Melaka

We moved on to Melaka in the state of Malacca. The spelling varies, we’ve even seen Melaqa. Liesel started chanting Melaka-laka boom-boom but the nurse came by with her meds.

We paid one final visit to The Mossy Forest for breakfast: no freebies this time, and it was a fond farewell. We walked the rest of the way to the bus terminal, one of the local stray dogs showing us the way. I’m sure all the passers-by thought he was with us. There was a second dog, also wearing a collar, but he disappeared, perhaps to guide another group of visitors.

The rest of the day was spent sitting on a bus. Two buses, in fact, as we had to change back at Amanjaya Bus Terminal. Yes, it might be an ‘ekspres’ service but we had to travel twice the distance.

The second bus ride was nearly seven hours long. Seven hours! It was mainly a straight road though, so I was able to read and nod off and read and nod off. I was sitting by myself, Liesel and Jyoti having been allocated seats much nearer the front.

Not the local Hells Angels chapter

Motorcycles are very popular here, seemingly all over Malaysia. When the bus driver stopped for a quick break, I leapt off for biological reasons and bought some snacks. What I thought was mango slices turned out to be unidentifiable, almost tasteless slices of orange, sticky wood.

Our new residence was a 20 minute ride in a Grab cab from the bus station. A 44-storey monstrosity right on the waterfront. We’re on the 16th floor.

A quick meal and after such an exhausting day, we went to bed. The Chinese restaurant only had menus in Chinese so we had to rely on the pictures and trust that they understood the concept of “no meat”. Outside, a fire was burning in an open bin. The smoke came in, I closed the sliding door, sometimes sliding it too far, so the other end became exposed to the fresh outside air.

Jyoti witnessed sunrise through the haze

The next day was sad. Jyoti returned to Singapore to see some friends for a couple of days, before her 40-hour return to Alaska. That makes seven hours on a bus seem like heaven. So now, it’s just Liesel and me again. And what a busy day this was. Well, no, not really.

Top banana but we don’t need the bag

Melaka provides bananas in individual plastic bags. If only bananas grew with their own built-in protective layer. But at least, there’s a handy eating guide.

We went out for a short meander. The footpaths are hard to negotiate, steps, big cracks, broken tiles, steep kerbs, cut down trees, uncovered drainage ditches, water pipes, parked motorcycles and the odd restaurant making use of the pavement for their tables.

But every now and then, we come across a small shrine.

You have to watch where you’re walking

Some have incense burning which adds to the general smell of bonfires.

Silverscape Tower B

This is our current pad. Oh for the days of a cabin in the woods! Our apartment is on the other side, overlooking the sea. Sometimes, you can even make out the horizon, but there are so many bonfires and there is a lot of haze here.

Late morning looking east

Below us is a new shopping mall with a few shops, but most are empty lots and one floor hasn’t even been finished yet.

There must be a 7-Eleven here somewhere

It’ll be great when it’s finished, I’m sure, but we were perplexed by the proximity of this shiny new place to the old town, where many of the shops are run down, empty, up for sale or rent.

On the 13th floor of our tower is a swimming pool which sounds very appealing in the heat. There’s also an area of astroturf which needs to be finished. And over in the residential part of town, at least one fire is going.

Future picnic site
Smoke on the residential area

We’ve seen a few small fishing boats in the sea, too, plus a couple of faster vessels.

We visited two museums and an art gallery all in one day. First though, after a really long lie-in, during which I was accused of snoring, we went to the local Hard Rock Café for a late breakfast slash early lunch. Ceasar (sic) salad and chili fries for me. Cauliflower burger for Liesel.

And while we were in here admiring Tom Petty’s old jacket and Kiss’s old guitar and listening to Taylor Swift and Bob Marley, it rained. It was a torrential downpour and the purpose of the high kerbs became clear.

Rain and a big guitar

We ate slowly so as not to have to go back out into the rain, but we’ve never felt rushed anywhere in Malaysia or Singapore.

Sometimes here, it’s been like being in a self-help book. There are cute little slogans on many walls.

All is one

This is Hard Rock’s offering. Did you eat all the biscuits? No, I only ate one. Well, where are the rest? Meanwhile, in our own apartment, we have…

You’re my sunshine
Love generously

The wall in our place in Ipoh was full of these things: I wish I’d taken pictures, now. The best one, though, said “Do not conform”, and it was hung at a jaunty angle!

The Baba and Nyonya Museum, round the corner from Hard Rock, told the story of an immigrant Chinese family, the Chans. It’s a house, restored to how it would have looked about 100 years ago. No photos from inside, but what a fascinating insight to a totally alien culture which still managed to borrow from the west. There was a Victorian influenced teak wood sideboard. One of the ancestors was a real anglophile, playing the violin, setting up “gentlemen’s clubs” and playing lawn bowls and tennis.

Seven generations of Straits-born Chinese can be traced, much better documented than many western families.

It was hard to judge whether this was a typical family or a relatively wealthy one in the area.

The artwork was very well presented. The paintings tended to be narrow and tall, rather then the golden ratio portrait and landscape formats we’re more used to. I still find it interesting that, however different other cultures are, however separated from us by distance and by time, they very often produce arts and artifacts that are aesthetically pleasing to our western-oriented sensibilities.

There was a display of old banknotes here too: the original Malay dollar, the Japanese dollar known as “banana notes” because of the bananas on the $10 bill. The Malaysian ringgit has only been used since 1969.

Some of the costumes were stunningly gorgeous, a lot of work goes into these items.

Along the road, we found more pretty tiles to walk on.

More tiles for the collection

One local hero was depicted in the street. I had to keep moving so that other passers-by wouldn’t mistake me for him.

Mr Melaka aka Mr Universe, not Mick

Walking along, you’re usually looking down but when you do pause to look up, some of the old buildings are very attractive. I wouldn’t necessarily want to live here, but these are much easier on the eye than too much modern glass and steel.

Old colonial buildings
The first 5D Museum

We have no idea what a 5D Museum is. But if they’re messing with the spacetime continuum, I want nothing to do with it.

Next coffee stop and we came across more homespun philosophy.

Play fair, have fun, etc

These are all nice, positive, kind sentiments of course, but a bit twee when you see them all together and all over the place. Give me the old Wear Sunscreen song any day.

We met a celebrity: Simon the Traveler. Simon is a plush penguin from Ukraine travelling around the world with his friends. Today he was with Igor.

Simon’s postcard from Norway

We had a quick chat with Igor since Simon wasn’t really talking. Unfortunately, while we were drinking our coffee over the road, Simon and Igor were removed from the doorway they’d been sitting in.

Other than a durian flavoured ice lolly the other day, I’ve not tried a durian. They are a bit stinky, you can always sniff out the stall where they’re being sold. But staying away from them might be the best course of action.

A durian a day keeps everyone away

We were invited several times to take a ride on a trishaw. Like a rickshaw, only it’s a bicycle with a sort of sidecar. Highly decorated in a kawaii stylee, Hello Kitty for example, and playing very loud music in most cases. We declined all the offers.

Garish trishaws

Totally out of place in old Melaka is this Dutch style windmill.

Windmill not in old Amsterdam

It’s opposite a big so-called “Red House” which was also built by the Dutch.

The Maritime Archeology Museum was a little disappointing, to be honest. Very small and the best single exhibit was a couple of meteorites, and they were outside anyway.

Meteorite

The big pile of old Chinese pottery was quite funny, though, not much time spent arranging this in an orderly fashion.

The Ming Dynasty pottery was already broken, honest

The small Folks Art Gallery (Seni Rakyat) was very quiet, as they often are. Just one man at the desk, a few CCTV cameras, us and a couple of other viewers.

Sungai Melaka

Sungai Melaka (the river). I’d like to credit the artist but it turns out Cat Minyak just means oil painting. We liked a lot of the pictures here but couldn’t really see any of them in our own home.

We had a giggle at the combined optician and ice cream shop, not a common pairing.

Back at our place, I felt the need for more exercise, so I went for a walk. Very disappointed to find I couldn’t get anywhere near the waterfront, so I headed into town. Where I had a massage. RM40 for an hour. That’s about £8. Wow. And the masseues was nearly twice Dawn’s age, so I make that about 10 times the value! (Only kidding, Dawn!) She was powerful though, she got the kink out of my back that had been there since ducking under a tree in the jungle a few days ago. And she found the usual knots in my shoulders. You can also ride a trishaw for an hour for RM40. Hmmm, I think I got the better deal.

When I got back, with some shopping, I went down for a quick swim in the pool. It was very pleasant, with just a few other people.

Outdoor 13th floor pool

There was a full Moon and it’s the equinox. We’re just 2° north of the equator, so does that make it a Spring equinox for us here at Silverscape Tower B?

Silverscape Management: Hello, is that the Letter Company.
Letter Company: Yes it is. How can we help?
SM: We ordered a B from you but it’s too big.
LC: What do you mean, it’s too big?
SM: Well, it doesn’t fit on our pillar.
LC: Hmm. What size is it?
SM: We ordered an XXXXL size B but it looks more like an XXXXXL.
LC: I see. You know we don’t take returns: it’s in the Ts and Cs.
SM: But what can we do? We can’t just have a big B sitting in the lobby.
LC: It’s quite soft plastic. Have you tried bending it around the pillar?
SM: No. It’s not a round pillar, it’s a square one.
LC: In that case, it should stick on with no problem.
SM: But then some of the B will be poking out, blocking the path.
LC: Hmm. That’s tricky then. Let me think…
SM: …
LC: …
SM: Hello, are you still there?
LC: Yes, I’ve been speaking to my colleagues.
SM: And?
LC: And they’ve come up with the perfect solution.
SM: Which is?
LC: Stick the B on one face of your square pillar. Then saw off the overhanging part of the letter and stick that onto the neighbouring face, nicely lined up.
SM: That’s brilliant! Thank you very much.
LC: You’re welcome.

