Batu Caves, Malaysia
I’m not sure exactly when it first hit me, but it wasn’t pretty.
I was not being a nice person. I was not being helpful. I was not sure what pushed me too far.
The auto focus on my camera wasn’t working. The air was thick. I was hot and sweaty. My hands were dirty. The kid next to me on the train wouldn’t stop pushing on me. The metro station was confusing. We were on the wrong train for the second time that morning. My traveling partner was annoying me. I was annoying my traveling partner. I could go on… I was “The Snarky Traveler.”
I was also in sensory overload.
Just when you think you have it all down and working, there comes a reminder that learning is a life long activity. My late mother would say “Learn something new every day.” It is just that sometimes we aren’t aware of the lesson for today.
I didn’t do enough homework before setting out to visit the Batu Caves of Malaysia. What I did know is that every other blog and every list of “Must Do Things in Kuala Lumpur” included a visit to Batu Caves. Trip Advisor had several tours that will “allow you to get past the long lines” if you pay western tour prices. Fifty dollars for a few hours was not in my travel plans.
With our metro card in hand we set out to the nearest transit station looking for our line, endpoint, stops, and potential transfers.
But, we were soon reminded that the Malay transit system is not the Taiwan transit system, nor is it the Swiss transit system, nor is it like any other metro. Each and every ride is different, and until you learn the system, you really don’t know where you are going.
Touch the card and move through the turnstile, is a good start. But not if all the metro maps are on the other side! Colors can be deceptive. “Are we on the red line or is that the burgundy colored line?”
Which platform, which direction, how many stops? And, there are train cars that are labeled “Coach for Ladies Only.” No book ever mentioned ‘women only’ subway cars.
Twice we got on the wrong train. I had no clue where we were and how to get to Batu Caves.
And that pushed me over the top.
It wasn’t the crash of physical exhaustion where I just start crying for no particular reason. It was the “I don’t want to hear about it, can you just shut the #&%$ up,” kind of over the top.
After waiting for the correct and clearly labeled Batu Caves train, I am telling myself, “OK, Fix your head and let it go.”
But, that is easier said than done.
When we exited the train, there was an onslaught of sensory assaults, loud music, burning incense, people in bright clothes, food smells, sewer smells, and shops selling the most bizarre things. “Who would buy this stuff?” I wonder while looking at three-foot tall gold statues of golden retriever dogs.
The heat was physically challenging, and the thing to do was climb the hundreds of stairs, with the crowd, to the temples and alters in the caves above.
I know nothing about Hindu and Buddhist religious practices, so I am in this for an aesthetic experience.
And what an aesthetic it was!
Brightly colored grouping of blue and green human figures with animal-like features. Small brightly decorated structures contain happy people adorned in saffron gowns laying on the ground, getting ash touched to their foreheads, all after standing in line for the privilege.
It is apparent that I am a spectator here. I want to be respectful because this is clearly someone’s somber experience and I am clueless.
Batu Caves has two parts. One cave is the bright ceremonial side. The other side is a set of caves that appear to be in a more ‘natural’ condition, that is except for the paid tours that run about every half hour. I recognized that I was in no condition to look at the ‘figure’ formed by the natural hydrologic conditions, or stare into the pool of water that holds a fantastic centipede that you can’t see because it is hiding right now. I didn’t need to pay to hear about fragile cave ecosystems, or take a selfie wearing one of their fake hardhats.
We walked the stairs, walked around, then respectfully left.
Because we learned the metro route on the ride in, our trip back to the apartment was thankfully uneventful.
I had survived a day of my own snarky head talk. My wonderful talented and skilled travel partner didn’t send me away to get myself together, and I got to see an unusual spectacle of color, history, and culture.
Just like physical exhaustion, mental exhaustion needs to be recognized and managed. I need to do my homework and use my situational awareness. I don’t want to be insulting or snarky, and sometimes that takes a bit of work to chill out.
Today’s lesson: when traveling far and wide with a patient travel partner, there are times when I need to shut up and listen to my head talk. Before I open my mouth, recognize the situation, accept the circumstances, and take corrective actions, especially in the middle of a mental overloaded.
I don’t want to be known as the “The Snarky Traveler.” I want to be Whelan on Walkabout.