Leave Me the Birds and the Bees - Please!

Pangkor Island, Malaysia

When I am on walkabout, I try hard to not make comparisons. “Be in the moment,” I tell myself.  Why spend time, money, and effort to be in one place, and mentally be someplace else? 

But sometimes I can’t help myself. 

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We were walking along a palm studded white sand beach on Pangkor Island, Malaysia, and I found myself singing an old Joni Mitchell song.  

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They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
And a swinging hot spot.

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone?
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot.

It took a lot of effort for my skilled and knowledgeable travel partner and me to get to Pangkor Island, Malaysia. This trip to a popular Malaysian destination beach, reminded me why I live in clean and green Washington State.

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Our journey started at Fraiser’s Hill with an hour and a half taxi ride from hell, then we jumped a commuter train, a second metro train, a six-hour bus ride, an overnight stay (because we missed the last boat of the day), a ferry the next morning, and another short taxi ride, all to get to Vikri Resort on the West side of Pangkor Island, Malaysia. 

We learned two lessons, 1) Google maps doesn’t know everything, and 2) more than five transfers in a day is taking a big risk that you are going to miss a connection.

Six different public transportation modes plus a walk or two, is too much luck for one day, even for these skilled wanderers

 

We missed the first night of our reservation, but when we made it to Vikri Beach Resort, we were greeted by the friendly host and the resort was cute. It looked like fun. The brochure boasts “Vikri Beach Resort is a feel at home style, full-service beachfront resort best known for its exceptional personalized service.”

That is exactly what we found. We also saw hornbills, monkeys, and cute little white shells on the beach.

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We rented a scooter for two days. “Keep on the left” I would remind Keith and we made up a little song to sing. “Keep on the left,” were the only words sung to various melodies. 

On our scooter ride around the island we stopped at a beautiful new mosque over the water.

On our scooter ride around the island we stopped at a beautiful new mosque over the water.

Parts of the island were quiet and peaceful.

Parts of the island were quiet and peaceful.

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We had a beach view from our cabin room, and a tasty home cooked meal. Just a short distance away from the resort, we watched beautiful sunsets looking toward Indonesia.

Everything was very lovely. 

Walking along Vikri Beach, the water was warm but not what I would consider “clear.” The sand was rough on my bare feet. After seeing a rusty can with sharp edges, and a dead spiny urchin, I put on my shoes. I also noticed that there were no sand flies, no sand crabs, no gulls, no seaweed, and no little sandpipers running from the waves. 

Beautiful and dead.

Beautiful and dead.

There were long dead remains of muscles, and I couldn’t help but wonder about the six-inch metal pipes that came out of the ground and ran into the ocean beyond the waves. “I think those are sewer pipes,” I told my science trained traveling partner. “Now, you don’t know that.” He tried to assure me. “The only way to know is to trace it and test it.”

He was absolutely correct.

But, that did not comfort me. 

That is when I heard Joni Mitchel singing in my head. “Give me spots on my apples, but spare me the birds and the bees, please!”

It got me thinking about how hard it is to keep water clean when development encroaches into an ecosystem.

I thought, “Malaysia isn’t Washington State.”

When we visit beaches in California, Oregon, and Washington, we seldom swim, but we do look for tide pools, watch the gulls and birds grab little creatures out of the sand, and try to identify all the sea creatures we find.

Our beaches are so alive! Shellfish are everywhere, full of little sea creatures. It has been a long hard fight to keep our waterways clean.

I was singing along with Joni forty-years ago. And, we are still fighting to keep the Clean Water Act viable.

When we traversed the island, we saw numerous high-rise buildings partially constructed, appearing to be vacant or abandoned. It was if there was a title wave of new construction interrupted by economic crisis. Pangkor Resort World was not thriving. It was very quiet.

Do they know what valuable gems they have in the island’s beaches, waterways, and ecosystems?

An old sign for an unfinished resort complex.

An old sign for an unfinished resort complex.