Silverscape Tower B’s big B

On our final full day in Melaka, we did some laundry then went for a walk to visit an old Sultanate Palace.

This bloke had a small bonfire going in his bin. He wasn’t the only one.

Bin fire or bonfire, the smoke’s just as offensive

This bloke must have thought he was in Manchester, parking on the pavement like that.

You park like a #### dot com

This bird, which someone named a magpie crow, wasn’t going to budge from his perch for anybody.

Magpie crow raven thingie

This frog was huge, it made us jump, just sitting there trying to cross the road like the old ’80s video game.

Frogger

This is a rare example of a pedestrian crossing, with a green man who gives you enough time to cross the road.

Pedestrian crossing

This is a rare example of catering for disabled people in wheelchairs and for buggies. How you’d get here in the first place along those horrendous footpaths and crossing the scary roads, well, that’s a different issue.

A rare, maybe unique, ramp
Looking good

The Melaka Sultanate Palace Museum itself was very interesting. The history of the Sultanate of Melaka only goes back to about 1400. We saw costumes, weapons, ceramics but unfortunately, the captions were hard to read: print too small and it was quite dark inside.

Some very colourful costumes
A couple of games that Sarah and I played in 1978

We’ll be decorating the walls in our Manchester apartment like this.

Gorgeous wood carving on the wall
Liesel with her new boyfriend

A small section of the incredibly wide Palace, a wooden structure, all built with no nails.

Melaka Sultanate Palace Museum

Another bit of a walk to find some lunch, during which meal, it rained again. Not just rain, it was a thunderstorm. Outside I was using Grab to book a cab, when lightning struck the along the road, a few feet away. We got wet just climbing into the cab: the driver had forgotten to unlock the back doors. I missed the opportunity of taking a picture of the storm, and we spent the rest of the afternoon inside!

One advantage of the rain was it cleared the air. Moving around outside through the bonfire smoke and the incense and then the smell of cleaning chemicals and perfume counters in the shopping malls, all that wasn’t doing Liesel’s lungs any favours. I suggested buying a surgical mask, but then it rained anyway.

At least, we found out how Melaka came to be so named.

How Melaka came to be

At lunchtime, Liesel had had a smoothie. The flavour reminded her of something from her youth: Orange Julius. I’d never heard of this before but I was delighted to discover that the company was founded by one of my long lost relations in America.

Cameron Highlands

Just when you get used to one place, it’s time to move on. If this is what it’s like being on the run from the justice system, we won’t be committing an offence any time soon. Oh alright then. I apologise for any offence caused if, when I mention our next destination, Cameron Highlands, an image of probably our worst ever prime minister comes to mind. (There May be some competition, to be fair.)

For some reason, we had to be at Amanjaya Bus Terminal half an hour before the scheduled departure time. Jyoti had booked online, and she tried hard, but nobody wanted to give us actual physical tickets.

It was a long cab ride and the driver told us that there was a bus terminal much closer in Ipoh, but when you’re booking online, well in advance, from overseas, why would it even occur to you to check that you were travelling from the closest bus terminal to your destination?

Amanjaya is a very busy teminal and we had plenty of time to pass. I entertained myself by wandering around, intrigued by the not-yet-open retail opportunities on the upper floor.

The ladies in the various ticket booths were on the fine borderline between amusement and annoyance with their tuneless ululations, sometimes solo but more often in discord and disharmony. Sirens, attracting unwary ticket-buyers, only tuneless. Unfortunately, the official announcements were incomprehensible too, too much echo-cho-cho in the vast cavern of a bus terminal.

I forked out RM3 for a chair massage. It felt like a small man was hiding amongst the upholstery running a rolling pin up and down my spine and around the shoulder blades. Not unpleasant but a good reminder that there will always be some things a human can do much better than a robot.

The bus ride from Ipoh to Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands followed a long and winding road up and up into the hills. It was hard to read for too long, so many sudden turns as well as bumps in the road. It was however easy to nod off for literally seconds at a time. We climbed up very high, my ears could tell, and they passed on the information to me by frequently popping. Ipoh is about 22 metres above sea level, Tanah Rata 1440.

During the ride, the phone signal was intermittent but as we passed through one small town, I received a plethora of messages. One from my sister in Christchurch said “Don’t worry, we’re ok”. Oh no, I thought, not another earthquake. No, worse. A gunman had murdered worshippers in two different mosques and car bombs had been found and defused. New Zealand is the last place you’d expect to see this sort of terrorist attack, so disappointing and upsetting. The evil that is so-called “white supremacy” just continues to spread, aided and abetted by our own governments and the extreme right-wing press.

We’ve been living in a multi-cultural environment for the last few weeks, and it’s been great: everyone gets along and the only problem I’ve had is being able to find vegetarian food.

On arrival at Tanah Rata, we hailed a teksi which took us an embarrassingly short distance to our new home, a hostel called Father’s Guesthouse.

Welcome to Father’s Guesthouse

We were in a different universe here, where time runs backwards. It was much cooler than at nearly sea level so we anticipated a few good nights’ sleep. Little did we know!

Jyoti and I walked down the road to look for a coffee bar while Liesel had a rest.

Poinsettia

A poinsettia is not just for Christmas. Left to its own devices outdoors, it will grow into a tree.

We found a nice place, The Mossy Forest Café, had scones and coffee, and took a slice of cake back for Liesel.

The hostel seems to be mainly occupied by a strange breed of creature: young people. There are signs telling us to smoke outside and that the place for parties is in the town centre.

Pretty in purple

Jyoti knows the Cameron Highlands from over 40 years ago and is a bit saddened, if not surprised, by the amount of development during that time. There’s a lot of litter around, mainly water bottles, which is always a sad thing to see. We walked up a steep hill to Gurdwara Sahib.

Gurdwara Sahib

Jyoti spoke to a Sikh gentleman there in Klingon, I couldn’t understand a word; actually it was probably Hindi, come to think of it. We went in, a first for me, inside a Sikh place of worship and education. We took our shoes off and if there had been water in the footbath, we would have washed our feet too. I kept my hat on and Jyoti borrowed a scarf to cover her head.

Sikh shrine

The shrine was colourful but the place as a whole wasn’t as ostentaciously decorated as other religious sites we’ve visited.

Jyoti was very pleased with this poster that nicely summarises Sikh Heritage.

Fascinating Sikh Heritage

Unicorns live in the jungle around here, and even if we don’t see a real, live one, I was delighted to see this chap on somebody’s roof.

Unicorn

Tanah Rata is a busy little town and so far we’ve found a grand total of one pedestrian crossing. It’s always a challenge crossing the roads here, so we’re grateful for the one-way streets where we should need to look in one direction only before running across.

Very small papaya-like tree

We found a place for our evening meal, having convinced ourselves that the turtles in the tank weren’t on the menu. The restaurant was decorated with clogs and a lot of memorabilia relating to the Dutch national football team, so lots of orange.

Turtles in a fish tank

It was a delightfully short walk back to our hostel and a good night’s sleep. Well, poor old Liesel still has a cough, it finally caught up with her again after we thought we’d left it behind in Fiji. The coughing woke up the local cockerel who then decided to wake up everyone else. No problem, we had to be up early to join the tour we’d booked.

The bus picked us up and then collected 15 passengers from other hotels on the way to our first stop: The Butterfly Garden. Rajesh, the driver, was also our guide today, and he told us a little about each of the places we visited.

We have seen the odd butterfly flitting from tree to tree but this was a good place to see some close up. Other bugs were available too.

Rajah Brooke’s birdwing

Rajah Brooke’s birdwing is the national butterfly of Malaysia. There were many here in the garden, sitting still, posing, unlike their cousins outside in the wild. They and other butterflies were even resting on the path that we walked on although, surprisingly, we only saw one squished under someone’s foot.

We were delighted to find an amorous pair of rhinoceros beetles. It reminds me of the picture on the back of Paul McCartney’s Ram album cover.

Beetles

Of course, they might just be good friends. The golden beetle looks artificial, but it was real, I’m sure. Either that, or fantastically detailed and finely tuned animatronics.

Golden beetle
Giant stag beetle

Talking about things being artificial, it’s hard to believe these plants are genuine too, so bright, so vivid.

Yellow and red
Almost turquoise

Some creatures blend into their natural background really well, but when they’re out in the open, you’d think they come from another planet or time, they’re so alien.

Leaf bug
Stick insect

There are plenty of other creatures here, scorpions, frogs, tree snakes, more butterflies and all are native to Malaysia, so it’ll be interesting to see how many we spot in real life, out in the wild.

You’ve been framed

We chose not to buy a collection of dead bugs, pretty as they are. I hope they all died a natural death, after a short and happy life, but who knows?

The Boh Tea Plantation is one of the biggest and still owned by a Scottish family. We were now over 1600 m above sea level. No ear popping today, though.

On the way in, we passed a mosque, a Hindu temple and a Christian chapel all located very close to each other, to cater for plantation workers from all faiths. That’s how it should be done.

