What was your funniest moment?
At the end of the week, the FUZE volunteers and interns plus a group of elder Batek women (local indigenous group) went camping in the forest together. It was an unbelievable experience. On the way out to our campsite, myself and another volunteer named Rachel were sitting in the back of the pick-up truck with the Batek. We were chatting and leisurely taking in the gorgeous scenery as we off-roaded. We started to get closer to a hanging tree branch so we ducked as we went under the fruit tree, which was covered with ants. We didn’t realize until we were in the thick of it and then the ants started biting us and we were all screaming and in the fiasco, I dumped my coffee all over Rachel who was screaming “Ants, ants, ants” and then “Ants and coffee! Ants and coffee!” The bites stung a little, but we were all in hysterics. Rachel had left her GoPro on during the drive, and the footage of the ant and coffee bit is hilarious.
Pick one word to describe your experience.
What was the strangest thing you ate?
Durian! It’s the weirdest fruit with an odd smell. Malays LOVE it, with all due respect I think it may be an acquired taste.
What was the most surprising thing you saw or did?
One of the days we did a cave tour trek where we climbed inside and hiked through several caves. One of the caves was nicknamed the Star Cave, and when we got to the darkest and most open part of the cave, the entire ground sparkled like diamonds. It was so gorgeous, and of course looked like thousands of twinkling stars. I had never seen anything like that before (besides bioluminescence in the ocean) it was as stunning as it was surprising.
What was the scariest moment?
The cave trek we went on was a bit more advanced (there are many different options you can choose from). While I wouldn’t say it was particularly scary, there were several times on that trek that gave a rush of adrenaline! We walked in water up to our waists with bats, turtles, frogs, spiders, and snakes, crawled through tiny passages on our bellies, and even traversed between two tight walls with a 10-foot drop below. Felt very adventurous, and a little scary but in a good way!
What were the locals you met like?
The Malays we met were so kind and outgoing. Everyone was really friendly and happy to engage in a conversation to learn more about Fuze and what we were doing in the neighborhood. Generally (outside of Fuze) I found Malaysia to be a friendly, warm and safe place to travel. The locals definitely attributed to the impression the country left on me.
What was the funniest/strangest/most insightful thing a local said?
Sometimes it’s easy to forget how big of an impact American music and media has on the rest of the world. I cracked up when a Malay friend I made at Fuze knew all the words (and dance moves!) to the latest Drake song. We sang (and danced) to it all week, it made us laugh and put a smile on both our faces! (Kiki do you looovee me?)
What was it like getting there?
It’s very far from California! I definitely recommend arriving a day or two early to stay in Kaula Lumpur and get acclimatized to the time difference and weather before heading to the jungle. The bus from KL to the project site was super nice and very well organized. Really easy to use public transport in Malaysia, much easier than public transport in the States in my opinion. The Fuze staff meets you at the bus stop when you arrive to take you to the volunteer house.
Where did you stay?
Fuze has a volunteer house in the town of Merapoh. It’s the home base for the volunteers, interns and Fuze staff. The volunteer room had AC (score!) and the place had the vibe of a laid-back hostel. The roof was my favorite, great place to do some yoga in the mornings and evenings. We even had a bonfire one night.
On my program there was one other volunteer from the UK, and we met several of the Fuze interns from Malaysia, the U.K., and Australia. It was great to get to know the interns because they are stationed there for a few months and have a ton of conservation knowledge. Was inspiring to be around folks so passionate about the forests we went to visit each day.
What was your favorite part?
Camping was my favorite! It was a great way to end the week, and we had a really fun time as a group. It was incredible to see how the Batek make their local tents out of the forest and to learn how to cook traditionally -- inside of fresh bamboo that we cut down.
What was the hardest part?
This is going to sound silly. But I was kind of a baby at the beginning with all of the bugs (mozzies + leeches!) It had been a while since I’d been in a jungle like that, and I forgot what it was like to be surrounded by bugs, and well nature. It was hard for me to be comfortable with flicking leeches off my legs at first (I screamed every time), but quickly I realized that it wasn’t that bad. Just took some getting used to! For the record, leeches are totally harmless and are in fact good for your circulation. That said, Fuze provides you with leech socks and I didn't have one attach to me the whole week, in case you’re worried like I was, don’t be.