Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Tasik Bera, Day 2: Sojourning by the lake

The cool, crispy morning air of the jungle I was expecting to be greeted by didn’t quite materialize as I awoke to the sounds of chatter. Come to think of it, the last time I had a 'chilly' morning was back in Endau Rompin more than a year ago. Since then, all my subsequent camping trips didn't really give me that same ‘fresh’ feeling. The night was HOT and at one point, I had to take off my sweaty shirt to relief myself of the heat! :p Signs of global warming perhaps (or maybe poor ventilation)? In any case, it was close to daybreak when my mind 'returned' to my body. A few people were prancing around the campsite, notably our insomniac, Eric, whom I hear was unaccustomed to the night time harmonics from our band and fled the campsite to the air conditioned refuge of his car. Although 'awoken', I remained in the tent, my eyes stubbornly shut though my ears was unconsciously tuning to the snippets of conversation between Jady and Eric. ;)
Tranquility by the lake...

They were recounting the individual contributors to the orchestra of noise (Jady, you’re one of them ok? ;)) as well as the attempted ‘invasion’ by a herd of furry non-halal ‘visitors’ into our camp. Eric prepared more bait balls for a round of 'solo' fishing by the lakeside. True, it was a wonderful time to go fishing at 6:30am in the morning, but I haven't yet got full motor control of my body. :p By the time I got out of the tent, the girls had woken up while Eric had left for the lake. Jiun Hoe was found in Wei Han's *one* man tent after having (purportedly) slipped in to shelter himself from the roaming herds of wild boars (hey at least it’s better than being hunted by Baskerville hounds in the English moors) ;).
Caught 'red handed'! Jiun Hoe in Wei Han's tent! ;)

Vincent was still with the sandman although in the end, Yee Wei was last to awake.
Young bodies need more hours of sleeping... ;)

Having done my morning routine, it was time for breakfast. Wei Han and Jiun Hoe was fiddling with my bunsen burner when I returned from the washroom, figuring out how to fit the gas tank onto the stove. An impossible task, because I told them the gas tank they were flipping around wasn't for the stove. Rather, it was for the gas powered lantern I didn't use the night before. :p Guess we have to prepare breakfast the 'old fashioned' way isn't it? Walking back to our cooled down BBQ pit, I arranged the charcoal pieces the way I remembered from Port Dickson, building a roughly square structure with room at the center for the fire starters which Wei Han recommended we used all of what's left. The next thing on the list of starting up our warm stove was a fire to burn the starters, something surprisingly rare in commodity among non-smokers apparently! (Our resident smoker at that time was still at the lake trying to catch our morning breakfast... :p) No problem really, because I went over to our neighbor and borrowed a box of matches, enduring a bout of “Do you have some matches to spare?” and receiving the “Sure, but you’ll have to pay for it” joke. :p Still, the matches burned out too fast for the starters to ignite and only when our smoker returned (empty handed ;)), did we managed to get the starters 'started' with a flick of a lighter! :p
Lessons learnt! This is the way to set up a BBQ pit fire! (With a little help from a lighter of course) :)

Stoking the flame under a 'Sea Scout's' supervision (hmm... one wonders how on Earth do people from an inland town like Taiping becomes 'SEA' scouts?)

For some reason, we were more conscious of our hygiene than yesterday when preparing our food. Whereas yesterday, we were laying down the steak, sausages and chicken patties on the bare wire mesh, today we were laying our food down on the same wires with the notable difference of having a sheet of aluminum foil wrapped around it. This in effect presents itself with some problems. For one, the smoke from the fire beneath couldn't pass through the wrapped up mesh. Instead, coming up along the sides of the pit and stinging the eyes of our 'cooks' ;). For two, we have the problem of our foils having the tendency to catch fire, basically more to the fact that our rumbling stomachs didn’t allow us the patience to wait for the charcoal to settle down to warm embers, allowing the still lively flames to lick the aluminium sheets from beneath.
Eric 'helping' to prepare burger patties prior to being 'shooed' away by Pui Voon on accusations that he is preparing mince meat instead!