Boh doesn’t stand for “Best of Highlands” as some believe. It’s named after a mountain in China, Bohea, and Boh means “precious”. Which led me to wonder: Bic Runga has a sister named Boh. She also has a song called Precious Things. I wonder if the song was named after her sister?

Taken through a dirty bus window, we saw this couple taking a selfie on the edge of a very narrow road. A Darwin Award in the making, perhaps.

Just one step back…

In the old days, tea was plucked by hand. Nowadays, they use machines to speed up the process. Workers are paid 26 sen (cents) per kilo: that’s about 5p per kilo.

After the short factory tour, I joined the queue for a quick cuppa.

Very welcome cup of tea

The colour was gorgeous and the flavour wonderful. Unfortunately, we were pressed for time, the tea was hot, so I had to slurp. If anyone had asked, I would have lied that I was a professional tea-taster.

The view of the Sungai Palas Tea Centre was what I’d expected the whole Cameron Highlands to look like.

Tea plantation

And this is certainly what Jyoti remembers from her time here in the 1970s. Development, progress…

It was nice and warm, we were all in shirtsleeves. But this young lady was dressed up for the Winter equinoctial celebrations.

Wrap up warm

Tea leaves go through a number of processes before they’re ready to be turned into a nice cup of tea at home. So it was a surprise to find, during our quick excursion into one of the fields just by the road, that there was that familiar aroma of a fresh brew.

A quick wander in the field

It was Saturday and as had been predicted, the traffic became more and more dense as the day wore on.

Traffic

We never did find out what the Time Tunnel Museum was all about. Maybe we’ll find a time tunnel somewhere and pay a visit last year.

The bus driver was brilliant, very competent, taking the bus along narrow, winding tracks, letting cars and even buses pass by on the other side when there wasn’t really any room.

The view from the driver’s seat

Rose Valley must be the kitsch capital of Cameron Highlands. Apparently it is known as the Rose Garden of Malaysia.

Mickey or Minnie?

It’s always a joy to see Mickey and Minnie of course, but this must be one of the worst copyright infringements ever.

Yellow fountain or golden shower?

The main attraction here is of course the roses and other flowers. There were signs telling us now to pluck them. I’m going to use that from now on. Stop plucking your nose, Martha!

Purple roses for the bunga-bunga party?
More flowers not for plucking

Some of the statuettes had lost their heads although somehow, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs all retained theirs.

Manneken Pis or golden showerer?

Cultural appropriation is a big talking point these days, and done well, it can enhance everyone’s experience. Sometimes though, you think, whoever had that idea, somebody else should have quashed it.

Big yellow shoe

Outside the rose garden there was a fruit market. 101 kinds of fruit but no apples. We bought oranges instead. No strawberries though because the next stop on our tour was the Royal Berry Strawberry Park. There, Jyoti and I took a small basket and went to pluck our own strawberries. We were not supposed allowed to eat free samples.

Strawberry fields forever
Strawberries, fresh strawberries

Here, they’re grown hydroponically, each plant has its own water supply. You cut the stems which are at waist height, no stooping and grovelling at ground level. We enjoyed a strawberry milkshake too plus chocolate-dipped strawberries. The fact that we’d not had time for breakfast was now forgotten.

A big bee greeted us at Ee Feng Gu Apiary.

Big bee (not real)

We sampled three kinds of honey: one made by stinging bees (sweet), one made by smaller, non-stinging bees (slightly smokey) and one made by bees from further down the hills (less sweet).

Liesel didn’t join me but I enjoyed my walk through the beehives.

Bee hives
Bees (real)

There were a few bees around but it wasn’t as buzzy as I’d anticipated. To accommodate this disappointment, they’ve installed some impostors.

A healthy grown up busy-busy bee

One thing I didn’t expect to see at the bottom of the hill was a small shrine housing Buddha.

Buddha
Yellow flute

We stopped briefly at Sam Poh Temple, where, unusually, we were allowed to use our cameras inside.

Sam Poh temple

One day, I hope to translate the script on this structure.

Outside the temple

All these years of meditating and chanting have been for nought. The words I was presented with on the first day turn out to be slightly wrong. No wonder I’m such a mess.

Om mani padme hum – surely?
Jyoti contemplating life, the universe and everything
Anuddha Buddha

On returning to our present home town of Tanah Rata, we walked down to what has become our default café for a couple of days: The Mossy Forest. We’d driven close to the actual Mossy Forest earlier on but the coffee bar that bears its name is as close as we’ll get this time.

Our friends Una, Phil and Kiran are currently on holiday in Hawaii. Jyoti and Liesel chose to speak to Una from the café. Luckily, I was the only other customer at that point so all the embarrassment fell on me.

Liesel was very disappointed with her brownie: they’d warmed it up without even asking, and it was rock hard, like a biscuit. On the way out, Liesel passed on a friendly comment.

The cockerel/rooster announced the dawning of a new day. Only it wasn’t dawn. It was three o’flippin’ clock in the morning. It cock-a-doodle-dooed for the next four hours more or less continuously. A couple of pauses lulled us into a false sense of security. The call to prayer is usually a welcome, soothing sound, but at 5.30, we just needed some sleep!

We walked down the road looking for a shop that might sell rooster extermination kits but alas, there were none. So we had breakfast instead to boost our energy levels for the day’s exertions.

The staff in The Mossy Forest remembered us from yesterday and by way of apology and recompense, they didn’t charge us for the coffee we had with our breakfast. It was a mistake to heat the brownie for so long, thanks for letting them know. At one point, we had four staff members serving us. Now I know how the Queen feels much of the time.

Rajen met us outside our hostel as agreed at 9.00. His driver took us to the start of our walk in a 4×4 heavy with the smell of petrol. The plan was for Rajen to take us on a hike through the jungle and for a moment there, I was sure at least one of us would acquire a fuel-sniffing-induced headache.

Liesel, Jyoti, Rajen

He was a very good guide with some fascinating stories. He told us about the British army being here in the 1960s, fighting the communists. 700 soldiers were stationed in this very spot. I wondered if (my late first wife) Sarah’s father had been here: I know he was in Malaya at some point.

The population of Tanah Rata has increased from 2000 to 45,000 in the last fifty years: Jyoti was right about the amount of development here.

The start of our walk

There are several Walks in the area, some tougher and longer than others. Our main track today would be Walk No 3.

We could expect to see deers, monkeys, birds, snakes, insects, monkeys, unicorns. Well, that didn’t happen and in the case of the snakes, maybe just as well.

The first view: pure jungle

The path was narrow, hard to avoid brushing against the plants but there was nothing to worry about unduly. Walking along on the flat was quite technical, lots of tree roots to trip over. But the climbs up and down really were a challenge. The “steps” are just tree roots holding some loose earth in place. Some of the steps were very high. We also had to clamber over some fallen trees and, when descending, we had to hold on to trees, lianas, vines, always checking it wasn’t a snake hanging there. Rajen did provide us each with a stick to help and I found mine most useful for gauging the depth of a step down: I’ve always been useless at climbing down.

On one occasion today, I was so busy concentrating on carefully stepping through the roots that I bashed my head on a branch across the path. Fortunately, the moss growing on this branch was nature’s very own crash pad.

Yep, still on track

We walked across a couple of streams too, none of us slipped in off the stepping stones.

Put your left foot there

There are no tigers in this area any more. All gone mainly for Chinese aphrodisiac reasons. Rajen didn’t have much positive to say about the Chinese at all. They don’t care about nature or the environment, they just want to over-develop to make lots of money. The previous, corrupt Malaysian government did nothing to prevent over-development in some places.

Pitcher plant

The pitcher plant didn’t eat much today: we saw very few insects. No mosquitoes was good. Lack of butterflies was disappointing. Although Jyoti did spot this caterpillar lurking in the bushes.

Caterpillar from Mars

When deciding which walk to do, we’d opted for “medium” difficulty: not too steep for too long.

Stairway to Heaven

I think we got it right. Rajen and Jyoti were able to keep a dialogue going as they walked, I couldn’t. I frequently stopped to catch my breath under the guise of taking a photo.

Baby bananas

Everything was green apart from the leaf litter so it was always good to see a splash of colour.

Inedible ginger plant

There are 120 species of fern in this jungle, some edible, most not, some have to be cooked, some have to eaten before they unfurl. We didn’t sample any on this occasion.

Big fern

Aha, a rustle in the bushes, what’s that? A rare member of Homo sapiens out for a solo walk in the jungle, which we all thought was very brave. I’m sure “brave” was the word we agreed upon.

She changed her mind about her chosen route, turned round and overtook us a few minutes later. We also came upon a party of three as we rested at a picnic table, rest area, a totally unexpected sight.

Time for a breather

We all had something to eat and were careful to not even leave behind a slither of orange peel. Later, we reached a slight clearing from where we could look down on a cabbage farm.

Cabbage farm way down down

I knew we were high but being totally surrounded by dense bush, I hadn’t fully appreciated just how far we’d climbed.

We descended into Mardi, a small village just along the road from Tanah Rata but it did feel a bit rude to be walking through someone’s farm on the way.

Little yellow courgettes

Although this hike can be described as just a long series of trip hazards, it was very enjoyable. We were out for about five hours altogether and afterwards we all agreed that we felt nicely tired from the exertion, not just exhausted due to the heat and humidity.

But what an anticlimax now to be walking along the road. With traffic. I bid farewell to my faithful old stick: maybe someone will pick it up and use it again one day.

