everything is fine.
We go different ways: he back to Ampang to do my laundry (which turns out to be a big mistake as it doesn’t leave enough time to dry, and so I end up carrying around musty stinky damp smelling t-shirts for the remainder of my trip), and then to an education fair. I arrange to meet Eyrique, who I havent seen since he was in the UK in February.
He turns up in a car at Pasar Seni (a new experience for me in Malaysia) and takes me to the Institute of Performing Arts, where there is a buffet posh restaurant, but we are too early, it isn’t open, and anyway dressed in shorts, singlets and flip flops we wouldn’t be granted admission. We walk the main street in Brickfields, the road lined with bright green, red, orange painted Hindu-styled arches, and find an Indian Restaurant that does a great buffet and mango lassi. We talk about his life and relationships. He is in a similar position as Cyrus: back in Malaysia, not sure about staying. With an English boyfriend. Having to make decisions.
Eyrique wants to talk somewhere quieter and we end up at the temple on the hill that Cyrus and I walked to a few weeks earlier. The scaffolding is down and there are lanterns hanging in readiness for the Chinese New Year. A big gaggle of photographers is photographing some model. We talk at length about religious customs, re-incarnation, concepts of time and experience, spirits, aspirations of perfection and my dream about killing. It’s a sprawling conversation that covers a lot of ground. Temples do that to me.
Cyrus calls. He has gone back to the hotel to rest, as he feels a bit unwell. So, I stay out longer. We take a walk along Petaling Street and see a lion dancing troop doing some shop promotion. I get a mango dessert and then a kumquat and lime juice. Eyrique gives me a bag of fruits from his grandmother’s garden: rambutan and another fruit whose name I forget (like a less hairy rambutan, more like a conker or testicle..lol). i ask him about Chinese character (it’s helping me understand Cyrus some more). Eyrique walks me back to the guesthouse where we say goodbye. It was good to meet again.
Cyrus is sleeping, and I begin to edit my photos.
Writing this from notes and memory, now I’m back in the chilly brightness of UK, but at least I have a quick responsive Mac to type on again.
We got up with early intentions but not early enough to have the jungle to ourselves (wishful thinking). The park in the morning was full of chattering groups and so the magical silence was absent. After spying a very tame mouse deer at the resort we headed the same way as yesterday to get to the now open canopy walkway.
After 1km or so we climbed some steps to find the platform at the start of the walkway. In fact we heard it first. Due to the fact that the walkway bridges can only hold one person at a time, there is usually a queue to start the walkway. Today there was a group of Dutch and the Arabs from the boat. I suggest going for a trek and returning at lunchtime hopefully to miss the crowds.
Bukik Teresik is a 344m climb in 100% humidity over tangles of roots and leaves us soaked with sweat.
The summit is a cluster of boulders with a great view over the river and jungle. but too exposed and hot to linger.
I was right: when we get back to the walkway we are the only people there. It’s much longer and much more exciting than I imagined. There are around 7 rope bridges including one which is a ladder taking you higher, suspended 30-40m up in the tree canopy. The views are amazing, and Cyrus is having to deal with a fear of heights.
We walk back and cross the river for a mediocre lunch at the LBK jetty then rush back to change our clothes “prepare to get wet” for a “racing the rapids” trip: a hurtle along the river in a motorised sampan riding 5 series of rapids, where the maniacal driver rocks the boat from side to side getting us drenched. Cyrus again is inappropriately dressed, wearing canvas shoes which end up taking a couple of days to dry out. Exhilirating and fun. Safety is not really on the agenda: no compulsory life jackets or hard hats. Anyway nobody falls in. Oh, and I spy a kingfisher. The skipper takes the boat to a flat bank where there is a rope swing and drop into the river. He builds a little platform and then does the first swing and drop, egging us all on to try. I’m one of the few not to. Even Cyrus has a go. It looks fun, but I know I’ll get scared by the deep water. We have the option to stay with the group (European couples) but by now we are shivering a little and I don’t want to watch natives demonstrating traditional skills, and anyway we were just tagging along for this activity, and don’t feel like we are part of the group. We’d rather be alone. So we head back to base.
I’m still toying with going for a night trek: Cyrus doesn’t want to come (I guess he is scared), and I decide that I don’t want to be with a group, who I know will be firing flashes all the time.
We take dinner at Momo Chop’s as the night trek groups assemble, and watch a documentary DVD about the park.
We sit on the river bank with an ice cream. The sky once more is beautiful, with a bright moon. An eerie black streak (a vapour trail) then rips the moon and the glowing halo of clouds in two. It widens, fades and disappears.
On waking my insides hurt a bit. Blame it on the raw chilli. Breakfast at the LBK cafe is early.
Then we take a 1 hour mini bus to the jetty (full of Saudi guys talking loudly). The trip in the boat is 3 hours, gentle, hypnotic and beautiful. We sit at the front of the boat and let the view of dense forest, walls of dramatic soaring trees, and very occasional passing boats slip by. Its hot too…
Arrival Kuala Tehan is low-key. There are a few guesthouses visible through the trees, but the settlement is very small. We land at one of the many floating platforms which serve as restaurants (which, we soon discover all serve the same bland and uninspiring menus of “western food” – burgers. fried rice, fried noodles, tom yam, set breakfasts and shakes with minimal fruit and maximum water content. the quality varies, but overall can be said to be very poor), booking centres for all the same trips: night safari, trekking, racing the rapids), and landing stages for the sampans which ferry you across the river to the park headquarters and the sites of all the activities.
