Cheng Chin Yuen

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Endau Rompin (6 – 9 Aug)

Endau Rompin, at approximately 880 sq km (Singapore – 683 sq km) straddles the Johor-Pahang border and is the second largest nature reserve in Peninsular Malaysia after Taman Negara. It really makes our precious Bukit Timah a little microscopic in comparison. It is indeed home to many species of eye-catching flora and elusive fauna. Many of the former, unsurprisingly, I have not seen in the nature reserves of Singapore. In Endau Rompin, a fascinating array of birds and insects can be easily found, but you have to be very very lucky, very quiet, very deep in the jungle, very alone and very awake at night to hope to catch a glimpse of the wildlife here. Endau Rompin is reputed to have a relatively large concentration of tigers within its boundaries as compared to the larger Taman Negara in Pahang. I had the good luck to see a tiger……’s……paw-print on a muddy jungle track many years ago when my girlfriend and I were clambering up Gunung Belumut in Johor. I wouldn’t know if it would be good or bad luck to bump into the tiger itself…

I had a unforgettable trip. Half of the credit should go to the immense beauty of Endau Rompin and the rest to the motley crew of seemingly mismatched personalities (For a start, the age range was from 5 to 74.) that composed the nature group. Calling ourselves a ‘nature group’ is befitting as we were more ‘garang’ than a tour group...come on…no tour group on the planet could endure a 5.15pm LUNCH! We came from a diversity of professions from ex-teachers, structural engineers, doctors, nurses to lawyers but were unified in our love for nature. We all read the calling (in the NSS newsletter) when our 74 year old organiser, a very very ‘garang’ Mr Raja decided to put this little expedition together under the banner of Nature Society Singapore. This ‘nature group’ genus can be subdivided as follows:

A) The Birders – These special humans have an above average eyesight and sense of hearing, being able to spot or hear their feathered friends faraway in the foliage. Armed to the teeth with their powerful binoculars, scopes, tripods and video cameras, they will be the first to abandon the troop for a brief moment with a Hornbill or a Raffles Makholta (probably spelt wrongly). These Birders the alert elite and always disappearing on their little after-meal-excursions to seek their winged department of nature.

B) The Planters - These group have a slightly easier task as their objects of interest are immobile. However, they are the ones who can tell you that a delinear wormia is not a crooked grub but a shrub with an attractive pinkish red flower and whose leaves were used to wrap chai dao kwey or carrot cake in the past. For the army boys, this plant is affectionately known for its ‘CB’ leaves. For most mortals, a mushroom with a neat netting around it is described as ‘an interesting mushroom’. The Planters quickly give illumination to others, precisely identifying it as a ‘stinkhorn’ mushroom.

C) The I-Don’t-Know-All-These-Weird-Names-But-I-Love-Nature-For-What-She-Is Group – This is where the vast majority of the 28 member nature group will fall under. We are just happy to be where the surroundings are more green than grey.

This was the first time I had been on a Nature Society trip and it was highly educational thanks to the combined input from the pros. The sum of the bits of information thrown in along the way turned up to be quite sizable. Some of the biodiversity we saw reminded others of experiences that had of other nature trips that they had been on and prompted further discussion. I have forgotten most of these nuggets of natural facts but there and then, it definitely made the trip more colourful and enriching. On a more eternal note, this experience has definitely deepened my love for nature and broadened my knowledge of it.

People & Places
Mr Raja has the vitality of a young man. At 73, he seems to take to the jungle better than any of us. He has been organising 2 nature trips a year, one to Endau Rompin and the other to Taman Negara, for the past twenty or so years and according to my dad, he still looks the same! Being a retired primary school teacher, he derives great pleasure from teaching us how to effectively spot spiders on our night hikes.

Step 1 – Place a powerful torchlight on your forehead.
Step 2 – Shine it at the ground and look for a tiny green light.
Step 3 – When you see the green light, walk towards it, keeping the beam
on the light.
Step 4 – If you are close enough, you should see the spider.

The green light is actually the reflection of your torchlight from the spider’s eyes. According to Mr Raja, the similar method can be applied to moths, butterflies and frogs. The eyes of the moths and butterflies would appear orange while that of the frog red. This is indeed an interesting activity and you can imagine all 28 of us searching for spiders at night! We saw a scorpion and a slow lorris too.

Our night ‘hike’ was no more than 200 metres and lasted only 30 minutes but we had loads of fun. It wasn’t at all a silent night but it was certainly a starry starry one. There was a particular orange star that seemed to be pulsating. I wonder if it could be a planet. Unfortunately, there wasn’t an astronomer amongst us.