Big vegetables (not real)

After a siesta, of course, we re-visited our favourite café and they presented us with a fresh, warmed, brownie, which was perfect. Still very apologetic! Yes, we did order and pay for other things, but what a nice gesture.

Liesel and I returned to our room while Jyoti briefly visited the local market. She wasn’t there long, though, because the smell of fresh fish was so overpowering.

Penang

Somebody who shall remain nameless had booked a really early flight from Singapore. Much as we love Changi Airport, we wouldn’t normally choose to rise at 5am, well before the Sun, and well before the birds. In a daze, we took a taxi, checked in, flew for 90 minutes or so and arrived in Penang. Welcome to Malaysia.

Jyoti’s first sighting of Penang, from the plane

Another taxi took us to our new Airbnb on floor 13A. There is no floor 14. There are 14 stripes on the national flag, but I’m not aware of any other significance to this number.

The plan was to walk around George Town to see the sights but we took a wrong turn more or less straightaway, so we just busked it from then on!

St George’s Church

St George’s is the oldest Anglican church in southeast Asia, now 201 years old and with two restorations under its ecclesiastical belt.

Liesel and Jyoti blocking the cycle path in George Town

George Town, what a busy, bustling place, lots of colours, smells, cultures, people.

Joss sticks, incense
Sri Mahamariamman Temple

The Sri Mahamariamman Temple is the oldest Hindu temple in Penang, now 186 years old.

Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling

The Kapitan Keling Mosque is the oldest in George Town, now 218 years old.

We stumbled upon another Little India and if we thought George Town wasn’t busy enough already, this neighbourhood certainly turned everything up to 11. Indian music came from many shops, there was virtually no distinction between where pedestrians and cars went, yet there was no honking from the drivers.

Little India? Well, it had to be a delicious thali for lunch.

We browsed several shops, looking at the jewellery and other little trinkets. I think Martha might be getting something nice for her birthday, wink, wink.

The clothes, batik or otherwise, are gorgeous.

A feast of colour

And if the colourful clothing doesn’t do it for you, just look at the tiles on the floor. So ornate, it’s almost criminal to walk on them.

This design probably started out as a doodle

Lots of shops, lots of items and yes, in the end, we did buy some more stuff! An artist was selling her wares in a small shop, and even selling things made by her 83-year old mother. Each item is accompanied by this note:

Remember who we are
Very pretty pin cushions

Penang Science Cluster was fascinating, with little wooden models made by the students. There’s even an aeroplane in the room, next to a flight simulator. We had a quick snack here, while pondering this little machine.

Possibly a Rubik’s Cube solving machine

Has it been programmed to solve a Rubik’s Cube? It was in a glass cabinet, so we don’t really know, but I hope so.

We continued walking where we could, but found that many pavements just stopped in the middle of nowhere, and road crossings are few and far between. Learning a lesson from Suva, we just latch on to a local, and cross where we can. Taking the fine art of jay-walking to a whole new level.

Looking towards the mainland, Malayan peninsula

Pavements just stop in the middle of nowhere? Not only that, there are ditches by the side, easy to slip into if you’re not careful. And where the kerb’s too high, just put an extra step there!

A step up to the pavement, over the ditch

In the evening, J&L had a meaty meal at a Korean barbecue restaurant while I went walkabout and found a nice veggie-friendly place. Deep fried lychees are strange but I’ll try anything once.

A plant that thinks it’s a chicken

There were quite a few loose, feral dogs, running between the people and the traffic, not bothering anybody, just doing what they do.

Liesel was feeling a bit under the weather, a bit of a cold, a cough, headache, just bleurgh really, so she missed a fun day up on Penang Hill with Jyoti and me.

Our transport of choice here on Penang is cabs, bookable via an app. They’re quite cheap, and much faster than the buses would be. We took two cabs to the bottom end of the Penang Hill Funicular Railway. No, not one each: we stopped at a place called Let’s Meat for breakfast. I had a nice, meat-free, meal, my first ‘western’ breakfast for a few days.

The funicular train was packed so we had to stand. The sign advised us to sit on a seat if possible. But we weren’t allowed to smoke, vape, eat, drink, carry pets, push, spit or carry durians. So restrictive.

Looking up the Funicular

The resort of Penang Hill reaches 833 metres above sea level and it’s much cooler way up there. Just as humid though.

Looking down at George Town and Jelutong, where we’re staying, I think the haze surprised us both. If it’s water vapour, humidity, that’s not so bad, but if it’s pollution, that’s a different story.

George Town through the haze

There’s a lot to see and do on Penang Hill. The first thing you need to do is fight off all the people who want to take your picture with a nice view in the background. It’s a very pleasant walk, with lots of signs telling us about all the animals we were unlikely to encounter: snakes, yes, snakes again, lizards, frogs, dusky leaf monkeys, flying squirrels, sunda colugo, spring hill turtle, lesser mousedeer, common tree shrew. We saw a few butterflies and other insects, some birds, but I think there were just too many people walking on the paths and talking loudly: any interesting animal with a bit of common sense would have stayed well clear.

We followed a sign off the main path to see some orchids. Well, it wasn’t a big display today, but the one we saw was very pretty.

Pretty in pink

There were lots of other pretty flowers too, and at times like this, I wish I’d paid more attention in my botany classes. Very small flowers and very big leaves. This seems to be quite common here in the jungle.

Orange flowers

Yes, it did feel like a proper jungle, up here in the tropical rain forest. Disregard the artificial, manmade paths, close your eyes, listen to the birds, insects and other remote animals, enjoy the humidity, appreciate the lack of leeches, imagine you’re wearing a safari hat rather than a sun hat, fantastic, and then, the soothing voice of Sir David Attenborough will slowly materialise in your head.

One of the main attractions is the Tree Top Walk, but there is also a Canopy Walk.

The Tree Top Walk itself proved quite elusive. We followed the signs, but the main entrance was blocked off. Go back to the Police Station, the sign said. A nice police officer pointed us in the direction of a makeshift ticket stall. We bought tickets and rode the free shuttle up the narrow path, saving us a long walk.

Both walks are high up in the trees, so it should be easier to spot the tree-dwelling animals. Well, if you’re a long way behind a quartet of loud and lairy Aussies, you just know they’ll have scared anything interesting away.

Canopy Walk

We saw branches and some leaves move near the top of a tree and we did catch a glimpse of a couple of squirrels. I’ve scrutinised my hasty photos with an industrial strength magnifying glass but no good, unfortunately. There is something on one of my videos but blink and you miss it!

Tree Top Walk

It seems a tomato vine had gone totally berserk and grown up one of the taller trees. If not tomatoes, we don’t know what this fruit is, it was certainly out of place! And the fact that some had been nibbled proved our first notion, that these were left-over Christmas baubles, to be utter nonsense.

Possibly tomatoes

We needed some liquid refreshment, rehydration, before returning to the furnace nearer sea level.

Emergency assembly point

It’s common here to see that, in an emergency, you have to gather in groups of four to sing Bohemian Rhapsody.

The ride back down was exciting: we sat on the back of a pickup truck, no seatbelts, with a family consisting of a miserable Dad, two excited children and their lovely, infinitely patient nanny.

On the train back down, Jyoti and I managed to sit right at the front, in the driver’s seat, so you can now ride down the Funicular with us.

In the evening, we all three went to what should be called Little Armenia. The cab sped through quite fast so there wasn’t an opportunity to take pictures of the fabulous street art. There are some wonderful murals in this area. The floor tiles here were very pretty too.

More floor tiles

Down the road from our little family-run (but not Armenian) restaurant is of course a Chinese temple. I suspect it’s the oldest in <pick a suitably narrowed-down area> but I could find no supporting evidence.

Chinese temple at sunset

Liesel was feeling well enough to go out, following her rest day, and, from the cab, being totally totally on the ball, she spotted a Marks and Spencer and a huge Tesco on our first ride of the day. A couple of Starbucks too. Yes, I was shaking my head in dismay as I wrote that.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned the humidity here. But on disembarkation after a forty-minute ride in the air-conditioned cab, my spectacles misted up instantly. Horses sweat, gentlemen perspire and ladies glow. Not here: everyone just drips.

I accompanied the two spice girls on a pleasant walk around the Tropical Spice Garden. The aromatics were drowned out a bit because we were encouraged to apply citronella, to deter the mosquitoes. Well, we never even saw any of those pesky things. I suspect it also deterred butterflies from settling on our hot and sweaty bodies, which is a shame, so many photo opps lost.

The dragonflies here are bright red, they almost glow.

Very ornate stone path

The patterns on the path were pretty and very well done. Jyoti and I had a go at walking on the reflexology path in bare feet.

Joke reflexology path designed to torture tourists

Four paces was all I could take, those stones are hard, man. I can stand for a while but I can’t put all my weight on one foot, which makes walking incredibly uncomfortable. No, painful.

The Garden had a lot of shade, which helped keep us cool, and at the top of the hill, we had a nice cup of tea from the urn.

Nice cup of tea

It was indeed a refreshing brew but I was unable to translate the explanatory note. From the taste, though, I think the ingredients include pandanus, stevia, citrates and graminaceae.

So after finishing the tea, smacking my lips, rinsing the cup under flowing fresh water, I turned round to see this sign:

Welcome to The Poison Garden

Oh well, we gulped, as we walked up the steps to see what poisons were available. Skin irritants, digestive system destroyers, coma-inducers, they were all here. We trod carefully so as not to even brush against something that, to be honest, looks just like a weed that might grow in your garden.