Barring a few mishaps (Eric attempted to convert our burger patties to mince meat until Pui Voon shooed him away while Ching Li experimented an egg with Ribena combination), we managed to conjure up the required burger patties, scrambled eggs and sausages.
Enjoying a morning breakfast...

My stomach rumbled again right after breakfast and regretably, it was time to visit the loo ('toilets' are so 'Midlands' class, so says Mr. Jiun Hoe) again :p. Fortunately there were no giant spiders skulking around the 'throne' this time. I came out from the loo to notice Eric waiting outside. He was adjusting his hair in the mirror as he waited for the loo to do his business. His hands though were suspiciously devoid of a toilet roll (Eeeee?) :p.

Cries of anguish greeted me (from Pui Voon and Jady) when I returned to the camp minus the roll of toilet paper I took. Believe it or not, it was revealed (by Vincent) that 'most' people manage to clean their behinds with a mere FIVE squares of toilet paper! SIMPLY INCREDIBLE! (which explains why Eric went in seemingly 'empty handed' perhaps? :p ;)) In any case, with nothing else to do, our eyes went over our fishing rods. A few suggestions were bandied about by our anglers as to how best to fish out the elusive fishies, ranging from renting a motorized boat with a guide (RM120/boat) to take us to the center of the lake, renting a row boat (RM4/person) and row ourselves out or just fish by the lakeside. Jiun Hoe sort of settled the issue when he appeared at the supposedly VIP exclusive jetty a short distance away from us. :p
Jiun Hoe among the reeds still trying his luck at getting the 'BIG' one...

This beautifully built jetty/platform is reserved for VIPs only! :p

We got ourselves over, hauling our fishing equipment. The area was actually fenced up although a gap in the fence allowed Jiun Hoe and us to get through. There were fishes in the water, although they were pathetically small fries :p. We cast our rods and after about an hour still got nothing. Jiun Hoe and Yee Wei spied on a boat lined up against the jetty and the ‘devil’ perhaps whispered to them to take it to the small floating fish farm just about 100 meters away from the jetty. Wei Han, Vincent, Eric and myself (with a little bit more wisdom(?)) politely refused their invitation and soon these two ‘pirates’ were onboard the farm. As always when these things happen and seemingly like clockwork, that was cue for the absentee guard to show up. Maybe hesitant to approach the four misfits sitting at the platform alone, the guard zig-zagged his way to us, scoping us from different angles. On our part, none of us attempted to turn around to look back, pretending as if nothing was going on. After judging that we didn’t look like ‘violent’ people, he finally threw the question, “Macam mana kamu semua ni masuk ke kawasan ini?” ("How did you people managed to get into this area?" - Ahem, in Queen's English). It was Wei Han who broke the ice by saying that we came through the gap in the fence from the ‘resort’. The guard reminded us that the jetty we were on was for VIPs only and owned by PERHILITAN, the gah-men’s department of forestry. Further questions on the missing boat revealed that the fish farm was for fry to be released into the lake and the two ‘pirates’ onboard had to return immediately or the guard will call ‘reinforcements’ (read POLIS!) to evict us from this ‘restricted’ area. We packed our stuff and left, after calling out to the ‘pirates’ to come back to shore. They initially thought our call was a hoax but eventually joined us on the other side of the fence before being potentially ‘caught’ by the authorities. ;) Frankly, as a freed ‘Selangorian’, it kinda cheeses me off when we are told utilities built on tax payer’s money (I meant the platform and not the trespassing of the fish farm :p ;)) are reserved for a certain ‘elite’ few to use. Which part of ‘Rakyat DIDAHULUKAN’ does it mention that there exists segregation of amenities built on public funds for VIPs? :p How many of these ‘VIP’s actually come over to fish at the platform and how frequent (if at all)?
An afternoon sojourn, killing time before heading home...

'Happy' feet? Eric fulfill his missed appointment with the sand man the night before...

