Thursday, September 08, 2005

Roadtrip!! Fraser's, Chiling Falls and...erm... well... Genting as well... 5-8 Sep 2005

Day 1: 5 Sep 2005- JB-Kajang-Fraser's

We had everything planned out. Meet early, pack breakfast while TT settle the car, and leave on a weekday so there's no queue at JB customs. As we departed from the car rental office at 9+am, we were feeling quite smug about departing on schedule. Then...Ming and TT noticed a persistent draft in the car, and we discovered that the rear window would not close completely! Reluctantly, we U-turned (not that easy to do on some Malaysian roads), and headed back to JB town, concluding that we'll never start a roadtrip before 11am.

Our 1st driver!

To save time, we did the ultimate sacrifice by eating at a highway stop instead of going to Melaka for lunch :). However, as we veered closer to KL, realised that we were pretty near KAJANG, and the famous Kajang satay we missed last time going to Nuang!! A quick round of consultations later, we concluded that no-one was in any particular hurry to ascend the mountain, and anyway, how often do you get the chance to go to Kajang?

Thus...may I present you with the authentic Kajang satayman!



Note the flames rising from the BBQ pit- what you get when you ask a professional photographer to take pictures for you (thanks babe!)!

A closer look at the scrumptious satay grilling away-



Doesn't this make you wish you had a stick of the sweet ikan satay right now?


As we sat happily digesting away, suddenly remembered that there was a timing to ascend Fraser's...and we may not make it up there before dark! Ulp... grabbed half a chicken and some fresh food from the supermarket, and speedily headed towards Kuala Kubu Baru. Briefly pondered if we should top up petrol when we saw the Shell station opposite, then figured we'll just do it when we see one on the same side of the road.... Just too bad for us then that there were NO MORE petrol stations from then to Fraser's!

Driver #2!

Stopped at the new dam visitor centre for a much needed pee break and look around. Much of the forest along the left side of the road was flooded for this project...hope that's all that's needed and that the other rivers will remain as they are.

We actually made it to the Gap just in time to join the 7pm queue! All while looking at the fuel gauge trying to estimate if we had enough gas to make it down. The road up was much wider than I remembered from 2002- recently renovated?

When we reached our destination of the night, the air was chilly and Pekan bungalow looked completely deserted. Tsk...we drove all the way here to sleep in the car? Poked around the caretaker's lodgings at the back and peeked into the office- all dark and empty... Finally decided to knock on the door of the only occupied room in the house and enquire politely as to the whereabouts of the caretaker. Turned out the caretaker herself was staying there...

We were the only people staying there for the week! The whole bungalow was ours! Hahahah... Decided to take a brisk invigorating walk before preparing dinner, so after 10minutes of looking around the town centre, we headed back to the bungalow... No cooking was allowed in the rooms...but they didn't say anything about the balcony (hee...), so we had chicken herbal soup (boiled for 1 hour, no less), stir fried xiao bai cai, sauteed mushrooms, and freshly cooked rice. No photos as I was busy lah! Ended off with dessert of peanut soup and nata de coco (grape and mango).

Day 2: 6 Sep 2005- Fraser's Pine Tree Trail

Wake up call was bright and early at 7.30am today, for we expected to hike at least 9 hours on the longest trail in Fraser's Hill- the 6km (one-way) Pine Tree Trail! It really took a lot of effort to kick TT and Babe out of bed though, after much groaning and whining.

A quick breakfast at the town centre later (no roti canai, only suspiciously cold nasi lemak and mee goreng), we were on our way, reaching the trail head at 9am.

Bright and cheery at the start of the trek!

We were all togged in long pants tucked into socks as we had heard much about the infamous leeches of Fraser's, known to proliferate throughout the trails and drop down on hapless humans from overhead vegetation. A bit obiang maybe, but who cares?? In our pockets were one jumbo and one small bottle of medicated oil and a bottle of Cuticura, which is pretty good at killing the suckers.

The first clearing we came to, we stopped to admire the view:

Not knowing that we were actually looking at our trekking route!!! %@#%#$@%$%%@%#% trekking over all the ridges to the point right at the end....

Luckily there were some pretty flowers to look at along the way-


Luckily also, there weren't that many leeches. I had 3, TT had 1, and Ming was the only blood donor of the day. We concluded that the other leeches must be so nuah because of the cold weather. Nothing like the ferocious Tahan leeches.

