Still no word from the farmer, he hadn't answered his phone and had no idea we were coming. Off we set on the road to Lenggong expecting a quiet, coconut-tree lined, 2 lane road. It turned out to be a motorway. Surprisingly it was a great ride, fuelled by our anticipation of things to come.
A quick stop at the archaeological museum to say 'hi' to Perak man, the most complete prehistoric skeleton found in South-East Asia, 10,000-11,000 years old!
We arrived to Lenggong but the road to the farm was nowhere to be seen. It's in the hills but where!?
In typical Asian style the locals saved face by directing us to somewhere which they didn't quite know themselves. They'd rather guess than tell you they don't know. You start asking questions and soon realise you shouldn't have asked. ''Where is the farm?'', then someone will point to an electricity pylon on top of a hill. ''So the farm is next to the pylon?'', ''yes'' (ok did he understand my question?). ''Where is the road leading there?'', ''yes'' (still pointing at the electricity pylon) . ''but where does the road start?'', then they point straight down the motorway, from the way you've just come. You leave thinking ''damn, that was a waste'', then 80% of the time the guy rocks up on a scooter and starts directing you again,. They'd be smiling the whole time. They have a heart of gold but you just end up confused.
I also noticed that Asian's always measure distance in 'time' rather than length e.g. ''how far is it?'' will always be answered with ''Eeerr, around 30minutes''. Do they mean walking? Scooter? me on the back of the scooter? Me driving with him on the back? His monkey driving pulling my bike on the back? This is all feasible in Asia! Road signs rarely give distance so you end up measuring off your map which is sometimes hard when the maps are rubbish and the scale of things is completely out the window!
We ditched the scooter guy and called the farmer on the nearest pay-phone. Still no answer! We called his wife. She said it was too hard to explain where it was but to ask ANY local because ''everybody knows him''. Right, yeah! Forget it, I needed an iced-coffee!
We found a little 'dabba' (home-made outdoor cafe: They call them this in India, it's stuck with me) on the main street of Lenggong. Radka grabbed the coffee's and I went to the first guy I saw. ''Excuse me, do you speak English?'', ''yes'', ''oh great, thanks :) Do you know where Lenggong farm is please?'' 'Yes I know where it is, it's up there'', guess where he pointed. ''so how do I get to the pylon?'' I asked. ''It's hard to explain, but I know the farmer, sit down, i'll call him'', ''Great!! how do you know him?'' Guess who he was......''I'm the village vet, he brings his chickens to me!''..... Jackpot!!! Again, no answer so we sat with the vet and waited. He had the calm, relaxed, no worries kind of attitude of all other Asians. A few sips later and the vet starts saying ''it's your friend! He's here'. Your friend!'. We turned round and the most rusty, beaten up old car came chugging down the road. The farmer (Ladya) and his Malay girlfriend, Amy, jumped out. His ex-wife had call him and told he we were in the village, he'd wazzed down the hill to come get us :)
He had huge dread locks and was bopping around the place in a franticly occupied manner, which matched his speech perfectly! We drank our coffee whilst he explained the rules of the farm. He told us it was free to stay but we just donate a very small amount (£2.50 per person per day) for food, in exchange we must work on the farm. Perfect, that's what we were here for!
He stuffed the bikes in the boot, half hanging out, and attached a rope around which then came into the back windows for Radka and I to hold. The drive up to the farm was 'exciting' to say the least. He was power sliding around the corners and bashing full speed over the rocks, it explained why his car was so beaten up! At one point he slid round the corner and missed a guy on a moped by centimetres!
The farm has the same ambience as Ladya and nothing seems quite finished. Half complete projects are the nature here. We later found out that this was his way ''everything's an experiment!'' we were told. ''Start your own''.
There were already three volunteers, Peggy, Natalie and Leong. Ladya told us there was no boss and that we're all farmers together, on the same level. Maintaining the farm is the responsibility of everyone, be it, cooking, washing dishes, cleaning the chicken pen, feeding the goats, planting seeds. A quick initiation of shouting ''I'm a farmer!!'' at the top of your voice then downing a shot of home-made Slivovice showed that Ladya hadn't forgotten his Czech heritage :)
Ladya is completely bonkers! He's also a really nice guy and takes care of his farmers really well. The food was exceptional and he taught us a lot about eating well. We even had a fermentation weekend where we brewed our own wine, beer and Sauerkraut... we pretty much fermented anything we could get our hands on!
We soon realised it's not your typical farm but actually an experiment of living. Can we sustain living in the harsh jungle?
