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How To Select A Good Dive Instructor

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Added Number 8!

Dear divers, I’m putting this together for the benefit of the many who had asked me ‘how would I know if someone is a good instructor or not?’  As most newbies have no idea where to start, or may have been referred to one by his/her friend who has done the course, take this as a guide for you and your non-diver friends to select the right instructor for your dive pursuits.

1) Always ask to see the instructor’s qualification card/credentials. You are placing your life in his/her hands, you better know for sure if the instructor in question is REALLY CERTIFIED & QUALIFIED, RENEWED & CURRENT with their respective training agencies and is AUTHORISED to conduct courses. If police can stop you on the road to demand to see your driver’s license when you are not a threat, why shouldn’t you exercise the same courtesy on someone you hardly know who will give you instructions to dive?

2) Find out how long your instructor has been diving, when he/she became certified as instructor & how many dives they have logged. Some instructors still keep physical logbooks that run into hundreds of pages but some have chosen to keep digital memory in their computers. It’s great to have new instructors teach you because they would be placing a great amount of care to your wellbeing & mastery of skills. It’s also great to have seasoned instructors teach you because every skill taught is almost effortless and without anxiety because of what’s ingrained into the instructor’s memory.

3) Be aware of team-teachers, your dive theory sessions, confined water (pool or beach) & open water (sea) sessions may be taught by different instructors and it’s imperative that you know each of them are QUALIFIED TO DO SO, not have divemasters-in-training put in your care (a common practice that’s against the standards for new divers). State your questions & preference when signing up for the course in a dive centre/resort. (For foreign instructors, check if they have work permit to operate in Malaysia because if anything happens & you want to proceed with a legal battle, you may not find him/her again. Having said this, there are a good number of dive instructors of foreign nationalities who have made Malaysia home and have  Malaysian spouses. They offer a wealth of knowledge that locals can’t so there are pros to it. Do your checks first). – This is not meant to be discriminatory but due to the liability issues, I need to state this out so please don’t get offended, my dear foreign peers!

4) Be aware of instructors who are already suspended/expelled from any dive training agencies. They may continue to teach but have other instructors SIGN OFF your certification card. Reasons for expulsion could be due to serious violation of standards and procedures, negligence & error, some leading to death of students. This is a malpractice that you should not accept. Be sure that your instructor FOLLOWS THE STANDARDS. Ask to see the standards for each level of dive course that you are embarking on, then you would know what are the skills required for you to master at each one.

5) Instructor’s reputation. If you have been referred to your instructor, chances are, he/she had been teaching well. You would still need to do your due diligence check of point 1 – 4 above. For example, a fierce ex-military instructor may be uttering mouthfull of profanities during your training so be prepared for it. A octo-instructor may have hands everywhere, just like an octopus so if you don’t like to be groped, state beforehand that you don’t like to be touched although, you must be aware that during water training sessions, there is a lot of contact between instructor and student. A worldly instructor is someone who has probably travelled the world to dive leisurely but lack the experience to teach in different kinds of environment. Be sure to ask ‘where has he/she taught before (which seas, as each geographical location has different sea conditions). (Though I have been diving in cold waters, I still get a shock each time I enter the water & I certainly would not want to teach in those kinds of temperatures.)

6) Find out your instructor’s knowledge of marine life & marine conservation. If anyone makes a living off the seas, that person ought to know a great deal about the ocean & its inhabitants. The passion towards preservation of marine life must be paramount in an instructor’s life and walk. What you are getting from an instructor is years of experience with encounters of marine life that would influence how you would interact in the water. If you get an instructor who pokes & prods animals or catches a Nemo to put inside his/her mask then releases it only to be preyed upon by a lizard fish, or teaches your to ride a turtle or break open a sea urchin, or worse, pulling a poor octopus out of its lair till it has to squirt ink in defence to run away, you are getting a rogue, unprofessional cowboy instructor who has no regard for all life forms. Avoid him/her. Be sure to ask around, ask your diver friends for recommendations and don’t be afraid to change instructors or appoint someone new to teach you. You are not bound to one with a lifetime contract.

7) Watch out for instructors who get high on drugs/weed/alcohol. The last thing you need is a mentally impaired instructor in the water. Watch out for dilated pupils in their eyes or drunken breath. Don’t be afraid to say no to his/her instructions to enter the water. If he/she passes out, you are not trained to lift him/save him/her & can be a liability to you.

8) Don’t go for the cheapest dive course. You pay peanuts, expect monkey service. Dive instructors assigned to you when you sign up at the dive expo would be those in training or worse, those who have yet to qualify to teach. Not all dive centres would do that but most who want to cut cost, would. A dive operation has costs to upkeep, equipment to maintain and staff to pay. If you pay peanuts, the effects will be passed down the line, you’d get untrained/lackadaisical crew, lousy service and have no avenues to complain because of the price you paid that came with no perks. When I learnt how to dive, I chose to learn from the best and paid a premium to get as much as I could out of someone who was encouraged to teach me. When you learn from the best, you would spot all those mistakes from people who didn’t acquire the skills when they ought to have learnt them in their course. You won’t know what the instructor didn’t teach you if you don’t even know what they are suppose to teach. Refer to point #4 on laying out the set of standards that you must learn before you earn your certification.

9) If an instructor tells you that you don’t need to know how to swim to be able to dive, please mark his/her name and report to the dive agencies. You MUST BE ABLE TO SWIM 200m WITHOUT SCUBA gear nonstop and tread water for 10mins. This is in the ISO Standards that reputable dive agencies are accredited with. You will spend 95% of the time in water so what makes you think you can save yourself should you get into trouble or get separated from your group? Can you fly? No? Then learn to swim first. The ocean can wait for you and so can your instructor. Don’t be so eager to be run before you learn to walk. Safety is of utmost importance. In 1999/2000, Oriental Queen liveaboard hit a rock and sunk, but the instructor on board was quick to alert everyone who was sleeping to jump overboard and swim to shore. They did and was saved. What happens if you are in that same situation?

I hope the above serves as a guide for you to select your appropriate instructor. Do not be afraid to ask questions, even if you think they are stupid/silly questions because a good instructor will always make you understand what you are getting yourself into.

Tickling The Feather Star Open for Critters

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See the Clingfish and its pattern?

Crinoids are what divers know as Feather Stars, sporting feathery arms that sway back and forth towards the centre of the body. One of the easiest subjects to photograph, crinoids are prehistoric animals in the class of echinoderms with male and female species found clinging onto coral reef cliffs often asleep in the day or actively feeding at night. The challenge is to photograph the tenants that the Crinoid itself hosts. It’s important to note that no photograph is worth abusing the animal for so please handle your subjects with care as you would a live animal on land. Crinoids are somewhat sticky and brittle. You wouldn’t want to break any of their arms off in your quest to shoot the shrimp within so keep your buoyancy neutral and coax the star to do a grand opening for you. I will teach you how.

After witnessing so many dive guides using their swizzle sticks to roughly ‘part the arms’ of the Crinoid to show divers what it holds within, I felt compelled to write this article to educate the many of you who might follow the bad habit of disturbing nature for your pictures. I practice a minimal disturbance to no disturbances in all my shots. They are never manipulated, nor had my subjects tossed in mid water to get them flaring, fearful or angry and I implore all of you to nurture good habits. The ability to boast of your shots is in the way you photograph them, not how the shot was obtained with manipulation. When you understand marine animal behaviour, you will get your incredible shots. Having spent the last 17 years teaching and 12 years of photographing underwater, I am moving towards educating the diver of the habits that you should possess to encounter your subjects.

What you need in your gear:-
1) Dive equipment of course.
2) Carabiners/loops/holsters to streamline your dangling hoses (SPG/Octopus/reels/SMBs)
3) LED torch
4) Dive computer to record depth and time you see the animal to relocate it next time.
5) No gloves unless you are diving in 15? waters
6) Hood to keep your hair tucked away from curious octopuses
7) Any camera housed in respective cases
8) Marine life guide books

Pre-dive preparation:-
1) Clean your hands after you use sunblock
2) Secure all gadgets with lanyard in your pockets.
3) Identify the subject you want to shoot.
4) Decide with buddy how much time you want to spend on each subject and if you find your target, be considerate to allow your buddy to take shots as well.

It’s not what camera you have but your knowledge of marine life that would get you nearer to the animal. By knowing what your subject lives on and feeds on, you have already increased your chances of finding it. By knowing your reef, you would have access to the inhabitants if you know what feeds on what and when.

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The Shrimp also took on the colours and pattern of this Crinoid, Oxycomanthus Bennetti.


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Close-up crop of the shrimp.

The basis of not touching anything in your dive education has been the point of contention in dive circles as we see dive guides competing with one another to find elusive critters with their sticks/pointers and completely lifting the animal out of the sand even though it’s meant to be camouflaged. I found it deeply offensive and I usually stop following the guide to find my own interaction with critters when I am not the one guiding the trip. When marine scientists collect specimens for research, they can’t avoid touching. We are not scientists neither are we collecting any specimens but we want to document them and there would be some degree of touching (hence rule number 1 in pre-dive preparation is to have clean hands) but not to the point of harassing the animal.

