Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Day 3: Telaga Tujuh at Jelawang Waterfalls and 'Drama' on the return home

Despite it being our last day in Stong and that there are no major ‘events’ scheduled for the day, I woke up early in the morning, shortly before sunrise to catch a repeat of yesterday’s spectacle that I missed. The crowd of sun watchers was markedly less today and as the minutes passed, it was soon clear that the sun has decided to go into ‘hiding’.
Waiting for the 'rising' sun... what else? :p ;)

People were starting to leave but I lingered on, the girls, Linus and Sum as well. Instead of viewing the blazing red orb rising from the horizon, we were treated to a different spectacle, the view of the sun’s rays peeking through the clouds, an awe inspiring effect Linus calls ‘God’s sunrise’.
Sunrise in Dabong Valley

Dabong Valley bathed in the morning light

Breakfast today was what’s really left of our food, consisting of another round of instant noodles and eggs. My ‘tank’ was already quite full and I restrained myself from gorging more than I could manage.
Breakfast! :D

At 9:30am, Dek came over, ready to take us further along the stream to another set of falls called Telaga Tujuh.
There are actually many more 'holes' than Telaga TUJUH seems to imply ;)

It’s not really that far. In fact it is only beyond the 5 minute walk to the waterfall we had been going to all along. Reaching it however, required a little bit of climbing and after about 15 minutes we were there and greeted by the same large group of people that were doing the ‘sliding’ down from waterfall stunt a day earlier.
A slippery climb up to Telaga Tujuh...

As we await our turn, I took the opportunity to survey the surroundings. Like I have mentioned earlier, Telaga Tujuh is another waterfall upstream of Jelawang. What distinguishes it from the rest were these underwater ‘holes’ located right underneath it. Two of these stands out, one being large enough to accommodate a single grown person with a depth as high while another , a larger hole enough to accommodate three to four people in one go!
One of the 'smaller' holes at the falls

This one could fit THREE! :D

Both are covered with water and it is rather fun dipping your whole body into them. For those opting to have a very good and hard massage, you are welcomed to lean against the side of the falls while allowing your back to be smacked by the onrushing water falling from the top.
Wei Han and Yee Wei having a good massage...

Wei Han looks suspiciously 'satisfied'... ;)

The gang at the falls... ;)

We did all this when we had our turn and after taking a few pictures most of us returned down to our camp. Linus and Henry however, chose to try another level up, finding a small pool above and another smaller fall pass the slippery slopes.
Some of us manage to clamber over the top of Telaga Tujuh Falls...

... revealing jumping 'natives' below ;)

By the time they returned, it was time to pack our stuff and head down. Bidding Baha Camp goodbye, we commenced our descent down at 1:30pm.
Packing up for the hike back!

Farewell Camp Baha! :D

Getting down was a breeze and opting for the ‘official’ track, we were back at the bottom within an hour, or at least Kam Keong, Wei Han, Yee Wei and me. The rest took a little while longer to get down, delayed slightly by ‘sum’ drama of Sum slipping and falling down on his butt that resulted in a few scratches.
Ching Li having a 'snack' on the way down ;)

By the time they were down, I had just exited the toilet, having emptied the 2 days worth of contents from my stomach! :p
Back at Base Camp! Looks like the track down is more strenous than it looks for some... ;)

There were very nice bathrooms at the park office, except that only ONE of them was truly working. While I was in the toilet, Wei Han, Kam Keong and Yee Wei had already taken their turn at it and my very timely exit from the toilet coincided very nicely with the schedule. After a long and very refreshing shower, I returned to the staging area near the registration office to have a go at some deliciously prepared Ramly burger. Coupled with generous gulps of 100 Plus, Pepsi and iced water (in order of consumption ;)), it felt like a meal made in heaven… Mmmm. The arrival of advance elements from the other group who started off after us, hastened our departure.
Refreshed and 'unloaded'! It's time to show how happy we are at a mission accomplished!

When Henry finished his bath, it was time for us to have a REAL meal, the van already ready to pick us and transfer us to Jelawang ‘CafĂ©’, located on the road to Dabong town. It was standard Malay fare but nevertheless, we ordered like nobody business. We had two servings each of ‘telur dadak’, seafood tomyam, mixed vegetables, ayam masak merah and sweet sour beef to cater to 11 people. Sadly, they were out of fish. We spent RM156.00 for the meal with some of us suspecting that its inflated price might have something to do with providing a little of ‘commission’ to our guide. :p
Sum displaying his chivalric inclinations! (To the cheers of the other guys!)

