Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Paragliding Headhunters and relaxation via Hotspring

Let's start with the hotsprings, since that happened a few days earlier than the paragliding. A big group of us researchers from the expedition went for one night to the Merrarap hotsprings resort. This not-so-tiny resort is built in an ideal scenic space, surrounded on all sides by mountainous rainforest (some of it virgin), partially blanketed by cloud cover, and a rapid flowing river right beside the hot spring tubs. The Hotspring source is quite close to the actual tubs, and the resort mixes in some cool water to make the temperature bearable (40-50 degree C). As is the case with most hot springs, the stank of dissolved hydrogen sulfide (main smelly component in farts) is rife. But if you can overcome the stench and can take the heat, the rewards are big. The tubs are built out of real rock from the surrounding area, and really give an authentic feel to the place. Once you get into the water, there is little reason to want to exit- great company and soothing hot water glued me to the tub for over an hour. In the background, the sound of rapids crashing against rocks gives an added excitement and natural feel to the experience. Later that night, we unwound on some comfy couches, and had some great chats about different adventures the researchers had been part of. Before heading to bed, we all heard a crashing sound nearby, and found that some massive black colored insect had caused all the ruckus when it hit into the light. This thing was the Rhinoceros Beetle, about the size of a large egg, with an exoskeleton as hard as human bone. This beetle boasts some of the most incredible strength to be seen in the animal kingdom- some male Rhino beetles are able to produce force 850x their own body mass, making them the second strongest animals in the world, in terms of force produced/body mass. BUT I NEVER KNEW THEY COULD ALSO FLY. If these buggers latch on you, pulling them off might take your skin off as well, so best let them get off on their own terms.
The next morning, we woke up for more hot spring action, while taking in the beauty of various hornbills (the iconic bird of Sarawak) so easily maneuvering the densely packed trees across the river.
Some new friends I made on the expedition to Paya Maga
Beautiful virgin rainforest protected by mountain ranges and the precarious river rapids
Rhinoceros beetles can exert a force 850x their own weight, making them the second strongest organism in the world in terms of force/body mass. This beetle recently got surpassed by the Horned Dung Beetle, which is capable of lifting 1,140x it's mass. According to Extremescience (http://www.extremescience.com/zoom/index.php/creepy-crawlies/117-strongest-animal), this would be same as a human lifting six double decker buses. No big deal.

On our flight back to Kuching, we had a layover in the city of Miri. My friend Simon, the Iban paraglider (of headhunting ancestry), has a paragliding club here, and invited me to check him out in the act. It was really cool, but definitely requires some serious training and focus. I would absolutely love to learn, if time allows. The feel of flying through the air must be so invigorating, but probably also terrifying at moments. Photos below show him or his friends in various points of paragliding.

Simon is so worry-free when it comes to paragliding, it's a wonder he ever was terrified of heights.

I'm sure if he reached out his hand, he could grab some clouds.

Sarawakian RVs, Lamaze for Bats

So even though this could be confusing for some, I will continue adding posts about various aspects of my expedition as time provides and memories pop into my head. This post describes events that happened between Oct 10 and Oct 13.

Spent last night processing samples and then when I finished, the two life adventurers offered me a seat and strong coffee for a heart to heart chat.
They really treated me like one of them- people surfing the life wave, unable to sit still for too long, unable to be dispassionate about my work, seeking that thrill, and pushing the boundaries of physical limits. Though I feel like I have not yet taken up the gauntlet and I'm not nearly as adventurous as these dude are, but I'm starting to feel kind of different about myself. Whereas I used to avoid physical adventures, I'm beginning to yearn for them these days. Every hike is treat, since there is always the prospect of seeing something new, and/or living/breathing, yet even without that, the gorgeous sights, the sweet and musky smells of the forest, and the feel of rapidly changing terrain under your feet all make the sweat easy to bear.
Cultural adventures I can say I've enjoyed for long, luckily easy to find in NYC, and somehow even easier to find in a foreign country. And I guess college was a mental adventure so there you go. Ok, back to our conversation:
Rambli (the spelunking dude who led a National Geographic expedition into one of the biggest cave systems in the world, in Mulu, Sarawak; photo below with him extending his arm out) went to college in U of Wisconsin Madison, perhaps the biggest party school in the country (at least back then) and spoke of his exploits there. And Simon (dude with bandana), well he spoke of growing up as a Kampong (village) boy, being afraid of water and heights, and how he got over those fears to become an expert paraglider (and instructor) and scuba diving instructor. I felt pretty darn inspired when i went to bed that night.

