Sunday, July 8, 2012

Hiking Malaysia

Well, once again, it's been forever... here's a post I started months ago, and I'll segue into more up-to-date stuff later on...

Into the forest. As usual, these photos
never quite capture the real steepness
I've not attempted anything here remotely as arduous as some of the hiking I've done in Colorado. There, you have altitude, thin air, highly variable terrain with considerable elevation gain, and all sorts of potential weather issues to contend with, along with the possibility of black bears or mountain lions (I've been lucky in that respect). Here, it's mostly just heat and humidity... and maybe a random leech if you're in the jungle. So I've not done anything that avid hikers would call actual hiking, but rather more like walking around in fairly sedate forests not too terribly far from the comforts of the city. But that was simply too much text to fit into the title of the post, so cut me some slack.

Part of the waterfall's cascade, glimpsed from the trail
Having been to the Forest Research site (FRIM) a few times already, this time my friends and I decided to check out a place called Kanching Recreational Forest, not too far from the city, up between the small towns of Selayang and Rawang, somewhat north of KL proper. It's a fairly small site, and its primary feature is a huge seven-tier waterfall that cascades through the forest, collecting in pools at various spots along its descent. It has, regrettably, almost a sideshow feel to it as you drive up. The place is tremendously popular with locals, and, as such, stalls selling everything from local foods and snacks to stuffed animals and sunglasses have cropped up at the entrance. There was even a display of various parrots and other birds with which you could be photographed for a fairly outrageous RM10 cost.

A small sample of the hordes of people at each and every
pool of the waterfall's multiple tiers
Even more lamentable than the carnival-a-palooza atmosphere as you try to go hiking in a forest was the unbelievable quantity of litter left behind by picnicking Malaysians. It was absolutely appalling, and I've actually talked to locals here who've seen it and are frankly embarrassed by it. Hordes of day-tripping locals descend on the tiered waterfall, have big family BBQs, enjoy each other's company, relax in the cool of the forest, and delight in the pools of water... and then they leave about half their crap behind, from the looks of it. At times, I had to strategically re-frame my photos to exclude the detritus cluttering up the otherwise beautiful scenery. I don't know who oversees and manages this place, but a clean-up effort would be well-advised, along with a few "Please do not litter" signs, and a couple of large rubbish bins at each of the waterfall pools.

And oddly enough, my friends were literally the only Chinese folks there (and naturally, I was the only white guy). I asked about this — why in this verdant natural setting, were there only throngs of Malays present — and was only somewhat jokingly told that the Chinese really don't "do" the great outdoors, what with its lack of air conditioning and branded goods shops. Ha ha ha. Oh well, at least the malls stay full.

Malaysia's assault on Western foods doesn't stop
with pizza... roti aiskrim manages to offend both hot dogs
and ice cream simultaneously
But probably the most horrific experience at Kanching was saved for the end. We were leaving and one of my friends kept pestering me to try this foul creation known as roti aiskrim, which is easy enough for anyone to translate: ice cream bread. Seriously, what the hell? It's nothing at all more than a hot dog bun, split open, with like four little scoops of different flavors of ice cream inside. It's awful in theory, and it's equally crappy in actual practice. But apparently, for Malaysians (at least some of them), it's evocative of fond childhood memories, so even though I tried fruitlessly to insist that I really, really, really did not want this "treat," it was foisted upon me nevertheless. I ate a couple of bites and yes, it was every bit as awful as you'd think. Ice cream in a hot dog bun: it was never going to end well. And not even real ice cream, mind you. It's the local version, which admittedly isn't awful (when it's the right flavor and not served in a bun), and the texture is great, but it's made with palm oil, not milk and certainly not cream. I don't think ANY cows were involved or even consulted in the making of this particular type of ice cream, which really should be legally barred from using the word "cream" in its moniker. But yeah, this was four scoops of palm oil-based ice cream in colors never intended by nature, once again, in a hot dog bun. At least this wasn't the deep-fried version, roti aiskrim goreng. In any event, two bites was enough, and the rest went to a scraggly monkey, who may or may not have polished off the rest after scampering up a nearby tree with the proffered dessert facsimile.