We had to return to the station by 5:30pm, the van having to take up more people waiting at Stong park. As we neared the station, I caught sight of a train coming out from under an overhead bridge, little knowing that it was a prelude to an ‘extension’ of our trip.
Time to head back!

We got down, I heading to the agency office to collect the stuff I left behind. When I got out, people were running about, there was a strange excitement in the air, uncanny for a town this sleepy. :p “The train derailed!” said Sum as he ran by. Oh-boy! I supposed it was really wishful thinking that we could still board the train home on schedule at 8:36pm, but at that point in time I was still hopeful. Not wanting to be left out of the ‘excitement’ I joined the growing crowd to ‘observe’ the debacle. Apparently the last coach slipped of the track, damaging the sleepers and yanking out the restraining clips in the process.
Time Extension???? Train derailment in Dabong!

There’s going to be a lot of work to be done. First was to set the coach back on the track and second to repair the track itself. Only then did I understand that I am going to spend a little bit more time here in Dabong.
Hello? Hello?! Train Derailment! Train Derailment! :p

The hour of our departure came and went. The moon was high and people were starting to get agitated. Everyone was huddling at the station now and milling about the two small ‘makan’ stalls nearby. Thankfully, one of them had a large TV, from which we watched the Carling Cup final between Man Utd and Aston Villa.
Nightfall at Dabong... the hours tick...

The usually sleepy local 'makan' shop has suddenly become the most HOTTEST spot in Dabong!

Others without an interest in football had to find ‘other’ types of entertainment and while some would have been contented with playing cards and chatting, Linus decided to take a step further, one resulting in a shouting match between the KTMB station master and himself.
Newest GSC branch in Dabong! :D

Actually, our tickets did mention that ‘should the train be delayed more than 2 hours before departure’, we are entitled for a FULL REFUND. Typical of Malaysian ‘gah-men’ service, the guy doesn’t know anything and at first adopted their standard ‘tidak-apa’ attitude. That riled Linus up and the result was that he managed to coerced the station master to chop, sign and leave a remark on our tickets saying that our train was more than 2 hours late, so that we can later bring the issue back at KL Sentral. We boarded the train at last around 3:30am in the morning, after teams of KTMB workers worked (and drank their share of teh tarik/teh o’limau) to remove the obstruction.
The train arriving AT LAST!

I made a short visit to the galley, got a bottle of water before heading back to my bunk. I slept lightly, remembering the train hurtling pass Kuala Lipis station then Jerantut, Kuala Krau, Mentakab, before I finally woke up as we approached Bahau, Negeri Sembilan.
Murder on the Orient Express? ;) I was so tired, I might as well be a corpse!

Ah... the comforts of air conditioning... ;) Not! :p

It was close to 9am then and the fact that we were already in Negeri Sembilan seem to imply that we’ll reach KL very soon! Those merry thoughts were dashed when we found out we still had to go south towards Gemas, Johor before the train headed back north.
Gemas leng lui... ;)

At Gemas, we stopped for almost an hour, some of us actually entertaining thoughts of paying a visit to the station’s Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant to grab a bite but all fearing that the train might just suddenly leave, stranding us behind!
Gemas leng chais and leng luis... ;)

We did manage to wander about outside the train and with so much time in our hands, some of us decide to conduct a somewhat interesting ‘experiment’. :p
The result of the experiment... if you think walking along railway tracks is 'romantic', look down at your feet. Because that's where all the excrements from the toilets are deposited!

We left Gemas at about 1:30pm, finally heading north towards home sweet home. As we approached KL Sentral, the electrical circuitry decided to play tricks on us, switching on and off at intervals of 20 to 30 minutes, reeking havoc on the lights and most importantly the air conditioning! :p Kam Keong happily got off at Kajang, relieved that he could short cut the agony and head home from there. Strangely, the air conditioning turned itself ‘on’ the moment he stepped out the train!
Kam Keong happily leaving the HOT train... strangely, the air conditioning turned itself back on the moment he stepped out of it! :p

Thinking that we might have perhaps gotten rid of the jinx, we soldiered on. The electrical circuitry gave up again as we approached KL Sentral at 3:30pm, plunging us into total darkness as we entered the tunnel where the arrival platforms were. We quickly got off the train. Still, there was some ‘unsettled’ business to attend to. Being the so called ‘organizer’ of the trip, I had to at least put some effort in ‘trying’ to get our refunds from KTMB. I approached the counter and made a preliminary enquiry. I was not surprised to be informed that there was no refund forthcoming. Their reason was simple, they might have been late, but despite that you still ‘used’ their services to get yourself back and therefore there should be no refund. :p Things begin to simmer when the ‘long haired’ one came over and helmed the ‘negotiations’ with KTMB.
The long haired one having a 'civilized' chat with your friendly KTMB staff...