Not all crinoids have critters within. There are several species that host them. One of my favourites is the Oxycomanthus bennetti. 9 out 10 animals that I find have ‘tenants’ within them! On this particular one, I found 3 different types of critters! They all form a symbiotic relationship with the host and even adapt to its colours and patterns. Two Clingfish, a shrimp and a crab (not displayed) were darting about as I got closer.

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There are 2 Clingfish in the picture and a shrimp. Can you spot them?

How do you get a Feather Star to open up its multiple arms for you? You only need to tap the spine of the arms gently & softly. As you begin tapping, be mindful that your neoprene suit doesn’t touch any of the brittle feathers or you might end up ripping the poor little thing apart. By tapping with your finger pads softly, it will begin to spread out. Your camera settings would have to be ready for the shot as you might only get one or two shots of the critters within. Set your focusing to Spot and metering to Centre-weighted. Crinoid will stay ‘open’ for you if it feels tickled in all its arms as long as you avoid touching the cilia (feathers). I use a drink stirrer with a ball tip to coax the critter (shrimp/crab/clingfish) into view from the opposite side carefully without touching the Crinoid. Once I get about 4 or 5 shots or a video if the subject is actively moving, mission is accomplished & I move on to other subjects on the reef. Minimal touching and absolutely no disturbance to the Crinoid. It will soon curl up to get back to sleep when it senses no threat.

For more on marine life and nature documentation, follow Pummkinography on Facebook or follow Pummkin on her trips!

Technical Jackets to Tackle Terrains

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Yading Nature Park, Sichuan, China – I almost passed out getting this picture. Subzero temperatures, sitting on frosted ground waiting for clouds to clear.

Having zero tolerance for the cold prompted me to look for different jackets & baselayers available for all my outdoor pursuits. Not sure if it’s owing to the lack of hair on my body or my internal heating system/metabolic rate is virtually not working or I may just be wearing clothes with poor insulation. My trip to China allowed me to truly rate each jacket’s warmth & insulation. Let’s just take the last reason for me to shop some more. 😛

I have a Max Cocos insulated micro fibre winter coat for city trips to help me withstand the cold in winter countries when I have to attend meetings but I can’t use the same delicate jacket for outdoor adventure. I remember when I had to cover fam trips in all kinds of expedition around the country where I would tear a pair of pants or two every trip. It was quite a costly affair & this is in the tropics. What about zero degrees or sub zero terrain? I didn’t understand what ‘technical jacket’ was all about until I learnt the technology behind it.

My favourite brand is of course, Animal from UK. They have sizes that fit my long arms & legs perfectly. At 175cm, I tower over most Malaysian men & that’s without heels. I fell in love with the turquoise colour of this jacket & having a waterproof rating of 10,000mm & MVP of 15,000g, this jacket was perfect for times when I have to brave the rain or chilly wind on the dive boat ride back to shore.

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Animal Amaya Jacket

This 3 layer technical fabric is designed to keep water & wind out while venting away excess body heat.

Technical specifications:- 

  • Anitex Technical Fabric
  • Textured Nylon 3 Layer Fabric With DWR
  • Waterproof Rating of 10,000; MVP 15,000
  • Taped Seams
  • Waterproof Zippers
  • Underarm Ventilation
  • Grown On Hood
  • Adjustable Hem And Hood
  • Adjustable Cuffs
  • Reflective Logo

Let’s examine this MVP rating. MVP is moisture vapour permeability. It tells you how much moisture can vaporise through the fabric per m2 per 24 hours. Which means, even if the fabric is waterproof from the outside, it allows sweat to permeate through the fabric without leaving you soaking wet. The waterproofing rating involves testing using a number of different testing protocols but most involve the equivalent of placing a 1” x 1” square tube over the fabric and determining how high (in millimeters) a column of water you can suspend over it before it starts to leak. So when I read that the Animal Amaya jacket has 10,000mm WP, I knew I had to have it.

Then came the Trespass Balbi. Trespass is another UK brand (I love their size 12) that is available online through their website. Being dark grey, I could use it for birding! So I got it in time for my trip to China.

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Trespass Balbi Jacket

Technical specifications:- 

  • Shell – 3 Layer Fabric
  • Adjustable Grown On Hood
  • 3 Zip Pockets with Water Resistant Zips
  • Water Resistant Zip at Centre Front Opening
  • Hem Drawcord with Side Adjustment
  • Form Cut Rubber Cuff Tab
  • Shell: 100% Polyester/ TPU
  • Membrane/ 100% Polyester
  • Waterproof 10,000mm
  • Breathable 3000g/m2/24hrs
  • Windproof
  • Taped Seams

Though I loved this jacket, upon the 3rd day of use, the inside started to peel away at the waterproofed seams. Since it’s still new, I am going to ask for an exchange. Coupled with the Trespass Wendy jacket as a midlayer, it provided me with enough warmth but due to a switch of bags for the journey, I didn’t get to wear this in Yading & wore the less effective Karrimor 3in1 parka instead. Naturally, I froze & almost passed out.

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Leong took a picture of me taking a picture of something! In my Trespass Balbi jacket.

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Standing atop a pile of earth at the edge of the ravine, we were in Yunnan, China. I was covered in my Buff™ balaclava & was wearing Animal Ski Pants!

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Trespass Wendy jacket – the soft shell fleece midlayer I wore in China. 

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Lafuma LD Donegal CLIMACTIVE® Jacket i

This is one of my favourite all-year round jacket. The lightest of them all, this pink jacket packs a hood in the collar & it’s great to ward off the rain on your photo walkabouts. I often wear it when I have my dinner outdoors at Chinese restaurants to repel wind. Did I mention that I have no tolerance to cold? As soon as the temperature dips to 24? or less, I will start to feel uncomfortable.

Technical specifications:-

  • 100% POLYESTER
  • 3 in 1 protective jacket with removable fleece
  • Structured Twill-effect fabric
  • Attached hood which stows inside collar
  • 1 zippered chest pocket with invisible zip
  • 2 zippered hand warmer pockets
  • Adjustable hem with elasticated drawcord and toggles
  • Velcro tab adjustment at wrist.
  • 2 zippered hand warmer pockets.
  • Seam sealed.

This Lafuma jacket can be found at Lafuma Bangsar. I believe there are men’s versions as well & certainly not pink in colour. ?

My fascination with pink has to do with being female. I can be a typical female when it comes to colour choices but for practicality sake, no one would want to steal ‘pink.’ This is my second pink jacket, the first being the Animal Kapelle Ski jacket.

AnimalKapelle

The Animal Kapelle is a soft shell fleeced jacket that works great in the cinema! I haven’t actually brought this on my expeditions yet to test the warmth rating & I should do so.

Technical specifications:-

  • Anitex Technical Fabric
  • Softshell Fabric With DWR
  • Grown On Adjustable Hood
  • Mesh Lined Pockets For Extra Venting
  • Cuff Adjusters
  • Inverted Zips And External Taping Detail
  • One Handed Adjusters At Hem
  • Waterproof: 8000mm
  • MVP: 10,000g/m2/24hr

JadaCassis

My latest haulage is the Trespass JADA Women’s Waterproof Jacket. Similar to the Animal Amaya, the JADA jacket is the ultimate outdoor piece of kit. The Tres-Tex membrane is made with 3 layers – outer shell, membrane and inner shell- which are laminated together. High performance but lightweight, the thing I like about this jacket apart from its high visibility is the detachable hood. The highest waterproof-rated material at 15,000mm & I would really like to put it to a test in the harsh conditions of some snowy mountainous region somewhere or the jungle! I wanted to a more neutral colour but it only comes in Pink, Black or Turquoise which I already have. I never liked black. My Jada arrived in the mail yesterday!

Technical specifications:-

  • Shell – 3 Layer Fabric
  • Ventilation Zips
  • Adjustable Zip Off Hood
  • 3 Water Repellent Zip Pockets
  • 1 Sleeve Zip Pocket
  • Hem Drawcord with Side Adjuster
  • Flat Cuff with Velcro Tab
  • Back Tail
  • Waterproof 15,000mm
  • Breathable 8000mvp
  • Windproof
  • Taped Seams

All these jackets above are not padded with additional insulation. I thought it should work with base & midlayers & it did plus you can also use it on its own in the tropics to repel rain. Should I come across another highly rated jacket again, I will post it up here but chances are, it would be pink again. 😀

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Donned in my Karrimor Parka, which could only help me withstand down to 7?C. I was freezing throughout until I got my to my main luggage & changed back to my Balbi & Wendy.

Category: Adventure  3 Comments

Benzilan – The Place I Barely Remember

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Panorama of Benzilan

Hit by an earthquake measuring 5.8 on the Richter Scale, Benzilan in Yunnan, China had temporary make-shift tents as accommodation for the people which lined the street outside our hotel. We got there at night & it was the start of a series of cold nights thereafter. And the hotel doesn’t have any lifts! I felt sorry for the guys who brought unbreakable chunky luggages. Walking up the stairs with such load is enough to bring on back pain. My room that I shared with Miss Lai was on the first floor, not that bad considering that I had brought a convertible Eminent trolley bag which I hauled up like a backpack.