We left the ‘resort’ at a little pass mid-day, heading back to Temerloh. We were initially targeting to have our lunch there before crossing over the Titiwangsa range for home but finding food in this town remains as elusive as the last time we were here after our Sungai Lembing trip in May. Despite the fact that it’s a holiday weekend and a school holiday to boot, few shops were open in this town. Our second attempt at finding the ‘famous ikan bakar’ stall by the side of the main road didn’t reveal any results, confirming my nagging hunch that perhaps it might have been moved from the place I last time had. I’d doubt a ‘famous’ stall like that would CLOSE and I don’t think I’d had ‘ikan bakar’ with fairies either (Maxx was far from looking like a fairy, to me at least :p). At the same time, our search for a ‘river’food restaurant proves futile as well. We finally stopped for a meal at a cafĂ© called D’Island instead.
One of the few shops opened in Temerloh. :p Again the perplexing conundrum of references to 'marine' features in an inland setting... (the nearest sea is about 200km both ways!)

Strangely, ‘Loh Mai Kai’ seems to be the MOST popular dish here because when we ordered for it, we were told they were out of supply. Knowing that we will be frequenting Restaurant ‘126’ at Kampung Bukit Tinggi later on, we ordered light, Jady and I sharing a plate of Chicken Parmagiano (as in the case when sharing with a lady, the ratio always seems to be 75-25 rather than 50-50 at my ‘advantage’). ;) We left Temerloh at about 3:30pm, entering the East Coast expressway at about 4:00pm. This time around, Eric put the pedal to the metal, zooming ahead of Wei Han. The millionaires and millionairesses were surprisingly quiet today, because his phone wasn’t buzzing (except for a few smses) every few minutes like it did the day before. :p I took the brief lull to catch up on some sleep and when I ‘returned’ we were already at the toll by the entrance to the Karak highway. Here, Eric asked me whether we were about to enter the ‘speed trap danger zone’ and I told him regrettably, we had just passed it (the region from the Karak toll to the East Coast Expressway toll). :p We reached Restaurant ‘126’ at about 5:00pm and already it was beginning to fill up.
Restaurant 126 (sometimes mistaken for '555') ;)

Ordering our dishes which included two plates of their signature honeyed pork bellies, we made sure we didn’t leave out a dish of steamed ‘Patin’, to ‘avenge’ our futile attempt at getting any ourselves. :p Encouraging us to practice ‘chilvary’, Eric proposed a staggered seating arrangement between the ladies and the guys, which ended up Wei Han and myself having to ensure Ching Li’s plate remained sufficiently full with food. Jady’s was taken cared for by Eric while Pui Voon got Jiun Hoe’s attention. ;)
The food served is tasty and surprisingly cheap!

After thanking our organizers, Jady and Wei Han, we left the place with a further proposal (from Fei) for a trip to Teluk Intan in the works. Perhaps by then the smell of fresh vinyl might accentuate the driving experience (we’ll make sure Kam Keong is available for us to experience his new ride)? ;) The remainder of the evening was spent ‘educating’ me on the political complexities of girl-girl relationships by the two ladies in the M3, an after trip ‘yum char’ session in Subang to (further) wind down the night and a surprising discovery that one of our drivers have an outstanding ‘saman’ from PDRM (for speeding)! :p ;)

Next stop... Island Hopping in the South China Sea! :D See you then! ;)

Monday, June 7, 2010

Tasik Bera, Day 1: Takde Ikan pun! :p

It's been a while since I went fishing and I have to admit, this is probably the first time since I came back from the United States that I am going fishing in a lake (Yup, it has been a long, long, long time ago! :p). Admittedly, I was a tad bit 'confident' in getting something from this lake having been 'lucky' at the paid fishing ponds in both Kota Kemuning and Port Klang. As such, when our band of 'brothers' and 'sisters' left Bandar Utama for the drive down to Temerloh and finally Bera lake, I was still clinging on to the belief that my 'beginner's' luck will continue to hold and was already entertaining thoughts of having dinner graced by slices of 'Patin' and 'Tilapia'... Mmmmhmmm! ;). Not that my musings is going to distract my attention from the road. I needn't place my attention there for a change, for the lovely fact that for once in quite some time now, I wasn't behind the wheel. ;) Rather, for perhaps the '1st' time, I was behind the dashboard of Eric's M3 on the 3 hour drive to Tasik Bera! :)
An M3... isn't she pretty? ;)