The farm is beautiful, in a strange kind of run-down way. Perched on the mountain side where was once a tea plantation, the farm makes use of the dilapidated buildings for its livestock and a seedling nursery. A river runs past the farm house from which the tap water comes (from high up) and in which we bathe (from lower down). The electricity comes from a small portable generator. Their livestock consisting of goats, geese, ducks, chicks, chickens, turkeys and a rooster but are kept not for their meat but for sustaining soil fertility. You wake at 6am to the 'call of the Gibbon' screaming out across the jungle, and spend the day watching many birds fly above you and finding, spiders and scorpions (I even caught one!) around the farm. The beautiful Gecko's come out later to gobble up the mosquitos. Sometimes wild elephants tramp past around 4am but we never saw any evidence of their presence. However, we did observed an eagle and several really pretty tucans! Oh, I nearly forgot about their two dogs, litter of puppies and several cats.
I took the following excerpt from their website http://permacultureperak.com:
- “In the mornings the view from the farm house is breathtaking. The clouds often settle in the valley below, leaving the farm perched up on the mountain, separated from civilization by a blanket of white. Across the valley, the cloud cover leaves only some mountain peaks exposed, which highlights the farm’s solitude. The farm’s apparent isolation has the effect of slowing down time, even to a stand-still, as though the entire world has been paused, or has even ceased to exist.
- But in fact the farm is not as isolated as it seems. Only six kilometers away is the small village of Lenggong, which is located in Perak, Malaysia. Lenggong consists of a bustling main street, a handful of convenient stores, and three banks.
- We occupy approximately 40 acres of the land which was previously occupied by an old tea plantation that has ceased operations in the 1980s”.
You must arrive without any expectations. It's not a work force, it's a family. You help each other to survive, find your own tasks and work thinking to the future... simply 'join in'. Radka found her feet quite easily with Peggy and Natalie, and began renovating the nursery which had become inundated by the surrounding jungle. I joined Leong out in the jungle on his mission of finding the old tea trees. We spent our days with a machete in one hand and axe in the other, chopping back the jungle until reaching the old tea trees. Pockets full of salt for the leeches! Unfortunately there's not much protection from the fire ants of which I was killing left-right and centre! My principles have changed since India where Radka once apologised to a Buddhist after squashing a mosquito!!
Ants are a problem all over Asia. You must watch carefully where you sit, in parks especially, I talk from personal experience of sitting in an ants nest! I once put an empty wafer wrapper in a plastic bag on my bed post and a few hours later there was a huge long line of ants munching away. Not to mention the time I put a Strepsil packet on my bed and woke to find it covered in ants!
You stand back, look at the farm and think.... nothings growing here! From the surface this appears so, but you look beneath the initial jungle coverage and there are many different fruits and vegetables. We harvested mangos and jack fruit, there are also limes, papaya, aubergines, pumpkins, pineapples, chilli's, tomatoes and a few other fruits dotted around.
Ladya took a 3 day visa trip to Kuala Lumpur so us 5 volunteers inherited our own farm! I think we managed well! Although Radka and I fell sick, my temperatuer reached 38.5!
We loved the farm. What a great experience to open our eyes to the simplicity of embracing nature that we often neglect. I want my own experiments when I return.
Our projects were finished after 10 days so we decided to press on for Thailand. I'd convinced Radka to visit the farm with a deal of taking the bus afterwards to Penang, an island on Malaysia's West coast.
We arrived in GeorgeTown, Penang, a UNESCO world heritage site combining cultures of Eastern Asia with the Western British influence. It's often regarded the food capital of Malaysia, it was pretty special! Penang's well worth a visit. There are many galleries and historical sites allowing you to dive back in time and explore GeorgeTown's diverse past influenced by the British, Chinese, Malay and Japanese.
From Penang we took a 3.5hr ferry to Langkawi on which we hung over the side borking the entire time! Sea sickness isn't funny! I was green! Langkawi is known for it's beaches but in my eyes it's overrated. However we did manage to find the first beach of our trip so it was kinda nice :)
From Langkawi we took another short (thank god) 1 hour ferry to Satun where we landed on Thai soil. A ship boy was getting the bikes off the top of the ferry and asked me to pass him the key, over the water. I very carefully passed him the key and he opened the lock and passed it to me, key still in it! I saw and thought 'nooooooooo', next thing the key slipped out of the lock, bounced like a pinball on the edge of the ferry and plopped into the water!! The lad just smiled at us...Radka and I just looked at each other! Luckily we had a spare...
So we were in Thailand.... the land of smiles!
Our first destination was Tonsai... notoriously the best rock climbing in the world! Bring it on!