7. Kuala Lipis, Pahang. After spending two weeks in Kota Bharu, we rode our bikes 43 miles south to a small town called Kuala Krai (cutting $8 Malay off our train fare). The evening there was very pleasant because we bumped into a Peace Corps couple. They invited us to eat supper with them. We exchanged news and suggested some places for them to go in the Philippines. (They were the only volunteers we visited in Malaysia, the only volunteers we visited anywhere. There were about 500 Peace Corps volunteers in Malaysia then, but we didn’t see them.)
The next morning we took what turned out of to be a rather lengthy train ride south through the center of the country. It reminded us of transportation in the Philippines: we were told the trip took about five hours, but we left Kuala Krai at 5:30 a.m. and reached our destination (Kuala Lipis) sometime after 6:00 that evening (9 hours). The ride itself was quite beautiful, passing through rubber plantations, across many rivers, and through some rather thick jungle. We thought we’d cross some mountains, but we went through several tunnels instead. To me the most memorable creature we saw was a huge monitor lizard.
Kuala Lipis is the closest town of any size to the national park. There was a government “rest house” (like a hotel) there, where we made inquiries about going into the park. The last leg of the trip was by boat, and we were told that it cost $120 Malay to hire a boat for the trip in. Obviously we didn’t have that kind of money, but we thought that we might be able to squeeze in when someone else had one hired. A boat was making a trip that day, but it was full because of hauling supplies. The next trip wouldn’t be for five days, and a fellow at the rest house thought we could go then. In the meantime, we were sort of camping out in a garage behind the rest house. We were paying $2.00 Malay a night, a dollar less than the cheapest hotel we stayed in. Also, we cooked our own meals, so we were able save a little that way.
We fell into a lazy routine, sleeping until 8:30 or 9:00. We would get up, cook eggs and boil water for tea, a process that took nearly an hour if our little stove wasn’t feeling energetic. After doing the dishes (with no running water) and reading the paper, Peggy would do some wash, and I usually wrote for a while. Then it would be lunchtime … our basic meal being hard-boiled eggs, cucumbers, a local fruit called lonsat, and bread and kaya (native jam made from coconut milk and eggs.) The afternoon was reserved for reading, sleeping, writing, working crossword puzzles, and sometimes doing more washing.
Supper was a major operation on our stove, which had to be pumped constantly, but we enjoyed cooking our own food. (We always had rice and hot tea. Our meat varied: fresh fish, dried fish, canned meatballs and gravy (from Australia), stewed pork, or duck (both from China). The Chinese fellow in the rest house taught us a delicious way to cook vegetables. We’d buy 30 cents Malay worth of leafy vegetables (we tried three kinds) and 20 cents Malay worth of fresh shrimp, add some oil, and cook them together in a frying pan. The sweetness of the shrimp would keep the greens from being bitter. While we waited, Peggy was frustrated because there were no English bookstores in Kuala Lipis, so she spent much of her time working crossword puzzles.
8. Our lazy life ended on August 21 (1969). A major in the British Army (stationed in Singapore) had reserved a boat into the park. Since he had only two daughters with him (his wife was expecting in three weeks, and his son was recuperating from being stung by a cone shell), there was plenty room for us. We met Major Smith the night before, and during our conversation Peggy mentioned that the $120 Malay was more than we could afford for a boat. That was the first he had heard of its being so expensive, although he had been corresponding with park officials.
We made arrangements to leave our bicycles and some of our extra stuff in the garage where we had been staying – for a $1.00 Malay a day. At the last moment we found out that we could leave our stuff at an army station around the corner for free. So Peggy went with Major Smith and his daughters to the train station, while I took care of the bikes. I just almost missed the train because it turned out that a general was arriving that day and the army people didn’t want our large messy basket (and bikes) cluttering up their place. So I had to lug everything back to the place where we had been staying. I arrived at the station three or four minutes before the train pulled out.
The train ride took about an hour and took us within two miles of where we were to catch the boat. When we got off the train, Major Smith began inquiring about the price. The fee was $12.50 or $15 (depending on the size of the boat) plus the cost of the gas: 46 gallons at $2.60 per gallon one way! So the major had a conference with his daughters, and they decided they’d rather spend the $200 or so it would have cost them going up the East Coast. So that was the end of our trip to the park. We spent a pleasant afternoon eating a picnic lunch with the Smiths and walking two miles to the river and back, while we waited for the 7:15 train back to Kuala Lipis. At one point we were caught in a downpour. Major Smith’s daughters thought we should get out of it, but we had no where to go. So the major shrugged and threw up his hand, and we all waited the storm out under a tree.
Peggy and Randy Ford