I don’t want to be “The Upper Left Coast Traveler,” but Pangkor Island reminded just how lucky we are in the great Pacific North West. 

Leaving the island, we took a big pink taxi, a ferry, and a walk to the bus stop. After a four-hour bus ride, we took a ferry and a taxi to our next apartment in George Town, Penang, Malaysia. 

All the taxi’s on Pangkor Island are pink and yellow.

All the taxi’s on Pangkor Island are pink and yellow.

It takes a lot to get to a beach resort in Malaysia, and I’m glad we made the trek.

I hope Pangkor Island will always be worth the effort.  

“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…” 

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The Ghosts of Weekend Chills

Fraiser’s Hill, Penang Provence, Malaysia

There were very few blogs, articles, or tourist information about Fraiser’s Hill. What we did know from our homework is “It is a quiet relaxing place to take a break.”

After the busy urban experience of Kuala Lumpur, I was very happy to move upslope toward a slower, greener, more natural part of Malaysia. Fraiser’s Hill is one of Malaysia’s few pristine forest areas. It is mostly visited on weekends by Kuala Lumpur residents who want to get out of the heat.

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There was no one else on the commuter train.

When we get out, we are standing alone on the platform and my phone is showing “Grab is not available in your location.” Fraiser’s Hill is remote, 64 miles from Kuala Lumpur with no public transport except by taxi and there are no taxis to be found.

In my head, I am speaking loudly and firmly to myself, “This is the time to keep cool, be flexible, and be creative. Go with it.” I then see a human behind glass just around the corner from my initial view.

We stop for a photo on the way to Fraiser’s Hill.

We stop for a photo on the way to Fraiser’s Hill.

“Yes, Taxi. I will let you know,” and I am so thankful that many people in Asia know English as a second language. We were still one hour away from our Airbnb reservation location.

Not long after that, a black compact car, of a make I do not recognize, pulls up and someone is getting out.

“You need a taxi?” Yes, we do! My perceived problem was solved with only a little patience.

Our taxi driver speaks English and chats us up; where were we from, where were we going, how many children do we have, how old are we, do we like Malaysia?

Our new friend, Jamil is Muslim, 72 years old with two adult boys, one girl, and eight grandchildren who he likes to spoil. He works because he doesn’t like to sit still. For one-hour we rode up the winding road, through the jungle and up, up, up.

 

When we reached our destination, the Silverpark Hill Resort’s security gate, it was unusually quiet. We didn’t see any people. We didn’t see any signs of travelers, tourists, or guests. No cars in the parking lot. No lights in the windows. We had the place all to ourselves.

The whole mountain seemed empty, just us and the jungle.

The jungle view at Silver Park Hill resort.

The jungle view at Silver Park Hill resort.

Just us, the jungle, and a millipede.

Just us, the jungle, and a millipede.

Just us, the jungle, a millipede, and some monkeys.

Just us, the jungle, a millipede, and some monkeys.

No cars in the parking lot. Our room is on the top floor, left.

No cars in the parking lot. Our room is on the top floor, left.

The Tudor style buildings were part of the early colonial development of the area. We estimated that there were rooms for over 350 families, and we were in one of several building complexes.

During our visit, we walked the roads without incident, free to look for birds and enjoy the nearby jungle vegetation. In the distant jungle, we could watch great hornbills dart in and out of the tree canopy.

There was evidence on the horizon that change was coming. The land was being cleared for more palm oil plantations.

We ate one of our dinners at The Smokehouse, a historic preservation of the old colonial house. Only two other couples in the dining room. “Where is everyone?” we ask our hostess. “They come up on weekends. During the week we get ready for their arrival.” This place must be something when everyone shows up at the same time.

The view from our balcony in Silver Park Hill Resort.

The view from our balcony in Silver Park Hill Resort.

A historic silver tea set from colonial Fraiser’s Hill.

A historic silver tea set from colonial Fraiser’s Hill.

