Saturday, August 25, 2012

Road Trip ... Elephants, Butterflies, and Getting Lost

We had decided to sit around for our holiday, first little holiday we have had for a while and we both fancied vegging out - especially in view of the horrific traffic on Malaysian roads during holidays.

And then one of us (well, I admit, it was Peter) said, "Let's go somewhere! How about ... um ... Penang?" And the other one of us (well, me) said, "Uhh, yeah! OK then." And so we did.

You have to understand that the middle of the Malaysian peninsular is very lumpy, you can't just drive all over. So we chose the northern route - up the East Coast to Kuala Besut, across the north near the Thai border through the north end of the Cameron Highlands, a little bit south towards Butterworth (now there's a lovely Malaysian name!) and across the big bridge to Penang Island and Georgetown (another lovely Malaysian name).

The signs here are nice and large, but never in English - our main language learning has been in the area of road signs. We kept seeing this huge sign with lots of words, the last of which was "Liar!" And then finally I managed to catch the last two words as we went past ..."Gajah liar!".

We suddenly remembered that 'liar' (that's lee-ar) means 'wild', and 'gajah' is elephant.

We saw some fast-moving picture signs warning about the elephants, and we saw a fallen tree which may have been knocked down by the elephants.

I thought I saw one disappearing into the jungle ... but it was the back end of a water-buffalo. (Haha).

The trip was fairly uneventful, and we safely reached the causeway across to the island.

We paid our RM7 toll to cross the bridge, and entered the log-jam of one-way streets that is Georgetown city.
We had booked into one of the dozens of high-rise hotels on the waterfront, but we had a room with a view over the city and mountains rather than the sea.

The number one tourist must-see is the highest hill. Years ago it was accessed by cable-car, but nowadays there is a very efficient funicular railway. I didn't take any pictures - you can see one of those in Prague, or Katoomba. (haha)

The hill is very steep and high - and the top was enshrouded in mist.

 And it was starting to rain.

 We headed into the eatery area with the swarms of Chinese (mostly ) tourists, where the view from the hilltop window was  ...

... and then gradually as the rain got harder we could see a little.

 We went back outside to the viewing platform, and caught a glimpse of the wonderful view through a hole in the clouds.

There was also a bird park with brightly-coloured birds. Some of them looked familiar to us Australians, but the signs assured us they were from Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, most were from South America.

Butterflies! Butterflies!
Then we went to see the butterfly farm. It was pretty much what you might expect!

 Various baby forms - eggs and caterpillars - hanging on plants.

 All sorts of butterflies feeding on pineapple slices laid out especially for them,

 and hibiscus flowers on trays.

 Some other gorgeous flowers were attracting various butterflies,

 and some of the large spectacular ones almost blended in with their background.

 This large black and white one rarely sat still for long.

 Then there were the pupae hanging in rows on special frames.

 There were one or two butterflies that thought I was the sweetest thing around - that proboscis sure tickled on my hands.

There were also cages with various large (ugly) lizards, turtles, catfish and even a cage of monstrous millipedes.

We had had enough, and headed for what was signed as the 'exit'. But it took us through room after room after room of display cases, and gift shops.

Lost in the Middle of Malaysia
 Friends at work had been discussing whether it's best to go north or south when driving across to the west coast. So having arrived via the north route, we decided to go back by the south ... except I don't think the route we took was the one they were talking about.

Not having GPS, and relying on Mr Google and his maps, we set off first south to Ipoh, and then headed east across the Cameron Highlands (rather than around the south end of the mountain range as I think our friends intended).

That was ok. The mountains are beautiful, the weather was cool and cloudy, there was not a lot of traffic, and the road was well-built and well-maintained with substantial guards against rock-falls and other hazards.

 The area is so cool and moist that there is a massive fruit and vege growing area up there in the highlands - strawberries, for example.

 The shade-clothed growing sheds stretched for miles and miles, up and down the hills.

 Obviously this is a thriving industry, with new farms being constructed and planted on the hill-sides.

We came to a north-south road on the east side of the Cameron range, with heavy traffic choosing the inland route from Kota Bahru in the north to KL in the south-west. Google maps had shown us a road off to the east a little way along this road ... and, sure enough, there it was, sign-posted to Kuala Berang - a little town near Kuala Terengganu. (Strange how it didn't signpost KT, but maybe that's because we were still in the state of Kelantan which is constantly at rivalry with Terengganu.)

We set off happily, commenting on what a beautiful road it was, and with so little traffic.

And then (without warning) ... it just ended. There was a straight line where the bitumen just became dust and stones.

It would be hundreds of kilometres to turn back, we trundled on, and eventually rediscovered what had probably been the remnants of our road. We bumped and thumped around and through potholes and puddles, and the bitumen sections of road came and went a few times.

Then we came to a barrier across the road, with a couple of young policemen sitting in a little hut guarding it. One of them stood and walked across to us, and we wound down the window ... and he lifted the barrier and waved us through. (The prospect of a conversation in English was presumably just too much for him!)

So we continued on, there was no habitation, no other traffic, no more signs ... just jungle and areas that looked like they were being prepared for palm oil planting. Once we saw a desultory group of chaps attacking a section of road with shovels - it was hard to know why, or what they hoped to achieve with the whole road in such disrepair. One particularly bad sinkhole was surround by large plastic barriers ... except that the hole had then expanded and the edge of one of the plastic barriers could just be seen poking out of the hole.

We came to a T-junction - no signs, eeny, meeny, miny, mo - and went right. Soon we saw a few village houses, and then there were a couple of young chaps on a motorbike bouncing along in front of us. Civilisation, of sorts!

Over a couple of hours the road improved as we went. The mile-posts to Kuala Berang resumed  ... and then we saw a big road-sign informing us that there was a crossroad ahead, and straight through would get us to Kuala Terengganu. So excited! But when we got there it was a T-junction with a barrier keeping us away from the not-yet built road to KT. We had to decide again, and turned right again (- left would have been better, we realised later).

The next time we saw a sign to Kuala Terengganu, we were in that place, Kuala Berang. And the traffic was chockers and there were traffic lights every few minutes. (One thing about Malaysian traffic lights - they are very very slow, and if you are facing a red light, it can be a long long time ...) It's only thirty-something kilometres from KT, but it took another two hours.

Home again, Home again. Yeah, nice to be off the road!

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