Bats, curries and desert islands

Trip Start Jan 13, 2008
Trip End Jul 25, 2008

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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Well hello! Long time no speak. I've been a bit off the beaten track in terms of internet access over the past couple of weeks so this is going to be a mega-blog covering the whole of Malaysia. Unfortunately, a Canadian guy is talking very loudly over Skype next to me ("umm, yeah, so we werrre headin' oot and aboot with these other Canucks, y'know?" SHUT UP!), so I may get distracted occasionally. Y'know? Deep breath and begin...

So, to start with, I really love Malaysia. It is an excellent country - they have more curry restaurants even than England! I keep meaning to eat some other food but get drawn to the curry every time, it is like a Siren's call for me. It only costs about a quid for a huge amount of food so it's very hard to say no. And the people here are really nice and all speak excellent English. On my first night in Kuala Lumpur (or KL as us travellers are supposed to call it, to show how cool and down with the locals we are) I had a long chat about the recent elections with some guy at a curry stall and he insisted on paying for my dinner. So that was really nice, or slightly creepy, depending on your point of view, but it was free food nonetheless and I'm not above that.

I did the usual tourist things of going up the Petronas Towers, and went to have a traditional afternoon tea at a posh hotel, but I think the best part was a visit to Bird World, the world's largest aviary. Here's a picture of me with some of the inmates. Is that laughter or terror on my face? You decide.

Moving on from KL, I went up to the Cameron Highlands which is an old Colonial hill station. Imagine my delight when I discovered that you could buy McVities' Digestive biscuits in the corner shop and tea and scones everywhere else. The perfect reward after a 5-hour trek through the highland rainforest. No leeches here, but I was assured that I would be wearing them from head to foot when I got to the Taman Negara rainforest later in my trip. My guide and another trekker had a long and involved conversation about how bad my allergic reaction to leech-bites would be, given that my mosquito-bites had swollen to be 4 inches across. Their diagnosis: I would be a Michelin man. Which was comforting. Here is a picture of me drinking tea in a tea plantation, a life-long ambition for me - finally seeing the green version of those black leaves that I drink so much of.

Onwards to Penang, at which point I realised that I was getting very fed up of travelling and being hot, so jumped straight on an overnight bus and headed to the Perhentian islands. Here is a photo of the beach where I spent a week and a half - HA HA HA HA. Sorry. It really was an amazing place - the centre of the island was jungle, filled with enomous ants, spiders and monitor lizards, and the beaches were all white sand and turquoise sea. I snorkelled with huge sea turtles off one beach, and also did my Advanced Open Water diving course so I am now super-qualified. On one dive we saw about 10 small sharks, an enormous moral eel, and swam alongside another big turtle for ages. Also saw rays and huge puffer fish and squid, all my favourite Finding Nemo friends. I've booked a trip to go out to Borneo this weekend and will dive at Sipadan, one of the best dive sites in the world, so hopefully that will be even better!

I was staying in one of the brand-new chalets being built on the beach, and got upgraded to a top room because of some building work, so spent the week swanning around on my private terrace, or popping into the air-con bedroom or showering in the hot water of the luxury en-suite. Don't knock hot water until you've spent a week showering in cold. Here is a picture of the resort cat, who liked to sleep on my terrace. A certain resemblance to a German dictator, no?

Despite my best efforts, I couldn't justify staying on the island forever, so eventually got off my sun-lounger and headed for Taman Negara - the world's oldest rainforest. This was proper jungle with snakes and wild pigs and monkeys and even tigers and elephants allegedly, though I didn't see them. Think that may just be a rumour put out by the Malaysian tourist board. Here is a photo of me on the canopy walkway, which is strung between the trees about 40m off the ground. It wasn't as scary as it looks, although the part you walk on is a plywood plank nailed on top of a ladder. Best not to think about that. I did a couple of longer treks through the jungle, including one to a cave that's famous for bats. Here is a photo of the bats - there were literally thousands of them. However, when I hear 'cave' I think of a large open space. This was pretty much a series of very low tunnels where you crawled along with the bats inches above your head. Let me tell you, bat guano is extremely stinky stuff, especially when you are sliding through it on your hands and knees. The walk back to my hostel was pretty bad as the humidity makes you sweat like a pig, and the guano makes you smell like one. There's a pretty image for you.

Spent the last night sleeping in a hide, deep in the jungle. There were only three of us so it was pretty spooky, and the various frog/bird/insect noises were deafening. It was an incredible experience to be so far from civilisation but definitely not a good night's sleep. And our reward for this? Total animals spotted: one rat stealing the biscuits I brought with me. Hmm. I did, however, get at least 2 leech-bites and you will be pleased to know that they didn't swell up at all. Take that, Cameron Highlands guide!

It was quite a relief to rock up in Singapore and have a hot shower. Yet to find a laundry though, so the guano-clothes are still tied up in a plastic bag and I am scared to open it. Planning to have a little wander around the city today, as I spent yesterday reading UK Marie-Claire and watching DVDs in the hostel (in my defence, I had a sore stomach. No really). Might go to the night safari at the zoo later on, as you are at least guaranteed a sighting of some bloody animals and there are probably fewer leeches. And I suppose that I must have a Singapore Sling at some point. Anyway, got to make the most of being in a city before I fly off to the wilderness in Borneo on Sunday. Will tell you all about that in the next blog!

lots of love, Anna xx

PS Can upload photos from here so will add some to the past 2 blog entries if you want to take a look.
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