My lunch was very nice, at the Tree Monkey restaurant, while J&L ate at a smaller, meaty place over the road, before joining me for dessert.

From where I sat, I could watch the sea, and see the beach, and I was impressed by the dreadlock tree.

Dreads

I’m sure it has a proper name, but I missed out on my arborology classes too.

We booked a cab to take us to a batik shop but when we arrived, it turned out to be an unoccupied building up for sale. Proof that Google doesn’t know everything.

So we took a bus to George Town in order to visit an alternative batik shop. Luckily, none of us had bought any durian fruit, as you’re not allowed to take them on buses! The bus journey passed quickly for me as I was engaged in conversation with a man from British Columbia who’s been here for four months, away from his wife, and he asked for an update on the news. Which, of course, I have scant knowledge of as I try to avoid it as much as possible.

From the bus, it was just a five minute walk to the batik shop but when we arrived, it turned out to be a furniture shop. Proof that Google still doesn’t know everything.

We gave up on batik shops. In fact, we gave up on shops altogether, went over the road to a hotel for which we were suitably underdressed, and took refreshments.

Selfie of the day

The cab ride back home was exciting. The roads are full of mopeds and motor bikes and dogs and pedestrians. Most bike riders wear helmets, which is good, but some don’t. For example, with Dad on the front and Mum on the back holding a child, the child won’t usually have a helmet.

Most riders wear flip-flops too, and a good number put a shirt on backwards, presumably to keep the worst of the wind off their bodies.

The chickens in crates on the back must enjoy their final ever journey, on such busy roads. From the cab driver’s point of view, road markings are merely suggestions and if you want to join a line of traffic, just go for it. The concept of “health and safety” doesn’t exist here in quite the same way. Need to dig a hole in the middle of the road? Just go for it. Put a couple of bollards there, have one man waving the traffic by while the work is carried out by a couple of others wearing their faded hi-vis vests.

Once back in our 13Ath storey apartment, we all rested, took a siesta, and none of us ventured out again for the rest of the day.

Singapore (Part 2)

The next day was full of the usual holiday activities, up, out for breakfast, showers, trip to the National Library (Mick and Liesel), job interview (Jyoti), comments on the heat and humidity outside (all of us), comments on the coldth inside buildings (Jyoti and Liesel), coffee, food, food and more food.

Pre-prata banana

If all this Indian food doesn’t cause total heart failure, unexpectedly walking past a building with a name like this might finish the job.

The Trumps

I don’t think it’s related to or owned by the dipshit-in-chief but you can’t help but make the connection.

The National Library is big, spacious and cool, not cold, inside. I wanted to write but wasn’t relaxed and comfortable in the café while many people were moving furniture around and preparing for a theatre performance or something. The coffee was nice though.

When Jyoti joined us, we walked to St Josephs Institution, the venue for an art gallery, but it was closed.

St Joseph
The Explorer by Ng Eng Teng

“The Explorer” was created in 1999 by Ng Eng Teng to commemorate the new millenium.

“The Explorer”

Over the Clouds

Beyond the Planets

Our world

Travels and Explores

The galaxy

We like the amount of greenery here in Singapore, lots of trees everywhere, and there are plants growing up walls of buildings and even on the roofs. Rooves? On the lids of buildings.

A typical roof garden

We visited the Gardens by the Bay but before we got there, we spent some time in what must be one of the biggest shopping centres anywhere, with shoppes (sic) for the more affluent people amongst us. There was nothing of interest to me here, but J&L enjoy walking around such places, so I tagged along: none of us had plans to buy anything though.

Sugar cane used for making juice

Marina Bay Sands is very shiny, very expensive looking, very clean and surprisingly quiet. Except for some loud music which we now realise must have been for the launch of the new Netflix offering, Triple Frontier, starring Ben Affleck.

Well, Ben missed out on his chance to meet us, but I did my bit to wear out the red carpet.

Mick on the red carpet

We walked to the Gardens and even the walk along the enormous concourse was entertaining: the walls are comprised of pictures of plants alternating with mirrors, so the effect is very colourful and spacious.

Mirrors and pictures of flowers

I bought some apples and grapes and I was delighted to be given a plastic bag. I haven’t had one of those for a while, it made me yearn for the good old days. In Japan, they thrust plastic bags on you, even if you haven’t bought anything yet, but I didn’t expect that sort of thing here in Singapore.

We probably won’t have time to go up on this trip, but Sands Sky Park Observation Deck looks amazing from down here on planet Earth. It looks like a ship has moored on top of the skyscrapers and there’s now a garden on board.

Sky Sands Park Observation Deck

To save walking so far, we took a shuttle to the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest. This structure is a remarkable feat of design and engineering, and we could have spent a long time wandering around. Unfortunately, so could everyone else and it was very crowded.

Big ants (not real ones)
Selfie of the day
Water and glass

One thing I really wanted to see was Venus fly-traps made from Lego bricks. That’ll never happen, you’re thinking. Well…

Lego Venus fly-traps

The Cloud Walk was lovely. We took the lift up to level 6, walked up to level 7 then all the way down, alternately looking at the plants and the view of the Supertrees which light up as the Sun sets.

Looking down from the Cloud Walk
An amazing display
Supertrees seen from the Dome

Had enough of plants? There are some geological items too, best of all, this amethyst geode.

Amethyst geode

I know that during our mass decluttering project last year, I swore I would never again collect anything. Well, we had to leave and reenter this venue, so I decided to start collecting stamps once more.

Stamp collection

Spoiler alert: unlike one stamp a few months ago that persisted for a couple of weeks, these had all successfully been washed off within 12 hours.

Supertrees, water, colour

I was ridiculously tired, not at all hungry, so I just loitered with intent while J&L had a very late meal. Back at our luxuriously delicious and immensely spacious studio apartment, I had a quick rinse in the shower, read my book for two minutes, and drifted away very quickly.

It might be spaciously luxurious but none of us would want to spend more time than necessary in the the studio apartment. There’s only one window and it looks out onto the front yard and pavement. We went to Lau Pa Sat food court for breakfast although by the time we arrived, it was our midday meal.

Hot spicy and hot temperature-wise was my soup, full of delicious vegetables. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to having hot Indian or Thai food like like this for breakfast. A bowl of cereal or toast and Marmite sounds really good right now!

Modern Singapore
Raffles Quay – there’s a lot of Raffles about

Looking up without falling over backwards is a necessary skill in a modern city. Coping with an element of cognitive dissonance is vital too. When I’m enjoying the countryside or beach, I am glad to be away from the hustle and bustle of a city. Yet here I am in a big city, enjoying the buzz, admiring the beauty of the cityscape while at the same time, feeling a bit sorry for those folks who spend forty hours a week stuck inside one of those edifices. I bet most of them would rather be spending time out of doors. They’re building upwards here of course, but also reclaiming a lot of land from the sea. Next time we visit Singapore, it might be much more than a little red dot.

Peace in the neighbourhood

We took a train to the nice cool Library where I did some writing while enjoying some coffee. Jyoti and Liesel both had slightly disappointing drinks although, to be fair, the colour of Jyoti’s concoction did match the top she was wearing

The future’s orange

The spire of St Andrew’s Cathedral stands out against the new, highrise buildings.

Ancient and modern Singapore

As I walked towards the National Gallery to meet up with J&L again, I was delighted to see a game of cricket taking place. Jyoti’s Dad used to spend time at the Singapore Cricket Club all those years ago.

Cricket and Sands way over there

In the Gallery itself, we enjoyed artworks from the wider southeast Asia region, not just Singapore.

Irrawaddy by Kim Lim

I always like geometric shapes so these interlocking tetrahedrons are right up my street.

Tetrahedron-tetrahedron interpenetration by Han Sai Por

I think they’d look jolly nice on our mantlepiece. If we had a mantelpiece.

We walked back to the shoppes at the Sands hotel conference and exhibition centre and onto the food court. On the way, we saw the Merlion, a lion’s head on a fish. The real one is much bigger and currently being restored.

Merlion

Our plan to eat in the food court earlier in the evening, in order to avoid crowds, totally backfired. The place was heaving. Not only that, it was thrumming. So instead, we went up to a wood-fired pizza place. The pizza was nice and best of all, they gave us a knife and fork to eat with.

Rodin’s The Thinker left out on the dockside by mistake

We paid a return visit to the Gardens on the Bay. This time, we concentrated on the Supertrees, the light show, the fountains and the dragonflies. It would have been fun to do the sky walk, high up amongst the Supertrees, but the crowds here were not only heaving and thrumming, they were jostling as well.

Supertrees all alight
Dragonfly – this one didn’t move as I pressed the shutter

The sculpture of a baby boy was astonishing in itself, but when you realise he’s almost floating in the air, balanced on the back of his right hand alone, you can’t help but think, babies really are remarkable, aren’t they? They grow up, some become artistic and come up with things like this. Marvellous.

Planet by Mark Quinn

Singapore (Part 1)

We landed at Changi Airport and, for the first time ever, we were going to venture out into the wider city/state. Not the first time for Jyoti though: she’d lived here for a while as a youngster.

Sunset over Singapore, seen from the plane

The taxi took us to our new Airbnb and for such a small island, it seemed to take a really long time. Singapore is just a small red dot of an island off the southern tip of the Malay peninsula. Surely is should only take five minutes to reach anywhere on the island? But, it’s nearly twice the size of the Isle of Wight and that can takes a while to traverse too. I think we (I) were (was) tired from the flight with no sleep, desperate to be horizontal, push up some zzzz.

