Our last couple of days in the Cameron highlands were spent recovering from a massive hangover after watching the Sunderland v Leicester match.(We still hadn't learned our lesson about drinking 16% beer and cheep Thai Rum despite my tooth chipping incident) and trying to decide where to head next. I'd dropped Narelle, the lady who runs the animal shelter in Langawi an email to see if there were any opportunities for work at her various places in George Town, Penang and also we were desperately chasing up a guy named Steve who runs a place up at Royal Belum NationalPark rainforest near the Thai border. I heard back from Narelle to say she would check it out with her manager in Penang and then nothing after
http://www.belumecoresort.com.my/introduction.html. I rang and got through to a lad whose English was a bit sketchy at best but was given a number for Steve's wife Sue. Sue then gave me Steve's number and eventually after following the number chain and a few calls and texts later Steve said we were more than welcome to go to his resortand help out. We sorted out staying another couple of nights in the Cameron Highlands before moving onto Ipoh for a day and then the following day Steve said he would be in Ipoh anyway and would drive us up to his place in Perak. Winner I thought!
Two days later and we were up at the crack of dawn and hurrying down to Tanah Rata bus station to catch the 8am bus to Ipoh
With only one day to spend in Ipoh we headed straight out to explore, opting to walk the 40 minutes into Ipoh towards the old town where there was some street art I wanted to check out. Starving as well we hoped there would be plenty of the great Ipoh food we had read about dotted around the old town amongst the multitude of murals. The walk in was draining Ipoh was easily the hottest place we have been to so far. Temperature wise itwas no hptter than Bali at around 36 degrees, however the air was completely still, not a breath of wind and comletely dry. It was a killer of a walk, combined with various stray dogs that seemed very intent in tucking into our ankles for their next meal. As we hit the old town it was clear there was very little food to be had. It was now early afternoon and we had not eaten all day so a quick check of my map and we wandered for another 20 minutes towards the centre and somewhere to grab a drink and bite to eat
Ipoh is a strange town for a foreigner to be in, at least a Westerner that is. I say this because we appeared to be the only Westerners in town that day and we certainly seemed to stand out to the locals, attracting stares and open mouths from most folk wherever we went. After checking out a couple of places to eat that I had quickly looked up it was clear we were in the wrong and very expensive end of town so off we headed yetagain in the crazy heat. Two scorched dripping westerners in a town of dry comfortable Malay. We hit lucky however and found a great cheap Chinese place to eat at. Ipoh certainly lived up to it's reputation for culinary delights providing some of the best food so far on this trip. A Penang Curry and Pork rib in sauce was gratefuly consumed, all washed down with some icy water. At last we started to feel a bit more human and normal again and headed back to a shopping centre we had passed through earlier to get our supplies in for our trip into the Jungle
When we got back and I charged my phone I had a text from Steve saying that he would be stuck in Ipoh for another couple of nights and we had a choice to either catch the bus up the next morning and make our own way there or hang around Ipoh ourselves and get a lift up with him when he was sorted. Dani wasn't the best and her eye had bulged out with a nasty sty so was feeling under the weather. We couldn't decide what to do. We didn't want to stay in Ipoh any longer facing a battle with the local canine population any time we headed out of Edmund's place, plus there wasn't much else to do there either anyway. Taking the bus up would be a challenge as per Steve's instructions we had to hop off somewhere random that isn't even a bus stop and somehow meet up with his non English speaking lad who works for him at some jetty in the middle of nowhere. Decisions, decisions. Dani was really unsure and looked like she needed a bit of R&R and we looked at all possibilities. Even to the extent of hopping into Thailand for a few days to enjoy in the festivities of Songkran, the water festival New Year that we loved so much last time
Eventually we went with the standard Wilderness Explorer option of heading to Royal Belum National Park on our own and hoping that Dani's eye didn't get any worse once we landed in the middle of nowhere. Hopefully it was the right choice. The following morning we were up at the crack of dawn yet again and off in aTaxi back to Aman Jaya bus station to buy two tickets for the express bus bound for Kota Bahru with the intention of asking the driver over lunch if he could drop us at the fishing complex near the jetty in Pula Pisang a good 150km before the scheduled stop at Kota Bahru. A couple of hours into the bus ride and we hit a small town called Gerik where sure enough we stopped for lunch
Around half an hour later a little boat appeared in the distance and sure enough a small Bangladeshi boy appeared and through some very broken English mentioned Steve's name, obviously his well rehearsed routine when picking up people for the island and Steve's Eco resort. Result! With our bags thrown inside the boat we hopped in expecting to move off to pastures new. Instead we sat in the boat for over an hour as the lad was also waiting for a delivery of ice coming from Gerik where we stopped earlier for lunch. I think that pretty much sums up the remoteness of where we had arrived. Eventually though with the half dozen bags of ice on board we were zipping through the emerald green waters of the lake nestled between high rising jungle all around. This was great. It felt like we were in some kind of BBC documentary, off in search of some random un filmed animal that has only been spotted a hand full of times
The first thing that hits you is how remote and quiet the place is
So this was a Workaway placement and obviously we have had to earn our keep while staying here. The first full day was a busy sweaty affair. Up at 7am to sweep the winding paths around the island linking the huts and the rest spent cleaning both House boats that are moored together. It was a long one, around 8-9 hours work in the baking heat and I now have the distinct impression that Bohan made the most of our arrival combined with the absence of Steve to take take full advantage of us in helping with his chores. Can't blame the lad though really. The next day, and every day since then we are up and sweeping at 7am. It's become routine now and feels like we have been here a lot longer than we really have. After doing yet more cleaning the next day Steve and his son Tom finally arrived mid afternoon and suddenly our work dried up. He's a really nice bloke and we can't fault the hospitality of the people we have met here
The fourth day was back to some long hard work. Standard 7am sweeping before breakfast followed by helping Steve and Bohan build some moulds to put around one of the steel structures up in the eating area that will be filled to create a round column. A full days work again but nice to get involved with some practical work with my hands other than sweeping and cleaning. Dani helped Tom get the huts ready for another party of guests, again locals this stayed one night.