Here there is also a rather gentile resort of chalet like bungalows arranged around neat paths and manicured lawns. Though even here there is wildlife: later in the day we see a couple of monitor lizards and also a mouse deer.
After crossing a wobbly plank and clambering over a river bank of sand and boulders we climb through and past some rather grubby and seedy looking guesthouses which must be rife with mosquitoes. One even has a disused sign hanging n a toilet door worded “do not enter – snake”. we end up on the only road in the town and climb a hill, pass the police station and find Tahan Guesthouse, set in a pleasant little garden with painted hippy slogans scattered around, where a laughing woman shows me the rooms. We take a first floor room. The walls are painted with large ladybirds, a sliding door opens onto a little balcony , which comes in useful for drying our soaking clothes after the rapids trip, but……there is a squat toilet, which I prefer not to use (I like to sit). The location suffers from its proximity to the mosque which has a deafening tannoy which wakes us at 4.30 each morning. There are also a lot of bugs and mosquitoes, so we sleep under a net.
Surprisingly it is cold there at night and we have to ask for blankets on the second day. The first night requires us to sleep under towels, fend off bugs and refrain from swearing too much at the call to prayer.
We have lunch at one of the floating restaurants. The service is also appalling. Waitresses sitting around plucking their eyebrows, watching tv (dramas – they even switched the channel when we were watching badminton. Who is the tv actually for?). Mama Chop turns out to be the slightly better restaurant. When we go there on the second night the waitress actually suggests that Cyrus doesn’t take the Tom Yam (we make it, but it’s not very good”).
In the afternoon we go for a walk/trek of a couple of hours into the rainforest. The path is well trodden and well-used, so it doesn’t feel particularly wild, but it is beautiful.
We see some ferns which are green and blue and are called peacock ?????.
We see a black and white caterpillar, and an armour-plated one which is about 20cm long, and I find out later is poisonous.
Cyrus is edgy in the forest and is scared of the unknown. At one point he hears a sound which makes him think TIGER, the red caterpillar, is the turning point, as he retreats from it as I move in to take photos. He is also reluctant to walk beyond the sign which recommends the use of a guide. I try to reassure him that there is nothing to worry about. I guess this kind of adventure is beyond his comfort zone. He likes things to be more organized and more predictable. We bump into a German couple a few times on the trail, and chat at length.
The cold night is illuminated by a bright near full moon which breaks through a mackerel sky. The sky later is pitch black and full of stars and total stillness and silence when I wake up cold to close the sliding door. I wake up once more. This time, oddly, the silence has been replaced by the buzz and hum of a myriad of insects in the trees. The following night one of these makes it into our room. Cyrus hears a flap, I see a shadow and i gingerly investigate to find a moth the size of my hand settled on the water hose, brown, the same colour, obviously choosing this resting place as camouflage.
We spent some of the evening planning what to do. Cyrus in the end contacted his boss, who had asked him to give up booked holiday to come in and work, to tell him no. I think it was a big decision for him, but it should have been an easy one, when I hear how badly he is taken advantage of. Maybe it’s a Chinese attitude: loyalty, work comes first. Anyway, I’m glad he put me first. But….Cyrus had also lined up an interview for a new job, so at some point in our holiday together we would have to be back in KL. We plan a trip to Taman Negara, back to KL for a day then go to Melaka, and from there I would go to Singapore.
On waking up we checked out, got breakfast at the food court in the market (for me Chinese veg buffet). Got the subway to Titiswanga and from there a 3 hour bus to Jerantut. From here you need to get another bus or bus/boat connection to get to the national park. It was hot when we got to Jerantut. Cyrus seemed a bit bewildered to be in a strange little town and hesitated a little before we carried on with the plan: to spend a quiet night here and get the boat the next day (we were too late for the last boat of two anyway). Jerantut turned out to be much smaller than the Lonely Planet suggested and we quickly found a recommended hotel (Sri Emas), where the friendly gay receptionist with mutiple pierced ears and a camp laugh took a shine to me and quizzed Cyrus in Malay about me and him (Cyrus never really told me what he said). Anyway, the room is adequate and cheap. Over the road is the LBK agency/cafe where we would take breakfast the next day and book a boat ticket. The road is quite pretty with a row of gabled colonial houses from the 1920s in purple and pink.
There isn’t much to do here, we wander, get an iced drink, and get hot…..Evening is a bit disappointing as the travellers’ cafe is closed and all the eateries are Malaysian (thus not vege friendly). I feel I’m annoying Cyrus with my food requirements, but we finally find a cafe by the railway (Railway Cafe), where the owner speaks good English and helps me order a stuffed omelette (with noodles and veg). Cyrus’s banana split is served minus banana, my mango dessert is replaced by a less exciting black cherry one. We go to bed early, and give up on TV as there are only 3 channels (Malaysian drama/ HK movies).