Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Cameron Highlands, Near Death in the Malaysian Jungle

The old growth forest has been cut down long ago. New trees have sprung, but there’s still a battle dominance for the canopy, some light filtering through, allowing more bramble than normal on the rain forest floor.
Mankind has made his presence known, carving plantations into the forest where the hills are less steep.
Man's presence in the jungle
Precipitation begins as I join an expedition with two newly graduated German doctors, exploring the surrounding wilderness. The rain comes harder making the path slick as we ascend and descend the steep hillsides.
We enter into denser jungle, carefully climbing over the roots of large trees up a nearly vertical path. I feel something on my skin. I pull up my sleeve and find a leech attached to my upper arm. Adrenaline rushes through me as I pull it off and smash it. Blood squirts everywhere- my blood, a tax exacted by nature for her exploration.
Waterfall in Cameron Highlands
We climb the steep hills, then slowly descend. After several miles we reach a cross-roads, lost. The sun is rapidly falling in the sky, and being lost in this leech filled jungle for a cold night is not an enticing proposition. We argue over which way to go, eventually agreeing to take a path through thick shrubbery up and over the mountain. Huffing and puffing, we reach the top, then ever so slowly descending back down. We find a trail to our great relief.
jungle vegetation
The ultra-narrow path takes the nimbleness of a mountain goat to traverse, as it cuts horizontally across the steep mountain, the ground falling out at a near 90 degree angle below us. Fall and it might be death, best case scenario- serious injury. We slowly make our way, the ground slick from the rains.
Out of nowhere, a large python-like water pipe emerges, feeding a tea plantation in the distance slithering along our trail. We’re relieved not to be far from town as darkness overtakes the sky. I take a deep breath and suddenly feel the footing beneath me give way. I feel the instant acceleration of gravity pull me downwards; going over the ledge, without any thought, I instinctively grab onto the friendly snake. My hand catches, and I pull myself up, before my surprised doctor friends even have any chance to react.
“How did you that? How did you have the presence of mind to grab the pipe?”
No mind involved there, no thought. Instinct leading to clear action that saved my life. I rub the mud off my clothing and we continue on our way.
Tea plantation

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Great Wall of China- Breathtaking

The Great Wall of China, the largest man made structure in the world which extends thousands of miles up mountains, through valleys and winds through desert. Built starting the 4th century BC to keep Mongol and Manchurian hordes out of Beijing, it took over two centuries to complete.
It is the only man made structure on earth visible with the naked eye from space. Man’s creations rarely impress me, but this one did. With a span of maybe twenty feet across and 40 feet high, it befuddled my imagination that people so long ago were able to create such a structure. The answer as to how, as often is the case in ancient times- slave labor. (Nike and Walmart are quite the history students)

But back to building the wall. Material other than stone and brick were often used to fill the wall by workers who wished they would just finish the damn thing so they could go home. Take two slaves, Larry and David. David nudges Larry and finds him unresponsive.
David: “Larry died!”
David then proceeds to encase Larry’s body in stone, and then hears a pounding from within.
Larry: “I was asleep you idiot!”
David: (pretending not to hear) “He will be missed.”
And Davey walks away from his best friend, leaving him in his stone encased tomb. Why? Cause it brought it him one ten-billionth of the way closer to finishing. And when he’s finished, Davey can finally go home.
Larry: “You idiot! You schmuck!”

The heroes Sir Andrew Stern and Rich Birecki begin their ascent of the Great Wall

The Great Wall runs up a steep hill, crowded with people beginning the climb. Each step is difficult, as stairs range in height from three inches to a foot and a half, and takes great concentration and focus to reach the next military turret on the wall.
As we continue upwards, the crowd thins. After 2,000 steps we reach the second to last turret. Drew suggests we return, as we've already used up most of our prescribed time.

“Chairman Mao said you are not great hero, until you climb the Great Wall!” (a true quote) I stoically replied. Thus, we began our final assault on the peak. The lack of oxygen makes every step painful, as though a knife were to have been plunged within our lungs. Our path is littered with the frozen bodies of climbers, who didn’t quite make it--- wait a second, that’s my climb of Mount Everest. The bodies here were not frozen.
But, indeed, we made it to the empty top, where only the hardiest 1% of all tourists manage to climb. (persistence, as in life, separates the wheat from the chaff)

The landscape- inspiring; the Great Wall twisting its way through the valley, as we rest contentedly, knowing that the only thing currently stopping the Mongolian hordes from storming China's new two true heroes standing upon the Wall’s peak.

A view of the Great Wall from the it's peak