Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Leap of Faith

One of the advertised activities at Tanah Aina, Ferrah Soraya, is a walk through the jungle to a waterfall. This is a somewhat adventurous activity with ropes and handrails to help you to the point where you enter the rushing river fed by the waterfall. To add to the excitement, as your body (and mind) acclimatize to the freezing water, the young men leading you to the waterfall untie the stashed inner tubes and plunk you into sitting position before you know what has happened to you. They then whisk you through the next bit of turbulent water to the base of the waterfall.

Just beside the waterfall is a platform up a set of steps. This is the platform for the famous Leap of Faith you read about in the resort brochure and you sign a waiver for when you arrive. We set out on this Jungle adventure the day we arrived and it proved to be as exhilarating as it sounds. I, of course, did not take the Leap of Faith, but Marc did and he agrees that it is aptly named. I was happy to film the experience (from the comfort of a big rock opposite the waterfall) for insurance purposes if anything went wrong!

Ferrah Soraya, is one of five resorts owned by Tanah Aina. From what we have managed to figure out, the wife of one of the richest men in Malaysia privately owns the land. She, unlike the wives of most wealthy Malaysians, has business interests of her own and takes jungle preservation very seriously. She continues to purchase land in order to conserve the jungle from deforestation and planting of more palm groves for palm oil production. On some of the land she purchases she builds eco resorts where preservation of the local eco systems is her highest priority. This particular resort offers tent camping (we chose this option), dormitories as well as very upscale cottages for weekend get-aways as well as team building retreats. Although the resort was completely deserted when we arrived, we heard later that 100 people had come and gone a couple of days earlier. There are 20 fulltime employees, all foreigners from Nepal, Indonesia, and the Philippians to look after your every whim.

Our tent!

We took a leap of faith ourselves and booked a last minute two-day all-inclusive package, on the recommendation of the Two Palms Hostel in Kuala Lumpur.

The river running beside out tent

After two days here, we will give the Resort mixed reviews. The things they do right, they do amazingly well, but there are a few things that could be improved. In all fairness to them, we came here, as a kind of easy fix jungle adventure — and this is after all — a resort.

It ends up after almost six months of travel we are not used to solitude. We were forced to relax for two days with almost nothing to do and no Internet (oy!). We needed the rest, but felt compelled to plan the next week of travel and there was only so much we could do without online research and booking .... In reality it gave us some much needed time to reflect on what we have done so far and what lies ahead. We spent quite a few hours laying on the couch in the outdoor communal lounge/dining room talking about where to go next and what we hope to get out of the next month or two of travel. And we had the opportunity to swim in amazingly clean fresh water, spent two days in the jungle with the sound of rushing water and the calls of birds and insects overpowering even the television, ate (way too much) delicious food and got a lot of shut-eye. Sounds ideal right?

The chalet across the bridge from us.

Since we were the only guests at the resort that can accommodate 150 people, the 20 staff members were all over us trying to please us, overfeed us, and be ready to help us at every turn. The schedule looked like this: Breakfast was at 8:00 am, lunch at 12:30, jungle walk to the waterfall at 2:30, tea at 4:30, dinner at 7:30, night jungle walk at 8:30. The Filipino cook (one of the only staff members to have a good handle on English) came around at intervals to discuss the menu for the next eating extravaganza, and seemed truly disappointed when we didn’t want five courses for each meal. He is an amazing cook and we tried our best to at least taste each delicacy he put in front of us, but our bellies were swelling with each meal and by the time we left, we felt like we didn’t need to eat again for a week! The staff member assigned to be our fixer, was always sitting just close enough to jump up every time we looked like we might need something. He was very cute, but we could hardly understand him and really didn’t need anything. By the second day, I think he had given up on us!

Our walk on the last morning.

On our last morning, we took a walk up into the terraced hills behind the resort. We had been on the same walk the first night here, but, in the dark, it was to stare at the moon and hear the sounds of the jungle. In the daylight the experience was completely different. As we climbed higher, we could see another waterfall in the distance and enjoyed the blanket of lush green vegetation in every direction as far as the eye can see. We also learned that the blue barrels dotting the landscape filled with rainwater were used for irrigating the organic vegetable farms on the property where the great food prepared for us came from.

By the time we left, we realized that these two days in this pristine jungle were really quite special. Sure, we had some constructive feedback to pass on to Sara, the marketing person, but on final analysis, Tanah Aina Ferrah Soraya was well worth the visit.

All packed, we jumped into the jeep that took us back to Bentong and our bus back to KL. That night we witnessed an amazing lightning storm from the comfort of our 18th floor hotel room. The lights of the Golden Triangle shopping district flashed on and off as the lightening struck and we had our own private sound and light show. The Petronas Twin Towers (KL’s most famous landmark), which is lit at night with flashing lights, was doing a disappearing act due to cloud cover and electricity outages. We tried to rig up a chair on a table to set my camera on to try to get a photo of the scene. We didn’t do too well but I will leave you with the best of the bad shots I took.

Amazing lightening storm on our last night in KL.

We bid farewell to Kuala Lumpur this morning and are now headed for Penang, a small island on the West Coast of Malaysia. It was still raining this morning so we hopped in a cab, which took us right to the ticketing entrance of the Puduriya (huge) bus station, where information helpers greeted us at the door and directed us to the proper ticketing agent. There was a bus leaving immediately and a handful of people helped us navigate down several levels of staircases to the proper platform where we handed over our luggage and boarded our spacious and comfortable air conditioned coach. We will be staying in Georgetown for two nights, the only town on the Island known for its beaches. But we are saving our beach/snorkeling/diving experience for Langkawi, which is another smaller island north of Penang. We are expecting Georgetown to be much like Melaka and are looking forward to our two-day visit there.

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