We finally arrived at our new luxuriously spacious studio apartment. Shirley, our host, met us at the door, and showed us round.

At last, all ready for bed, teeth cleaned, lights out, and what’s this?

Too many lights

It’s like Houston Mission Control over there, all the lights and LEDs from the TV, the wifi router and all the other electronic gallimaufry.

Jyoti makes no bones about the fact that she is here primarily for the food. Liesel goes bananas at the mention of food too. Finding somewhere to eat is as easy as pie. Our first breakfast was Indian: dosa masala. Huge. And a mango lassi. For breakfast.

Jyoti needed to visit the Apple Store in Orchard Road (there’s a long story here).

Jyoti back at Orchard Road

This is one area that she knows well from many years ago. The journey by train was easy enough and a good way to do some quick sight-seeing.

Singapore World Water Day Month
Coffee design: hope it’s not something offensive in Chinese

Following the purchase of probably the most expensive phone in this sector of the galaxy, we went for a walk, shops, lunch, and on to the National Museum of Singapore.

Lunch? For me, the most disappointing meal ever. The picture and description made it look good. Kaya toast is a local favourite. The toast and coconut jam was ok. The boiled eggs were yucky, runny whites, and the tea was too sweet, probably made with condensed milk. The picture on the menu still looks like two halves of a hard-boiled egg to me. The official description is ‘half-boiled’. Just serve up raw eggs and be open about it!

I consoled myself with a pineapple and sour plum smoothie. And later, an apple.

Information Office: leading edge technology here

The Museum was fascinating (and cool), the whole history of Singapura through British colonisation to full independence in 1965 and remarkable economic and cultural success since then.

One of the first maps depicting Cincapura
Rickshaw and old colonial house

In the evening, we went for a walk in the Botanic Gardens. We’re just one degree north of the equator here and I’m not sure the seasons match what we’re used to. The gardens were lovely, but there were very few flowers, not what you would call a colourful place.

Gymnastic acrobat in the bushes

The path was well-made and the only one that had cobbles and bumpy stones was named the “Reflexology Path” and I thought, what a clever bit of marketing.

We entered the area comprising the Singapore Botanic Gardens UNESCO World Heritage Site. I don’t know what’s wrong with the rest of the gardens: it’s not like they’re all weeds or something.

The Evolutuion area was interesting: ammonites embedded in the path, petrified trees and a small homage to Stonehenge.

Fossils on the footpath
Small Stonehenge and tall tree

There’s an area dedicated to plants used for medicinal purposes, another with aromatic plants, and a whole lot more that we didn’t have time, nor legs, to visit.

As we turned one corner, we saw a bird run across the path into the bushes. It wasn’t going to be a kiwi this time, obviously, but we thought it might be something exotic and interesting. As I watched, in the shadow under the bush, I realised the bird was feeding three chicks, clearing back the leaf litter, letting the little ones peck at their own food. Only when she emerged from the shadows did we realise how exciting our find wasn’t.

Chicken (a real one)

I know Jyoti’s only little, but look at the size of these leaves. we know where to go should we need an umbrella.

Small Jyoti, big leaves

I was sad to learn only recently that Dean Ford, the lead singer with Marmalade had died at the end of last year. I think their best song was Reflections of my Life. The lyrics include the following:

The world is a bad place

A bad place, a terrible place to live

Oh, but I don’t wanna die.

Yes, the world can be a pretty scary place. On our travels, we’ve seen signs warning us of earthquakes, tsunamis, snakes, sharks and now, today, this:

Beware of lightning and falling branches

We should have donned our hard hats for this garden, not our flimsy sun hats.

A very bright leaf

Back in the city centre (actually, the whole country seems to be city centre), we visited one of Jyoti’s favourite restaurants from 1947, Komala Vilas.

Komala Vilas

It was very popular, very busy and we had to wait a short while for a table. Dosa for breakfast, and now, dosa for supper. Huge things.

Dosas too big for the table and for the photo

We shared the three but, needless to say, none of us could finish. Trying to eat one-handed is a challenge: you’re not supposed to use your left hand while eating. Unless you’re using a fork, which is a handy get-out clause. I would have liked a knife too, I am British, don’tcha know, but a second implement, if available at all, always seems to be a spoon. The lady at the table next to ours was entertained by us, but in the end, we made eye contact and she smiled. Her husband, though, adept at one-handed eating as he was, was a messy pig. No, not pig, that’s inappropriate. He was a very messy eater.

We were in an area named Little India so it was no surprise to pass by a Chinese Theatre performance on the way back to the station.

Live action Chinese theatre

We returned to our luxuriously spacious studio apartment where we cooled down in the shower and retired to bed. You think my description of the place is exaggerated? Nope.

Luxuriously Spacious Studio Apartment – Official

We’d walked over ten miles today, far too much for Liesel, so we agreed to take it easy the next day.

Ballarat and Melbourne

The sky was clear enough overnight to see the southern stars and the Milky Way again. At least until the Moon rose over the sea.

The Moon is made of cheese

There are much better, clearer, higher definition photos of the Monn available, but this isn’t too bad with a phone camera.

And in the morning, Venus greeted us before the Sun came up. People were already swimming in the sea at dawn, and I envied them as I crawled back into bed. Or vice versa.

Venus and sunrise begins
Hello Sunny Jim
Hello early swimmers

The wind had died down so we were able to break our fast on the balcony.

Selfie of the day, in the bathroom

And after packing, we drove to the car park where we’d spent some time yesterday and enjoyed a long, long walk along the beach.

The temperature was perfect, the wind was mildly refreshing, the sand was soft, a cushioned insole under bare feet.

Jyoti and Liesel on the beach at Port Fairy

There were plenty of gulls, but we were surprised at the lack of oystercatchers. Maybe this beach has the wrong kind of shellfish. Jyoti watched a snail extract a clam from its shell, before a wave took them both away. There was one solitary, but dead, starfish too.

A pretty shell on a dainty hand

Then we stopped by a coffee and pie shop in Port Fairy for a coffee and a pie before our long, long drive to Ballarat. This would be our longest driving day in Victoria. And it was long. We saw signs warning us of the presence of koalas and kangaroos but we didn’t see any. We watched the temperature creep up from 25° to 34° as we progressed eastwards. The land was flat, the roads were straight, some tree-lined, we passed lots of fields with brown grass, hay bales, bulls, cows, horses, sheep. When we saw a small hillock in the distance, we called it a mountain. This wasn’t the most enjoyable drive for sightseeing. Liesel commented on the dearth of Highway Patrol Cops here in Australia. Well, within a minute, we saw one on the other side of the road having a word with somebody.

We stopped in Smythesdale, definitely equine country: we saw at least three shops selling horse feed. I had a big bottle of cold coffee, J&L enjoyed an ice cream. The town remembers its early settlers too, German and Chinese.

Nieder-Weisel community
Chinese immigrants

Of course, the drive was made more bearable by the music. The highlight was Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer by Burl Ives. Thankfully, Santa Claus is Coming to Town failed to appear: we had two versions of Santa Cruz by Erin McKeown instead.

Our b&b in Ballarat is on the second floor: we had to climb 36 stairs to get there. The view isn’t as good as the one in Port Fairy of course, but it’s a nice big place. It’s still warm and we are very grateful for the fans.

We went for a quick walk after supper, down to Lake Wendouree to enjoy the cooler end of the day and to see the sunset. Ballarat is known as a mining town and sure enough, as we were crossing one road, we saw a car driver having a go: finger right up the schnozz to the third knuckle.

The first surprise by the side of the lake was an oak tree. When Liesel sat down on the bench underneath, I warned her about the acorns falling, but she said she was more concerned about birds, before moving to another bench.

This lake was the venue for the rowing events in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

The 2km rowing race start

You can swim along this course in March, but we’ll be somewhere else. Otherwise… we might come and cheer on the participants.

We watched the Sun set behind trees and we watched a photographer with a proper camera taking pictures of the sunset too. In the end, she wasn’t happy with her results so she’s planning to return tomorrow, probably further round the lake.

Good night Sunny Jim
Sun eclipsed by a photographer

Ballarat was another one-night stand so there wasn’t a lot of time to see its history. But we did visit Lydiard St, famous for the Victorian architecture (Victorian as in from the era of Queen Victoria, not just because we’re in the state of Victoria; obviously everything here is Victorian in that sense, it goes without saying, so I won’t say it). This cinema complex exemplifies how forward-looking people from the era of Queen Victoria were, even to the point of coining the word ‘Multiplex’.

The Regent Multiplex
Building at its best

By chance, we found the Eureka Stockade, another place where honest working men had to fight for their rights. We didn’t visit the museum, but the Eureka Circle sculpture outside was very well designed and executed and a plaque told the story.

Eureka Circle
Eureka slaughter
Eureka oath

As well as this historic event being marked, we were quite lucky regarding wildlife too.

Spur-winged plover
Ibises
Wooden horse and a man cleaning up afterwards
Seahorse squirting water from its nose

Liesel was driving us to Melbourne today, not convinced we were going the quickest way. I checked and the option to avoid motorways was still turned on from a few days ago. Oops. Dropping the car off was easy and we caught the Skybus into the city centre.

Melbourne, seen through a dirty Skybus window

We bought Myki cards to make use of public transport easier and then caught a train to our new place. Above the railway station sits an alien blowing cold air into the concourse. It was 34° outside.