Behind, was Vincent (shhh... he is Eric's boss), Fei (the boss's wife) and Pui Voon (the boss's wife 'hiong har' friend), Hahaha... Ahead, leading the way in the champaigne gold colored Vios is Wei Han at the driver's seat (co-organizer), Jady (organizer), Ching Li, Yee Wei and our brand new friend, Jiun Hoe (from the UK, ok?! ;) and it's NOT Ulu Klang). Our first stop in this 2D1N camping/fishing trip is a common and familiar stoppover for us 'experienced' hikers Wei Han, Yee Wei and myself; that is the small quaint mountainside village of Kampung Bukit Tinggi, located along the Karak Highway pass Genting Sempah.
Kampung Bukit Tinggi by the Karak highway

Our regular wan tan mee shop

What is it that attracts us you might ask... well, it's none other than it's FAMOUS BBQ pork of course! Sold by a man from a motorcycle parked outside one of the village's hardware shops (don't worry, the village is small enough to the point you won't need to go around in circles looking for him), the crunchy, succulent slices of roasted and BBQ pork is a must have if you were to pass by this section of the Karak highway early in the morning.
Digging into Bukit Tinggi's famous char siew and siew yoke... in the PAST! ;)

By early, I meant EARLY. Because by the time we reached there at 930am, the man had already absconded himself (with his tasty slices of meat) for almost an hour already! :p Thereafter, resigned to the fact that we're not going to have a chance to savor this mountainside village's signature morning dish, we ended up instead having 'wan tan mee' served with some 'yong tau foo' at the side in the one same shop us hikers have always been going to in our waterfall adventures close to this particular portion of the Titiwangsa range.
No siew yoke this time around :p. It's gonna be wan tan mee alone...

There was a 'slight' delay in our departure from the village, as our 'weekend warrior', Eric, had to entertain a potential (couple of) million ringgit call from a buyer/seller of prime real estate. Not that Vincent is complaining though. ;)
Where's our driver? Why, he is busy trying to close a multi million ringgit deal!

The very fact that today was the Yang di Pertuan Agong's birthday wasn't going to deter millionaires and millionairesses from calling their friendly, neighbourhood real estate agent. 20 minutes later, we were back on the road leaving the East Coast Highway at the Temerloh exit pass noon. From here, we followed the signboards towards Bera Lake, passing Temerloh town itself and over the mighty Pahang river. Being the so called 'Patin/Tilapia' capital of Malaysia, there were no shortages of roadside stalls with signboards saying 'Patin/Tilapia untuk dijual (for sale)'.
You know you are in the Patin/Tilapia capital of Malaysia when you see signs like this dotting the roadside

Although curiosity (and a little bit of apprenhension) made us halt at one of these stalls eventually, we paused first in Temerloh town proper at an aquarium shop to stock up on bait.
Temerloh... ;)

Wei Han decided to change his reel line, while the other anglers went about their business as the ladies stopped to admire the fishes. *I* paid a courtesy call with Mother Nature, my 'iron' bowels strangely unable to hold its contents this trip. With me for company was a nest of GIANT daddy long legs, deceptively still as I 'desludged'. :p I left Temerloh feeling slightly 'lighter', the group of us stopping by the roadside at one of those many 'fish for sale' shops. With money to spend on buying some 'stand-in' fishies, there wasn't anybody to receive them! We lingered around the shop, looking at the swimming Patins in the pool and fending off the urge to commit a sin as we waited for someone to show up.
Nice little fishies swimming around in the basin unattended...

... while we fight the urge to commit a 'sin' ;)

We left empty handed after a good 15 minutes. Unfortunately, that was the very last shop on the road before the 'kampung' scenary gave way to oil palm plantations that dominated the landscape the rest of the journey on. From here, it took us another hour before we reached the Tasik Bera resort.
Our destination: The lake!

Here is worth noting that despite looking as if the lake is a short distance from the highway, in reality, it is almost 70km from Temerloh town, located perhaps close to Muadzam Shah by the Pahang/Johor border! We registered the drivers at the guardhouse on arrival prior to entering the lakeside itself.
Tasik Bera at last!

