A Travellerspoint blog

Welcome to the Jungle

Lenggong, Perak, Malaysia

semi-overcast 30 °C

'Permaculture Perak' is a farm on the mountainside above Lenggong in Northern Malaysia. The farm house and its gardens sit 500m above sea level in the amongst a thick, primary rainforest, millions of years old. This type of rainforest is known as a cloud forest. Because of the altitude, we spend a lot of time either in the midst of a cloud, or in the gap between the clouds that fill the valley below and the clouds in the sky above. As you can imagine, the environment is always damp. Droplets of moisture often form on plants, providing them with water without need for rain.

The farm provides a little bit of everything, there is papaya, pineapple, cucumber, banana, passion fruit, pumpkin, tea, lime, hibiscus, sorghum, a thousand different herbs, curry leaves, many plants used for aromatherapy and so many others that I am yet to stumble upon. There is Sorghum, a grain that's used for making bread, Goats to provide milk and cheese, Chickens for eggs, ducks, turkeys, a rabbit, a turtle, cats and of course a couple of dogs.

The crops don't look like they do in a traditional farm. Things are much more natural here, like a continuation of the rainforest. Beyond the food producing plants is where it gets really wild though. Dense rainforest, a thousand trees and vines competing for space, growing taller and taller, feeding off each other, climbing over one another until it becomes what looks like an impenetrable wall of green. Grass apparently grows here at a rate of 4 meters per month and the house nestled amongst the greenery looks like it could be swallowed whole if left unattended for a couple of weeks.

Ladia, the owner of the property, has given me the Things to watch out for speech;
"Wild pigs"
"Wild Elephants"
"Are… are you serious?"

He was serious. I've seen the aftermath from last weeks 4am Elephant visit. Banana trees lying flat on the ground and footprints twice the size of my head. I saw some monkeys on the way here, had 3 leeches on my first day and heard the grunting of wild pigs outside my window last night.

Despite the pigs, the sound at night is just a pleasure to sleep to. It's like a personal live performance of one of those 'Sounds of the Jungle' CD's. An intense mix of full volume bird calls, cricket's, monkey's, croaking frog's and gushing water from the steep rocky river running just 15 meters from the house.

This is the jungle. It's alive, it's wild and I love it.


Posted by dzito15 21:10 Archived in Malaysia Comments (2)

Food in the desert

Rum Village, Wadi Rum, Jordan

semi-overcast 13 °C

During a longer-than-expected hike through the desert in Jordan (not lost, just not quite sure where I was), I began to wonder about life in such an arid place and about possible food sources. There are people living out here - the Bedouin - desert people who live in goat-hair tents and have adapted to the climate that rules their life.

Traditionally, Bedouin people lived in nomadic tribes meaning that agriculture could not have been in practice. Instead, the Bedouin were herders, relying on their goats for meat and dairy produce. In addition to this, they cooked with ingredients that they traded with people from settled communities, such as rice, flour or sugar. The nomads were also known to hunt small animals like desert hare, lizards and locusts.

With no goats or locusts in sight, my mind turned to the sparse vegetation of the desert. Amid the rocky crags that pepper the otherwise endless expanse of wind and sand, I eventually stumbled upon a pleasant surprise. A small, wild watermelon was sitting on the sand, a bright green, lively contrast to the dry red dust that formed its unlikely habitat.

After this revelation I began to find other sources of life and possible sustenance. Small succulents, with thick, water storing leaves indicate that despite what it looks like on the surface, all the required elements for life can be found here. Tea is an important part in the Bedouin custom of welcoming guests and it is usually flavoured with herbs that can be found in the desert, such as sage or mint.

While I didn't manage to find either of those herbs, I did eventually come across a Bedouin goat-hair tent, complete with overpriced tea and tourist knick-knacks. I guess there's no stopping evolution.


Posted by dzito15 08:20 Archived in Jordan Comments (0)


Dahab, Sinai, Egypt

sunny 20 °C

It was only a short flight. Leave Athens at 1.30, land in Cairo at 3.30. After 24 hour train rides and 36 hour bus trips, this was nothing. Through travel, I have learnt many profound lessons - one of them being how to sit still in an upright position for days on end. So, it was a short flight and I decided it wasn't worth getting a book out of my bag. The iPod battery was flat and I had taken to flicking through the documents stashed in the pocket on the seat in front of me. Passenger Safety Card? Boring. Duty Free Catalogue? Can't afford it. My only other option was the Egyptair monthly magazine. I read an article about the Cairo museum and one about Horus, the Egyptian sun god before I found a page about Koshary, a traditional Egyptian dish. Immediately sensing that this may become useful information, I pulled out my notebook and jotted down the recipe. "Please fasten your seat-belts and return your seats to the upright position as we begin our descent into Cairo". The announcement came just as I wrote the final lines.

After some trouble at my intended hotel and a confused ramble around an unknown city (long story), I found myself in a warm and welcoming hostel and ready to hit the streets again in search of dinner.
"Ah, here comes Ahmed, the owner of the hostel" said the man at reception just as I was asking about a cheap place to eat.
A short man approached me, followed closely behind by three taller men - close friends or his bodyguards, I wasn't quite sure. Ahmed had a shaved head, a thick, long beard and generous looking face.
"Please" he smiled, "I would like to invite you to dine with us".

I gratefully accepted his offer and was provided with my first experience of Koshary. Once we were seated along opposite sides of the rectangular table, a young boy distributed our meals in small round dishes, similar to Chinese rice bowls. I initially mistook it for pasta with an Italian tomato sauce but was corrected by the English speaking man to my right. After acknowledging Allah for providing the food, we ate, drank tea and exchanged small talk.