You – will – be – air – con – ditioned

Ballarat: 36 stairs. Melbourne: we’re on the 27th floor, our highest Airbnb ever! Thank goodness there’s a lift. A Schindler’s lift and yes, of course I made the usual gag. The building, we think, is Chinese owned. Certainly our host is Chinese and so are many of the other guests that we’ve seen. We later learned that the Chinese community is the largest in Melbourne right now. We knew that Melbourne was the largest Greek city apart from Athens, but the Chinese thing was a surprise.

The view from an apartment this high is brilliant. We can see the park in one direction, the sea in another and some hills over there.

A view of the Parliament Building from the 27th floor
Mr Poetry

This chap made me laugh on our walk to Vegie Bar for our evening meal. I’d googled Veggie Bar by mistake and the nearest one of those is in Tel Aviv. Of course, here, they spell it with only one G. But the food was good, just too much of it and none of us finished our meals.

We walked back through the park, past the Exhibition Hall and Melbourne Museum.

Galahs in the park

From our luxury suite, we couldn’t determine which way the Sun was setting. So, when it comes up again tomorrow morning, it could shine its light on any one of us. But almost certainly, we won’t even hear the loud birds from this height.

What we did hear quite late was a knock at the door. Earlier in the day, we noticed the rubbish bin hadn’t been emptied by the previous occupants. Liesel sent a message to Jess, our host, but in the end, we used the shute just along the corridor. Now, here was Jess, with an apology and a bottle of wine.

Jyoti witnessed the sunrise, Liesel and I slept through it. We had to pull the blinds down overnight. Many of the high-rise buildings have lights at the top, and one in particular stood out: shining its bright white light right onto my pillow. That said, a city at night has a beauty of its own, not better nor worse than what nature provides, but very different and inspiring in its own way.

Melbourne at night

We all went out for coffee with Chris, a friend of a friend of JyJyoti. He’s lived in Victoria for many years and was kind enough to act as a tour guide for a couple of hours. I hadn’t been to Melbourne since 2002 and as you’d expect, some of the sights were familar but a lot has changed here.

The Leviathan and Harry Potter

We couldn’t understand why the Harry Potter play was being advertised everywhere, when tickets are sold out already.

The tram system is fantastic: rides are free within a certain area. And there’s a nice mix of old ones, albeit covered in adverts, and new ones with those concertina-like joins between the cars. Like the bendy buses, they should but don’t play a tune when they turn a corner.

One of Melbourne’s famous trams

Last time I was here, I met Barry Humphries at a book signing. What a top bloke. He signed his own name and Dame Edna Everage’s. So what a joy it was to see that a (very) small part of Melbourne has now been named in her honour.

Dame Edna has a Place in all our hearts, darling

Chris took us through an old arcade that was very reminiscent of London’s Leadenhall Market, with its ornate ceiling and decorative floor.

Block Arcade
Lots of Mick’s feet spoiling the floor
Mick, Jyoti, Liesel, Chris

We walked by Flinders Street Station, Federation Square and over the River Yarra.

St Paul’s Cathedral

We’d enjoyed some relief from the soaring temperature in the arcade and we were delighted to visit the NGV. Even watching the water fall down the glass walls had a cooling effect, never mind the air conditioning inside the National Gallery of Victoria.

We had a laugh at the many pictures of Weimaranas dressed up or posing in ridiculous positions. ‘Being Human’ is a collection of mainly Polaroids by William Wegman taken over a period of several years. Actually, some of the photos made us (well, me) wince a bit. I’m sure no dogs were embarrassed in the production of this exhibition.

Eustace Tilley
Dogs being human

Chris had to leave us at this point for work, but we were quite happy to spend more time in the Gallery. Not just to avoid the heat, a scorchio 35°C, 95°F.

What’s got four legs and flies? Regular visitors will know the answer. I’m pretty sure this one was never alive, though.

This horse is a lampshade

After lunch, we bought timed tickets to see MC Hammer, no, not him, it was M C Escher, 160 of his works in a display designed by the Japanese company nendo. “Escher X nendo: Between Two Worlds” is utterly magnificent and fascinating. This is the sort of mathematics that should be shown to young children when they first start school, not times tables.

Parrot, or maybe cockatoo?

Halfway round, I realised that many of my doodles (when on the phone, for instance) are inferior versions of some of Escher’s drawings.

Some of Mick’s doodles (nearly)

He has always been one of my favourite artists, because of the mathematics behind the art and the incredibly clever way he makes tesselations work. We’re glad we didn’t come across any snakes in the Aussie bush, but these ones are very cute, the picture very complex and very clever.

Snakes, by M C Escher

The design of the show often used the simple motif of a house. There was even a large 3D reproduction of houses that you could walk through to see even more works.

Walking through a work of art, magical
Houses

M C Escher made woodcuts and the amount of chiselling, gouging, scraping, cutting to achieve that amount of detail is phenomenal. Especially when he tries to get to infinity and beyond.

Circle limit IV (Heaven and Hell)
Very fine detail at the edge

And when you zoom in to the edge, you can see a shadow effect too. On a woodcut. Amazing. Yes, I took far too many photos and yes, I would have loved to buy the 2-inch thick book that accompanies the exhibition but… we’re not buying more stuff!

“If only you knew how entrancing, how stirringly beautiful the images in my head are, the ones I am unable to express.” M C Escher.

The trams were all packed so we walked back to our place, making use of cooler arcades and shade where possible.

Jyoti went out for a meal with Chris while Liesel and I went out for a different meal, to Trunk, located at an old synagogue. We had to go as its name literally has my name in it.

A short-lived synagogue
Margarita and Margherita together at last

While we were inside, it rained! Only for five minutes, but a little precipitation cooled the city down by half a degree.

We’ve stayed in some nice, interesting places over the last few months, but this one is probably the most urban, modern and industrial-looking. And as far as we know, the only student accommodation we’ve inhabited!

Nirranda and Port Fairy

That’s two nights here, time to move on, to move on. First stop was Cape Otway Lightstation. We spent more time here than anticipated, it was so fascinating. Jyoti was delighted to find another warning sign depicting her favourite kind of animal. Not.

Beware of snakes
Rocks and rough seas at Cape Otway

The seas are quite rough here, it’s easy to see how so many ships came to grief along this coast. Cape Otway was often the first sight of land following the long voyage from Britain. It also marks the point where the Bass Strait meets the Southern Ocean, although the ‘join’ isn’t as obvious as that seen at Cape Reinga in NZ.

Selfie of the day

The path to the lighthouse itself was not in use but the ‘Caution’ tape confused some people: they thought there was no access to the lighthouse at all. And with an air ambulance, some police cars and other medical staff, it was easy to suppose there had been some kind of accident.

Alas no, the lighthouse was open and as always, I began to count the steps as I climbed, but was distracted by someone running down very, very fast. So I’ll just say, there are about 967 steps to the top of Cape Otway Lighthouse.

Although this is the wrong time of year to see whales in the ocean, we did actually see one outside it.

Whale sculpture

And against all odds, we saw a kangaroo too.

Steampunk kangaroo

One thing we weren’t prepared for was how much this area was involved in the second World War. Trouble not just from the Japanese, but the Germans were here too, laying sea mines between Cape Otway and Wilsons Promontory, attempting to prevent access to Port Phillip Bay and Melbourne.

Jyoti, Liesel, half a German sea mine

A large area is devoted to understanding the local aboriginal culture. In the Talking Hut, Dale told us about the local history. He’s of aboriginal descent, his great (x3?) grandmother is Bessie Flower, the first ‘educated’ aboriginal woman. Dale is white, he also has Dutch origins.

Outside on our short Bush Tucker tour, he showed us which plants were safe to eat, and we sampled the salt bush (salty), the local rosemary (sweet, then very bitter), the ‘lemonade’ berries (fizzy). The attractive red berries are not edible, but when he squeezed one, the juice was pure magenta dye. Will we eat these leaves out in the wild? I suspect not, we’ll be far too cautious.

Inside The Talking Hut

He told the story of his 5-year old son going out into the bush, catching a small bee, tying a filament from a particular plant around it, so that when it flew back to its nest, he could follow it. He then pulled a lump of honeycomb from under the stones. One root which resembles a turnip can be cut up and is used for relief of toothache.

When I was at school, we were told that Aborigines had been in Australia for between 20,000 and 40,000 years. It is now thought that it’s more likely to be 100,000 years, although the evidence is flimsy right now.

Cape Otway has the second purest water in the world: the actual purest is on Tasmania. It also boasts the oldest known farm in the world, at 6000 years of age. It really is a place of superlatives.

Jyoti, Liesel and the Cape Otway wreck

As we drove away from Cape Otway, we continued to look in the gum trees for a you-know-what. I was driving and when I saw something cross the road in front of me, I braked and we came to a halt. It took a moment to register, it was so unexpected, but there it was: a koala. We didn’t want to frighten him, but equally, we wanted photos, so we all leapt out of the car.

Grandad koala saying goodbye

The old-looking koala walked off into the woods surprisingly fast. On seeing the picture, one of my daughters compared his hairy ears to those of a grandad’s. I have no idea to whom she is referring.

At Castle Cove, we enjoyed the sunshine and the views and this was the venue for our long beach walk of the day. Keep on the path. Snakes. We walked down the steps, noting that the sea was rough, the tide was high but even so, there were quite a few surfers.

