Friday, July 10, 2020

A CLOSE ENCOUNTER WTH THE RAFFLESIA

     
 In a 130 million year-old forest older than the Amazon and Congo, the piece de resistance here is the RAFFLESIAAlso infamously known as the STINKING CORPSE LILY, it is one of the world's most distasteful plants. Consider yourself so lucky if you encounter it. I use the word "encounter" because you can go looking for it like the Holy Grail (slight exaggeration here), but finding the Rafflesia is an unexpected chance meeting. I think I can use the phrase, "You don't find it, IT FINDS YOU."

        Gismo Man, Savvy K and I trekked the Belum-Temenggor rain forest. This primary rain forest forms part of the Royal Belum State Park, a primary untouched and protected land mass. The Rafflesia is a rarity, but it can be found here in the Royal Belum as the vines on which the plant grows on is found only in primary rain forests.

Rafflesia arnoldiihas been given the honour as the Earth's largest single flower. It's bloom can stretch three feet in diameter and weigh as much as 20 pounds. If you have any doubts, take a look at its BUDS growing on the vines from where this parasitic plant gets all its water and nutrients. 
It has no roots, stems or leaves but is parasitic on its hosts, the tetrastigma vines. 
The buds have only less than 20% chance of growing into full bloom, a process that takes many months. Sadly the flower lasts for only a few days. 
        The bloom has five huge spotted red-cream petals. Its rotting smell attracts carrion flies and insects into its centre to help pollinate the plant. Pollination of this rare beauty must take place in the few days the plant is in bloom, or sorry ... there will be NO next generation of Rafflesia.

      The bloom has both male and female parts for effective pollination. Thinking about it, the Rafflesia is quite innovative to smell so revolting. Science fact: if you are living deep in the dense, wet jungle floor, it 's no point smelling like a rose as there are no birds or bees visiting you as pollinators. Might be better to be HUGE with a REVOLTING STENCH since only the insect, beetles and flies are aplenty here.


        I would not describe the Rafflesia as beautiful. It is SIMPLY STUNNING and MAJESTIC as it sprawls on the forest floor waiting to be found. I think it is so sad for it to garner the label as one of the world's most distasteful plants.
    Gismo Man captured it. Savvy K was more trusting, "OK, I can smell it from       waayyy over here,"
but I being a scientist WILL never take any written or oral fact for granted. If it is here, I WILL do the test. In this case, smelling its characteristic rotting meat aroma. 
PHEW ... HEAVENLY! Okay it is true, point taken, it smelt real BAD. 

Recently Indonesian conservationists documented the largest specimen of this largest bloom in the world at an almighty 3.6 feet in diameter. 
The Rafflesia tuan-mudae displayed its perfect bloom on 3 January 2020
Acknowledgement: RD Minion, Rojak Daily for above two pictures

Note:

The Rafflesia has been included in the endangered plant list in 1997. It is rapidly loosing its habitat with the clearing of primary rain forests for logging and other agricultural purposes.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

If you “belum lawat” BELUM, tunggu apa lagi?

Martian Girl and I kayaking into the sunset

Translation from Bahasa Malaysia, If you have not yet visited Belum, what are you waiting for?

      The Royal Belum State Park holds a tropical rainforest ecosystem where an undisturbed land mass of over 130 million years awaits you. It is designated as one of the world's oldest rain forest. We were there when Savvy K was still Martian Girl, a geeky and fun teenager who believed then, that her mother was always right. Now, this mother can do NO RIGHT!

        The resort is rustic and if you are the Indiana Jones type, adventure awaits you. Be warned, if you are a city-slicker where mere ants upset you, don’t bother to come to the Royal Belum cos’ the Kerengga (Weaver Ants) will eat you alive.
          It was her first kayaking experience and she did good in the Temenggor Lake. I sat behind for her to lead, also so she could do all the paddling and did not suspect I just enjoyed the glorious sunset while pretending to paddle.
           
