Dripping (Penang National Park)
Yesterday I went to Penang National Park, and got three kinds of wet.
Part One: Sweat
I took the 101 bus from KOMTAR. For 3.40 RM it took about 50 minutes to get to the National Park entrance, which is the last stop. I had to wait in line to register for at least 30 minutes. There are separate lines for Malaysian and foreigners; don't stand in the wrong one. I was unfortunate enough to be stuck behind a large group of Chinese tourists. Entry to the park is free, but you have to register your name and passport number, and in exchange for this they give you a permit to enter the park (a piece of paper with a hard-to-read map and stamp on it). This permit was checked once by a member of park staff later in the afternoon. I'm not sure if this was protocol or if he was just trying to make conversation. So probably best not to try to skip this process, even though you could technically bypass the registration desk to get to the park entrance fairly easily.
I hiked from the park entrance to Pantai Kerachut (Turtle Beach). This took about 2 hours including looping around the meromictic lake twice and climbing an unnecessary hill by accident, and stopping for a snack break. The jungle is thick outside of the marked trail, and set against a backdrop of a non-stop high pitched whistling sound. I don't know if it is birds or insects. I also saw big ant trails, which is always cool.
The meromictic lake is one of only a few in the world, and is interesting because it contains both freshwater and seawater, which don't mix; the latter floats on top of the former. Except most of the year it's basically dry, so there wasn't much to see.
There were a handful of people at Turtle Beach, and a very small handful of turtles in the sanctuary. It was pretty peaceful, and good places to hang hammocks, and a nice view. There are no facilities (food for sale or anything), and also no swimming due to big waves and venemous jellyfish.
From Turtle Beach I hiked to Teluk Kampi, which earlier some Asian businessmen (that's what they looked like) shouted out was the "best beach in Penang!". It was over a massive hill that never seemed to end, and took about 45 minutes from Turtle Beach. There was nobody there though, except the beach guard who checked my park permit. It's the longest beach in the park, and very picturesque. There is a 'hall' - an open-sided wooden structure - on the seafront. I couldn't help but notice that its beams looked perfect for hammock hanging, and one of them had a power outlet... So this can be my new office? A 3 hour hike through the jungle is a reasonable commute, right?
I napped in the sun for a short while to recharge for hiking back. I was thoroughly soaked in sweat, but no swimming due to jellyfish here, too. The beach guard said he could call a boat to return to the park entrance, but that it would be about 120 RM. I did not have 120 RM.
However, a short while later came cries of "help!" from a guy in a boat approaching the beach. A surefire way to get someone's attention... He wasn't actually in trouble. He offered to take me to Monkey Beach for 25 RM. Seemed like a bargain. I wasn't expecting to have time to make it to Monkey Beach, either.
Part Two: Sea
So I grabbed my stuff, ploughed into the sea in my trainers (oops) and boarded the boat. Turns out he'd been chartered by some Chinese people who were having a break at Turtle Beach, so he'd whisked this one Portguese guy around the coast to see Teluk Kampi; any additional passengers he could pick up for nominal fees was a bonus.
We picked up the Chinese people at Turtle Beach, then continued to Teluk Duyung (Monkey Beach). This was a lot more crowded, with vendors selling drinks, coconuts and snacks. There was also a lot more trash and it was generally not as nice. I bought and consumed a fresh coconut for 5 RM, and took this photo which has been great for taunting people on the other side of the world who are currently shovelling snow.
Then I bumped into E and K; previous tentants of my current AirBnB whom I'd had dinner with, along with my host, the evening before. We all swam in the sea and chatted for a while. The sea was pretty grim, murky, and made my skin itch. I think the itching was actually due to temperature change but... who knows. Not my favourite.
Part Three: Storm
I was planning to hike back around the coast to the park entrance from Monkey Beach, one of the popular trails that should take about an hour. But E and K wanted to take a boat, and as we were discussing it looming storm clouds turned into smattering rain. We canvassed the beach for other people to share a boat with (they're typically a standard 40 RM between Monkey Beach and the park entrance, no matter how many people you take). As the rain got heavier the tourists dissipated. We found a guy willing to take four of us for 30 RM after a little bargaining. The rain was pelting down by the time we boarded the boat, and there was thunder and lightning.
So I was soaked afresh by seawater from the waves splashing into the boat, and rainwater from the sky. We reached the jetty and raced for cover.
After hanging out for a bit, and ringing out our clothes/shoes/hair, it didn't look like it was going to let up, so we raced to the bus stop in time to jump on. For some reason, the return 101 does not leave from the same place it drops off, but there's another bus from a different route which takes people from the park entrance to the 101 bus stop for free. It's unclear if this is out of sympathy for people in torrential downpours, or all the time. E and K said they'd taken it last time they visited the park too.
We transferred to the 101, which was naturally air-conditioned to arctic levels. For just under an hour, as we were soaking wet, this was highly unpleasant. Fortunately on the return route it stops right outside my apartment (due to one way streets, the outward bus stop is a little further away). It had stopped raining by then, but I darted home and into a hot shower. It took me a while to warm up.
Shockingly, I only have one new mosquito bite to show for all of this.
Here's my RunKeeper trace of the hiking and boat rides.
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