Another pretty flower!

Yet another descent...

For some reason, the guys decided to walk very fast, and we reached the peak in 3 hours (published time 4 hours). As I paused to catch my breath after the vertical scramble, spotted a Greater Yellow-crested woodpecker lurking about the moss covered trees (thanks Ming for the ID). No pictures folks...3x optical zoom is still not good enough.

Pretty orchids!

One last push before the summit...

On the way up, Ming and Eric got into an INCIDENT, as Eric tried to speed up on the ascent with Ming still in front of him. Apparently, Ming was slower than Eric expected, so as he suddenly decelerated, his hand swung forward, and he allegedly COPPED A FEEL......Naturally, you can imagine Ming to be extremely outraged, and swearing never to walk in front of Eric again, all the while muttering something about sharpening his walking stick under his breath...

The Pine Tree Summit!

So we sat on the peak and looked back at all the ridges we climbed and descended (imagine a reverse of the earlier photo) (Background conversation:"You mean that's Fraser's?? How can??? It's so far!!..."), and had a much welcomed lunch of Kraft cheese sandwich with romaine lettuce and tomatoes, and a lunchbox of mashed hardboiled eggs. Too bad no cold drinks only...

More importantly, our lu nch!

Dark clouds omnimously heading towards the Pine Tree peak got us up and moving again, still at a pretty fast pace, back to the trail head. The skies opened 2 hours into the hike (somewhere around our 4th or 5th ridge...I forget..) and we all had to stop and struggle into a variety of ponchos and raincoats. After which the rain petered out to a drizzle in 30min....

We were very glad to see the car again at the trail head, for it meant hot showers! and hot food! and chocolate cake! and nice comfy beds! Such a luxury trip...sighs.... And the first time we finished hiking at 3+pm too!

Back at base-bungalow, Ming plucked the leech off his ankle and we all watched in morbid fascination as its life slowly ebbed away in a pool of Cuticura.. Dinner and drinks at the town centre left us strangely unsatisfied and we prepared 2 rounds of roesti for supper! It's a wonder the caretaker didn't smell anything at all.

Ming and I agreed to wake up earlier to hike the Henmant Trail to do some late birding, and we trooped off to bed early after filming a short video of Des snoring (it has to be seen to be believed).

Trek rating:
Stamina- ** (unless you were trying to run with the guys...then it's ***)
Technicality- *
Quality of rest stops- **(well actually, unless you call standing around panting resting....)
Amnesia rating- *** (quite an easy trek, a bit of pain about the constant climbing and descending)

Roadtrip!! Fraser's, Chiling Falls and...erm... well... Genting as well... 5-8 Sep 2005 Part II

Day 3: 7 Sept- Goodbye Fraser's!! Sniff!! Hello Chiling!! And a mysterious night stop....

Well, I did kinda wake up at 7+am, the sun was shining, wisps of mist brushed against the pine tree tops, and it looked like a brilliant morning for some light hiking and birding....just that...was simply too engrossed in my volume #8 of Lucifer, and Ming wasn't exactly up and raring to go as well!

Shortly after I put down the comic, wondered why I haven't received any SMS'es in the last 12 hours. Looked into Eric's pouch and zounds!! IT WASN'T THERE!!!! Roused the rest of the folks and searched the bedroom more thoroughly. It still wasn't there!!! Heart racing slightly, got Eric to accompany me to the restaurant where we had dinner last night and the tavern where we had drinks. Zero. Zilch. Nada.... I can only feel slightly relieved that I backed most of the phone numbers up already, well, up to the letter 'P', and anything not in the SIM card. In the midst of all the searching and plotting what to do next, forgot to make a police report, so there goes my insurance claims. Sigh!!!

Ah well, won't do to let it ruin my holiday. Checked that the next available timeslot for cars to descend starts from 10.40am, so quickly packed up and settled the bill before heading to the Gap Resthouse for brunch. We're planning to stay the night, as we heard that it was a pretty good place for birding, plus it looked quite nice. The food's only so-so though, and no balcony to illicitly cook on (hee). Unfortunately, the manager informed us that the rooms were not for let as there was a problem with the water piping! He did let us take a look at the rooms though- the larger ones came with their own fireplace! Neat!

So....we didn't have a place to stay for the night....Does that mean we'll have to go to KL and brave the traffic? Wasn't too keen to reach the city so early, but where else should we go? Something to ruminate on while trekking at Chiling.

