Archive for March, 2009

earth book

March 31, 2009

at least we are not alone with our phrase book frustrations


jungle boogie

March 29, 2009


My goodness, it’s been a while since we last wrote. Apologies, dear reader.

A 6am departure on the jungle railway saw us bid farewell to Kota Bharu under the cover of darkness. And thus began a stretch of increasingly sweaty days from which we were finally delivered by fleeing to the highlands – although notable mention must be made of the gang, who generously funded some brief respite in air-conditioned comfort while we celebrated Linds’ birthday in KL. Oh, to reclaim a non-sweaty state!

The jungle railway, although a decrepit old rattler, had a definite charm to it. This was despite the fact that we could have chosen another transport option that would get us to our destination in half the time. Although such travel is not necessarily always the less expensive option, at a mere AU$6 each for this trip, who could complain? It’s a luxury we’ve been able to enjoy a few times now by virtue of being on no fixed time schedule. Such travel also has a certain nobility to it (“nobility”: fostering a smug sense of self-righteousness) and somehow, you don’t seem to mind the uncomfortable seat and lack of ventilation quite as much as you might otherwise. And so we chugged along for nigh on 9 hours through the jungle, stopping at every tiny village along the way and entertained by the irrepressible Naomi and a scraggly but endearing family of German ferals.

Our home for one night only was Jerantut which, sadly, lacked the charm of the jungle railway – or perhaps Catie is just bitter about the bedbugs? Admittedly, we did enjoy “Happy Chicken” for dinner and a interesting chat about icecreams with the teenage checkout boy at the supermarket (aren’t all chats about icecream interesting?).


The boat ride into Kuala Tahan the next morning fell into the category of travel described above and the trip to the park would have been worth it for that alone. Insert numerous witty comments about journeying into the “the heart of an impenetrable darkness“. And thus began our fruitful relationship with fellow travellers, Alex and Katie, who we met on the boat and quickly identified as being top sorts. It may sound like madness to volunteer to trek through the jungle with virtual strangers, when patience is likely to be strained by the steamy conditions, but they were the perfect hiking companions. We only hope they are saying the same thing about us.

Hiring a guide was optional, but ours was worth the investment. Suhaimi (Mi) had an uncanny ability to mimic bird and insect noises and a keen eye for spotting tiny things we would never have noticed otherwise. Or not-so-tiny things, in the case of the elephant footprints he pointed out.

Now, the sixty-four thousand dollar question: did we see any wild animals? We knew the odds weren’t good but Mi told us he saw elephants on a few occasions each year, so we remained hopeful. As night fell, we waited on the viewing platform for a tell-tale rustling of bushes… but nothing. Some fireflies floated about and the cacophony of birds and insects crescendoed like an orchestra. Alex and Katie saw a tapir when they resumed watch at 4am after being rudely awoken by a cheeky rat – which must have coincided with the one hour period where we managed to snatch some sleep, because we missed it. Ho hum.

Other highlights included our inaugural “leeching”, giggling as we compared levels of sweat drench and the Korean guy we met at the campsite who has been on the road for three and a half years and has visited every country on the globe except Iraq, Sudan and North Korea. Highlights did not include the Swedish snorer and sleeping in my raincoat because I got cold from my damp, sweaty clothes… eeeew….

Upon our return the following morning, a celebratory meal of roti canai and banana milkshake has never tasted so good.

After our lengthy absence from the world of blogging, we are planning somewhat of a blog blitz in the next few days to make up for it, so stay tuned.

tropical beer notes #3

March 29, 2009

Guinness Foreign Extra Stout Malaysia – Malaysia – 6.8%

This is not Guinness as you know it. Foreign Extra Stout (FES) is a world away from the super cold, creamy-headed sessional that is lugged by the kilolitre at the local. It’s good. Really good; even Catie likes it. What’s so welcome is that it has the muscle to compliment the flavours of the local grub – most of the Asian regional flagships are really not up to the job. It has back bone – a big tasty structure that holds it all together. Viscous and black as the ace of spades; frothy brown “Bells Rapid” foam head; coffee, liquorice and molasses; high in alcohol but not so strong that a second will send you tumbling from your plastic stool.

Time for some historical revisionism: stout abounds in Asia, with most of the local breweries producing one. A legacy of colonial tastes in the 19th century. Only parliaments, cricket and railways are equals in the race for such a worthy legacy of empire.


And for the beer nerds (surely the only ones left reading – hi Beno): note the dog’s head on the neck of the bottle. It’s a nod to Guinness’ history of Dublin recruiting local breweries to produce a stout based on the original St James Gate recipe. An unfermented but hopped Guinness wort extract (isn’t that what Vegemite is?) is apparently shipped from Dublin, which is combined with domestic ingredients to produce a local version. Often the local labels made little or no mention of Guinness. In Malaysia, Guinness was once known as Dogs Head Stout. So the pooch remains. Pretty cool. Confusingly, St James Gate also produces another Foreign Extra Stout, coming in at 7.5% and occasionally available in Perthland. 15/20

waking up in malaysia

March 6, 2009

Mornings in Malaysia generally begin with us stirring to the sounds of the call to prayer wafting/blasting in through the window. From dusty hamlets to turquoise beaches to KL it’s nearly always there. It reminds me of our first big trip together, lying in Sultanahmet in June 2002 the call came roaring into my ears at 5 in the morning. I’d never heard those ancient lines before, but from that moment on it’s always reminded me of good times on the road.

Anyhow, translated from Arabic it reads:

Allah is the greatest
I bear witness that there is no deity except Allah
I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah
Make haste towards worship
Make haste towards the true success
Prayer is better than sleep
Allah is the greatest
There is no deity except Allah

Each line is repeated 2 or 4 times. Note line 6: perhaps Muhammad had a sense of  humor…?