The locals arrived the following day and weren't your standard guests as such. It was a group of 10 and they have a resort themselves about 100km away in Taiping. Steve has been talking with them around sharing and promoting each others resort and facilities to drive a bit more business for each other so they had come along for a day to see what Steve's place is all about. It was good for us as we got to go out on a day trip with them,probably just in time before island fever started to kick in. It was a good day but nothing spectacular. A visit to a local village then a trip through the jungle to a small waterfall. Unfortunately we didn't get to see much wildlife but that's just mother nature for you, nothing is guaranteed in the wild. What is interesting though is the set up of the villages and the conversations I had with Steve and some of the other group around politics in Malaysia. The village we visited is a community of Christians. The government has funded their facilities and development of their village and only a stones throw away on the opposite bank of the lake there is another village this time a local Muslim community, again their facilities funded by the Malay government.The Christian village is really basic, standard ramshackle bamboo huts,no electricty just a couple of tiny solar panels on the ground to run acouple of light bulbs on a night, an old struggling water filtration system etc. The Muslim side that we could see is brand new modern brick whitewashed houses, a new state of the art filtration system, a world away from what the Christians have. Through the conversations I had there is a massive amount of negativity currently in Malaysia towards the Governernment and the Muslim community. The Government is apparently very corrupt (as you expect in Asia) and seems to only care for the Muslim population and does not give equal rights or funding to those outside of that community. Malaysia is made up of many backgrounds dating back to the British occupancy here. When we took over Malaysia many years ago we exploited the natural resources such as Tin mining, timber, chalk etc. and during the days of the Empire we brought in workers primarily from India and China. When the British handed it back to the people in 1957 with the exception of Singapore which was expelled they granted all those communties they had brought in for work permanent residency and made them Malay nationals. What I didn't realise and was told by Steve is that since that handover there has only ever been one political party in power. Supposedly democratic, it appears that is far from the truth. They do not allow anyone outside of the Muslim community into any of the higher ranking political positions, the other communities are treated with less regard and the current system seems rotten to the core. Since talking to Steve I have spoke with many others and the same noises are being made everywhere by the Non Muslim Malay. Take Steve's resort as an example. Steve is of Cantonese descent.He has to jump through constant hoops to keep his resort. Pays ridiculous fees to the government. Two years ago the government spent 9 million pounds installing fish farms on the lake. 80km of lake they could build these on and they parked them all around 50m in front of Steve's island. They have never been used once, no fish in them, not maintained, but they are now an eye sore in front of Steve's place for the foreseeable future. I spoke with the group, a lady named Rachel who is non Muslim and they face similar issues with their facilities. I did not realise all of these underlying issues in the Malay system. The mass deforestation and rape of the countries Rainforests in both Malay Borneo and the mainland Peninsular is disgusting and obviously evident but the coruption and involvement of the Government behind it is not something I was aware of. The lack of investment in infrastructure and facilities outside of the Muslim communities is now something I can see all around now that I a aware of it. I am not racist these are simply of facts of what is currently happening in Malaysia.
So back to the Jungle. It has been an amazing experience for a week. Total escapism that is unlike anything else I have experienced so far on my travels. Amazing warm people that I got to know well in a short space of time. I think summed by when we left the place. We got on well with everyone including the group from Taiping. They were exceptionally kind and gave us a lift back from the jetty to Taiping. They paid for our lunch at an amazing Chinese restaurant on the way back, refusing to accept any money towards it. Once at Taiping we were then given another lift on to our next destination in Penang over 100km away. Heart warming hospitality and support from the people here who feel isolated and unheard in their own country. We have experienced a very different side to Malaysia this time around and I really hope things can change for the better of the whole country and all it's people no matter which group or cultural background they are from, it's just very hard to see where the change will come from when the Democracy is so blatantly corrupt.
On a positive note for ourselves we have now heard back from Alyson, Narelle's manager in Penang and it looks as though we have another weeks work whilst here again in return for accomodation. There are some dogs that need daily walks and also a property that needs arranging and the finishing touches added before Narelle makes it available as one of her properties. Let's see what the next week brings and where it takes us.
Belum - Temengor rainforest
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
Tasik Belum, Perak, Malaysia