Castle Cove beach
Strata well defined

The rock wall at the top of the beach was beautifully stratified, very soft sandstone and it had a greenish tinge due to iron. There were a couple of small caves, too small to explore and in the middle of all the sand and rocks, this pretty, solitary plant,

The only plant on this beach

Gibson Steps gave us our first sighting of the Twelve Apostles, the iconic limestone stacks formerly known as Toots and the Maytals, no, formerly known as the Sow and Pigs.

Not strictly speaking a Twelve Apostle

What we saw was in fact Gog and Magog, east of Castle Rock. We walked 1.1 km along a further section of the Great Ocean Walk, through the visitors centre, to see the actual Twelve Apostles. It was late in the day, the Sun was low, so we saw the stacks in silhouette. Even so, what a remarkable sight. We walked as far as we could along the path to the Castle Rock lookout. And as if things weren’t scary enough already, this is one of the signs.

Warning: Venomous snakes
There’s a hole my stack, dear Liza
The Twelve Apostles sea stacks

As it was Jyoti’s birthday, we thought we’d buy a cake at the café at the visitors centre. But it was Sunday, it was late, it was closed. We began the 1.1 km walk back to the car, away from the Sun now, so a little more comfortable, especially with a slight breeze. L&J were ahead, and some Japanese people pointed to the ‘porcupine’ crossing the path and by the time I caught up, the echidna, for that is what it was, was in the bush.

Echidna

What an exciting day: a koala and an echidna! And then, as we were driving awa from Gibson’s Steps, in the rearview mirror, I saw a kangaroo crossing the road.

There are many other places to visit on the Great Ocean Road, but as it was late, we headed straight for our new b&b in Nirranda. A shopping trip in Peterborough was disappointing, the single, solitary supermarket mostly specialised in fishing bait.

The b&b is built from old shipping containers. I thought surely a metal wall would make it really hot inside. And so it proved. Thank goodness for the ceiling fans.

Shipping containers now containing us

We didn’t realise at the time, but we shared our room with a grasshopper. We’d seen ants and flies and heard a mosquito or two, but we didn’t know about this chap until the morning.

Grasshopper

I let him out into the garden. One moment he was sitting there, the next, gone. Probably the strongest jumping leg muscles in the world. Well, it is a superlative area. Witness the petrol price at Lavers Hill: $1.70 per litre, compared with $1.20 to $1.30 elsewhere.

Liesel and Jyoti went shopping, all the way to Warrnambool, which takes its name from the whales that thrive in the ocean here. Just not at this time of the year: we’ll have to come back to go whale-watching.

Later, when J&L and I had eaten lunch, I tore down the large curtain from the living room window to take with us. We’d decided to walk to the nearby beach, about a mile away. Well, it was hot and there was no shade but it really did take much longer than the advertised 20 minutes.

Turd bush

This bush looks weird, we thought, and we certainly weren’t going to taste its leaves. It can only be described as a turd bush, since its fruits (?) look like animal droppings.

The dusty, stony, gravelly path continued on and on, up and down, disappointment every time the sea failed to come into view over the brow of a hill.

But then, the end came in sight.

Hang gliding and paragliding

Holding tight with both hands, I started my run-up towards the cliff edge. Suddenly, I heard someone yell “Nooooooo!!!”

Apparently, you can’t go hang-gliding just holding on to a curtain, you have to use specialist equipment such as a hang glider with landing wheels, a harness and a helmet. Oh well, I tried.

The walk down to the beach was difficult too. A very narrow, steep and sandy path. We were all wearing sandals, not the best footwear for such terrain.

A beach beyond

We gave up, discretion is the better half of Valerie, or something. It looked like a nice beach to walk on too, what a pity.

We drove to The Arch, an unusual rock formation, but we couldn’t work out how it got its name.

The Arch

We drove to London Bridge, an unusual rock formation, but we couldn’t work out how it got its name. Especially since London Bridge has fallen down and it’s now just another stand-alone stack.

London Bridge

There’s a beach here too, another nice looking beach, ideal for a walk, but we’re asked to stay away because of the penguins. We didn’t see any penguins of course, but there were plenty of footprints in the sand. Penguins or other birds, we don’t know.

Footprints in the sand

On the path back to the car park, I spotted a small black lizard, probably a skink, but it might have been something more exotic: my hasty photo just shows a black blur in the grass.

We drove to The Grotto, another unusual formation. As we went down the steps to see what is really just a hole, a young girl ran up by us, and then she ran back down past us. She and her two friends were planning to swim in the still water but I did take this picture.

The Grotto

And finally today, we drove to the Bay of Martyrs, part of the Bay of Islands. I walked down to the beach, attempted a selfie with the Sun setting behind me, over the sea.

Won’t be trying an artistic shot like this again
Bay of Martyrs beach

For supper tonight, my contribution was to pick tomatoes from the plants in the garden. The courgettes weren’t quite ready yet and we didn’t fancy the rhubarb. We had cheese and crackers and chutneys with red, red wine, a belated birthday party for Jyoti. Almost. Still no cake.

Before going to bed, we all went outside to gaze at the stars and to listen to whatever animal was making a noise like fff-fff-fff-fff over and over. In fact, it was still doing this later on when I got up briefly. By this time, the Moon was up too, so only the brightest stars were visible.

Jyoti and I were sitting on the step outside the house, drinking our teas, shooting the breeze, watching the trees, when Liesel told us we had half an hour left. Uh? To pack and to move on. We were away with five minutes to spare. Bit of a shock to the system though: both Jyoti and I had totally forgotten that this was moving day.

Cactus, not a native Australian, we suspect

We had a pleasant drive to our next b&b, but I did have an agenda. We need a new electric plug adapter since the old one broke. I tried fixing it and it worked well for a while, but here’s a tip: sticking plaster, Band-Aid, Elastoplast, doesn’t reliably stick to plastic for very long. And another tip: if you need tin foil to help make an electrical connection, try to use pieces larger than the torn-off bits from the blister pack containing your drugs.

Lily the Pink aka naked ladies

As if lilies aren’t enough, we soon drove by a farm with a strange collection of animals: sheep, goats, llamas and camels.

Camels

Warrnambool didn’t provide us with an adapter. “Oh no”, said the man in the electrical shop, “we don’t sell that sort of thing. Try the Post Office.” I thanked him through gritted teeth for his help.

It’s hard to know exactly where the Great Ocean Road finishes. The GOR, B100, ends at Allansford, near Warrnambool. There, we joined the A1, Princes Highway. On the other hand, some of the literature for Port Fairy considers it part of the Great Ocean Road. Either way, when we arrived at Port Fairy, “The World’s Most Liveable Community”, we’d definitely reached the end of the world’s largest, and arguably the world’s most functional, war memorial, for this trip.

It’s a cute little town, enhanced by protective/advertising hoardings at the base of the lampposts.

Folk Festival coming up

After a coffee break, we went to sit by the beach for a while. Yes, sit by the beach. Not on the beach. In the car, in the car park, looking at the beach. Why? The wind was strong and cold.

Port Fairy beach towards the lighthouse

I still went for a walk, solo, and found two memorials, close to each other, both emotionally moving but for very different reasons.

In Memory of Thousands of Aboriginal People Massacred
In Memory of Service Personnel from Port Fairy lost in battle
Good idea

We checked in to our new, first floor, b&b and wow, we have a view over the beach. But the wind was still strong and we decided not to sit and be blown off the balcony.

I fancied another walk, and I thought the lighthouse at the far end of Griffiths Island would be an ideal goal to aim for.

Short-tail shearwaters or “Mutton birds” nest on the island, but again, we’re here at the wrong time of year.

Shearwater nesting holes

I did wonder whether these nesting holes might currently be occupied by snakes or other squatters. And then out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement. A kangaroo was hopping across the field.

Kangaroo saying hello

This was the first one I’d seen in the wild, although J&L had been lucky a few nights ago.

I didn’t see the kangaroo that failed to clear this hurdle

I followed the track to the lighthouse, but the amorous couple sitting outside deterred me from walking right up to the door.

Griffiths Island lighthouse

The track followed the beach for part of the way, and I was surprised to see volcanic rocks sitting amongst the soft, white sand.

Volcanic basalt

It was warmer now, the wind had calmed down and I thought maybe J&L would go out for a walk later.

Pedestrians watch your… oops
Seagulls sculpture

While I was out, Liesel and Jyoti had been planning ahead, making plans for the next month or so. Bookings were made, despite issues with various websites and credit cards.

Unfortunately, up in our b&b, out on the balcony, the wind felt just as strong as ever, though not as cold.

We were talking about our various medical issues and the consensus is, we’ve been pretty lucky and injury-free. Liesel’s piriformis is still a PITA and it affects other muscles at different times. Other than that, a few insect bites, a couple of broken nails, cracked heels is as bad as it’s been.

Now is the time for those viewers not interested in the musical soundtrack to our travels to press the yellow button on your device and be transported to a totally different place.

We didn’t bother connecting my device to the car’s Bluetooth at Uluru because we were only there a couple of days. But with a new car in Melbourne, it felt right that we should play the whole Slim Dusty album for Jyoti’s enjoyment. We then returned to the alphabetical playlist. Picking up where we left off in New Zealand with Nomad Blood. At the time of writing, we are in the Rs. Q was interesting. The first one was a mistake: somebody at the CD factory had entered the song title as Que est le soleil? instead of Ou est le Soleil? And of the genuine Qs, 4 out of the 6 were 2 versions each of 2 David Bowie songs. What will we do when we’ve reached the end of the Zs? And will we even reach the end of the Zs by the time we return this car?