Starting off by asking the female clerk whether she understood English, he demanded for our refund pointing out that vague ‘clause’ on our E-tickets. He was eventually asked to write a letter to the clerk’s superior who was not there. In it, he threatened to take court action against them as well as publish our experience in various newspapers should the refund isn’t forthcoming :p. He then asked *me* to sign the letter, which freaked me out! I mean, I support your crusade to make Malaysia right and all that, but putting me in the forefront ala ‘Rosa Parks’, well, that’s a whole different ball game altogether! :p Nevertheless, I signed the letter after getting Linus to sign on it as well. “Don’t worry dude, we’re right! They’re wrong,” reassured Linus. ;) As he submitted our signed letter, we found out that among the ‘supporting documents’ stapled to it, Linus, Yee Wei, Henry and Sum’s e-tickets were not among them.
The last time that document was seen... ;)

Apparently, the custodian of their tickets had left it under his pillow in the train rendering the possibility of the 4 getting their refunds (should there is any) slim to say the least. I guess Linus must have been very tired, because surprisingly he bit his tongue on this and we were all ‘released’ to head home. We parted ways, each of us taking separate modes of transport home. Like the way we came, Wei Han and I chartered a taxi to bring us to where Wei Han parked his car, his office. My mind was so wrapped up thinking about court cases and such that regrettably, the taxi driver managed to drive off with my unpowered Nokia N82! Goodbye my dear phone… you’ll be truly missed! :p This unceremoniously made the trip to Gunung Stong/Jelawang the MOST EXPENSIVE hiking trip I have ever been done so far! But one very good thing I gained out of all this though… I could now fit into my size 32 jeans again. And that my friends, made ALL that hard work WORTHWHILE! Until next time… ;)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Day 2: The Hike up to Gunung Stong

9:30am, February 27th, 2010, Baha Camp, Jelawang: After watching the magnificent sunrise from the top of Jelawang waterfall (well, admittedly everyone EXCEPT ME. I was still in dreamland at that time) and having breakfast consisting of a combination of Maggee mee, Cream of Mushroom soup and some black bean fish in a can, we set our sights for the summit of Gunung Stong. We had loaded our bags with drinking water, two loaves of bread and cans of sardines, tuna and baked beans for the anticipated 4 hour hike to the peak, 1390m above sea level. Realizing the extent of my stamina this time around, I had shed most of the back breaking weight I brought along with me to Baha Camp. I was also secretly appreciative that a vote to stay another night at Jelawang instead of shifting camp to Gua Bogor as per original plan was passed by the majority of our participants. This was mainly due to the fact that we were informed by the guide that there was no water there, which in hindsight was not very accurate information. Retracing our way out from the camp via its sole entrance, we arrived at the fork in the road we encountered yesterday that led uphill. Any illusions that the hike up is going to be an easy one was quickly dispelled 5 minutes on the trail. Like the way up to base camp, it was virtually uphill ALL the way, the incline getting steeper and steeper as we approached the top.
Resting by the wayside on the way up to Stong

The first 30 minutes of the trail resembled the track from Kem Pacat to Puncak Pengasih in Nuang, as we waded over a literal trench, carved out in the middle of the laterite slope by down flowing rain water.
Jungle trail... can you see it? ;)

These upward sloping tracks were punctuated by brief patches of flat ground overgrown with ‘paku-pakis’ that probed into the track, it’s groping vines, leaves and stems threatening to entangle and virtually strangle anyone moving through it like something out of a B-grade horror movie.
'Attacked' by a giant sentient 'paku pakis' organism!

We passed through two streams of cold mountain water before reaching the mid way point represented by Gua Bogor.
Gua Bogor

Not really a cave in the general sense, it is more of an enclosed area formed by a pile of giant boulders in the jungle. A stream runs right next to the ‘cave’ offering a source of water for cooking and bathing, which was actually contrary to what our guide had told us back at the camp. If we had been told that there was water conveniently available here, it would just have been ok to bring up our sleeping bags and a night’s worth of food, leave it here and continue up the mountain before returning to spend the night. We didn’t tarry long at Gua Bogor though as our guide was egging us to move on, although not before filling up our bottles with river water at this last water source. From here, the climb up only got even tougher as the incline became even steeper. Halfway through, we begin to notice the surrounding flora becoming more ‘temperate’ in variety: moss, lichen and ferns abound.
A species of flower...

Another example of fine jungle flora...