I liked the way Mr Raja planned the itinerary. There was plenty of free time for us to mingle and relax. Activities would stop at mid-afternoon and the many hours were spent at the stone tables under the bamboo thicket getting to know one another. It was quite a refreshing change from the packed-trying-to-get-the-most-out-of-it kind of programme. Prior to the trip, Mr Raja sent an email telling us what difficulties to expect and what attitude we should adopt to fully enjoy the trip.
This is a wise move. His outdoor philosophy goes along the lines of ‘the more arduous the journey, the more memorable the trip’. This trip was more arduous on our stomaches rather than our feet. Nevertheless, we all took it in good stride.

There was even a post-trip gathering at Mr Raja’s house to exchange photos. I think it’s simply a great initiative. THANK YOU Mr Raja for teaching us so many things!

My parents – It has been a very long time since I have gone on a trip with my folks and I am glad to say that travelling with them is still very enjoyable. They are a easy-going and sensible duo and they will always end up telling a story about themselves or me that I have never heard before. Others will always find it amusing how a 29 year old son and his girlfriend are travelling with his parents and do ask all sorts of interesting questions that makes me ponder about my family and upbringing.

Zali is our cheerful 4WD driver. It’s a long 1 hour 45 minutes ride to the visitor centre from Kahang. The dirt track weaves through several oil palm plantations before entering the nature reserve. Zali gave me a truncated geography lesson on the oil palm plantation. The workers come from Indonesia and earn RM$15 a day. They work from 6am to 4 pm. He shows us their humble quarters, a stark contrast to the towkay’s mansion. We asked him what purpose did the barrels hung on the poles at the edge of the plantation serve. He says that the barrels were to encourage owls to nest. Owls prey on mice which destroy the oil palm fruit. Along the way, Zali points out some Orang Asli settlements. I observed that they had TV antennas and drove cars. Zali is 31 and has a 4 year old son and a 1 year old daughter. In the day, he ferries eco-tourists to Endau Rompin in his RM$25,000 jeep and in the evenings, he helps his wife to run a seafood restaurant by the road. To make extra income, he buys phonecards from Kahang and sells them to his neighbours in his Kampong for a dollar extra. For 6 months, he was working on a golf course on Tioman when he was 17 and he knows a little about Singapore because he used to send goods over in a lorry. For him, it is difficult to get by with only one job. He says he will get us to Mersing for RM$20 and we readily accept.

Anne is a guide from NERC (see below). She very kindly offered to show us how insects are studied using a night-trap which is simply a powerful lamp placed behind a large white sheet. This contraption is placed (at night of course) preferably in the middle of the forest. Soon a whole variety of insects can be seen on the sheet, attracted to the light. Initially, there weren’t many insects but Anne pointed out that there were 9 orders of insects on the sheet ranging from ants, beetles, moths, cicadas, crickets, grasshoppers, mantis etc. On a good night you would be able to identify 12 orders. It was a simple and enjoyable experiment that can be done in Singagpore. I learnt that moths have feathery antennas while that of butterflies end in bulbs and the male cicada has a flap below its belly to create the sound you hear at night and other interesting trivia like that. We thanked Anne profusely as it was 1130pm at night and she volunteered to set up the night-trap out of goodwill. She had just finished conducting a birdwatching course at 1030pm and had to be up the next day at 7.30am. This episode did increase my faith a little in people when they say that they will ‘try their very best’. (We met Anne earlier on in the day and told her that there was some administrative mess-up as we were not assigned any guides for the trip. She must have felt quite sorry for us and said that she would try her very best to conduct the session for us later on at night. She was a little late and some of us in the group gave up waiting and went to bed. I was also quite sceptical that Anne would not turn up but she did.)

Geok is a quite a unique character. She goes around with her casio exlim digital camera and takes 30 second videoclips of things that interests her. She also throws in her animated and expressive commentary. I think she must have a fine collection of these mini-documentaries. I think it is an innovative and efficient form of note-taking. Her commentaries are all very positive, always highlighting how wonderful or interesting something in the forest was. She also chided me for moving a dead leaf off the stinkhorn mushroom so that I could get a better shot at it (She swore that I had damaged the mushroom) . I thought her reaction was a little extreme.

Lucy lives the life we are all envious of…part-time doctor, full-time traveller. We were on the same raft together and this woman could row that boat furiously down the stream! She seems to be teeming with positive energy. Thank you for sharing your experiences of your medical volunteer work in Myanmar! Good doctors are indeed important people!

Kim, Joanne and Dylan. Thanks for starting the whole discussion of whether my mum should have quit her job at HP to look after my sis and I. It gave me more insight into my family and reminded me of my wild childhood days. Good luck with Dylan and sister!

