Day 67: Penang, Malaysia. We woke to a gorgeous sunny morning, and started the day with breakfast on the guesthouse patio. We scoffed peanut butter and corn pancakes, banana bread, spicy curry puffs and chilled watermelon, while watching one of the guesthouse cats catching a fat cockroach, which it then happily tossed around at our feet.
We also had local coffee that our host showed us how to make. The process involves pouring boiling water onto local ground coffee, then pouring the hot liquid into another container, pouring it back again, pouring it back again… We were starting to think tea might be a good idea, when he finally stopped and strained the frothing coffee into glass cups. And we have to admit – it was a pretty good drop.
Then we headed off to catch the bus to Penang National Park, to try out a couple of the walking trails. When we got there, we registered our details with the information office, got our park permit, and set out on the hike.
A little disappointingly, the trail to Monkey Bay is closed (the noticeboard says it was shut due to a landslide in November 2017, and for whatever reason, it has never re-opened). So we did a short 3km walk to Keracut Beach, and checked out the Turtle Conservation and Information Centre while we were there.
To make a day of the trekking, we decided to do an alternative and much longer return route from the beach, with the promiseof a decent view of Ferringhi Beach, which we visited yesterday, on the way.
We’ve been using a combination of maps on our travels. Local tourist paper maps are often the best option, but you can’t get them until you arrive somewhere, and they get crushed and soggy while you’re trekking. Google maps is brilliant at the big stuff, getting you from city to city and navigating around towns, but it needs an internet connection and data quota to work properly. So it’s pretty useless in a forest. We’ve discovered that maps.me not only works offline but has amazing detail of many forest walks, which are completely missing from Google maps. The one thing it doesn’t have (or at least we haven’t found so far) is contours. You can’t see the hills and valleys until you find yourself climbing up or down them.
Today was one of those days where we might have changed our mind, had we seen the climb ahead. We ended up walking pretty much straight up a 400m hill, along and down a saddle, and back up another 100m or so. It was over half the climb up Penang Hill we did a few days ago, and in only a few kilometers. Fair to say it was a pretty brutal trek, but the view of the beach from the top was spectacular!
About a kilometre before we rejoined the regular (and thankfully flat) return beach track, Lil squawked and stopped suddenly. She’d seen something that looked like a cross between a large pig and a horse in the trees ahead – it was a wild boar. We turned to start walking back down the track, but realised that was pointless, so stood still for a bit, not quite sure what to do next. The wild boar had obviously spotted us and wasn’t happy and was growling loudly. We picked up a couple of sticks (not that they’d be much good if the boar came charging at us, but it made us feel a bit better), and waited. After a while it looked like the boar had moved on, so we crept up the trail, keeping a beady eye on the trees for fear the creature was still lurking. We managed to get past unscathed and quickened our pace until we reached the return trail.
We were a bit shaken at unexpectedly seeing the wild boar, but perhaps not as shaken as a man we read about in the local newspaper, who lives in a village on the east coast of Malaysia. The article said he thought he felt his son tap his waist, so he reached back to pat his son’s head, and wondered why it was so furry. He turned to find he was stroking a tiger, which had found its way into the village. Let’s hope we don’t encounter any tigers on our future hikes.
By the time we got back to the park entrance and information office, we were feeling pretty wrecked. We sat down for a while at a local cafe, then walked a kilometre up the road to catch the bus. It was 6.30pm when we reached the guesthouse – we had a quick shower then headed out for dinner to an Indian eatery right across the road – our aching legs didn’t feel like walking much further.
After re-fuelling, we set off to find ‘the cheapest beer in town’ shop (thanks Google maps) that others in the guesthouse have been talking about – and yes, it’s very cheap. We bought a bunch of beers and headed back to the guesthouse, passing some sort of bizarre religious ceremony along the way. A man dressed in a robe was wafting incense out of a mobile shrine over the faces of queuing visitors. Then, from the flame in the shrine, lighting the husk of a peeled coconut and standing it on the visitor’s head before finally throwing the coconut so hard into a bin, the milk splattered everywhere. The whole ceremony lasted about 15 seconds, and we have absolutely no idea what it was all about.
Then we sat on the patio and chatted to some more people staying at the guesthouse, did a bit more planning and plotting, and headed for an early night.
Tomorrow we pack up and catch a bus to Kota Bharu, 8 hours east of Penang. From there we’ll either spend a couple of days on the east coast, or catch the jungle train down south. We’ll decide next plans tomorrow.