Well, we’ve been off to a bit of a bumpy start the past few days, but I have confidence that things will improve. We’ve been here for 3 days now, and although there’s definitely been a few amazing/gorgeous highlights to file away, it seems like a lot of our time has been spent driving in circles, trying to find things to do!
My dear adopted sister Farahnush, whom I last saw on my trip to Tajikistan in 2009, met us at the airport with her Sudanese friend Beebo. We were whisked off by airport-city commuter train to Bin Bentang, a nightlife-neighborhood where Christine and I were first introduced to the glorious SE Asian massage. Farah and Beebo had never had one in their 3-4 years living as students in Malaysia, but their friends had recommended a place where the employees wore orange shirts. Armed with this knowledge, we scoured the street twice – our senses constantly both assaulted and allured by the constant throbbing music of the nightclubs surrounding us – before Christine’s sharp eyes picked out a single man standing in the crowds of walkers, handing out flyers and wearing an orange shirt. We looked at the flyer he handed us – it was for a place called Liang Xin Reflexology Centre. Good enough for us! We followed the little man into an elevator which took us up a single story, and into a beautiful room filled with wood décor, long curtains, dim lanterns, and the faint sound of waterfalls. The two of us were left to our massages while our hosts ran errands, and our masseuses, Ida and Anita, did an amazing one-hour Thai massage on Christine and I, in adjoining curtained cells. Afterward, we were served fresh fruit, juice, and dragonfruit ice cream. The bathrooms, Christine reported, “looked amazing. I kind of wanted to live in there.”
Farah and Beebo took us to a delicious Iraqi restaurant, where I had a chance to bone up on my Arabic with the servers (I already had been with Beebo, of course, but Sudanese is quite a bit different the dialects I know). The prices were refreshingly low compared with Hong Kong, but it didn’t matter; Farah had steadfastly refused to let us pay for anything so far. After a dinner of schwarma, Turkish coffee, and kebabs, Farah hailed a taxi for us to carry us back to her apartment in the nearby university city of Cyberjaya. The trip took about an hour and cost 50 ringgits, which at 3 ringgits to a USD, seemed quite reasonable. The apartment complex was named Cyberia Smart Homes, and with seven adjacent 15-story buildings, it seemed like it could easily host the entire population of my hometown of Brodhead. Each one looked identical and without our native guides, I would have easily gotten lost and slept on the concrete floor. I was tired enough to do so!
We slept well in the college apartment dorm that Farah had procured from us from another student, and the next morning, Farah and Beebo had a car rented for us from another contact. So far, so good! The car, rented to us by the somewhat oily and shady-looking Ajnan, was a cute and compact little white Proton Saga, a Malaysian car company that of course, both you and I have never heard of before. Beebo volunteered to be our driver, and as neither Christine nor I had experience driving in the right-sided British style, and Farah didn’t have a license, we immediately agreed. And we were off! The Malaysian highways were numerous and confusingly labeled, but Beebo confidently navigated us through the heart of Kuala Lumpur to our first destination of Batu Caves.
The first snag in our journey was all my fault. Batu Caves is a beautiful Hindu cave system hosting several shrines to the Lord Murugan, and has a massive golden statue to the man outside the front of the caves. However, besides being a monument and tourist attraction, it’s also the name of an entire city district in K.L. and when I searched for directions on Google Maps, I didn’t realize I was just getting directions to the district, not to the tourist attraction. Beebo, thankfully, was a master of direction inquiries, which he called out in friendly English to anyone who looked even slightly local when my directions proved false. Eventually, after politely refusing the offers of several taxi drivers to escort our car to the location for a small fee, we spotted the massive golden statue of Murugan from the highway.
The statue stands in front of a large staircase, covered in tourists and macaque monkeys, that leads up to the cave shrine itself. A large and ornately decorated Hindu temple stands slightly to the left of the stair system, and in front of that, numerous Malaysian cart vendors helpfully sell small offerings of food and flowers that tourists can offer to the shrines and the monks within. The four of us selected some coconuts to offer the monks, reasoning that although they weren’t as pretty to look at as the ubiquitous yellow flower wreathes, the monks might be able to get more practical use from coconut meat and milk than flower petals. We offered our coconuts to a priest/monk in front of a particularly large shrine – there must have been at least a couple dozen in the temple – and then a few minutes later at a different shrine, received blessings of reddish paste, smeared onto our foreheads by a solemn looking fellow who helpfully rattled his collection plate in front of him afterward. I guess 4 coconuts weren’t enough for the Full Blessing Package.
Feeling lightened in wallet and spirit, we ascended into the cave, pausing to photograph the extremely playful and mischievous little monkeys who cavorted around the tourists, snatching food from their hands and leaping on each other the low hanging trees surrounding us. A few of them had babies, which prompted adoring coos of delight from the multitudes. In the temple caves themselves, we even saw one tearing apart an aluminum Diet Coke can with its bare paws. “Diet Coke: So good, a monkey will rip apart metal for it.”
Besides the cute monkeys, some pigeons and roosters, and the a few more shrines and gift shops in the huge natural cave, there wasn’t much more to see, so we headed back into the city for what turned out to be a fruitless search for a perhaps-mythical Tourist Information Center somewhere in Kuala Lumpur. Without the internet, Google Maps on my phone was restricted to street maps and a GPS, so I couldn’t search for anything new, so we drove in circles around the famous Petronas Towers and begged anyone standing still for directions. Christine even jumped out of the car while we were stuck in heavy traffic, ran into a classy 4 star hotel and posed as a guest and scored a paper map for us. Not even that could help us, though, so we headed north to try to find an internet cafe that could give us some more ideas for plans for the evening.
We were in luck, as a shady and secluded public rainforest educational center called Kuala Selangor was only an hour and a half northwest of the city, near the ocean. We roared away in our little Proton through the palm tree plantations and misty mountains surrounding the city and were able to hike for an hour before the sunset, finding the park with only a little difficulty. The place was completely deserted, as it seemed to have closed for the day a half hour earlier, but we found the gates unlocked and unbarred so we helped ourselves to a free hike. The macaque monkeys knew that the tourist time was over, so they were in the process of retreating back into the jungle as we entered, but they turned and stared at us in curiosity as we followed them. Don’t tell on us, fellas!