Friday, March 05, 2004

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia--Day 35

Today was a surprisingly wonderful day. I woke up and met up with my taxi driver Zainal after eating breakfast at the hotel (where I had to explain again that yes, it was just me wanting to eat) and we headed off towards Taiping, which is about a two hours drive from Kuala Lumpur. The scenery was just fabulous with magnificent palm trees everywhere and green hillsides and amazing rock formations. We eventually got to Taiping and had to drive through the town to get to the zoo, which was just on the outskirts amidst a beautiful park and golf course.

That's when I saw them.

The signs. The signs that I couldn t believe that I was seeing: Zoo Taiping and NIGHT SAFARI. What?? NIGHT Safari?!? I didn t know about this! Oh no, please, Please, PLEASE don t mean that the hippos are on display at the Night Safari! My heart starts pounding. My hands are sweating. My knees are shaking. Its 10 am and I figured I had a 50/50 chance that I would be seeing the hippos this morning, but the horrible pit that was forming in my stomach was telling me otherwise.

Once we arrived at the zoo and parked, I headed to the ticket counter to get my tickets. Zainal was going to come in with me, but then opted not to at the last minute. So I headed in alone and to my relief, I found that the day zoo and night safari were in fact the exact same thing. The night safari part just meant that they were also on display at night under  moonlight as well as during the day. Thank goodness.

More joy came with finding the zoo map with a huge NILE HIPPOPOTAMUS sign pointing out where they were. However the zoo was laid out with two loops, with visitors asked to head in one direction only. I inquired to a zookeeper if I could go the other way, and he told me that I couldn t because he feared that I would  get lost. Hmm, considering that the map pointed out very clearly where the hippos were (which was not far from where we were standing, just in the  wrong direction) I assured him that I wouldn t get lost. After much debating, he finally pointed me in the direction that I needed to head and not a minute later I was standing in front of the home of Raye (the male), Alif (the female) and Agos (the baby).

Alif and Agos were really interested in me and their habitat composed of a really huge pond and a dirt area for them to lie on, but mostly the gigantic pond. So I walked over to the far side away from them and Alif and Agos followed. It was funny cause I couldn t see them since they were walking under the murky water, but I could see the trails of bubbles that they were leaving and could see that they were heading in my direction. I snapped a few photos but that s when the best thing that has happened to me in a long time happened.

The zookeeper came. It was FEEDING TIME!

Whohoo! I couldn t believe my luck. Well, I guess it was bound to change at some point. So the zookeeper came over and started throwing what looked like coconuts into the water (they weren t I m sure, but I was so far away I couldn t really tell) and the four of us (me and the hippos) raced as fast as we could to where the food was. It was amazing-all three of them got right out of the water and stood there with their HUGE mouths wide open waiting for food. Snap snap snap. Perfect! I couldn t hold back my excitement and was just laughing as the hippos chomped away. The zookeeper smiled at me (although I am sure he thought I was nuts since I was so excited) and pointed out their names to me while he threw whole bunches of bananas and bread down to the hippos hungry mouths, which were so close that I really could have petted them, but left that up to the zookeeper.

This lasted for a good five minutes, which was just great and the perfect amount of time to get lots of pictures. I was happy, and I had only been there for like twenty minutes which must have been a record. I grabbed the rest of my things and headed back out to the entrance of the zoo where I ran into a nice Australian guy who was photographing the Macaws. He mentioned that he had been at the zoo earlier this week and for a brief moment I thought that he too might be a zoo photographer, but no, he was just traveling around.

I wasn't really up to touring the rest of the zoo even though it was a really nice looking place, since I had walked around for a long time yesterday at the Kuala Lumpur zoo and 4 times at the Singapore Night Safari. I was feeling a little zoo-ed out. Apparently the zoos in Malaysia are huge for the tourist industry (according to the Australian) which explained all of the construction that was going on at the zoo--they were acquiring more and more animals due to its popularity and needed more space for them! I chatted with him for a while and then headed back to the taxi where Zainal was waiting for me.

So short? He says to me, you walk very fast through the zoo! I just smiled and said yep, let s go!