           Martian Girl wanted to try the bamboo rafts but I had traumatic experiences with these. Consisting of bamboo poles tied together, these rafts are transportation for the “Orang Asli” (indigenous people living in the forests). The rafts will sink immediately into the water when you step on them, but they will slowly float back up when an equilibrium with the water is reached.
            I had to used such rafts when we went into the jungles to collect blood samples for our research. Imagine 4 city scientists with our research gear strapped to our bodies squatting on the raft floating across rivers. There was nothing to cling on to, we didn’t twitch a muscle in case we rolled over.
        We opted for an entire day programme into the forests with our guide, Samad
       where we visited the Orang Alsi who lived next to rivers
     and interacted with the families. 
          The indigenous groups here live in wooden homes close to the river for easy transportation. They still hunt small mammals using their poison tipped blow pipes.

        Humidity was very high in the untouched Belum-Temenggor, but it was cool beneath the towering trees. We shared the day with every imaginable creepy crawly - centipedes, millipedes and leeches.
        We trekked for hours in the forests as we booked for a seven-hour activity,

       over suspended bridges where we showed our kung fu moves 
(I am doing the praying mantis stance)
     and beautiful butterflies as they came in droves to lick the salty sweat on our arms.
    Different types of butterflies on a rotted mushroom with only a lattice remaining.
    We were provided with packed lunches in the jungle huts, but I must be honest and say it was difficult to share you lunch with unknown crawling creatures!
          The Ruok water fall surprised us and
        as we did not have our swimming suits, we just waded in the icy water, but the Caucasians in our group just could not resist. So they stripped down to their underpants and scaled to the top in all their glory! 
          And when one of them needed to dry his underpants, what an ingenious idea he had. Also served as a very eye-catching red cap from the afternoon sun while on the boat. As they say, necessity is the Mother of invention!
        I won't tell what Martian Girl thought of this but she learnt much from this Lara Croft expedition.

Friday, July 3, 2020

RAINY DAYS AND BAD HAIR GO TOGETHER

“Sassy JAM, looks like you are having a BAD HAIR day after the storm. But stay focus on your qigong OK,” says Thory.

            Ever had one of those mornings when you did’t feel like doing anything more strenuous than putting bread into the toaster? Mine came with a sleepless night and although I felt like a beached whale, I decided the washing machine needed some exercising. So I did two loads before 6am to catch the sun. Becos’ of the very high humidity in Malaysia (about 84% in the dry months to 88% during the monsoons), clothes have to be dried in the sun or else they get this yukky musty mildew smell. Then AWOL (Away Without Leave), Mr. Sunshine decided to take the day off (it is impossible to get GOOD HELP these days). Mizzi Thunderstorm filled in for him (again, what’s all this exchange of duties without prior permission from the people affected). Down came the rain, 
     the clothes were gathered hastily
     and hung everywhere possible in the backyard
    and washing area away from the pouring buckets of water. If you have not experienced a thunder storm in the tropics, let me tell you it is riveting - unceasing gigantic raindrops crashing to earth, 
    rumbling thunder that shakes the air and flashing lightning bolts that pierce the darken sky.
        I LOVE rainy days. Even as a kid I would quickly park by bum next to a window and watch all the action created by Thor. I remember my mum would always come looking for me and drag me away, scared that lightning would strike through the window and frizzle her daughter like a sausage on a barbeque. When Savvy Girl was a kid, we would walk with our umbrellas after the storm, squeal and jump into  puddles. Gismo Man never approves of such activities, he calls this "Madness, I call it “Education.” 
        Watching a thunderstorm here is fascinating. The temperature drops so quickly from 30 C to around 24 C. This refreshing change is a welcome from our scorching days where the air is so still and stifling. The wind rushes through the trees and strips them of their leaves.
             My flower pots crash over, and the gutters are heavy and heaving with rain water gushing through. Typhoon Thory goes crazy outside running wild with the booming thunder, like a dog gone rabid (Thory was named after Thor as like me, he loves storms). Poor Belle is “spooked” under a table. The koi comes up to the surface to feel the rain.
          We are also running, but to slam the windows shut. Ahh … when it is all done, I sit and do some “dan tain” breathing and be calm until Sunshine decides to return from AWOL.
      “Thory, look at yourself, all your fur is sticking up cos of the positive charges, get inside NOW before lightning strikes you dead!” 

