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  • Elizabeth Barrett-Zahn

Day Trip to Batu, FRIM and Central Market

Saturday was our day to explore so off we went by 8:30 in the morning to negotiate the public transportation system here in KL. Thanks to Emily’s practice with the NYC subway system I felt confident that we would find our way to our destinations (and we did!) The train ride to Batu Caves was inexpensive and brought us through KL and right to the opening of the caves. Batu Caves is a limestone hill with a series of cave entrances. The main cave has 272 steps that leads to souvenir shops, shrines and fairly

aggressive macaque monkeys. Located in the Gombak district it is about 13 km or 8 miles outside KL. Batu means rock or stone. Batu Caves are a very popular Hindu visiting place because there are many shrines located

around the caves.

At certain times of the year the caves are extremely crowded with Hindu Festivals. Some of these festivals include psycho-spiritual rituals such as tongue piercing, cheek piecing or hooks through the body to support clay pots with milk as an offering to the Lord Murugan. His statue can’t be missed as it towers next to the stairway (140 ft high). Impressive.

Part way up the stairs to the main entrance of the Temple Cave is a sign for the Dark Cave. We would have overlooked it but did see some people going off course toward this side cave entrance. What a great detour. This is the educational/research component about the cave geology, history and ecology. Totally worth the 35RM for the one-hour tour through different caverns with the stalactites,

stalagmites, flow stones, cave curtains, spiders (including the rare trapdoor spider), bats, giant cockroaches and centipedes. Loved the tour and our wonderful guide – an environmental science graduate with a background in hydrology (sounds like my daughter Katie). Most of the websites that give information about the Caves mention to be careful about the monkeys and taxi drivers. We saw the monkeys menace and

harass a few people climbing the stairs – it is funny (especially when it’s happening to someone else) to see a small monkey be so imposing to humans! Now for the taxi drivers, well we may have paid a bit more than we actually needed but our driver was the best. He drove us to FRIM the Forestry Research Institute of Malaysia and kept saying he

would come back in 2 hours. We were skeptical at first about him saying this and said we were fine to find another taxi when we were done with our walk. Little did we know that finding a taxi at FRIM would have been virtually impossible and if he hadn’t returned we would have been in a pickle! FRIM was very nice but the canopy walk had already closed for the day. We ventured into the forest for several steps until we were first entangled, or nearly entangled, in a spider web that was stretched across the path – I am sure to catch the unsuspecting tourist. Then the ants mesmerized us all running in a long line across the forest floor and finally we noticed the mosquitoes. Small, mostly silent but quick to the blood mosquitoes. Emily was showing more skin so she took the brunt of the bites within about a 30 second period. We ran from the forest with mosquitoes in tow back into the sun. UGH! Yes we did have mosquito repellent but it didn’t have DEET and I think it actually may have attracted the buggers even more.

So we decided that a walk around FRIM from the road would suffice and we could peer into the forest from the safety of the road. Our hero taxi driver reappeared about an hour after he said he would be back but we cheered him and were so excited to get into an air conditioned vehicle for the ride to the Central Market. Our driver told us stories about impaling himself during the Hindu festivals. He was happy to hear that we were vegetarians as he said it was too difficult for to go without chicken. Even though he knows he takes on the characteristics of the chicken when he eats them. Interesting. So we had both eaten an amazing (later not so amazing) lunch at Batu in an Indian vegetarian restaurant where everything is served on a banana leaf. Delicious tasting food but later my stomach and entire digestive tract was not happy with this choice! I’m still suffering some of the effects and Emily is as well.

Central Market is such a feel of Asia. Hawkers calling out to you to, “come, come, look, look lady!” The attempt to get you to stop and look at the multitude of knock-off designer handbags, watches and more is amazing. “For you only 20 ringgit.” Emily found a fruit vendor and loaded up on all types of interesting fruits – I refuse to try durian. Jack fruit is great though. Lastly we needed to get ourselves back to Damansara and the Royale Bingtang. We walked and found people who helped us find the train station. Boarded our train back to the place where the free shuttle would take us back. When we arrived there we realized that we would have over an hour wait for the free shuttle. We stopped to ask some women about taxis. Turns out they were going in the same general direction. One was from Russia and the other from Uzbekistan so we shared the ride. They both work for a travel company so we talked about travel options and Malaysia –they were lovely and our ride back only was 5RM – equivalent to less than two dollars US. The sights and sounds of Malaysia are amazing. Mosques with their mournful sound of prayers, surrounded by languages and people of other religions and cultures swirling about. Some how it works even in the stifling heat and oppressive humidity. At around 7:30 each night the fast is broken for the Muslims observing Ramadan and the streets are filled with food choices. Eggs from birds other than chicken, fish in many sauces or just fish parts with other seafood. Fresh vegetables and fruits abound as well. But the most memorable will be the smiles and happy faces. Everywhere we go, we have met wonderfully nice people willing to share, talk and give some advice about staying safe. Whether it’s advice about the food choices at a vendor, the best way to get to a location or just a happy smile the people make Malaysia a beautiful place.

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