The small parking lot near the resort's restaurant was almost filled with cars when we arrived. Despite it's seclusion, it seems Tasik Bera still manages to attract it's share of visitors. Quite a number of the people that come here have fishing rods in one hand (and ominously nothing in the other :p) while the rest seems to be either school/university kids on holiday or families out for a camping/picnic stint by the lake. A concrete jetty was being built at the center of the resort, the all too familiar 'weighing scale' symbol adorning a wooden board showing details of the construction nearby (and advertising which political coalition is responsible for the 'development' perhaps?).
At the 'resort' with the rising jetty on the left...

A few chalets dot the resort, all of them booked if we are to hear what the counter staff is telling us rightly.
The chalets look relatively new although few in number...

As Wei Han paid our camping site fees, we unloaded our tents, foodstuff and bags, bringing our luggage to the cement platform that was to serve as our campsite first before venturing into the ONLY restaurant for our lunch. It was about 2:30pm in the hot afternoon. Lunch was served slowly, as the overwhelmed resort staff seemed to struggle to cook for 10 hungry people. Jady informed us after making some enquiries to the staff that there appears to be some logistics problems in the supply of cooked rice, the restaurant having to cook more of it to cater for us. After waiting for more than 30 minutes, we dig in hungrily into our stir fried ginger chicken, asam curry patin, mixed vegetables, tom yam soup and generous amounts of fried eggs.
Asam Fish! Yum... yum!

Bellies filled, we went back to the campsite to set up our night's abode before making a beeline to the boats that will take us to a small floating house nearby where we will finally fulfill our trip's primary objective and cast our lines for RM4/person.
Our campsite graced by our 4 leng luis... ;)

Beginning our fishing trip! Spirits are high... ;)

Our 'pre-booked' 'kelong' however appeared occupied as we got onboard, a group of Chinese guys were already there fishing.
The 'kelong' by the lake...

The boatman (and resort worker) apologized (?) to them and said that the place had been pre-booked, resulting in the removal of 2 of them into a small boat but leaving one other determined 'squatter' with us. Not that we minded of course, because like visitors to Rome, we observed what the 'Romans' did. Fishing for 'Toman', they were using lures made out of slabs of red meat while at the same time, sprinkling the surrounding waters with chopped slices of the same. Snatches of overheard conversation between Eric, Vincent and the dude chopping more of the red meat revealed that it was not of the 'halal' variety. :p The fact that they are fishing 'Toman' also revealed that there were probably no other variety of fish nearby, since this particular species of fish is known for it's aggresive and carnivourous tendencies. :p Eric was already outlining the 'doom' of our efforts as he revealed to us a recipe to prepare bait for Patin, consisting of a combination of chicken feed, flour and water.
Bait for Patin: Chicken feed, flour and water... too bad there aren't any to eat them :p

We nevertheless cast our lines anyway, using balls of the crushed mixture aforementioned with predictable results. We initially tried the recommended method of weighing the bait down so that we may catch the bottom feeding Patin, before some of us opting to switch strategies by either using crickets as bait instead or fishing closer to the surface using the bait balls in combination with a float. Of course, 'sifu' Eric had more than one trick up his sleeve when he pulled out his 'fly' (in fly I meant the plastic looking fish bait and not his imitation of being Michael Jackson :p). Telling us that he was out to catch 'Toman' like the other dudes, he casted it a few times into the waters close to growing marsh brushes beside our kelong. When I saw him suddenly changing his bait from the fancy RM14 'fly' to the much lower costing bait balls, he told me that 'a Toman bit his fly and ran off with it into the undergrowth'! (Yeah right! ;)) Yee Wei pointed me towards a cut line suscipiously snagged among the floating growth instead. Hahaha!
Mr Eric smirking as he thought he had 'fooled' me about his lost 'fly'... ;)

While the guys fished, the ladies occupied themselves chatting and taking photographs, with the exception of Jady and Jiun Hoe.
Beautiful ladies by the lake... :D

Commandeering a kayak for RM30, they paddled off towards the farthest reaches (they could manage) of the lake joining us at the kelong about 30-45 minutes later after we started fishing. Jady switched places with Pui Voon for an approximately shorter stint before the kayak returned for another lady to jump aboard.
'Macho' man Jiun Hoe showing Pui Voon his chivalrious nature...

