#110 - Penang, Malaysia - Tuesday, 15 January 2019

This morning we are off to Langkawi. Our group of fourteen, which will later be joined on Langkawi Island by two more, will board a 78-seater prop plane (ATR 72-500) for a thirty minute puddle jump north to the Thailand/Malaysia border. I type this from my final pre-dawn breakfast feast at the Hotel Equatorial Penang.

Yesteday our entire herd visited Penang Botanical Garden and then Penang Hill. We had the same driver with his large van and his service over two days was excellent. Today at 10 a.m. he’ll pick us up along with a smaller van that will transport our luggage. Our flight leaves Penang at 12:25. One of the advantages of a larger group is splitting costs. We paid 80RM per hour to have a private driver take us where we chose and wait as we explored our destinations. Yesterday’s 6.5 hours was 520 ringgits or $127, which split among 14 becomes a very reasonable 9 bucks for a day’s chauffeur service.

A thirty minute Monday morning traffic ride from Hotel Equatorial ended at the gates for Penang Botanical Garden, a free park that appeared popular with both locals and tourists. It was our first encounter with monkeys of the trip as long-tailed macaques were seen immediately. On Langkawi you see macaques everywhere and they are even along the road from the airport to our resort. The resort itself has both macaques and dusky leaf monkeys or langurs in abundance. Here on Penang they aren’t seen in the heavily populated area we are staying or in the even more urban George Town.

The Penang Botanic Gardens, also known as the "Waterfall Gardens" because of the cascading waterfall nearby, is a public park situated on Jalan Air Terjun in George Town, Penang, Malaysia. Unfortunately, it’s fenced greenhouses are closed on Monday. I mostly wandered the grounds alone looking for macro photography subjects and was able to photograph a land planarian (“hammerhead worm”), dragonfly, etc. See Instagram/Facebook feed. The park was a bit less interesting than I had hoped and about an hour after arrival we paid for the “Jeep” ride up to Penang Hill. There is a funicular that also climbs the mountain, but the extremely steep private road (“Jeep track”) starts right at the botanic garden gate. 160RM per vehicle of 4 gets you a round trip to the highest peaks on the island. The three mile or so road was one of the steeper I’ve ever been up and among the most windy. The drivers don’t really have jeeps, but rather small pickup trucks that most have tricked out with some off-road gear even though the road is paved. They drive up as quickly as possible, whipping around the hairpin turns while blaring their horns to warn oncoming traffic.

As soon as we arrived at the touristy Upper Station we sought cold beers and I ordered a dozen chicken satay to share with Mark and Kim. We were surprised that even though it is a tourist complex the food choices were inexpensive. The stalls were much nicer looking than those at the hawkers centers we had visited the previous two days, but you could still get laksa or Char kway teow for about two bucks. A dozen skewers of satay was $4.

Mark and his brother-in-law Alan and I left our group after our refreshments. Our goal was to look for the two species of tarantula - the terrestrial Coremiocnemis cunicularia and the arboreal Omothymus schioedtei. We walked up a steep perimeter road looking for one of the three trail routes you can take on top the hill. There are “by paths” that are paved trails that lead into the tropical forest. We stopped at a scenic overlook and continued away from the crowd until we found a path. Not long after our walk away from the road began Mark spied the first tarantula burrow on the hill embankment. Rather than having its tunnel entrance covered with silk, he immediately saw the spider visible at the opening. We quickly found other burrows, all also open and with their resident spiders in partial view. Mark moved up the path a short distance and found a larger spider while I tried to extract the first. It ended up deep within the trail side almost vertical embankment and I dug at the very wet clay/dirt. I exposed about two feet of silk lined tunnel, but lost track of the burrow while Mark worked at extracting the other spider and Alan found a few others. We ended up getting the largest spider out for photographs, tickling smaller spiders into view and, later, walked back up the path to try digging the one I had been working on out of its lair to no avail. We were unsuccessful in locating the arboreal tarantula, but saw at least six of the terrestrial species. The path ended up at another road below the Upper Station and we faced a brutally steep walk up the hillside in oppressive heat and humidity. I had expected the temperature to be cooler on Penang Hill but it’s only an elevation of 2500 feet. The Botanic Garden below is 200 feet above sea level and after descending the crazy road and seeing one driver coming up have a tire blowout, our driver took us back through George Town to the hotel. Ten minutes after our return the Pennels and I were in the cool water of the hotel pool and were soon joined by the rest of the party.

i enjoyed a couple of Singapore Slings with Mark and ordered a steak sandwich for an early dinner. Many of our group planned to go into George Town again for dinner, but the rest of us stayed behind and my poolside dinner ended with a vodka and tonic at the pool bar with Mark before I retired to my room to pack and kick back and watch a movie in the air conditioned comfort. Now with breakfast complete I am waiting for the sun to rise a bit before taking a swim.