Change is visible from Fraiser’s Hill.

Change is visible from Fraiser’s Hill.

I enjoyed an old British colonial tradition, high tea, all alone overlooking the manicured gardens and the jungle beyond.

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Garden Ghost Tiger?

Garden Ghost Tiger?


But at night, things changed.

That is when the ghosts spoke to us.

The mist drifted up the canyons and the clouds settled onto Fraiser’s Hill. The wind blew and from the doors and windows there came a moaning.

oooOOOooooo. Whoooo… Ohhhhhhhhh

It could have been the ghosts of lost souls exploited by the area’s namesake, Louis James Fraser. He found rich tin deposits in the area and recruited Chinese labor to open a mine. Fraser also operated a gambling and opium den at his workers' camp, for a second time he sucked out the life and the wages paid to his employees. That must have created a few lost souls.

Or, maybe it was the ghost of Fraser who mysteriously disappeared.

Or, maybe it was the ghosts of Malaysian tigers, and other animals that were poached for profit.

But, I think it was the residual sighs of all the travelers who came up on the weekend to get away from the sweltering heat in Kuala Lumpur. The spirits of those who wanted to escape the heat. “We’re too hot!” they would moan. “We love the cool air” they would chant. “We are tired of sweating and smelling” they would cry. “This air feels so good!” “We like it here!” they would declare.

Norfolk Island pine is not a pine, but a popular jungle non-native landscape.

Norfolk Island pine is not a pine, but a popular jungle non-native landscape.

oooOOOooooo. Whoooo… Ohhhhhhhhh

Their bodies returned to the heat, but their spirits remained.

Not your traditional ghosts, but ghosts of goodness. Happy spirits breathing cool clean air, and splashing in clean water. Specters swimming in the clouds with joy.

I was able to fall sleep thinking the howling ghosts are happy and friendly.

It may have been just the wind blowing through the sliding doors and windows. But I think it was a cover for the real spirits, loving the cool clean mountains of a sweltering country, souls just wanting to chill.

Just us, the jungle, a millipede, some monkeys, many Norfolk Island pines, pigeons, hornbills, ferns, butterflies, clean air, clean water, and the spirits of weekend travelers.

Just us, the jungle, a millipede, some monkeys, many Norfolk Island pines, pigeons, hornbills, ferns, butterflies, clean air, clean water, and the spirits of weekend travelers.

When we left Fraiser’s Hill, we left behind the ghosts of weekend travelers. We took a wild taxi ride down the hill with Jamil, then two train rides, a bus ride, a second ferry ride, and a taxi ride to our next adventure on the beaches of Pangkor Island, Malaysia.

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OVERLOAD

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.

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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.

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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.

 
Is she wearing a short skirt and no hijab? I’m confused.

Is she wearing a short skirt and no hijab? I’m confused.

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.

Not my taste in statues.

Not my taste in statues.

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.

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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.

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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.

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I think the Cave Management Group doesn’t like that waterfall.

I think the Cave Management Group doesn’t like that waterfall.

I like his wings, but his knees are a bit knobby.

I like his wings, but his knees are a bit knobby.

Inside the cave. Wow! What colors.

Inside the cave. Wow! What colors.

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.

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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.

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Birds of a Feather

KL Bird Park, and KL Botanical Garden, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

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Zoos are controversial. They keep animals in cages, there are antidotal stories of mistreatment, and some people are challenging the overall philosophy and value of maintaining animals outside of their native habitat.

And in the world of photography, there are lively discussions about photographing zoo animals. “Any photo of an animal in a zoo should be clearly labeled to not lie about the photo’s providence.” I’m good with that. Others think a photo stands on its own with or without labels.

I’m not entirely sure about zoos, but I did like my visit to the KL Bird Park in Malaysia, and I liked an opportunity to get up close and photograph birds. Over 3,000 birds, 200 Malay and other world species, fill the twenty-one acres. That’s a lot of feathered friends.