Ching Li and Fei wasn't in the mood and Jady took Pui Voon's place again for a 2nd time. The 4th time the kayak returned, the sky was darkening ominously as lances of rain fell in the far distance. That prompted a call to return to land which was entertained by the waiting boatman by the shore. Jiun Hoe and his kayak returned with Jady, while the ladies hopped into the arriving boat. 'Sifu' Eric took the opportunity to jump together with them, leaving Yee Wei, Wei Han, Vincent and myself on the kelong to wait for the boat to return. The boat did not return because it's motor went bust! :p The 4 of us remaining could only watch in dismay as the boatman dismantled the motor to supposedly haul it off to the workshop for repairs, promising to return to get us. Minutes passed, then tens of minutes before we realized the guy wasn't coming back! :p In desperation, Vincent called Eric to search for the missing boatman or anybody onshore to get us off the kelong. From our vantage point, we saw Eric made a few rounds, sometimes holding his phone in an apparent attempt to get some help (right? ;)). The others also returned to the lakeside a number of times to observe as well. Eventually, knowing that the boat is not going to return anytime soon, I decided instead to reassemble my rod and cast again for those elusive patin.
Marooned in the middle of the lake, we have nothing else to do but cast our fishing lines into the water again...

The rest followed soon after with nothing much else to do. While we waited futilely for the fish to bite, we took photos of the gathering sunset with the SLR cameras which Wei Han has with him and Jady conveniently left behind. We were not really roused by the sound of the motor from the boat that was finally going to ferry us to our camp probably because we have already by then gotten numb by the frequent thru and fro goings of other boats whizzing away close to the center of the lake. But roused we eventually did and soon each one of us were boarding the small craft that will take us back. A 'slight' mishap occurred during that boarding rite which resulted in a wet SLR and a wet handphone among others, but I have been told not to elaborate beyond that. :p
Saved! (at least for most of us) ;)

Suffice to say, Jady's asset left behind with us was handed safely to her from my hands. ;) Our BBQ pit fire was already burning when the 4 of us reached camp, Jiun Hoe and the ladies diligently flipping and tossing the pieces of chicken wings and cocktails over the heated charcoals.
Iron chef Jiun Hoe showing his British culinary skills now...

Vincent, Yee Wei and myself took over from them to cook up the lamb and beef steaks while Wei Han went to shower off Tasik Bera. The washrooms, connected to one of the chalet units were amazingly CLEAN, having both bathrooms and toilets! We finished an entire bottle of Jack Daniel's Swing whiskey, greatly appreciating Mr. Eric's contribution while I pulled out my supply of Vodka to support.
Enjoying the fruits of our labor (minus the fish!)

... while Wei Han 'mourns' his lost... ;)

As the fires of our BBQ pit cooled and our stomachs filled (not to mention our bodies WASHED of course), we moved on to our favourite game of psychology which to me at least, meant nothing else but werewolves! ;)
Aw, come on! Werewolves isn't boring! :D :)

Our new 'addition' Jiun Hoe and Jady brought new 'spice' to our game, Jiun Hoe earning 'Sunday' as a nickname for being particularly prone to lycanthropy while Jady confounding the Gamemaster as she insisted on whacking an already very dead wolf with her trusty broomstick, TWICE. The role of rabble rouser and stake stoker that was usually filled by a certain long haired person was occupied instead by Eric. ;)
'Sifu' Eric in his element... ;)

Yee Wei, myself as well as some of the girls couldn't help notice the similarities. Conspicuously missing was Vincent, who was already having a date with the sandman. As usual, time flew by as we sent peasants and wolves to burn and soon it was time to go to join Vincent in dreamland. Well, at least most of us did. One particular person (whom I heard haven't camped in more than 10 years) had to sleep in his car instead, away from all the harmonious music (in which I was told I was a cellist) emanating around the campsite. :D
Sunset by the lake... BEAUTIFUL!

Our anglers, leng luis and renaissance man from Britain! ;) From left: Jady, Pui Voon, Yee Wei, Wei Han, Ching Li, Jiun Hoe, Vincent, the author and Eric.