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My camera backpack, the Lowepro Photo Sport 200AW was filled with 80% essentials (survival equipment) & 20% photographic gear. On the first 2 days, people on the trip got a little surprised as to why I had a relatively big pack but only carried a Samsung NX200 wherever I went. I began to whip out things…….Lifestraw™……Lifeventure Shelter 2 Bothy Bag……Gerber multitool…….Sealskinz gloves…..survival kit…….Fenix PD32 light…hiking pole…..travel pillow….thermal blanket……spork…….power bars…..soup packs……purifying tabs……Platypus drinking bag……..alcohol wipes……first aid kit…..Garmin 76CSX…..batteries….. I explained to them that survival was my priority when going out into the wilderness for my adventures. Photos are secondary.

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Nice bag, no?

If I was going to travel for an indefinite period through the cold, mountainous region, I wasn’t going to leave my safety to chance or the tour guide. If we had gotten stranded for whatever reason, at least we would have purified & filtered water to drink. I’ve never been to China before & didn’t know what to expect except that the people look very similar to me. 😀

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Angela posing.

Sandwiched between the demure Angela & the excitable Leong, their antics drove me to the toilet. I have never laughed this much, all 12 days mind you, at two contrasting individuals trying to take pictures & get along. Leong’s model-opportunisticism, both as the photographer & the one being photographed, was worthy of commend. He took very flattering shots of Angela but Angela felt that he did better with aunties & housewives making them look like stars. So the hammering begun. Leong was untameable. He went after cows, goats, yaks, whatever that moved……even other tourists, to get his portraits. He even managed to herd a bull back across the bridge over a torrential river! In witnessing such charismatic flaunts, I decided to document him. I don’t remember much about Benzilan or the journey thereafter except that I was always in stitches as the taunts & threats were continually thrown at Leong by Angela, should he not succeed at taking flattering shots of her again. Leong took his task seriously & clicked furiously to get that right shot afterwards!

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Feeling the pressure…..Leong has to perform, or else…..

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Leong succeeded to ask Alex to photograph him. Alex is a hotshot photographer!

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He got Uncle Nigel to take a shot of him too! How does he do it??? 😀
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He would make sounds through the lens hood….

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And the only time we stopped laughing was when he was deep in slumber…..

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I took him taking me.

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Benzilan was beautiful but I can only remember how much those two amigos made me laugh.

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Walking across the suspended bridge.

Arriving in Kunming, Dali & Erhai Village, China in 24hours

As far as my eyes could see out of the little pane on my window seat, we were descending into a mountainous region. Whatever I’ve seen in paintings of old China plastered on the wall of coffeeshops as I was growing up actually reflected what was before me. Landing in Kunming, Yunnan, China, my 12 day trip began. The superfluous road journey was enough to set my hip off if it weren’t for the BackJoy Posture+ seat that I had lugged along. Absolutely necessary for long car rides. Each day, we travelled between 150 – 350km, stopping along the way for scenic spots & photo opportunity. Given the chance, I would have loved to stay put longer in one place to experience the culture & life of the people.

Our first stop was at ErHai Fishing Village, a lake that the Chinese term as the sea for the never-ending sight of the horizon. Not getting much sleep from the night before when we arrived at The Ancient City of Dali (Dali Gusheng), I woke up to a temperatures too low for my liking. A cotton-loving girl donned in Uniqlo HeatTech, fleece & technical jacket is hardly anything to marvel at. I saved my waterproof ski pants for the coldest sector of my journey…….Yading, in Sichuan near the Himalayas.

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At dawn, these boats are parked by the lakeside.

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Boats parked.

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Fisherfolks row out to haul in the catch.

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Wheat clusters left by the road.

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Mode of transport for the village folks.

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Taking out the vermicelli noodles at the factory.

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Noodles hanging out to dry.

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Garbed in balaclava, beanie & hooded jacket.

This was our first stop on our long & arduous journey to Yading Nature Reserve. On the bus, there were 12 other photographers & an MPV with 6 people plus the driver. Travelling 350km upon arrival in the evening was anything but nice. The fun only began on the 3rd day when I was accosted by Leong Taoping (Long Bean Army as I called him) and the demure but bean-bashing, Angela.

Amazing Encounters in Ulu Temburong National Park, Brunei

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Ulu Temburong sounds like a faraway place owing to its name of being in the depths of the jungle. And indeed, it is as obscure as a hidden treasure tucked away to be found & marvelled at. Nestled in the midst, is Ulu Ulu Resort, by the banks of Temburong River, a terrain of pebbly rocks smoothen by the rapids. The journey begins in the heart of Bandar Seri Begawan, where we boarded the Flying Coffin (fast ferry speedboat) to weave through a Nipah grove along the muddy banks. This is also a place where big crocodiles sunbathe out in the open. The 45 minutes ride led us to a harbour in Temburong where we took another 40 minutes bus ride to a small jetty to embark on another 15-minute ride upriver. This might cause you to grip the side bars along the longish, narrow motorised boat as it tilts & turns. Each boat seats 5 persons, with our plastic bag-wrapped belongings, cruising became the adventure of averting splashes & collision with overhanging branches that sometimes, rests a Kingfisher.

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Surprises at every turn, sightings of perched Oriental Darters, Swifts & the ever elusive Crested Wood Partridge, caused a stir amongst the participants. A flock of 6 partridges flew across the river while our boat was cruising pass, sending all who saw them into squeals of delight. Sightings are rare & to see an entire brood is even rarer. It is no wonder why birders are going deeper into the forests to document birds. Half expecting the legumes to turn into a beanstalk inviting an ogre to descend, the perspective of size is evident in just the roots of this tree. I can’t even be Jack to climb pass the root, let alone cutting down the beanstalk. Not that I was about to cut anything but fantasical things come to mind when you have a vivid imagination.

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Landing at the banks of Ulu Ulu Resort, I felt like I had developed sea-legs & swayed as I disembarked. The gigantic trees (Legumes) structured the banks bowled me over with the towering stature. Every growth has its place in this pristine ecosystem. Birds & butterflies abuzz, each going about its own way. Ice cold pandan-infused lemongrass tea with condiment tray of curry puffs & appam welcomed us at the reception. Just as we attended the briefing, a pair of Whiskered Treeswifts began to mate  outside the room on bare tree, sending the birders into a frenzy. The race hasn’t resumed yet as breaks were an imminent part of the game. How can we contain our excitement when we are prominently situated at the heart of Bruneissic Park??

Thick foliage in tall trees meant that bird photography would be very challenging. The birders (race participants) set off to list their sightings armed with one spotting scope, one camera & 3 binoculars per team. Frequent reference to the Birds of Borneo book proved another challenge as the birds were fast & the lighting didn’t help with the colour identification. Most of these nations had never seen so many variety of birds in one place as they had in Borneo & Brunei seemed to be an undiscovered trove! Little is known about the birds in Brunei & the availability of learned/trained guides is even fewer with Roger Rajah (co-organiser of Borneo Bird Race) being the ONLY licensed bird tour guide operating in Brunei. Throughout the Brunei leg, Roger had been instrumental in providing logistic briefings & assistance to the entourage. Together with Tom Chong, a tour guide who works with Ulu Ulu Resort, they were giving us detailed explanations of every place of interest, cultural practices & customs of Bruneians. What a resource Brunei has in incredible people of passionate pursuits!

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Horned Spider.

Orb Spider eating cicada.

Flowerpeckers (3 – 5cm only) here are not afraid of humans & would come to a proximity of about 1 metre of you. Seeking a perch that they frequented, I parked myself on the boardwalk & documented hundreds of pictures of these tiny, flighty, cheerful birds. I also learnt that they ate guavas & pomegranates! Videos when I get back.

Yellow Rumped Flowerpecker – male

Yellow Breasted Flowerpecker.

Yellow Rumped Flowerpecker – female.

Being so natural, even spiders abound in the walkway to the rooms. A total of 17 rooms that can accommodate 50 people comfortably, we were the only guests at the resort that day. Bugs, cicadas, strange squirrels & the bizarres of bizarres occur naturally & thrive in this environment. We asked the resort to keep webs in its place to allow city bumpkins like me to document insects for the appreciation of all. It’s not every day that we get to see a Horned Spider or an Orb Spider eating its prey & every encounter is a witness of God’s provision of His goodness to the animal kingdom that He has created. Here’s to the bugs & birds!

Tasek Merimbun Hosts More Than Birds in Brunei

The Minister himself is an avid diver who has just taken a great interest in birds, citing the many species’ behaviour as he talked to the participants of the Bird Race. Flagging off the event in a celebration at the Balai Seni Bandar Seri Begawan, the 7 participating nations were given the Bruneian welcome & shown the gallery of photos of Brunei’s fantastic flora & fauna taken by local talents. He expressed that the Bird Race should continue to its second installation next year where they can better document the species of birds to showcase then.

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Birders off to add species to their list!

At one of the booths, the Wildlife Division has an impressive information of several types of mammals, birds & reptiles. Talking to their officers, I got to know that they have the Slow Loris & Maroon Langurs here. Many of the mammals are found in Borneo & Brunei has a beautiful backdrop when you go to Tasek Merimbun to find them. The race flagged off upon reaching the park office, participants were briefed to stay on trail & each Steward (very experienced bird guiding professionals) assigned to each team, would be marking their finds as they go & if needed, proof of photograph would determine the authenticity of the species. There’s really no grounds for cheating.

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Panoramic view of Tasek Merimbun.

Though the forest is a visibly large area, the birds that are in abundance are flighty & sparse. I hardly have any photos to show despite being there for 2 hours. The distraction is really in the landscape. The first leg of the race, progressed with teams getting a glimpse of what the Bornean forest hosts.

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Maroon Langur

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Dinner hosted by Brunei Tourism where we were taken to a cheerfully local place to eat! We love it!

How To Find The Milky Way

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At Bulb mode, 57 seconds, F2.8, ISO 1000 with contrast adjusted for you to see the ‘band.’

Recuperating from a weekend of chasing birds at the Wings of KKB Selangor Bird Race 2013, I came home with the 3rd prize of a trophy, a Deuter Pulse 40 EXP waistpack & a certificate. Seizing the day of high pressure in the atmosphere, I decided to have a go at astro photography again, now that I live so far out from the city. After dinner, we set out to look for a dark spot in the countryside in Semenyih. We set up our tripods & in the total darkness, we fumbled as the lights from our LED torches temporarily blinded us whenever we switched off for shutter release. Remembering I had the red LED setting on my Petzl e+Lite headlamp, it made it easier to operate in the dark without causing dizzy spells.

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As Earth is part of the Milky Way, we can only see speckles of dust or what our eyes can make out as haze or clouds. Looking for the ever-so-familiar sight of the Milky Way, I could only guess which part of the sky it was. I had my Google Sky Map app with me & it provided a very precise location of the constellations in the sky, relative to where I was. Here are the instructions on how to equip yourself & find the Milky Way with your eyes!

 

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The equipment I brought along with me:-

1) Camera – I used the Samsung NX200 mirrorless hybrid for this.
2) Samsung 20mm F2.8 lens
3) Manfrotto MKC3-H01 tripod with movie head
4) Asus Padfone Station
5) Petzl e+Lite headlamp (Get it from Lafuma!)
6) Folding chair

And essentials that you should have with you:-

1) Mosquito repellant.
2) Snacks & drinks to quell hunger pangs when you get too excited.
3) Blinkers to mark yourself in the dark.
4) A multitool to operate quick-release plates/screws etc.
5) Hammock & pillow if you get too sleepy waiting for clouds to pass.
6) An entourage.

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‘When observing the night sky, the term “Milky Way” is limited to the hazy band of white light some 30 degrees wide arcing across the sky (although all of the stars that can be seen with the naked eye are part of the Milky Way Galaxy). The light in this band originates from un-resolved stars and other material that lie within the Galactic plane. Dark regions within the band, such as the Great Rift and the Coalsack, correspond to areas where light from distant stars is blocked by interstellar dust.’ – wikipedia.

At different times of the month, you might be able to see it if you find Pluto & a great way to do so is to do a search in Google Sky Map app on your Android device or any other star gazing apps such as Stellarium on your laptop, to point you to the exact location in the sky relative to where you are standing. Make sure your GPS is also turned on in your device.

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At Bulb mode, 60 seconds, F2.8, ISO 800, only brightness adjusted.

If you have a bright wide angle lens, use that instead. Telephoto lenses are good for taking pictures of planets, not constellations unless you have a specific constellation that you want in a frame. I have yet to experiment with other lenses & will post an update here once I do. Depending on your settings, the general rule is, the bigger your aperture (smaller F-stop), the more light it allows but to keep the image sharp, you need to keep ISO low (800 or 640) in order to keep the blacks. A minute or less should be sufficient but then again, experiment with stopping up on the ISO or time to get the desired results.

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Then I tried to take just the stars at F8.0, 37 seconds at ISO 2000 & all I got were the constellations!

I couldn’t adjust my tripod head to tilt any further as this cluster was already too high up in the sky. Your camera may or may not allow you to have priority release of shutter regardless of whether you can focus on anything or not. In my case, my camera has to be set on Manual mode, Manual Focus & Multi Point Focusing. Adjusting the focusing ring on my lens through the CCD & LCD in the dark is a great pain. Literally, my neck was craned as I had positioned my tripod over my seat to look into my screen as it pointed upwards to the sky. A lot of the aim, is GUESSWORK. Pressing the shutter release was the start, waiting for a minute or so was expected but as soon as you press the shutter again, the camera went into a processing mode which took another minute & during this time, you shouldn’t move your camera or tripod in case the shutter hasn’t really closed yet. I heard a third sound when the processing was done. Through the 4 – 5 hours of shooting, I only managed 30+ pictures, of which only 3 or 5 were usable so don’t fret if you don’t get your pictures on the first try!

Here are some of my fluke shots, the frustration that you get after waiting for the picture to be processed…..

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Best time to plan for a starry night, weather & elements dependent, is to use a Moon Phase widget on your Android device to help you decide on the days where the moon would be below the horizon. The best time would be when it’s at waxing crescent or waning crescent, what we know as new moon. Search for an ideal spot to include some trees or landscape in your picture BEFORE your actual night of shooting. This would help with any impromptu decisions to go stargazing whenever the skies are clear. Be aware of your surroundings though. You may not be able to see what’s around you but it doesn’t mean that you are not being watched. Nocturnal animals are out & about too. I found a Terrapin crossing the road & stopped to take a photo of it!

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Let me know if you have succeeded in taking any photos of the Milky Way!

Survivalist Sack – Part 1

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My survivals stash – one part

Have you thought about what you would do in an event of an emergency? Are you prepared for a disaster, whether natural or man-made? Do you know first aid? Can you do CPR? Can you save yourself & then get back to your family to get them to safety? Living in an urban setting in a modernised age has suppressed our survival instincts & defied logic of any possibility of intrusion, uprising or insurgencies. In this day & age, why should we prepare for ‘war?’ Let’s not get so far, what about the word UNREST? In my parent’s & grandparents’ days, they survived the war & May 13, 1969 to tell me stories but as I grew up, I noticed that we tend to associate those war stories to that of what’s depicted in the movies & dismiss any notion of it happening again. Disaster can strike when you least expect it & usually with no warning so preparation in advance will help everyone in your family to know what to do when something happens. Other countries may have zombie apocalypse/doomsday/bug-out preparation, we should have our own.

I sought the advice of my King Scout compatriot friend ala outdoor instructor, Adrian Chin who took me on many jungle & adventure pursuits in the past. He showed me his emergency bag of essentials which was equipped with tools & survival equipment to keep him alive for at least 3 days before getting to more help if needed. The Survivalist Sack (pummkinology), similar to a Bug-Out Bag (BOB) in America, which is actually a ‘disaster-relief bag,’ where you pack all your essentials to grab in a haste to escape & run off into the jungle (or wild) to seek refuge/survive till the coast is clear again. It could be in an event of a natural disaster like an earthquake, a tsunami, a flood, a landslide (an avalanche is unlikely here because we don’t have snow in Malaysia), or any other possibilities of ‘Martians’ (or foolhardy sultanates claiming territorial rights while their kinship avenge their defeat) taking over our gardens. In hindsight, we should prepare for a meteor hit like the recent one for if had changed directions & hit us instead of the Russians, we may be blasted into South China Sea. This is just stretching it. Who’s to say what might happen? Who knows if we would have an insurgency of Neptunians or Plutonians who in the course of a universe convention decided to leave the coalition of planets in their orbits to come into ours. Heaven forbids these far-off aliens to land when there are already so many aliens amongst us.

Well, as one of my workshop speakers Mr. Bose said, ‘History has taught us that the Portuguese came & conquered, the Dutch came & conquered, the Japanese & British too. It shows that anyone can come & conquer!’ Hmm……he may be right. Militians (Martians amongst us) can go rogue. Let’s just use the recent insurgency in Lahad Datu as an example for us to be equipped in the eventuality of a similar uprising here. Though I have full confidence in the ability of the armed forces & the police force where 8 of the policemen & 2 army soldiers lost their lives in a battle & ambush, as a responsible citizen, we have to be armed with the knowledge of how to survive in the wild before help reaches you. We are far too dependent upon modern gadgets, all of which require energy/electricity to power up. We have tablets that are not for swallowing, iPads that can’t be used for periods, smartphones that can only be smart when it’s got a data plan. What if the telecommunication towers get jammed? You wanna send smoke signals? Morse code maybe? Or use your loud hailer???

I would like to be prepared myself for the sake of the ones whom I happen to be around at the time of crisis.

Three things to keep in mind when preparing for your kit. You need WATER, SHELTER & FIRE. You can live 3 days without water & 3 weeks without food so food is not really vital when you have the tools to pluck fruits, hunt or fish. You need shelter from the elements. If you have run off into the jungle, you need rain protection. We don’t call it a rainforest for nothing. Dampness can leave you feeling chilly & though we live in the tropics, it’s good to have some kind of rain jacket with you.

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My survivals stash other part.

I’ve taken the liberty to kit out my Survivalist Sack with more technical help from the shop & I will teach you what each item is for. Presenting the worse case scenario, you will at least have an idea what each tool can function as, not just for the intended purpose of its design. Here’s a list of things which you should acquire in your Survivalist Sack to keep in your car should an occurrence of any sort take place where you are, you can access the bag & get away. Plan it to your requirement. If you have kids, factor them in. If your kids are big enough to have a bag of their own, kit them up too. If you pack food items, remember they have a shelf life & it would be good for you to take this bag out to practice using it in a camp every few months or so.

I went to the Lafuma store in Bangsar to get most of my equipment as I find them to have most things available & they are the best in its class. If you are still asking yourself if you should get kitted up, let me put it this way, your car has a toolbox as a manufacturer’s specification. In the toolbox, you have an emergency signal, a wrench, a jack, some spanners, screwdriver & one of those tools to change tyres. Your car has an emergency kit to protect you & keep you safe so why shouldn’t you have survival tools to keep you alive in an emergency? You worked so hard to have financial security but have you thought of your physical security? Start planning for this sack now.

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When it was still in the shop, I fitted it as best as I could.

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I wanted a bag to be small but enough to carry what the essentials.

1) The Bag – Millet Level 15 Sky Diver Hydration Bag – RM 329
This bag has a 15litre capacity & was selected to fit all these items into it. Everything that’s mentioned here can be fitted into this little bag! My next post covers more paranoia to fit more stuff in bigger bags but when go through this list of stuff, you will know what size of bag you need. The thing to keep in mind is, you must be able to hoist your bag easily with little effort because in an emergency, adrenaline rush can zap you of your energy & you wouldn’t want to be saddled with too big of a bag that drags your mobility/movement.

Though this bag has a zipped hydration compartment, I used it to store elongated items such as the Torch Crank Light from GoalZero, an LED wand, my Light My Fire™ dagger/fire starter, a flexible Platypus plusBottle water container & a foldable stove. In the main compartment, I’ve stuffed a storm shelter, an ultralite towel, disposal toilets for emergencies, a first aid kit, paracord, a mess tin with a Buff™ wear, Power Bars, a CRKT Eat’N Tool spork, a Lifesystem’s™ Survival Shelter, thermal blanket & purification tablets.

In the zippered mesh compartment, I’ve stashed away a Gerber’s 8-piece Survival Kit with rope, tinder, fire starter, a knife, a whistle & a survival booklet. I’ve also put my Petzl e+Lite headlamp which happens to be my favourite gadget in this bag.

In the front of the bag, I’ve attached a walking stick, for some support should I injure myself for whatever reason. The Katadyn bottle is attached with a carabiner & a Knotbone bungee cord to secure any wet attire or towel when on the move. Bags must be of immaculate quality & rated to the tested volume (15L, 30L, 45L & above). If it gives way midway, you will have a trail spluttered with your equipment & that would be the last thing you need to handle. Though Deuter was once the market leader, today there are many fakes & copies sold to resemble the genuine. There are parallel importers who take factory rejects from Vietnam & selling them at a fraction of the price here. Do not go for those because a bag’s durability must have gone through quality assurance during the manufacturing phase & must be able to withstand the vigours of travelling & some abuse. Thankfully, Lafuma & Millet backpacks have no copies…….yet. Being the official representative of Lafuma brand in France, you can be certain that all the bags you get from the store in Bangsar are genuine.

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More about this Millet Level 15 Sky Diver bag in the following description below.

  • Main compartment with U-shaped zip opening
  • Front zipped stretch pocket
  • Document pocket with key ring
  • Zipped compartment for water pouch
  • Side stretch pocket
  • Stretch pockets pole holder
  • BACK/WAISTBELT
  • Highly breathable back system
  • SHOULDER STRAPS
  • Sternum strap + handrest

I wanted everything in this post here to fit inside THIS BAG & it did! You can get a bigger bag if you wish to put in more stuff but that will be addressed in Part 2.

For Water:-

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Katadyn MyBottle Purifier – RM220

Rated as the most rugged, longest lasting microfilter in a bottle in the world. Due to its extreme durability and dependability, Katadyn MyBottle Purifier is the choice of the U.S. military and expeditions as this ingenious drinking bottle has an integrated virus filter. The three-stage water filter is the heart of this perfect outdoor drinking system. It eliminates harmful viruses, bacteria, and protozoa. It enables the purification of drinking water at any time and anywhere. Tested with muddy water & water comes out crystal clear. In extreme situations, it’s best to take your shirt to filter out heavier particles of water before straining it into a container. Then pour this water into the Katadyn MyBottle Purifier and drink. I would add a purification tablet into it just to let the filter have a longer lifespan.

Watch how I used cocoa powder (the kind that you make hot chocolate with) with tap water to simulate sedimentation as it gets filtered in the bottle in my kitchen!

It is only in my kitchen would I be able to test this bottle out by using what’s in my larder. I’m saving the use of this as my survival water bottle & it’s good for 100 litres of filtration. If you are in situations where no other option of clean water source is available, you need to trust your equipment to work for you. Being nicely designed, you can also carry this bottle with you when travelling to places where water source may be a suspect. Instructions booklet is enclosed to prepare the bottle for first use & to disinfect the bottle when you store it for a long period of time. There’s function, form & finesse in this bottle. I would be addressing other alternatives in Part 2.

Puritabs

Water purification tablets to treat water before drinking. In places where even the tap water is from a suspicious source, use one tablet per litre for purification before drinking. Get one box.

For shelter:-

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Lifesystems 2 Person Survival Shelter Bothy

I chose this survival shelter because it’s lightweight & compact & it’s fully waterproof. Perfect for emergency situations where maintaining body heat becomes a key priority, which means sheltering from the wind, rain or snow. Since Malaysia has no snow save for maybe at the peak of Mount Kinabalu, all Lifesystems Mountain Survival products have been tried and tested successfully in extreme conditions. A lightweight survival shelter for up to 3 persons, or 2 people with rucksacks. Works in place of tents if you can’t grab your tent in time to run. Use paracord & Shelter Systems’ Gripclips to attach ropes to the shelter without puncturing or breaking it.

Originally designed as lightweight emergency shelters, they create a surprisingly warm and sheltered internal microclimate. They can also be useful for meal breaks, route planning, map reading or any other situation that requires a warm, sheltered environment. Why is having a shelter important? Besides the obvious, it also gives you a sense of well-being in a strange, open space. When you feel secure, you are less likely to fear & be able to weather out the conditions. The Tough PU coated waterproof fabric has a 2000m hydrostatic head and fully taped seams. The Lifesystems 2 Person Survival Shelter Bothy’s lightweight design with a window and air-vent prevents claustrobia & the presence of reflective top strips for increased visibility. Enclosed within an integral stuff sack with draw cord closure, it is shorter but wider than the water bottle.

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Paracord by Rothco

You need a rope to tie a sheet down for shelter. Sometimes you need to secure things & having a rope with extremely strong construction is necessary. An ideal all-around utility cord in the field, the Rothco Type III commercial paracord is tough and long lasting. The cord is made of 550-pound test nylon and features a seven-strand core for maximum strength. Measuring 5/32 inches in diameter, the paracord is manufactured in the United States by a certified US Government contractor. The paracord is available in several lengths and colours & Lafuma stocks them.

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Hammock – RM95

Very easy to set up & deploy, the hammock can help you take 40 winks without having to clear the forest to pitch a tent. Minimal impact on the environment for all greenies reading this but if you ever need to be in the jungle to evade a Martian-attack, chop whatever you need to chop. God will make things grow again, possibly at speeds that you can never ever imagine. All you need is a mosquito net to keep you protected. If a night’s rest is needed, secure a flysheet overhead to keep out rain. This one is packable into a small enclosed pouch fitted into my little 15litre backpack.

For fire:-

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Light My Fire™ dagger/fire starter

A two in one knife that functions as a knife & works as a striker to the magnesium rod that’s tucked away in the handle. Having several fire starters in your kit is good for backup purposes in case you lose your main one. Just strike the rod with the back blunt edge of the knife to create spark on tinder (enclosed in the survival kit below).

A proper knife to cut & gut fish, serves also as a weapon of defence should you come across rogue Martians who attempt to outrage your modesty or cross examine you. Carrying a knife with blades in excess of 10cm is an offence in Malaysia unless you give a good reason for doing so, such as for self defence. I don’t know who made these laws but be cautious anyway.

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Gerber Survival 8-piece Kit – RM124

In this little waterproof bag contained in Lightweight Ripstop Nylon Bag with Waterproof Zipper, there’s a Gerber Mini-Paraframe Knife, Emergency Whistle, Fire Starter, Waterproof Matches, Snare Wire, Emergency Cord, Cotton Ball – Fire Tinder & Priorities of Survival – a Pocket Guide that has Bear’s Survival Essentials. On the nylon bag, there’s Land to Air Rescue Instructions. Add in a lighter if you can.

For illumination:-

GoalZero Torch Crank Light (RM130)

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This light has a solar panel for daytime recharging of its internal battery which requires 9 – 10 hours of sunlight for a full charge. The best thing about this light is, it has a hand crank (winder) that would generate 10 minutes of light after a constant 1 minute of winding! The tip of the light has 4 LEDs & the front panel has 18 LEDs for you to illuminate your shelter. There’s a hidden hook too. This is a must-have in your Survivalist Sack. A 12V Male Cigarette Adapter & wall charger is included in this super handy floodlight.

