A Good Day In The Jungle

Jungle TrailI’m certainly feeling much better. I took a rather vigorous hike in the Taman Negarra Pulau Penang today (Penang National Park). As a matter of fact, it’s the most vigorous hike I’ve taken since I injured my back in 2003. This is a damn good sign to me. My back doesn’t hurt, nor do my ribs–although my muscles are tight as I type this and I will be sore tomorrow, but these are all good signs.

(About two dozen new photos can be found here from today.)

Mind you, it wasn’t like I went hiking up a several thousand foot mountain, just a moderate hike in a hilly jungle setting. Good stuff. I’m ready to move on, ready to hit the Cameron Highlands tomorrow and I reckon by the time I get to the Himalayas I’ll be up for some decent hikes. After almost six months of walking everywhere, losing 30 pounds–I’m at a trim 185 once again–and eating lean Asian cuisine I’m in pretty good shape. Now, the real test will come when I am on the ship to India when I plan to quit smoking. But I digress . . .

I grew up hunting and fishing half of the time in the Brush Country of South Texas and the other half in the Hill Country of Central Texas. My father taught me how to spot wildlife and to this day it’s one of the greatest gifts he ever bestowed upon me. (I prefer not to hunt now, but just to observe, although I have no animus towards hunters–so long as they eat what they kill.) Now, searching for game in South and Central Texas is pretty easy. I’ve got the ‘eye’ for it. Most of the flora is either russet colored or Prickly Pear green. The key is to search for movement and I can spot a rabbit, bobcat or white-tail in a second.

But, as I learned in Belize in 1999, looking for wildlife in the jungle is something of a much more difficult task. Everything is green or bizarre colors that still manage to make the jungle overwhelming. The jungle is always moving. Leaves, coconuts falling, animals with brilliant camouflage make spotting wildlife, even birds, in the jungle quite difficult.

And today was no different. I managed to see two birds, one a a type of heron, the other I assume is a type of plover, or shore bird of a sort. I saw three beautiful monitor lizards and got good photos of two of them (here and here). But the real joy came about halfway through my jungle trek. I sat down to have some water and lit up a smoke. A few minutes later a small nut hit me in the head. I looked around and assumed it fell from a tree. Stuff is always falling from trees in the jungle. But then a minute or so later it happened again. Puzzled, I looked more closely. Focusing my eyes and letting them adjust to the dense foliage around me. And there he was: a young Long-Tailed Macaque not eight feet away from me getting ready to hurl another seed at me. I fancy he smiled at me, as I was now in on the joke. But still, it was an odd encounter. There I was, face to face with a cousin both of us intelligent and inquisitive creatures and I can only assume he clearly wanted some tobacco. (I’ve been told they like it by several people here in Malaysia and in Indonesia.) Soon his mom showed up and shooed him off.

It was the highlight of my day.

As for tonight, I’m going to relax, have another bowl of won-ton mie at the soup stall up the street and some more of this wonderful coffee, then read a book and sleep.

It’s good to be healthy and fit again. And I am ready to move on. Penang, I am happy to say, has grown on me–although I doubt I’ll return. But then again, who knows where my journeys will take me. I’ve given up taking them. They take me. I’m just along for the ride.

Silkworms, Elephants and Snakes in Chiang Mai

I have a short piece in the San Antonio Express-News this morning about Thailand. If you didn’t read my post on the animals around Chiang Mai, Thailand in October, this is a revised version. Enjoy.

Frank’s Cousins Or Han Gao-Tzu?

Penguins!So, I’m in Saigon and the stomach bug seems to have experienced its Waterloo yesterday. Now that I’m feeling better it’s time to start thinking about my next moves. I’m definitely going to Cambodia to see Angkor Wat. That goes without saying. But as to what comes next? I’m actually rethinking my plans. It seems the boat from Singapore to India is pretty regular, running every twenty days or so, which makes this method of travel reliable and relatively cheap. It also means I can put off the journey for any amount of time to see some other places in the region I really want to see.

One of those is the Komodo Islands in Indonesia. I’ve always wanted to see a komodo dragon up close and personal (although not too close, as one bite would lead to massive infection and quite possibly death). I’d love to see one of those six to eight feet bad boys eat a live goat. That would be cool. And besides, it would give me a chance to visit East Timor and do some reporting on the place for The Young Turks. But it’s a damn long haul down there. I’d have to backtrack all the way down the peninsula (I’ll have to anyways to catch the Tiger Breeze) and then travel down Sumatra, Java and catch a ferry to an island in the Flores Sea. Add to all that, a new country, new bacteria, and more damned heat. I know to you winterbound folks up Minnesota and Canada way that’s a pretty babyish thing to whine about, but I’m sick of the rain. The 75 degree weather in Da Lat was a nice reminder of what fall should be like. And it is November, even if it doesn’t feel like it right now in this steamy South-East Asian metropolis they call Saigon.

Which leads me to option two: I’ve been offered a short-term teaching gig in Xi’an, China. It’s only for one semester, mid-December through late April. It’s part time, includes housing and the pay is reasonable. The benefit is that it is Xi’an–the imperial T’ang capital, a place I have visited twice and written about in my book. And it would afford me some time to explore the battlefield where the Xiongnu beat back the great Han army of Han Gao-Tzu two thousand years ago. It was a pivotal battle in Chinese history. And any chance to explore the arid Ordos Loop is a chance I’d really like to take. I’d also be able to experience some cooler weather, maybe cooler than I’d like, but still. It would also give me a chance to brush up on my Mandarin and Xi’an is the absolute best springboard into Central Asia. It’d be quite easy to take the Khunjerab down into Pakistan as soon as it thawed and then into Afghanistan.

We’ll see what happens. I’m still waiting on some more info from Xi’an, but I’m really leaning that way right now. But it would mean no komodo dragons. And I think it would make Frank very mad!