Jungles, Volcanoes, Monkeys and Orangutans

The past month has been a whirlwind trip through Malaysia and Sumatra. We’ve visited the disappearing rainforests of both, trekked through the jungle, climbed an active volcano, met orangutans in the wild, and stayed on a beautiful island in a giant lake, in the crater of yet another volcano.

In Bukit Lawang

In Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Indonesia.

Rainforest ants are BIG

Rainforest ants are BIG!

We promise we to blog about it soon, but not tonight.

Tonight we are back in Kuala Lumpur. It’s getting close to midnight and we have to be up before the sun tomorrow for a flight to SRI LANKA!

We promise more updates soon, but in the meantime here is a short video of our climb of Gunung Sibayak in Sumatra. I wish you could smell the sulphur and feel the heat. It was awesome!

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Hi again! We’re still in Berastagi, Indonesia. We decided to stay in this little town for two extra days to utilize our hosts’ WiFi for photo uploads. The process has taken many, many, many hours and has been interrupted repeatedly with power outages (typical in Indonesia, so we were told). But, we’re happy to finally be able to share a bit from our time in Kuala Lumpur.

We arrived Kuala Lumpur (KL) in early January, withdrew some Malaysian ringgit (aka plastic money) and jumped into a taxi directly to our hotel.

Malaysian Ringgit is made of plastic. Note the clear windows at the top of the bills.

Malaysian Ringgit is made of plastic. Note the clear windows at the top of the bills.

The drive into town was eye-opening. Really, the shock started in the air, as we descended low enough to see what appeared like the entire country covered in palm oil plantations as far as the eye could see. From the property boundary of the airport, all the way to the beginning of commercially booming KL, it was the same fields of green oil palms as far as we could see. On the one hand, it was lovely to see the lush vegetation, but we know the deeper story about palm oil. Without getting too political or preachy, our family has chosen to avoid packaged products whose ingredients include palm oil and it’s not easy. Nearly 60% of packaged crackers, cookies, cereals, etc. contain palm oil, sometimes misleadingly and innocently labelled “vegetable oil”. Palm oil plantations are responsible for a very long list of global issues. Not only is palm oil not a healthy oil, but the manner in which the plantations soils have to be prepared is criminal. We’ve all heard about the haze in Southeast Asia and the draining/burning of centuries old rainforest peat soils is the culprit. The smoke from burning rainforest lands has affected us personally while we were in Singapore. Our week in Singapore included daily headaches, fits of coughing and the necessity of face masks to block some of the smoke. I got a bit sick and that was during just one week of exposure. The people who have no choice but to live where fires burn for months on end suffer a plethora of medical conditions as a result. Further, hundreds, maybe thousands of species of birds, mammals and plants have become (or will soon be) threatened due to the damage to the ecosystems from palm oil plantations. The tree canopy and fertile, rich soil that provided habitats and food have disappeared. Palm oil plantations provide sustenance for a teeny tiny percentage of all original rainforest life. Ok, so, please get informed & avoid palm oil, if possible. We’re certainly not perfect global citizens, but this is one issue we experienced ourselves and wanted to share. Getting off my soapbox now.

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We chose a large-ish hotel in KL with a swimming pool so that Jette could have a fun place to cool off since the climate is so hot and sticky. We checked into a large room whereupon Jette decided she finally had enough space to do some gymnastics.

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Gorgeous backlit onyx concierge area at our hotel

IMG_20160105_105344blurry gymnastics

The view out of our room’s window was quite telling. You could see almost step-by-step how the city was being transformed. Blocks of small independently owned properties were being slowly demolished to make way for large hotels and office buildings. There was a construction project adjacent to our hotel and we could watch the laborers each day. We remarked that large buildings still used very basic labor. That is not always the case, but we did observe concrete being poured by the bucketful on several different properties.

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New building being erected as seen from our hotel room

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Another view from our room. Notice how the “airy courtyards” of the buildings in the middle of the photo have been filled in!

Once we were settled, we took a stroll in the neighborhood to check things out. We ended up having a pretty decent lunch at a pretty nice sidewalk cafe and explored, yes, another mall. This one left us unimpressed.

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First meal in Malaysia did not disappoint

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Yum!

The next evening, we had dinner at Wong Ah Wah in KL’s Chinatown, known for their chicken wings. Jette ordered a lime juice which is usually fresh lime, water, a bit of sugar and ice. This time, it was quite different. This restaurant added salt and a pickled plum. Holy wow. This was a VERY strong taste! We all dutifully sampled it, but cannot say it went further than that.

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Ready for dinner at Wong Ah Wah

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“Famous” chicken wings

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Ready for dinner

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Salted pickled plum lime juice

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Reaction to sampling the lime juice and passing the plum

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Not my favorite

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Jette had a similar reaction

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And there goes the plum

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Waco and Jette as we make our way home from KL’s Chinatown

One day, it poured buckets of rain on us while we were out and about. We took shelter in a covered walkway bridge for a while.