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Inova Microlight XT LED Wand – RM79.90

When you need markers to indicate your presence in the dark, you need this wand. Powered by a small but powerful LED press light which can be removed & clipped on to your zippers, this wand can be used as an emergency signal marker in the dark with 4 functions – high power, low power, strobe & signal mode. Submersible to 150m, it also floats. Use it as a signal beam in a dive or on the surface for the boat to locate you. You can never have too many LED lights. In a panic, you want to be able to reach for any light & this is one nice light to have to mark your position without using too much battery. This one that I have, glows blue!

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ClipLit LED

The Nite Ize ClipLit LED is a bright, water-resistant white light encased in durable, plastic housing and molded to a rugged plastic carabiner clip. Easy to activate—a quick twist turns it on and off—it’s just as easy to clip onto and off of almost anything with a loop. Attach it to your key ring, belt loop, zipper pull, backpack or purse, and you’ll have efficient, bright illumination wherever you are, whenever you want. The ClipLit is perfect for everything from reading fine print to finding a keyhole. And, when it’s attached to your clothing, it’s a fun and stylish way to let people know where YOU are when it’s dark, increasing your visibility and safety. I have a dog & putting one on his collar will allow me to instantly locate where he is if he happens to break free or be off leash. People with anaemia who are prone to passing out should wear this at night as they commute for others to locate them in the dark.

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Petzl e+Lite

This tiny little headlamp is the niftiest headlight I’ve ever seen! Slightly bigger than the size of a USB Flash Drive, there is a strong retractable cord that you pull over your head to allow this headlamp to sit on your forehead. Different modes of brightness plus red LED blinking modes for use at night to not disrupt visibility. Bright enough to illuminate a bedroom in the dark! Perfect to use in situations where you need both your hands free. You’ll never know when you have to crawl into tight spaces like how the Vietcongs did it in Cu Chi Tunnels.

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At the Cu Chi Tunnel in Vietnam, I went in & crawled 60 meters before I got out with a sense of awe for the Vietcongs!

You can never have too many lights.

For preparation of food:-

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Trangia™ Mess Tin

A great tin to carry supplies, use as a survival kit or to carry food. This can be doubled up as a pot or pan to cook a light meal. I use it to carry my knick-knacks, compass, Puritabs, spork & spices.

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Power Bars

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A Folding Stove – RM8

A stove that uses solid fuel tablets is necessary to have to boil water or cook your meals. Get one that’s easy to pack away with minimal fuss. I’ve just ordered the White Box Stove™ that uses alcohol to accompany my cookware.

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PlusBottle Platypus Collapsible Water Bottle

A collapsible 1 litre bottle that you can pack away, this Platypus Water Bottle is a storage for extra water if you are far away from a water source. Having several bottles with you will keep you rehydrated till you get to the next water source should it be so scarce.

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CRKT Eat’N Tool

Multitool includes spoon, fork or better known as ‘spork,’ bottle opener, three hex wrenches, and a carabiner. Lots of functionality but weighs only 45gm. Large central hole for grip and to reduce weight. Better than the plastic variety where you can’t use strength to pry a drumstick. I keep this & one other plastic variety in the mess tin to eat with.

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Gerber Suspension Multi Tool – RM190

A multi tool lives up to its name to serve you in a variety of ways & to get you out of situations. Apart from the spring-loaded pliers, it is also a saw, fine edge knife/serrated edge knife, wire cutter, scissors, crosspoint screwdrivers, small and medium flatblade screwdrivers, can opener, bottle opener & a lanyard hole. Brings out the MacGyvette in me. Always have this in easy to reach places & keep it within its holster when not in use. Very handy to scissor cut a packet of instant noodles or a bag of crisps!

For protection from elements:-

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Lifeventure HydroFibre UltraLite Trek Towel – RM139.90

When travelling light, nothings beats having a big towel that wraps into a small package. It rolls up to the size of a mug! Lifeventure’s HydroFibre UltraLite Trek Towel is ultra-lightweight, compact and highly absorbent. Treated with Ax AntiBacterial formula, it dries 10 times quicker than a standard beach towel & absorbs 6 times its own weight in water. Comes in a tough ripstop roll-bag. Use a bungee cord to secure it outside your backpack for faster drying while on the move.

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Thermal Blanket

A lightweight, compact blanket which, when wrapped around the body, reflects over 80% of radiated body heat to provide personal protection in the event of an accident, trauma or unexpected exposure to extreme cold. Again, when it rains & you get soaking wet, the wind can lower your body temperature drastically. Keep this in your bag for emergency warming-up needs.

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KnotBone Bungee

With carabiner clips instead of open hooks at each end, it not only attaches to your anchor points, it locks there. Instead of elastic that loses its stretch over time, the KnotBone Bungee has a durable, high quality cord that threads through each end, adjusts from 121cm to 25cm in the #9 size and from 71cm to 15cm in the #5 size. Once you have it adjusted to the right length, secure it in place with a simple wrap-and-lock motion. The small self-clipping plastic caps to the cord ends to keep them in place once you’ve got your load secured. No more pulling, stretching, and re-hooking to get the tension you want. The KnotBone Bungee stays right where you attach it, pulls securely to the exact length you need, and locks there.

Use this to set up temporary clothes line or secure your tarp over your tent. You can also use it to hang wet attire or jacket when you secure it outside your backpack. Loads of uses. Get this.

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LifeSystem’s Camping First Aid Kit – RM134.00 only

The first aid kit should be priority in your Survivalist Sack. Injuries, even a small one, can lead to infection & if not treated, can lead to gangrene or death. Treat every wound seriously & administer first aid as soon as you can. Treating wounds is necessary in survival because the feeling or sense of well-being is achieved when the wound is dressed. If you are lost, an injury can cause a sense of defeat so treat & rest if you must.

As recommended by the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Product Team, the Lifesystem’s Camping First Aid Kit is designed for dealing with accidents that can happen whenever. The kit contains items for treating and preventing infection in burns, cuts, grazes, blisters and other minor injuries. There are 3 parts to this blogpost. In the next 2 posts, I will address where you can get additional information to prepare yourself. Very comprehensive kit with top of the line dressing that you can’t really find in local pharmacies. Even if you do, you would be spending more time locating all these in different pharmacies due to incomplete resources in each one. Eliminate your headache & just get this kit. You may get a higher specifications kit according to what you feel you want to have.

Contents of the LifeSystem’s Camping First Aid Kit:-

General tools
1 x Primary Care Leaflet
1 x Tweezers
6 x Safety Pins
1 x Scissors (5.5cm Blade)
2 Pairs Vinyl Gloves
1 x Spot Check Thermometer
Medication
16 x Paracetamol Tablets

Bandages
1 x Crepe Bandage 5cm x 4.5m
1 x Triangular Calico Bandage 90 x 127cm
1 x Open Woven Bandage 7.5cm x 5m
Preparations, Disposables & Tapes
6 x Hygienic Cleansing Wipes
1 x Zinc Oxide Tape 1.25cm x 5m
1 x Micropore Tape 1.25cm x 5m
5 x 4-Ply Gauze Swabs 5 x 5cm
3 x Burn Gel Sachets (3.5g)
1 x Strapping Tape 2.5cm x 2m
2 x Sterile Eye Wash (20ml each)

Dressings
1 x Pack of Assorted Plasters
1 x Medium Wound Dressing 12 x 12cm
2 x Low Adherent Dressings 5 x 5cm
1 x Low Adherent Dressing 10 x 10cm
1 x Small Plaster Fabric Strip 4cm x 1m
3 x Wound Closure Strips
1 x Small Eyepad Wound Dressing

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Lifeventure Waterpoof Map Aloksaks to 60 Metres x 3

This element-proof bag is perfect for keeping valuables safe and dry in extreme conditions. Ideal for cameras, mp3 players, passports, tickets, money, keys etc. Pack contains 3 sizes. Keep your map, scanned prints of your identification cards, photos of your family members for ID purposes, driver’s licence & birthcerts. These copies are to help you verify your existence/citizenship/identification if the situation is not well. These bags are certified waterproof to 60 metres constructed using medical grade film that is FDA approved. Get these.

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Travel John™ – pack of 3 (RM34.90)

A disposal urinal is God-sent when you are in urgent need to answer nature’s call while you are stuck in your tent & it’s raining cats & dogs outside. You might think of using an umbrella & making a dash into bushes but the stem of your brolly could well be a conductor for lightning if you are in an electrical storm! The Travel John™ is a convenient & discrete way of doing your business in an exclusive strong plastic that is puncture resistant and contains the revolutionary LIQSORB® polymer pouch that solidifies liquids instantly into a Leak-proof, odourless, spill-proof gel that is non-toxic and safe for disposal in any waste bin. This will be essential for a situation where you are caught with your pants down with nowhere to go…..

For navigation:-

The ideal devise is an outdoor GPS unit provided you have enough batteries to last. The compass is the only reliable navigation aid available & the best of it’s class is the Silva brand. Do not rely on others in your team to know where you are & how far you’ve gone. Always know your orientation & bearings. I’ve got one of these to hang on the zipper of my backpack. Get one & learn how to use it to find your position on the map & how to get from point A to point B.

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Silva Compass. RM24

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Lafuma’s store in Bangsar

For now, since I haven’t gotten my emergency fishing kit, I will resort to finding fruits, roots & shoots to eat if I do have to be in the wild. Sourcing for survival tools take time & I want you to know where to get them when I find them. Why do you need premium items if you can get equivalent unbranded items elsewhere at much lower prices? If you are already in a survival situation where your life depends upon the efficiency, stability & reliability of your equipment to defend you from the elements (and rogue Martians), don’t you think you would want to invest in good, tested & rated brands? If you can spend RM100,000 to buy a car, RM30,000 for a Rolex watch, RM7,000 for a Macbook Pro, RM4,000 for a Prada bag, RM1,500 for an SKII facial care set, please don’t skimp on your Survivalist Sack. This preparation is for the worse case scenario & you would still benefit if you never have to face an alien invasion. We have no one to rely on but ourselves as living is our responsibility, not the government’s. Just take your equipment out on a camp night & hone your natural skills that we have all lost in the process of modernisation or join me on a fun-filled camp night where the King Scout himself can show us the ropes while we toast marshmallows over the fire & watch each other fumble at setting up camp!

Contact Mr. Ng at Lafuma to help you get your kit ready for collection! He can be reached at +6012-4595012 or +603-22871118

This is the GPS coordinates to the shop. Use a QR Code reader on your smartphone to capture it & open the coordinates in Waze or Google Maps.

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Alternatively, use the map below to find your way there.
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Note:- Wait for Part 2 where I will address what other essentials to have for your other needs…..which would require a bigger bag!

Gone Bananas

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Pink Bananas may sound odd from its recent emergence into the market but I have had them since 2008. Absolutely delicious, the creamy banana is sweet & has a milky taste to it, making it my favourite of all banana species. Found in Bukit Tinggi, Pahang, about an hour’s drive from Kuala Lumpur, these dusky rose coloured bananas look strangely coloured and may not appeal to banana lovers at first sight but definitely will at first bite.

Posting a picture of it on my Facebook timeline generated much contention with many insisting that I shared my loot while a few harassed me into getting some back for them. I came home with 10kg worth in bags for distribution to my banana-frantic friends. When it’s raw, it has a pinky rose coloured skin with greenish tinge but once ripe, the green turns yellow & the rose will turn red. I still like to call them Pink!

Go have some today. It’s alright to go bananas & turn pink!

St. Catherine’s Monastery, Sharm El-Sheikh

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If visiting a UNESCO World Heritage Site is on your list to do when you visit Eqypt, then make a trip to St. Catherine’s monastery & catch a glimpse of Moses’ burning bush & the well of his destiny at Mount Sinai! It’s located a few hours away by road from Sharm El-Sheikh. We got off on foot after trailing across mountain ranges to get to St. Katherine city to see the place where Moses purportedly met with God.

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Opposite the monastery….

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The view on the road to the mountain was breathtaking to say the least, I was blown away by the terrain & vastness of the dry desert. It was in December when I visited Sharm El-Sheikh & it was a good 10?C. Reaching 1500m above sea level, we got down to walk the rest of the way to the monastery from the parking area. I had to climb a monstrous mountain to take a picture of the monastery! In my Crocs!

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At the base of the rocky range, vendors sell their wares along a row of little shops. It’s interesting to see & not be able to buy as I’m already over-weighted with all that I had to bring on my journey to Sharm El-Sheikh. The drive kept me in awe & seeing the size of the ranges up close truly made me marvel at what God can do. We went inside the monastery but many areas were cordoned off, sparking my curiosity to break in ala Tomb Raider style. I wasn’t dressed for the part neither did I have my cloak of boldness worn when I went pass the fortress. Still, I’m sure I would have headed straight for the kitchen if I were allowed to roam.

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My fascination for animals & especially animals I hadn’t seen before, was quite apparent judging by the expressions I got from my subject & the people around me. This camel was rather cautious as I pointed my camera at him. And camels sleep with their entire neck & head lying on the ground! I also learnt that walking on these pebbly & sandy ground is rather uncomfortable. Be sure you have the right kind of shoes when traversing hard terrains & wear socks to cushion impact. Wearing a hat helps & be sure to have polarised sunnies.

I flew to Sharm El-Sheikh with Emirates Air with one stopover in Jordan. Once you have your ground arrangements taken care of, getting there is a breeze with the many airlines that fly to Sharm El-Sheikh.

The monastery is Orthodox and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. According to the UNESCO report, this monastery is one of the oldest working Christian monasteries in the world together with the Monastery of Saint Anthony, situated across the Red Sea in the desert south of Cairo, which also lays claim to that title.

Cape Range National Park in Exmouth

Cape Range National Park is a wondrous place, with a rugged hilly terrain of limestone ranges situated on the west side of the North West Cape. These deep canyons form culverts in satellite maps and with 50km of pristine beaches, taking a roadtrip down would make you want to stop & dip at every bay.

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Exmouth Escape Resort.

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Thomas Carter Lookout

The 50,581 hectares park is just 40km from Exmouth. We drove here upon spending 3 days at Coral Bay & another 4 days at Exmouth Escape Resort. I saw some big red kangaroos here & stalked an emu for a picture!

According to what’s on record, ’in ancient times the range was isolated as an island as rising sea levels inundated lower lying areas. As a result of this geographic isolation there are some species of plants and animals that are endemic to the area, including the red centred variety of the Sturt Desert Pea. Surveys have recorded over 630 species of flowering plants on the peninsula of Cape Range National Park. This is a surprisingly high number for an arid limestone area. Over 700 caves are catalogued in the area and it is likely that many remain undiscovered. There are numerous gorges and sanctuary areas that provide a haven for wildlife and contain often rare and unusual flora. A beautiful array of wildflowers can be seen in late winter including Sturt Desert Peas and the beautiful Bird Flower.’

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I went on the Top of The Range tour of the Cape Range National Park to see the beautiful natural surroundings. Dave of Ningaloo Safari Tours, gave a brilliant commentary on the history & origins of this place, as he drove the 4WD over the ridges that overlooks the canyon below. The rock formations & caves in the area were a sight to behold. If I wasn’t taking photos of the rocks or the scene, I was looking out for unusual plants & fossils on the ground. Our first meander was through Charles Knife Gorge. We stopped for morning tea & fresh fruit cake on top of the ridge before continuing the journey to Milyering Visitor’s Centre. You can find interpretive displays, audio-visual facilities and a library containing a wealth of information on the National and Marine Parks to help visitors appreciate the natural environment.

Here, I bought some souvenirs & Torri Bottroff, the lady at the souvenir shop counter, suggested that I go for the patches & some stickers to commemorate my trip upon telling her where I was from. And I did just that! Thank you, Torri! It was a delight to have met you!

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We headed to Osprey Bay for a swim in the crystal clear warm sea & it was simply refreshing after the ride. Dave & his family who joined us in a separate car, prepared a delicious lunch of fresh prawns & sandwich for us after the swim & we continued to Yardie Creek to see the Black Footed Rock Wallabies! The walk to the creek before boarding the boat yielded some great fossil finds! According to Exmouth Visitor’s Centre, ‘Centuries of erosion have formed a spectacular multi-coloured gorge. Hidden within the safety of the gorge walls is a colony of black-footed rock wallabies. Yardie is the only gorge in the area with permanent water however this is salt water fed from the ocean. This interesting ecosystem has mangrove areas that provide roosting sites for many bird species while the sheltered waters are a sanctuary for many marine animals. The beginnings of the gorge are deep in the limestone range. These timid creatures seek shelter on ledges along the gorge walls resting during daylight hours, coming out to feed in the cool of the night. There is a relatively easy walking trail along the top of the northern wall of the gorge or you can join a boat cruise through its cool depths.’ Definitely not to be missed.

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Yardie Creek.

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By evening, we headed towards Turquoise Bay & Ningaloo Marine Park, our last stop was Vlamingh Head Lighthouse. The moon had risen in the horizon & after the long ride, it was good to unwind with a glass of wine over dinner at Novotel Ningaloo Resort Exmouth to end our evening. To get to Exmouth, get your flights to Australia & land in Perth. Then fly to Exmouth in the North West.
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Shark & Yolanda Reef in Egypt

One of the most exhilarating dives I’ve had was in the Red Sea when I was in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. Visibility exceeded 30m & water temperature was around 20 – 21 degrees Celsius, prompting me to wear a 5mm farmer jane wetsuit for protection. The initial shock as I entered the cold waters set all my senses into alert. My heartbeat fluttered for awhile but as soon as I saw how clear the water was, that apprehension turned to excitement. Wolfgang was my buddy & we went down to Shark & Yolanda Reef at Ras Mohamed National Park, which sat at approximately 15m – 30m of water. The wreck sits at 145m – 200m further below after the drop off & what’s left on the shallower bed is the cargo of bathtubs & water closets strewn all over.

The corals in the surrounding reef was amazing. Sunlight penetrated to more than 20m depth & with the help of strobes, I brought out the colours of the soft corals as we inched along towards the sunken cargo.

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There wasn’t a shark in sight. I was hoping to encounter at least a reef shark & was geared to film my first oceanic shark but they just didn’t appear when I was there. I could even get close to a Sea Perch without it flinching while I pressed the shutter button.

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Sea Perch.

The sight of bathtubs stacked together was quite nostalgic as my mind wandered to how I’d been raised taking herbal baths for all my ailments but to me, it was a time to frolic! Toilets & pipes were all over the place too, albeit encrusted with corals.

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It was interesting to see what we sit on with our bottoms at the bottom of the ocean & this WC having great growth prospects gave me a new sense of respect for them!

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An inverted WC!

This part of the cargo below has turned into a reef. Can you see the pipes & bathtub?

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Visibility was near perfect!

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Flying to Egypt was quite an experience. I flew UAE & had a stopover in Dubai. I will be planning another trip really soon as I’ve yet to see the SS Thistlegorm, sunk during World War Two. If you are planning a trip to the Red Sea, you can check out holidays to Egypt & request to dive with Diving & Discovery, awarded as the best dive centre in Sharm El-Sheikh!

The Selangor Heritage Trail on Wheels™ Event on Boxing Day

This post appeared first on Detours US blog under the Ambassador Program of which I had become a part of. Detours is the maker of bike bags in the USA. You can see it here.

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Selangor Heritage Trail on Wheels was a cycling event that took approximately 100 cyclists to get to know the historical sites & places with heritage value at Kuala Kubu Bharu (KKB), Selangor, Malaysia. We went to recce the places & earmarked them to let participants experience the splendour of that destination on bicycles! An initiative effort by the state government of Selangor under the Tourism & Environment portfolio of YB Elizabeth Wong, the Head of Tourism Executive Committee, we collaborated with the Hulu Selangor Town Council (Majlis Daerah Hulu Selangor or MDHS) to bring cyclists & cycling enthusiasts together to participate in a non-competitive, non-race event to seek out the heritage trail with a map on a route led by authorities.

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Traffic Police Station.
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How it looked like in the old days. It was once a church!

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Group photo with Well Tan (in white top to the left of person in black shirt) & her darling riders.

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So many foldies!!!

Recognising the need to reduce our carbon footprint, we designated two segments of the program for that day, one being the main trail in town, the other being the adventure trail to see the historical broken dam of Ampang Pecah, the Masjid (mosque), the Chinese & Indian temples located just outside of KKB town. The dam that collapsed in 1884, was responsible for flooding the old town of Kuala Kubu, causing the death in untold numbers, one of the reasons why they moved the old town that’s now submerged, to the new site called Kuala Kubu Bharu. There are a few churches in town & a lot of interesting eateries that have been around for ages. There’s a little quaint restaurant that used to serve chilled herbal tea in brandy bottles & ordering them is equally fun!

The cook in the kitchen of Teo Kee Restaurant at Big Tree in front of the post office in KKB.

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The heritage spots.

The route promised to be exciting with a famous Butter Sponge Cake shop as one of the stops & a police station that was formerly a church. Riders went to all the spots encompassing a 25km loop with a stop at a broken dam & a hot spring. At the end of the event, I was asked to do a similar event in a different district & it looks like the heritage trail will soon go places!

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Ampang Pecah, the broken dam.

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King George Monument

The town has a cycling lane, an effort to get citizens back to riding bicycles but the route of the heritage trail covered everywhere else.

I managed to get Folding Bike Trading to be the official supporting bicycle shop to standby with technical support for the cyclists & Lafuma as the sponsor of discount vouchers for the goodie bags. Even breakfast & lunch were catered for together with a lorry load of fruits (durians, dukus & rambutans) for the cyclists to feast on!

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Cyclists in full coloured fashion!

We asked the ladies to come dressed in their most fashionable attire as riding is not just about racing but about looking good on your bike! We wanted them to come accessorised with gadgets & bags too! Then we asked the men to come in anything but racing outfit. The photo opportunity depicted them in cool attire rather than in competition vests. They redefined Sightseeing on Wheels! The launch was officiated by the President of the town council, two Members of Parliament & head of police in the district & we had a bike acrobat to perform some really cool stunts that put people half his age to shame. 70+years Ramanathan did some calisthenics & balancing act on his bike to the stunned audience before the ride.

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Flag off!

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Bike acrobat & riding around the block.

As the country was developed without the cyclist in mind, we are helping the state gazette cycling lanes to make the roads safer to ride in & create any event that will bring cyclists together in numbers. Working with local councils who are all for the idea is a great experience & nothing beats the thrill of riding in the countryside discovering new places & finding food along the way. Follow my journey as we convince others to get on the bike again!

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Yours truly having a picture taken with YB Elizabeth Wong!

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Hot spring – a soak after a cool dip at the dam….

Birds of Different Feathers Flocking Together at Kensville Golf Resort, India

The air was crisp & the streets were scattered with birds of different feathers. Big fat Rosy Starlings ruled the perimeters of the airport, Ringed Necked Parakeets squeaking as they landed on trees, some rogue Red Wattled Lapwings seen foraging on the ground occupying the keen photographers in the bus as the driver circled between the international & domestic airport to pick up the delegates of the 2nd Global Bird Watchers Conference 2012 in Gujarat, India. What a way to set the pace for birding enthusiasts when we arrived! Completing a 16 hour journey from Kuala Lumpur to Mumbai with a 7hr transit before landing in Ahmedabad.

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The most exciting part of this segment of the trip itinerary was not knowing where exactly the resort is tucked away. We couldnt have chosen a better place when we arrived at Kensville Golf Resort & saw a couple of Black Ibis grazing on the green. If this was an indication of life on the fairway, I wanted to be on the 18th hole scoring this birdie! As soon as I had registered & gotten my key card to the room, I dumped my bags & went for lunch. It was a good way to get acquainted with the others.

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Very soon, I was on the fairway with the Phillippinoes going after the Indian Roller! The water bodies situated beside the green was a welcome sight though the afternoon sun was harsh on the censor, casting shadows from the top. We inched forward to witness Green BeeEaters hunting for insects in the air as they land on the turf. There was a Pansy patch that created a colourful dotted background to this beauty. Wagtails were everywhere. I couldnt get further than the second hole on the golf course as I had already seen more than 10 species! Capturing them was a different story altogether.

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Birders must master the art of stalking & still-mimes when it comes to inching forward to where the bird is perched. The Indian Roller was rather cooperative as it fluffed & preened itself on my approach. I had to get closer for a better shot. It was perched about 4 – 5metres above on a branch of a tree, in full light. The irridiscent blue on green feathers made it such a catch on my sensor! Alain Pascua was stalking about 10 metres away from me, Rey Sta Ana was by the lotus pond & Mark Jason Villa was between the trees. Going after different species made it all the more exciting as we gestured with our eyes & gesticulated instead of using words to point to where the birds were. Body language was THE preferred mode of communication when everyone understood the universal code of birding ethics.?

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A Raptor glided by, hunting for prey as the Red Wattled Lapwing made its tu-tu-tu-tu-tu-tu-tu calls as it flew across. I wasnt sure which bird I should aim for when they came at once. My heart was pounding with excitement, waiting for the right time to capture the behaviour of mating pairs. How do I begin to describe the breathlessness that comes from the feeling of awe each time a bird does something??? Birders traverse the world to get to see these magnificent winged creatures when the action is right here on the golf course of Kensville Golf Resort. This was not the start of the official excursion yet  Im all worked up from the sheer exhilaration of Pink Panther-activity in 13 degree weather.

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My Phillippino comrades on the field were great companions as our silent concerted efforts of preying upon the birds proved that we happen to be the birds of different feathers who can flock together.

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Will post links to more pictures in my album as soon as I can.

Next post, at the wetlands of Nal Sarovar Bird Sanctuary…..

Note:- The influx of delegates checking into Kenville all at once with some demanding to get service right away just proves that class belonged to the professional English-speaking Indian receptionist instead, who was beseiged with the ire of some jetlagged delegates who had no courtesy whatsoever. What irked me was that some didnt even know about the prohibition of alcohol in the state, had the gall to throw a tantrum ridiculing a system & belittling the reason behind the ban & that tourists are required to apply for permit to consume/buy alcohol in private properties. This clearly shows their ignorance of the countrys (India) culture & customs when they are too arrogant to read up about the hosting state which is the place of origin of their beloved Mahatma Gandhi. A few began whining about the level of competence while complaining about everything offered to them instead of waiting for their turn. It would be a wonder if they get invited to the state again. One travel writer took it a step further to sabotage the event by writing to the Times of India as well as other presses to allege that he was mistreated & that he had rude hospitality. Well, I received no such mistreatment, neither had anyone been rude to me possibly because I wasnt making unreasonable demands nor did I accuse the host of putting me up in shared accommodation when the website had clearly stated that we would be sharing with another. These delegates who happen to be from first world countries, behaved worst off than third world countries with their inexcusable manners & lack of appreciation for the reason they were sent to Gujarat for. Let the expenses that the government paid to fly them over to Gujarat be a lesson to never have them back again. With the many tourism boards I have worked with, I have never threatened to go to the media with any service thats below par. It usually comes in the form of a post-trip report thats separate from the actual articles that I write about the destinations. This puts the place in a better light & gives a chance for the host to rectify any wrongs that had occured in the process. Thankfully, theres nothing to report about except the exceptional time I had experienced with the people & the birds!???