Koshary, I believe, like the traditional dishes of most countries, became so ingrained in culture because it is prepared with the cheapest of ingredients. It is accessible to all and eaten by the majority of the population, the working class. It is a layered dish which starts out with lentils in the bottom of the bowl, covered in rice, covered in macaroni. Combined with chickpeas, a thin, spicy sauce and crispy flakes of onion you have your dinner.

Two days later and several hundred kilometers away, I had my next encounter. It was in Dahab, a tourist center for cheap scuba diving and seaside bars. I was scanning the menu outside a restaurant when I spotted a man pushing a white cart my way. Several metal bowls bounced around the top of the cart, their lids tightly fastened to conceal their contents. I am always partial to street food and the more mysterious the better.
The price was good so I nodded to the man, "One please".
He lifted the lids, one, two, three and sure enough it was Koshary. A ladle materialised in one hand while he passed a bowl over the cart with the other. In go the lentils, in goes the rice and in goes the macaroni. The ladle disappears and is replaced with a bottle of homemade sauce. Other condiments are added and before I can blink, I have a steaming bowl of Koshary in my hands. Although my first taste was at a table meant for entertaining, I sense that this is how Koshary is meant to be eaten. And being a working mans food, Koshary is well suited to the budget traveller - it's cheap and it's filling.

Fast-forward a couple more days and I find myself camping with my new tour group. I am on cooking duty for the night and we have stopped in town for supplies. Now this is a new experience for me. I often cook for myself and enjoy experimenting with new dishes. Sometimes I'll cook for another person and on one or two occasions I have tested my skills on a group of 4. Tonight it's dinner for 17 and my budget is $40. There's only one thing to do. I open my notebook and scan the pages for the Egyptian recipe.

And the result? A happy ending with everyone pleased and well fed. I only spent half the budget and managed to buy locally meaning less food miles and more support for the local economy. Koshary - a tick in every box.

3 Large sliced onions
1 quart water
Oil for frying
2 cups rice
2 tsps salt
1 1/2 cups brown lentils
1/4 kg macaroni
1 small can chickpeas

- Sauté onions until crispy brown. Drain on paper towel and set aside.
- Put 3 cups of water in a pot with a few drops of oil. Bring to the boil. Add rice and 1 tsp salt. After water returns to boil, lower heat, simmer till rice is cooked.
- Wash lentils and boil until tender. drain.
- Boil macaroni and drain.
- Boil chickpeas and add to the cooked macaroni.

Tomato Sauce Ingredients:
- 6 cloves minced garlic
- 2 Tbsp white vinegar
- 1 can tomato paste (450g)
- 2 Tsp Cumin
- 2 Tbsp oil

- Heat oil in a pot, sauté garlic until it pales
- Add vinegar, tomato paste and cumin.
- Cook until it boils. Lower the heat and simmer until it thickens slightly.

To Serve:
- Layer rice, lentils and macaroni.
- Spread the tomato sauce on top and garnish with the fried onions.
- You can add “shatta” sauce (chilli pepper, water, vinegar, shake well) if you like it spicy.
- Or, you can sprinkle Da’a sauce (mashed garlic, salt, cumin, chili peppers. Add lemon juice, vinegar and water. Mix without heating).

Posted by dzito15 10:44 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Worm Attack

Istiaia, Evia, Greece

sunny 23 °C

So it's taken a month but now I believe what I was told when I first landed in the country. The Greek diet is mainly vegetarian. This comes as a surprise as up until now, I thought that Greek cuisine began and ended with souvlaki, served from a van or 'fish and chip' shop.

Spinach makes a daily appearance (Spanakopita, Spanakrizo) and cabbage is common in salads and side dishes. So you can imagine the seriousness of the issue when we went out to the garden yesterday and found two of these plants lying flat on the ground, sliced off at the stem. This morning, another two cabbage plants fell victim to the attack.

A visit to the agriculturist revealed the damage to be caused by particular type of worm and sulphur was recommended for prevention. Sulphur is a naturally occurring element and is one of the few substances approved for spraying in organic farming. Instead of spraying the plants directly, I spread the powder in a ring around each individual plant, creating a protective border. Fingers crossed!

Posted by dzito15 14:28 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

Perfect Pomegranate Pruning

Istiaia, Evia, Greece

sunny 23 °C

In a place like Evia, one of Greece's many islands, it doesn't really matter what work you are doing. As long as you are outside, with the sun on your back, looking out over fields of fig and olive trees, the clear Aegean sea beyond them and the distant mountains even beyond that; you can't help but smile at life. Our latest work however, has got me feeling a bit like a bonsai artist - shaping trees, controlling their future shape and growth patterns.

There are many reasons for pruning fruit trees. Some of the benefits include;

- Removal of dead, diseased and damaged material.
- Allowing light to penetrate through thick leaf growth to ripen fruit (while leaving enough leaves for photosynthesis to occur).
- Opening up the branch framework to allow air circulation and prevent fungal infection.
-Pruning out colonies of pests.
-Shaping of trees.
-Control of vigour.

(Source: Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening)

We were pruning out in the field of young pomegranate. These trees were 3 years old and all only between 1 and 2 metres high. Our main aim was to create a desirable shape for the future tree, making it easier to harvest fruit. This meant removing any downward growing branches or branches that interfered with each other. Our other purpose was to thin the growth. A tree can only produce enough energy to grow and ripen a certain number of fruits - basically we were giving the tree a 'haircut'. We removed unnecessary branches and any growth from the crown of the tree, allowing sunlight to filter down to lower leaves.

We also took this chance to cut away any new shoots growing up so that the original tree wouldn't have to share any nutrients from its root system.

There is something to be said for the satisfaction of standing back and admiring your work. Well, the work of mother nature really, we're just making a few small requests.

Posted by dzito15 09:16 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

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