Decided to top up petrol before our next excursion and drove out to KKB, surmising that if we run out of fuel, we would still have time to flag down cars and stuff rather than later in the evening. Also took the opportunity to check that the water level wasn't too high after all the rain yesterday. Parked at the trail head (details can be found at the Waterfalls of Malaysia site. It's neat!) next to the steel bridge. A few groups of people were swimming already in the river.

The trail was very clear, and marked along the river by little stacks of stones. Except for the half an hour of resam we had to plough through (though still nothing compared to a day of field work at Bukit Timah...), the trek was pretty easy to get through. Most of the 6 river crossings were in shallow water, with sand and pebbles underfoot. I kinda regretted getting my Raichle Scout boots wet for this...could have trekked in sandals with no problems...sobs... Des slipped on a rock while trying to cross the river and stow his camera at the same time, further proof that men are just bad at multi-tasking :).

Speedily passed through secondary forests and abandoned campsites (what's with the speed factor this trip??) before scrambling through a bat filled rock tunnel and emerging into a clearing to see.....the waterfall... oh wow...it's truly beautiful.... words and pictures can't do this gushing, roaring wonder much justice. We were very hungry by then, and glad for all the snacks and stuff we brought with us...

TT immediately set off for the pool under the fall, which could only be reached by scrambling up onto the rock at the base and then sliding in, followed by the rest of us. Decided not to push on and find the second and third falls mentioned in the website, as we wouldn't have time to swim and nuah then. Always good to get your priorities right. Currents were a bit strong so got out of the pool early and took photos for the guys still inside. A little rock frog decided to use TT's head as a jumping stone to reach the other wall flanking the pool. So smart!

Des took over the wheel on the way back and almost gave the rest of us a heart attack when he slowly overtook a lorry on an upslope while another vehicle headed our way.

For our night stop, we decided to go to the adventurous destination otherwise known as......... Genting Highlands!!!!

Yes well, we were a trifle embarassed to head for the ultimate tourist destination in Selangor, but figured it should be more relaxing than KL, plus we really missed the cold night air! Checked into First World Hotel and decadently upgraded to a room with a mountain view! It was really nice! :)

Food at Genting is waaaay expensive though...... unless you can tahan fastfood all the way. But the cool air was superb! Time to bring out all our favourite fleeces again.

Day 4: 8 September- R&R in KL & the journey home!

Spent the morning trying to figure out where the elusive Gunung Bunga Buah is from our window, and earmarked a few peaks to check out in near future. Eric and Des decided to try out the virtual skydiving experience in a tube while the rest of us sat outside and smirked mildly (we were very supportive!).

After many wrong turns and failed attempts to spiral the KL Tower, we reached the capital city of Malaysia. A few more excursions through the busy lanes of midtown finally brought us to Mid-Valley Megamall, home of Aroma Garden and the S$25 aromatherapy massage. Found a pretty decent Japanese restaurant outside the mall, unfortunately, sigh, the ramen soup had MSG. So sayang! As the rest of the food was not bad.

By the time we headed for JB was evening.. As usual we missed the last buses to cross the Causeway and had to walk over. This time though, nobody had to wake up early the next morning to work!

Friday, September 02, 2005

Dolphins!! At St John's!!

Was coming up from a rainy, cold, morning dive, and heard Daniel calling,"Dolphins!! Quick!! Dolphins!"

My 1st thought- this better not be a joke.

Back on Mr Loh's bumboat, the water was slightly choppy...and empty.

However, Daniel, Marco and Mr Loh were all insisting that dolphins were actually JUMPING out of the water just before. Okaaaayy...braved the rain some more and squinted into the distance...and...what's that? Dorsal fins just grazed the surface! Wow! And a few seconds later, one jumped into the air with a graceful flick. It was so amazing to watch them it took incredible presence of mind to grab the camera and position it towards them. As we motored towards SJ jetty, could see Jani jumping up and down (guess her ankle must be healed by now), and more jumps! And breaches! And flips!

These were the Indo-Pacific dolphins, could see their pinkish underbellies and mottled grey backs, and Jani said there was even a completely pink baby!

Nice view for lunch break indeed!

Videos should be up soon, once I figure out how to upload them :). Or visit http://habitatnews.nus.edu.sg/index.php, Siva is extremely fast in uploading such things, unlike tech luddites like me...