Walking along the wide paths through secondary
forest at Kuala Selangor Nature Park
A pair of great egrets (Birdicus longneckus) spy
each other; tawdry romance ensues
A couple of weeks later, an entirely different experience was to be had. This time, we headed out to Kuala Selangor and visited the marvelous nature park there, a 2.4-sq km preserve with three distinct ecosystems that has become a sanctuary for numerous species (over 150) of resident and migratory birds, as well as at least two species of monkeys, some small mammals such as otters, and larger reptiles such as the monitor lizard. Also, a very happy home for innumerable legions of mosquitoes, so be forewarned and slather on the repellent before hiking here. The Park encompasses the estuary of the Selangor River as it empties into the Straits of Malacca, and along the coastline can be found thick mangrove forests, which give way to mudflats (and we saw some huge mudskippers, too), grassy swamps, and ultimately secondary forest. Hiking trails are really well-maintained (the Park is under the auspices of the Malaysian Nature Society, an admirable organization) and the entrance fees are wonderfully cheap, only RM4. It's a great place to spend a day and feel like you've been transported to another world far, far from from the urban chaos of KL. At night, the primary draw is the spectacular fireflies that congregate along the banks of the Selangor River; the members of this particular species synchronize their flashing, so that hundreds and hundreds of the insects light up simultaneously in the otherwise pitch black of the evening.

A grey heron skulking around in the verge,
miserably awaiting his own tawdry romance
So although, to be very honest, Malaysia doesn't put even remotely near the emphasis on outdoor recreation that my home state of Colorado does, there are still some nice places to be found, and I hope I can stumble across a few more. One day, I want to visit the crown jewel of outdoor excursions in this country, the 130-million-year-old primary tropical rainforest of Taman Negara, Malaysia's 4,300-sq km national park.

This walkway lets you walk through
the mangrove swamps and keep your
shoes clean
A big part of why I haven't been writing much here lately is that I've been doing it for a living elsewhere. I took a job about three months ago as the group editor for a company that publishes a hefty number of magazines in Malaysia, and to say that it's kept me busy is a gross understatement. I do get to write a bit in the job, but a lot more of the work is managerial and, naturally, editorial in nature. I've also taken another trip to Bali, two trips to Penang, and two trips to the amazing Tioman Island, which I think I may write about in the next entry. Coming soon is a trip to the Philippines – that should take place in August.

In any event, apologies for the delay and will hope to have another entry a LOT sooner than this one.

P.S. That scientific name in my photo caption above is just for a laugh, and perhaps an homage to the old Wile E. Coyote/Road Runner cartoons, the roti aiskrim of MY childhood nostalgia, so please, no ornithological flames, okay? In fact, I may well have even gotten the common name of the birds wrong!


barbmerchant said...

YAY!! I have been waiting a LONG time for that. Is Kuala Selangor where you and I went on my visit? Birdicus longneckus, huh?? Love that...didn't catch it till I read the PS.

Anonymous said...

Hi Chad, read your article via The Expat- Tunnel Vision..awesome article...more articles soon? Thanks ;) from shuet, msia

Chad M. said...

Expat? What's that? I'm totally innocent... move along folks, nothing to see here... *whistles distractedly*

Hehe. Thanks for the compliment... yes, there is a column from me in every issue. :)

Anonymous said... are most welcome ;) ..from shuet

KrisKan said...

fireflies! they're really pretty among the trees. when I saw them (in k.selangor as well), they looked like Christmas tree decorations.

CC said...

Stumbled upon your blog and I find myself vastly entertained by your perspective on Malaysia. Good job.

PS: go Gasing hill and u will see mostly Chinese there.

Anonymous said...

Stumbled upon your blog... I must say I am a bit embarassed (a bit is underrated!) by what you saw in Kanching, but yeah, that has been a problem since... the beginning of civilization? Haha! Anyway I'm a Malaysian Malay and yes, usually in Kanching, you can see mostly Malays there. I think due to fact that most population in Gombak (Selayang and Rawang included) are Malays.

Jen said...

Hi Chad,
I'm a Malaysian living in new York. I'm glad to see that you're enjoying your adventure in Malaysia. I posted a blog regarding to the ice-cream on a bread and i wonder if i could use the picture that is on your blog titled: Hiking?

Chad M. said...

Jen, sure, be my guest. I'm the editor for a group of magazines here in KL and one of my freelance writers lives in NYC (he's Malaysian, as well). Sometimes I'm envious... I love New York!

Jen Yap said...

Hi Chad, Sorry for the late response. Apparently my website crashes 2 days ago while i update it. I'm still working with tech support..urgghh. Anyway, Thank you so much for allowing me to use the pic. And yes, let me know when u r in NYC :)

Jen Yap said...

Hi Chad, Sorry for the late response. My website crashes 2 days ago & i'm still with tech support to fix it. Anyway, Thank you so much for allowing me to use the pic. And let me know when u r in NYC !