In the morning our group was to go down to the lower camp, leaving behind this majestic place. I was planning to walk down, for about a 4 hr hike. Truthfully, I really was in the mood for a nice hike. But then I saw what makeshift contraption the camp crew were planning to bring the luggage and a few select participants down in. This is what we later dubbed to be Sarawak's version of the RV, basically a tractor linked up to a really decrepit wooden shack built on sleds made of logs. When I heard of this crazy idea, I could not let myself miss this opportunity (to potentially get crushed when this shack surely brokedown?). And so we went down the rockiest, muddiest trail (I dare call this a 'road'), I think my butt did not make contact with the wooden floor for longer than 2 seconds at any given time- a few times we all flew up half a foot from the floor. Also it was a real tight fit for the shack...branches constantly protruded in, scraped people's face (keep your hands and head inside the vehicle takes on a whole new meaning here), and literally broke off pieces of this shack. At about 5 points in the 3 hr trip, we had to stop so that one of the porters could hammer at some nails to 'fix' loosened pieces of wood. That's Padawan in the picture below doing just this, probably saving our lives in the end.

We arrived at Kampong Long Tuyo, a village of the Limboau people, who are honestly the kindest, most hospitable people I have ever met. They literally gave up their beds for us (and took the floor, no joke). Anytime we were in the house, they were quick to offer us refreshments, freshly baked savory snacks and freshly picked fruit (I ate an infinite number of jackfruit because they were just delectable). Before lunch, we had an epic game of football (the real version that the rest of the world knows and loves), and I was dubbed 'the ultimate import' as I provided a header assist and some defensive stops. Since it had rained earlier, I had mud up to my thighs.
That first night was the closing ceremony of the expedition, and every woman in the village cooked up a feast for us. I was pretty sad to see the look of disappointment on their faces when probably not even a third of their food was finished off, but this is just how they welcome any visitor. I was happy that I got to join some of the people in preparing lunch earlier in the day(slicing and dicing up various veggies, but still). At the end of the ceremony, the kampong (village) women offered us a traditional musical symphony using these percussion instruments (no idea of the name). Then some good old karaoke and dancing.
After an excursion to the hot springs (the topic of the next post) we went to the lower camp of the expedition (Gunong Dua), for a few extra days of collection. Here I met the small mammal group, and helped them take photos of bats they had trapped (but of course would later release). One of the bats was actually in labor as we photographed her. The baby looked a lot like a tapioca pearl in bubble tea. One of the girls in the group was coaching the bat, but then we let it deliver in peace.

The last day at this camp, I saw this strange insect, bright yellow in color, about 8mm x8mm, 8 legs, with 4 stingers. I wished it could also shoot a web, since then it would confirm my wild speculations that this was a hybrid of a spider and scorpion. No one in the camp knew what it was, and I got a few photos though i really wished i had a good Macro lens at that point.

We ended our trip with a night in Lawas (a two hour ride on the SUV), where I luckily ran into the porters and guides, enjoyed a beer or some unknown number, joined them on a karaoke bar sprawl, and stumbled back to the Hotel Perdana (actually I was lost, but took just the right number of wrong turns in this tiny little town)

Monday, November 1, 2010


I've been here in Kuching for a little over two months now (how the time flies, it's just nuts) and the unique form of English the people speak here definitely has been rubbing off on me. I feel like I need to provide everyone with an appendix to malaysian english, which in many ways is like normal english, but for a few slang phrases. Most of them are described in this article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malaysian_English) but I will briefly talk about the ones I use most now.

laa: which doesn't actually mean anything, but is commonly said at the end of many sentences, because of how commonly "laa" ends malay words. So you see it's kind of fun to use it, laa.

nevermind: which really just means don't worry about it, or it's no big deal, just chill out.

is it?: really? or is it true?

last time: though sometimes used in the normal sense, signifying the last time something happened, many times it is just used to say 'in the past' or 'before'

well, that's all for now, laa. If you don't care for Malenglish, nevermind.