The last part of the climb required us to scale almost 60 degrees up rocky boulders for close to an hour, myself constantly looking up at how far the jungle canopy was, hoping that soon, it will open up to sky and we were at the summit. Again, as was in Nuang, the summit came up suddenly.
At the summit at last! Or is it again? :p

Little more than a large boulder, it was surrounded with coniferous trees which coupled with the mist still evident around, blocked out most of the surrounding panorama. Some would say it was quite disappointing after all the effort put in. I had then realized that I had been here before and perhaps my enforced ‘amnesia’ was due to the fact that the first time I was feeling the same disappointment I felt now for the lack of a ‘reward’ for all the effort! We were also not alone as two other groups eventually shared the top of the mountain with us, one coming before and another coming after.
Who says it's lonely at the top?

Our group's turn to stake a claim!

We lingered around for an hour and a half, consuming our packed lunch and drinking what’s left of our water.
Oh, how I long the comforts of a soft bed... ;)

In between, we were visited by a curious squirrel in search of handouts (and no, I wouldn't recommend the bushy tailed creature as a source of food for you bush meat people out there. Shoo! :p)
Having a go at our 'packed' lunch...

Sorry, no bush meat please!

At 2:30pm, we begin our journey down to the base camp. Going down was a lot easier than going up though some restraint is in order so as not to let momentum overtake you and you ending up toppling over the steep inclines. For this, you’ll require knees of steel. :p
Descending down the mountain...

Nevertheless, we did cover a lot of ground pretty fast and soon we were back in Gua Bogor taking our rest and refilling our water. Our guide seems to be in a hurry to get back and despite promising us to show how he was going to do a ‘Tarzan’ with that long overhanging vine in the center of the cave, he urged us instead to head back to camp.
Taking a breather by the stream at Gua Bogor

Wei Han, Linus and I were the last to leave and when we managed to get ourselves back on the track passing the cave, we found our group ‘gone’! :p Wei Han had initially thought he knew where they went and led the way. It only took us a couple of minutes trudging through an overgrown ‘paku-pakis’ grove before we realized we were lost. :p Fortunately, a call out to our group managed to get a response from Sum and guided by his voice, we managed to pick our way out to rejoin the main group who had started off without us.
A species of 'pede'... generally harmless

A black milipede...

Now this one you better watch out! A centipede crossed our path on the way up...

We were back in the camp by 5:30pm. Overall, I should really be grateful that the weather cooperated. It was rather cool and cloudy in the morning and only briefly warm towards the evening. Not a drop of rain fell throughout which would have made the journey harrowing, negotiating down the slippery laterite slope if it did. We cleaned ourselves off at the waterfall immediately upstream of Jelawang, close to the camp. Here we were treated to a spectacle as some members of the other group of people managed to get some hemp rope to scale up a point in the middle of the 20m high fall. At first I had thought they might have wanted to do some ‘abselling’ but later did I realized that they had wanted to climb up only to slide down it’s smooth inclined sides into the shallow pool below (at high speed)!
This is the most 'pro' of our waterfall surfers. Don't try unless you have already settled all your worldly dues...

Knowing how my rotten luck would hold in such circumstances, I chose not to participate despite an invitation from one of the ladies and Linus’s persistent pestering. Linus, the adrenaline junkie that he was, couldn’t resist not gambling a few pieces of teeth, bone and gristle for a few seconds of ‘fun’. Thankfully, none was needed to be donated to the ‘spirits’ of the falls.
Linus apparently 'has'... ;)

Wei Han, Yee Wei and myself watched Linus and members from the other group court death as we washed. Sufficiently cleansed, I left the waterfall to help prepare dinner. Tonight’s highlight was spaghetti Bolognese. ;) I don’t really know what others might think, but it is really not that hard or exotic to prepare when going camping. All you need to have are Bunsen burners, mess tins, can of sauce and generous amounts of water and voila! We supplemented our ‘luxurious’ meals with some pickled Chinese vegetables and boiled luncheon meat, topping it off with more servings of ‘Neslo’.
Tidak ditanggung halal!

As the full moon dominated the night sky, we again congregated over the rocky outcrop of Jelawang falls, marveling at its beauty. Our group was less enthusiastic about playing werewolves tonight, tired as we were. Instead we arranged ourselves to lie in a circle, our heads forming the hub and playing ‘Truth or Dare’. The ‘Dare’ was to plunge into the icy cold waters of the waterfalls ‘neh-ked’ (or so Linus says) but fortunately, it was not really enforced. One round of withering questions and soon we were off to bed, the journey home and the cool embrace of Telaga Tujuh the highlight for tomorrow.