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The KL Bird Park is the “Worlds Largest Free-flight Walk-in Aviary.” It opened in 1991. Only 20 minutes from the city center, the 21-acre park is adjacent to the KL Muslim Museum and the Kuala Lumpur Botanical Gardens. There are a lot of tours that will take you to all three, but we went on our own. We found the entrance fee more expensive than other attractions, but an excellent value by western standards.

Mr. Stork looks like he has his legs on backwards.

Mr. Stork looks like he has his legs on backwards.

And, it has birds! How could we pass it up?

Upon entering, we picked up a map. The brochure explains:

“The main feature that distinguishes KL Bird Park from any other bird park is its concept of free-flight. Entering eat door of the KL BirdPark is as if you are stepping into an enormous bird cage, where visitors will have a chance to witness at close proximity various bird species living together as a perfectly balanced community in the semi-natural environment.”

They start you out with parakeets and peacocks right at the entrance. This is a bird appreciation experience. There are plenty of domesticated species, but there are also local species that can be tough to find in the wild.

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I liked what I would name “The Wall of Owls.” About 8 different owl species were quietly napping on perch and in boxes. They were beautiful. But, there was no cage around the owls, and I wonder what was keeping them all together neatly arranged in boxes and on stands? Maybe zoos are such nice places the birds don’t want to move? Or maybe their wings are clipped.

Not an egret in the wild. “Do you know you are living in a cage?”

Not an egret in the wild. “Do you know you are living in a cage?”

Cattle egrets are scattered in all four zones and they seem to like hanging out with people. They aren’t begging, just standing, and I think they are watching us. I believe there is more going on behind those little dark eyes.

Some of the walkaways within the KL Bird Park.

Some of the walkaways within the KL Bird Park.

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The nets above, supported by large pole structure is impressive. Large tropical trees that apparently have been here for a while extend beyond and above the enclosure. We walk under a constructed waterfall and long meandering paths. It is tropical hot, so we try to stop only in the shade, and we take cover in an air-conditioned room that is used for school children.

A mandarin duck.

A mandarin duck.


There are snack bars scattered around the park, a restaurant inside the hornbill section, and you must exit through the gift shop.

Scary Casary.

Scary Casary.

We missed it, but the brochure also identifies a “Prayer room next to the Main Entrance.” I haven’t seen that in a zoo before. Mid-day, we walked past the ostrich enclosure, and we could hear the call to prayer from the near-by National Mosque.

One of my favorite things was the room filled with friendly red lories. They were so cute with beautiful colors and seemed to like people. If you don’t like birds (then what are you doing here), it could be intimidating to have them jump on your head and sit on your shoulder. At first, it seemed too commercial, feeding the cute little lories, but everyone loved it. Anything that endears people to birds is a winner in my book. Maybe it made an impression on a young visitor, and one day that little person will turn into a big person who will make a decision to support birdlife. Small actions make up big choices.

My favorite birder is making new friends.

My favorite birder is making new friends.

Children and big-time birders like feeding the lories.

Children and big-time birders like feeding the lories.

After seeing birds under a net, we went out to the open and walked through the KL Botanical Park. The quiet of the park contrasted with the busy bustle of the surrounding city. The gardens were mature, and I especially liked seeing the old cycads that displayed both male cones and female reproductive structures. It is hard to believe that in a lot of ways the cycad and the flower have the same function - make seeds.

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A couple having a personal moment in the KL Botanical Garden.

A couple having a personal moment in the KL Botanical Garden.

The park in Malaysia is halfway around the world from our home in Olympia, Washington, but once again we were reminded that there is a universal appeal of a beautiful bird, an appreciation for wildlife, a need to connect with other creatures, and an interest in conservation and preservation of our natural environment.

We may disagree about the value of photos or zoos or birds. We may have different values, goals, likes, and dislikes. But after visiting the KL Bird Park, I think we are all just birds of a feather, just trying to flock together.