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Waiting for the rain to end

We did have a great time at the 20+ acre, free flight Kuala Lumpur Bird Park. There were some fabulous exotic birds and we caught a show with some trained birds.

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Strolling in the Bird Park

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A pretty bridge with flamingos

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A bit of rain provided this pretty, misty view for us

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Love this guy’s face

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Having fun

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Organized group

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Birds, everywhere!

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Chickens, too

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Feeding ducks after the bird show

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This one was quite spectacular

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Duck feeding chaos

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Funny face

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Can’t ignore this Muslim mode of dress in the extreme KL heat and humidity

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This guy was entertaining

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Gazing at all the fishies

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Where’s Waldo?

The Bird Park had a lovely restaurant in a gorgeous setting, so we had lunch there after our walk.

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A beautiful hornbill landed right next to us

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Amazing hornbill

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Posed? No, this just “happened”

We saw these signs everywhere throughout KL. Apparently, purse-swipe crime is a big enough issue to warrant these types of warnings. Even though we did not have any issues, downtown KL is not a place I would feel comfortable walking around by myself late at night.

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Thanks for keeping us alert, KL

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Stop!

Intuition plays a significant role in our daily lives, and even more so on our travels to new places. We rely on our sensibilities and if a situation, place or person doesn’t seem quite right, we “go with our gut” and usually move along. After several “sketchy” circumstances, and some odd characters, the three of us decided that the downtown KL neighborhood we were staying in was not for us. We decided to spend more time in KL, but chose to move to a different neighborhood.

We moved to an apartment in the Bangsar neighborhood. Bangsar is known as an affluent area with some diverse food options, good cafes, and a more relaxed sensibility. We found all of those descriptions to be quite true. We feasted on comfort foods, fancy lattes (as I’ve started to call them), and even did some fresh fruit and vegetable shopping at the local grocery. We stayed directly across the street from a mosque and were awoken at 5am each morning with the first call to prayer. That part wasn’t our idea of a good time, but it was certainly a common, real life experience for us in KL, the city we had come to explore.

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The mosque responsible for our groggy mornings

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The graffiti in Bangsar was quite artistic

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One of my favorite pieces of street art

Several times, we commented that the neighborhood reminded us of Los Angeles. The scale, street parking and palm trees all contribute to the similar feel of the both. Bangsar was a comfortable and “just enough”. Just different enough, yet familiar enough for us to feel really happy being there.

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Cute sidewalk cafe

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The Los Angeles of Malaysia?

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Check out this local girl in her new Ray Bans! L.A. or Bangsar?

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Taking a stroll

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I thought these woven bamboo pineapples were spectacular

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Our favorite breakfast spot, Ted Boy

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Jette in “comfort-food heaven”

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So happy to be in air conditioning in a cafe with baked treats

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A slice of Ted Boy’s cheesecake

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Ted Boy was the perfect place to work on some math

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Full of coffee (me) and baked treats (both of us!)

Bangsar even had a Mexican restaurant. We had dinner there one night. Jette ate a HUGE plate of cheesy nachos (and nothing else the next day).

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Oh, nachos, how I love thee

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Jette thought these tiny Mexican pottery pitchers were cute

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Acme South restaurant was a terrific fusion restaurant

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Acme South’s incredible garlic wedge fries

There were two really excellent “banana leaf” restaurants in the Bangsar area. One was Raj’s Banana Leaf and the other was Devi’s Corner. They both serve small portions of vegetables on, you guessed it, a banana leaf. They pile on some rice and there are optional meat dishes too. The idea is to eat with your right hand. It’s fun, messy and delicious!

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Raj’s Banana Leaf Restaurant

Devi's Corner Restaurant

Devi’s Corner Restaurant

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Jette’s fresh banana leaf just before we are served lunch

waiting for rice before digging in

Waiting for my rice before digging in

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We love banana leaf restaurants!

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Not sure how this looks to you, but it was SO GOOD

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Waco enjoying his lunch

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Almost gone…

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Jette’s perfected three-finger technique

Banana leaf restaurants will continue to bring more rice and vegetables until a diner is satisfied. The way to properly indicate that you do not care for more servings is to fold your banana leaf over.

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Proper etiquette

After almost a week in KL, we made arrangements to travel to Taman Negara National Park, the oldest rainforest in the world, at 130 million years.

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Jette, waiting for our minivan to Teman Negara just before sunrise

Next stop, Kuala Lumpur

I say “next stop”, but we’ve actually just arrived!
Hello, Malaysia.

I’m working on an catch-up post to fill you in on the past couple weeks, but internet has been spotty and we’re exhausted, so it will have to wait until tomorrow. We only got a few hours sleep last night. We were up at 5 a.m. for an early taxi to the airport and arrived in KL this afternoon. It’s too soon for us to pass judgement. We need some sleep and time to explore a bit. I can say that it has changed a lot in the 20+ years since i was last here!

In the meantime, here’s a travel video I found on YouTube that will give you a brief introduction to Kuala Lumpur: