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December 17, 2008

Mountain Climbing and Orchid Hunting

Tom McLaughlin

Santubong, Sarawak – The condo is like most in Ocean City. Thirty floors contained two sections. I am on the 13th. There are no others like them in this area nor can others be built because of the rainforest which is now a national park.


Standing on my balcony, looking left, the Sarawak River widens to the size of the Assawoman Bay at the Route 90 Bridge. Very dark green, jungle-covered islands rise to about 200 feet with peaks and valleys. One, according to local lore, a woman, a princess, lies in repose. You can use your imagination.


From the river the light green leaves of the Mangrove Forest swamped with water meets the upland Tarzan-like jungle. Definitely machete territory.


Further ahead is the South China Sea. Then, as if in a fantasy land, a golf course winds its way through the Rain Forest. Malaysia’s efforts to attract tourists, but no golfers. Ever.


To the right is the famous Santubong Mountain, 806 meters high and jungle covered. Here, the British naturalist, Alfred Wallace, performed his work, who, with Charles Darwin, arrived at the Law of Natural Selection.


The condos are empty most of the time. There are only two permanent residents here. An Irishman and myself. It’s like Ocean City in winter but without any seasons or people arriving for visits. The Chinese purchased most of them four years ago as investments. They have sat empty since then. A crew of about 10 Malay ladies sweeps the place. Another group of four or five Malay guys garden. A security force of 12 men patrols the grounds in three shifts. Two men clean the pool every morning. I am the only one that swims.


I have divided Mount Santubong into small sections. I am a damn fool to try and climb it myself. The first trek I made it to a small rock outcropping. And went back home. Then I mastered the rocks, slowly. The disease you remember. I made it the first stream carefully remembering my steps. Next time will be a little further. At this rate it will take a decade to reach the top. But that’s okay.


I discovered my first orchid. After reading the book I went on a hunt. It was a Bamboo orchid with a flower the size of a dime. They like sunlight, so you have to look where a tree had fallen or by the side of the road. Not as easy as I thought.


Bird watching, other than the usual sparrows and kites, I saw a Pheasant Crow. Big damn thing. About the size of a Perdue chicken. Black with brown wings. Scared the hell out of me. Suddenly burst out of the underbrush and landed a few feet in front of me and then disappeared again. Angina.


Monkeys are around but stay high in the trees. One got very angry with me and chomped his teeth and dropped a few leaves. I couldn’t see him/her.


The Irishman’s name is Daf. He has kissed the Blarney stone. Invited me to tea and he talked for two hours. And talked. He is an artist whose medium is sculpture. He says he is famous.


Writing going well. Working on a piece on Wallace and another about the area. Takes time. The day begins with coffee and the BBC followed by my mountain climbing – or orchid hunting – or exploring. Followed by the pool and reading for the articles. Lunch. Then my nap. Then more writing. Then dinner. Full day, really.


I spend the weekends in Kuching. About 35 km from here. Lady.


Daughter Christine will be here on January 5. Going to Sibu and then a long trek up the Rajang River to interior Borneo. Then to Bali.


A’live and do’in fine


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