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Bagan Sungei Burung – Nature’s paradise at HOME


         We are now on the Recovery Phase of the MCO – it is time to break free but be safe too. So, is there a quick getaway with no crowds but only the sea, nature, cheap scrumptious seafood and a heaven for photography? Coming near you at Bagan Sungei Burung, a quiet quaint fishing village in Bagan Datuk, Perak. Take a nice slow drive through willowy graceful coconut tree lined roads. The trees remind me of graceful svelte super models on either side of the road. Watch out for the king fishers perched on electric cables as they wait for unfortunate fishes in the ditches beside the roads. 

The first thing that hits you as you enter Sungei Burung (Sungei - River, Burung - bird) village is the fresh aroma of fish and shell fish. 
How else can it not be in the air as the main industry here is catching and processing all kinds of sea food.
 It is a rare treat to see all the fishing boats and trawlers docked right into the village. Just like how we step into our cars in our porch, I guess they just hop into their boats! " Jom, Sayang (Come on, Darling) 😘 , let's take a drive to the islands🥰, no need to dress-up, shorts and T-shirt can!" 😍

Restaurants line the river mouth and we had a feast  with the colours of our food as incredible as the colours of the setting sun. 
I am allergic to prawns and crabs, but that didn't stop my travel bugs from enjoying the day's catch with me just drooling. Not so bad lah, we also had squid and pork dishes, so I didn't starve or drooled too much. 

The food is gloriously fresh right off the fishing boats and prices are reasonable. No dieting here. Forget about tight jeans, just get wild and sassy here. You want spicy, curried, fried, steam, battered or whatever, just tell the chef. He/She will "wok" out your personal wishes. Food comes steaming hot from the cast iron wok, you can even hear the chef "clanging" his "wok chan" (wok spatula) as he performs his magic. Have dinner with the best show on Earth - SUNSET.

Night time is peaceful as just how a village should be - just walk around and wonder at the difference between the hustle and buzz of the city with just the sound of small chatter as people sit outside to enjoy the night air. 

Accomodation is clean, no fuss, reasonable and 5 minutes away from the jetty. It is almost like a home stay, all rooms have air-conditioning and are super clean.
 Individual rooms with large halls for group get-together,
family rooms 
and city-style bathroom facilities. Most importantly, FREE WIFI is available for you to send your photos pronto.

What's on for the next day? Morning has broken and farm fresh vegetables, huge combs of bananas, soursop, custard apples to buy for home. 

 This sleepy village has much to offer in walking trails,

 sun flowers farms (sunflowers are as large as dinner plates)
aquariums,


fish farms where you can buy cheap, fresh or dried seafood.

 and if you get too hot and bothered, why not step into this bright open bus and take a tour.

A guardian angel photo prop awaits, just make sure you position yourself properly or else you may have your wings growing our of your head! Moo Eng has the perfect distance here, looks like she just flapped in from above.

So follow this ANGEL, bring your cap, sun screen and lots of zest. Time to boost our economy and have a smashing GOOD TIME. Don't stop here, ask for the Blue Tears 
trip to see the iridescent pyhtoplankton on a night cruise. The ocean lights up in blue,
 the stars are twinkling in the sky,
and you can FISH out that diamond ring (NOT FROM THE SEA ok, you have to bring that along) and propose, "Will you MARRY me?" But don't go on one knee, cos you will topple into the sea and spoil the romantic moment.

And if the answer is "Yes" or "No," take her for the Sky Mirror experience the following day. After all, one should always stay as FRIENDS.

Acknowledgement to Ms. Lim Moo Eng for some of the pictures used in this post. 

Note: CONTACTS to get to this treasure site

And you can even brag about the ONE that didn't get away, 
or if no one believes you, these sunset shots should earn you some points.