My favourite part of the trip was the trek to Kuala Marong where we bumped into a plethora of plants along the way. We saw pitcher plants, crooked bamboo clumps, shoreas, bracket fungi, several varieties of mushroom, portions of the trek which was covered with a kind of brown five petal flower, many kinds of pods, seeds and clever dispersal systems, purple berries, and loads of other stuff which I cannot name. It was a flat and scenic trek mainly along the Jasin River. We had to cross several suspension bridges which was very thrilling for some in the nature group. I observed that there were attempts to build concrete structures to support the bridge but these had succumbed to river and rain erosion. All the bridges are now anchored to trees which are able to put up a much better fight against the forces of nature. The anchorage system is eco-friendly, ingenious and secure.

Kuala Marong is a wonderful rustic campsite at the confluence of the Marong and Jasin Rivers. The clear river water reveals the hundreds of large red-finned fish. It’s a pity fishing is prohibited!

Upeh Guling is supposed to be famous for its pot-holes, which are carved out overtime by the swirling action of the river water as it moves over the uneven riverbed. A depression is formed over years of this scouring and sometimes a piece rock is trapped in it. The loose rock combined with the swirling water serves as a powerful tool of river erosion and eventually you will find these pot-holes. Sizes range from a small bucket to huge bathtubs enough to fit 5 to 6 persons. I find the pot-holes a tad disappointing. The ones on Gunong Stong in Kelantan are more impressive! Still these pot-holes reminded me of the good old days with Hong Kah NPCC camping and literally ‘playing water’ at Stong.

Tasik Air Biru (Blue Lake) should be renamed Air Hijau. Nevertheless it is a pleasant swimming pool to plunge in after a long morning of trekking. Try jumping in from the slanted tree that overhangs the pool. It’s great fun but be sure to climb far out enough where the water is deeper. It’s a pity we missed the huge umbrella palms which can be seen if you trek on to Buaya Sangkut the highest waterfall on the river.

It is interesting to know that the Danish Government actually donated RM2.5 million to help conserve Endau Rompin. (Does the Singapore government sponsors such projects overseas? Germany is very active in the conservation of Angkor Wat.) The Nature Education and Research Centre (NERC), which overlooks the Endau River is informative and has many specimens of plants, animals and insects that dwell in the reserve. It’s heartening to know that solar panels (which cost half a million dollars) power half of the complex and the wooden buildings blend in tastefully with the surroundings. Serenity would be better restored if they chucked the irritating karaoke system in the dining area…

The Arboretum, which is like a mini botanical gardens near the Visitor’s Centre is well worth a visit. Here you can find a collection of plants found in the reserve all conveniently located along the Dr Wong’s trail. There is a huge impressive tree along this walk. We saw a beautiful Atlas Moth here and little clumps of pitcher plants…also the Tongkat Ali plant which is an aphrodisiac.

The Orang Asli settlement is interesting for its innovative animal traps which are all made from forest material. We also got a go at the blowpipe (I was reminded that my parents actually bought me a blowpipe when I was young!). I wonder if these traps and weapons are still used today in the wild. The village looks quite authentic except for the solar panels outside each dwelling, courtesy of the Malaysian government. The Orang Asli also make interesting toys and puzzles out of rattan to sell. It felt great to pluck the fresh rambutans from the trees by the roadside to eat as we returned to the Visitor’s Centre. There was also some discussion about the difference between a nangka and a jackfruit.

Roaming in Rompin was indeed pleasurable and patriotically, the trip ended in the late afternoon of National Day so we could all go home and enjoy the parade. During the mandatory group photo, Geok, who never ceases to surprises al of us, whipped out a regular sized Singagpore flag (yup, the one you would hang outside your flat) and a couple of us got going on a very out-of-tune Majulah Singapura.

I have learnt that nature is best taken in leisurely doses and even though we claim to be a nature group, the most important thing is still a timely lunch.

Nothing but Nature! Posted by Picasa

Asli Rattan Puzzle Posted by Picasa

Pushing the boat when the river gets too shallow! Posted by Picasa

Karen passing through a tunnel of bamboo! Posted by Picasa

Check out my first leech bite! My parents are on the extreme left. Posted by Picasa

Dried flowers raining from above! Posted by Picasa

The Fascinating Pitcher Plant Posted by Picasa

Chaptek? Posted by Picasa

Variety variety! Posted by Picasa

The Imperial Scroll! Posted by Picasa

Feather seeds! Posted by Picasa

Who needs IKEA? Posted by Picasa

Prop Roots...looks like a rocket! Posted by Picasa

Geok and Raja...Dynamic Duo! Posted by Picasa

The fish at Kuala Marong Posted by Picasa

Pretty Little Things! Posted by Picasa

Hmmm?? Posted by Picasa

highlighted leaves?? Posted by Picasa

Potholes at Upeh Guling Posted by Picasa

Guess what are these. Posted by Picasa

Unique Creepers Posted by Picasa

Tasik Air Biru Posted by Picasa

Check out those rings! Posted by Picasa

Dylan and I beneath a HUGE tree! Posted by Picasa

Weird Spider! Posted by Picasa