So we headed back out of Taiping and back in the direction of Kuala Lumpur (or KL as they call it here). However this time we took the more interesting and scenic route, rather than the direct highway approach that we took on the way. At this point it was about 11:15 am and so we had plenty of time to get back since I had hired the taxi for the entire day, just in case my luck was different at the zoo!

After driving for a quite a while we stopped to eat lunch around 2 o clock in a small town, where I was greeted with a lot of stares which I am now used to. People are just as interested in me, the foreigner, as I am in them. Zainal and I ate lunch together, he got me a plate of rice and showed me what to put on it (there was a buffet) but I chose not to follow his lead on eating an entire fried fish, scales and everything. We ordered some lemon ice tea which was just fantastic since it was so hot outside but I do have to say that I kept thinking about what might be in my future (aka in the bathroom) after drinking it, ice cubes and all.

After lunch we drove on and it was really nice to take the long road back. We had passed a waterfall on the way to Taiping and on the way back there was an exit for it, so Zainal asked if I wanted to take it and see the waterfall. Of course! So we headed over to the waterfall which was about 6 km off of the road and he kept asking me if I was going to go swimming in it. In the waterfall? I didn t think so, but when we got to the base of the falls I realized what he meant. There were several families and young people there all swimming in the pools at the bottom of the falls. It looked really inviting and I was seriously tempted to just jump right in. Zainal and I walked up several flights of concrete steps to get to a hanging bridge that went across the waterfall, which was really neat. I snapped a couple of pictures and then figured that we would be on our way back. But Zainal wanted to actually go up to the waterfall, so we walked through some bushes and ended up right at the waterfall.

That' s when I slipped. I don t know how it happened (well, I do, the rocks were really slippery) but I managed to fall over with this sort of slow motion grace that only happens when you fall sometimes and Zainal managed to miss it entirely as he was walking further towards the waterfall on some rocks. The group of teenagers nearby saw me though and luckily I didn t get hurt too much and was just laughing about it, but in reality my foot hurt really, really bad.

We sat down and just watched the falls for a bit and it was great. It was much cooler by the falls and it was nice to just sit down and take a break from the car. Zainal keeps asking me if I want to go in. Umm, I don t have any more clothes other than these, I try to explain. But I will go in if you go in he says and tries to explain that he doesn t care if I get his car wet, that I could just take off my top if I wanted. I wasn t quite sure if I had heard him correctly but I could tell from his smile what he had said. I told him, in a good natured way, that I wasn t going to be taking off my shirt, thanks.

Although the water did look inviting, I decided not to jump in with the others and we started to head back to the car, where I promised that I would call him tomorrow if I changed my mind and wanted to go in. He told me that he would bring his suit too if we decided to go.

We keep driving and its around 4 o clock at this point so its already taken much longer to get back than it did to get to Taiping which was fine. After driving for a while longer, Zainal asked me if I was tired and if I wanted to get some tea. Um, sure! So we drive a ways to the point of where I was wondering if we were going to get tea and we finally pulled off at a small town. Zainal got out of the car at a little street stall and ordered some fried things and then got back into the car and drove us over to a little open-air restaurant. We got out and he handed me the bag with our fried food in it (when I asked him what they were he told me that he couldn t tell me) and he ordered us two teas.

The fried things turned out to be delicious, and were just long pieces of fried batter with this nut sauce that came in a little bag. They were really good, and the tea was equally as interesting and tasty. The tea was thicker than ordinary tea but it tasted just the same, if not less like tea at first but then having a strong tea aftertaste, if that makes sense. Zainal and I didn t talk, but it was nice that he was taking the time to make our way back to KL and stopping off at these different places.

We made one other stop before making it to KL and that was at a lake which was really pretty, but we only stopped long enough for Zainal to get in a quick cigarette break. The rain kept coming and going and it was really wonderful to be driving around with the smell of fresh rain in the air.

We made it back to KL and I had to stop off at a bank to get money to pay him, so we drove around in the traffic (more like stopped in the traffic instead of driving in it) and eventually found a bank that accepted my card and made it back to the hotel around 8:30. What a long day! I paid and thanked him and he reminded me that if I changed my mind about the waterfalls, just to let him know. After washing up I headed back downstairs to eat dinner and then worked on organizing the pictures from today.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.