Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Malaysia - the melting pot

Malaysia has always been a cultural melting-pot, attracting Malays from what is now Sumatra, India, and China... largely because of its position on the maritime trade routes between the Middle East, India and China.

The vast majority of Malaysians are Muslims ... there supposedly are also significant numbers of Hindus, Buddhists, Confucianists and animists among the population ... but I didn't see too many of them ;)

These folks here only gain "full" Independence in 1957 ... before that, its history was all over the board,largerly linked to what was going on in the rest of the region (in Sumatra, Borneo, the Philippines...). The Portuguese conquered first, followed by the Dutch, who were replaced by the British... the Japanese visited as well, but finally in 57 Malaysia grew up and opened those shakels (to replace them with new ones)

I originally had no intention to visit - 1: time constraints; 2:being a western-looking, female traveling alone in a seriously Muslim country didn't seem like the smartest idea ...

... so I was cluless when I arrived in Kuala Lumpur ...I expected another crazy, poor, chaotic, huge city, that I couldn't wait to get out of ...well...

Kuala Lumpur (aka KL) was only founded in the mid-19th century, and therefore is the youngest SEAsia (SEA) capital ... also the most economically successful (besides Singapor)... inhabited by well dressed and educated people who all seem to speak englich better than you ... full of great shopping opportunites ... and save to walk in, at any time a day (or night). Simply put: MY FAVORITE!

One can already feel the flair of a "civilist" (under the difintion of the WEstern World) county, on the way from the Airpot.
->One ticket counter to by your bus ticket.
->You pay the local price (usually SEA likes to charge us foreigner a little extra ...)
->Everyone understands you and actually will tell you when you are wrong (i.e. when you think you know the cheapest way to get downtown, even though you just landed in this country for the first time)
-> You only have to wait 15 Minutes for the bus to show up ...
-->and the bus actually leaves when they tell you "in 5 Minutes"
-> The bus has fully intact windows, proper door, seats and no leckages
-> Your driver is over 16
-> And the bus actually drops you off where you are supposed to go (even if you miss your stop by 1 hour, because you listed to your i-pod ... upsi : ))

Backpacking doesn't bring out your most glamorous side. But funny enough, this is the time where lots of pics of you are taken ... so I decided to get my first facial ... great idea - just keep in mind how much worse you look right afterwards ... anyhow, I waited until sunset to explore the city, in these 5 hours I would have left (yes, I go to bed early)

I made my way towards the city centre ... trying to get a closer look at the Petronas Towers (lookalike of the twin towers). Usually I am not excited about walking 5 km in a foreign city, I just arrived in, while it is dark enough for bad people (or good people in bad positions in their life)to hide behind city walls and take all your money when you walk by ... but I was in KL! Everyone speaks English and is trying to help you find your way ... traffic follows rules ... they have pedestrian walkways ... and crossing ... well light streets ... and security guards in front of every big bank, making you feel like you could get their help in case any of those criminals would jump behind one of these walls... ; )

The Towers do look amazing, even more impressive from the inside. Utra-modern (great lighting!), 6 stories, about 1 km of shopping. All the stores you know from the US... Chanel, Gucci, Abracombie (?) and Fitch ... anything the little shopping heart desires.... food courts made it here as well (a tat bit healthier than back home)and a Theater (not just a movie theater)! ... Wish I would have known this before I booked my bus ticket for a day later ...

... that morning Bank of America (BoA) - in cooperation with the FBI!!! - had concluded that my ATM card had been compromised !!! an seemingly important word, I still don't understand ... however the fact was that the little machine, that usually provides me with the pieces of paper I can trade for goods in countries all over the globe, denied its services to me :( ...

Thank god for angels. In my case: Jennifer Smith !! (which also has a great accounting business, in case you need tax advice!)
She did the thing, none of us wants to do: call BoA toll free customer service number - for someone else (me)!
Result: BoA misses me so much, that apparently I have to call every time I would like to use my ATM card ... they will than unblock my card, and I get a 30 minute time window to run to a little cash machine and beg for money
BTW Thank you Jenn!!! ... and sorry for the inconvenience! ... Well, I still had hope to convience them to stop playing games with me ...

so I was relaxed on the bus ride to Jrantut ... through the palm covered mountains, followed by an idylic 3 hours boat ride to Kuala Tahan right into the heart of the jungle aka the oldest rain forest of the world.

First stop: The Park Authorities (always talk to the important folks first)
As usual I was a bit clueless ... but convinced I could do anything!
... so I asked about those "hides" (the only headline I remembered from my guidebook, tyring to impress the folks with my preparedness)
Apparently there were a few, but the best place to see WILD animals would be in the furthest hide - 12 km into the rain forest - a "very" simple hut would be your bedroom.
No problem - 12 km - that's nothing ... Katina and I walked 17 km the last day of the Milford track ... and that was after we had already walk about 40 k!! ... so I thought.

A little video about the park - introducing my neighbors for the hiking trip: elephants, tigers, snakes, spiders and other animals that all sound great on the screen, but really are not fun to see in the wilderness - by yourself. At least I educated myself and the park ranger said the trek wasn't that hard ....

The next morning Efficiency called:
1.the longest canopy walkway in the world first - adding only about 1 km to my hike,
2.climb a hill - real quick! adding just 2 km to the track ... you might know where this is leading ...

The last sign i saw was telling me 5 km until the turning point to my hut (and another 4 to the hut I speculated)... I had been by myself for only a couple of hours ... but of course the trek was mysteriously getting harder .... it was hard to see ... covered by spider nets ... fallen over trees I had to cross got larger... the sweat just ran down my face, buliding a puddle above my lip ... and seeing yet another rope to help me get down to a river valleys was not even close to exciting anymore...

I had my first scream attack when i investigated the many blood spots on my pants ... unfamiliar with leeches it looked like a bad horror movie unfolding on my leg ... about a dozen on each ankle, of these fat, ugly, slimy worms that were sucking my blood ...

Anyways, lets just say it was an adventure I will not forget so soon.
I was the first person to arrive, but thankfully not the only one - three austrians and two canadians joined me a bit later.

None of us had any energy left to do what we came here for:watch "wild" animals at night. Instead we tried to keep the little ones (i.e. the common rain forest mouse : ) away from us, by placing some bananas outside - for the mouse that paid us a visit alreay early on ...

The next day we jointly made the decsion that we were all jungeld out ... so we walked to the river (all getting lost one more time, because the tracks are so much part of nature) and caught a local fisher boat that we flagged down, back to the village. I couldn't beleive when we arrive afer only 15 Minutes on the river ... the sames distance had taken me 5 Hours the previous day ...

The next day one of the guys and I took the Jungle train up to the Thai/Malay boarder. One more night in Malaysia before I planned on heading back over to Thailand.

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