Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Dumbo up the Hills - #8: The Three Towers

The Air Itam Dam was full of surprises.

My uncle (also my hiking coach) revealed to me on this particular occasion that there exists another TM service road branching off from the circumferential road around the dam. It leads to some communication towers at the nearly-highest point of the hill.

We went up to the dam by car, then embarked on our conquest of yet another TM service road. :-D

The road was very steep. One of the steepest I had climbed so far.

At a point not very far from our destination, my uncle decided to pause there a moment and carry out his elaborate stretching routine (I never quite understood why the stretching does not come before the climb... perhaps because the air is fresher up on a hill and more conducive to his elaborate routine).

Having nothing to do - and not wanting to carry on ahead by myself - while waiting for my uncle to perform his stretching routine, I decided to explore a small cement path that branches off the service road nearby...

The path was very tranquil and beautiful...

The path had been descending with a rather level gradient, until the point shown below in the picture, where it starts ascending by way of some stone steps. Before I took off on this path, my uncle had informed me that it eventually leads to the same spot we had visited on the previous occasion: the One Thousand Two Hundred Steps. So I turned back at this point.

After my uncle's stretching routine, we continued onward and shortly after, arrived at the "top". There were three communication towers situated nearby one another (I think they belong to the three major mobile companies: Celcom, Maxis and DiGi).

I was suddenly not very sure if it was legal for hikers to be using this road. But a TM 4x4 Land Rover happened to pass us by a couple of times, and the TM people inside took no particular notice of either us or the other hikers, so I guess it is kind of "unofficially not illegal" for hikers to use that road. :-D

Anyway, here's a reassurance to any TM big-shots that might be reading this: we leave nothing (not even footprints, because the road is tarred) and we take nothing except a few photos of the scenery (but no photo of the communication towers). Hopefully that makes you feel better. :-)

I particularly like the following picture:

Dumbo up the Hills - #7: The One Thousand Two Hundred Steps

Many hill paths in Penang leads to temples and such... the famous "One Thousand Two Hundred Steps" (千贰层) is also one such path.


The OTTHS comprises stone steps that purportedly justify the name, i.e., there are around one thousand and two hundred of them. But the path we took that day was not exactly the stone-step path, but rather, an alternative route up to the same point (a temple, that is).

The path we took was actually a Telekom Malaysia service road, I think. It branches off the road up the Air Itam Dam, at the point where the new columbarium of the Kek Lok Si Temple is being built at the moment.

It was a moderately difficult climb, considerably steep, with few level stretches to ease my tiredness... :-p

Oh, and, it was during that climb that I wore for the first time the high-ankle hiking shoes that I would be wearing to climb Mt. Kinabalu.

But what about the other pair of shoes I bought for the climb? Well, the story is: my sixth aunt saw that other pair of shoes I was wearing for my practice climbs, and she declared that those are not fit for a serious climb like Mt. K. So she and my third aunt and fourth aunt and my uncle Daddy (also my hiking coach) pitched in to buy for me this pair of rather expensive hiking shoes. A very gracious gift, and a crucial one. Later during my descend down Mt. K, these tough little fellas played a big part (besides God's grace) in sparing me a sprained ankle - on more than one occasion!

The views at a point near our destination...

Finally, we reached our destination point. Looking down, you could see the stone steps that are part of the one thousand and two hundred. The sizes of the steps are not uniform, varying according to the terrain and gradient.

It was still early morning, and the scenery there had this misty dreamy kind of effect...

On our way down, we followed a small stretch of the stone steps...

We stopped following the stone steps at the point shown in the picture below, and got back onto the tarred TM service road. You can see from the picture that the stone steps were very slick from the rain the previous night, making the path very perilous to travel on. That was why we used the TM service road instead. So, here's a warning to all hikers who intend to attempt the "One Thousand Two Hundred Steps": don't take the path if it had been raining.

Dumbo up the Hills - #6: The Balik Pulau Hill

I don't really know what that hill is called. I think I didn't even asked. After all, there was a local - Thomas - to guide me, so I did not really ask a lot of question. Except "will it be a difficult climb?" and "how long will it take?" :-)


The path is actually a cement path wide enough for small trucks, which local durian orchard owners use to carry their durian harvests down the hill during the durian season. On normal days, the orchard owners use motorcycle to access their "turfs", while us hikers take advantage of this path to advance our health. :-)

The view was marvelous all along the way... that is, if your mind is not yet preoccupied with the thought of how tired you are. :-D

I particularly like the following stretch along which some Pinang palms (from which the Penang Island derived its name) were planted.

It took us nearly two hours (if I remember correctly) to reach the "top". It is not exactly the peak of the hill, but for hikers, that serves as a main destination point. It is actually a crossroad of sort, with a pavilion built smack at the middle of it.

During durian seasons, orchard owners and durian middlemen would gather here to sort of "auction" for the fruits. It's a rather happening place at those times. :-)

If you continue onward, you would descend to the Air Itam Dam...

And if you turn left, you would ascend further to a higher point at which a temple was built (I would on a later occasion follow my uncle on a hike up to that point; but that's another story for later). And if you turn right, um... I don't quite remember now where it leads to, but I think it is also another temple or something.

The view from the "top" was wonderful...

Dumbo the Accidental Baker - #4: Various Misses Before the Eventual Success

It was bruised ego rather than perseverance, I think, that made me continue to churn out load after load (or rather, loaf after loaf) of failed breads. :-) I eventually got it right (to an acceptable extent), but here below are some of my "notable" failures before the final success:


#1: Chocolate Bun Wannabes

The chunks of chocolate on top of the buns was the only useful "discovery" here...

They were edible - and we did finish eating them, eventually - but the texture was still rather dense.


#2: What Happened to the Leftover

Remember the leftover from the previous post? This happened to it. :-)

It looked really interesting as it was taken out of the oven.

Then the texture just collapsed after I cut it into slices.

The taste of the sweet potato was not very obvious. But the chunks of lotus seeds were interesting.


#3: The Nutty Seven

Verdict: Again, too dense; and somehow, the almond chunks were not very tasty.


#4: The Seedy Character

I discovered pumpkin seeds at the baking supply store. Wonderful stuff for men, particularly their prostate glands. :-p

Again, this looked good fresh out of the oven.

But - again - it collapsed under the knife. This prompted me to get a real bread knife later.


#5: Quasimodo

It started out looking "normal".

But actually, the lump of dough you see in the picture above was not a spherical piece of dough. It had been rolled into a thick "rope" and then twisted into a "heap".

So, it rose into a weird shape...

I actually ate most part of it. The rest, well, it's another story, for later. :-)


#6: The Not-to-be Banana Buns

Being unhappy - extremely unhappy - with my previous attempt at the "Banana Clouds", I made another attempt at introducing banana to the dough.

Well, it was again unsuccessful, and what became of them - most of them anyway - was another story, for later (together with Quasimodo).


#7: The Half Success

I just bought a couple of pound-cake/loaf trays, and I decided to make a small chocolate loaf for my wife's breakfast.

The mistake I made was that I put the tray this time on the bottom rack (because I felt that for the previous attempts, the bottom part of the loaf/bun tended to be less "cooked", if you know what I mean), and it charred the bottom of the loaf. :-(

But the top was delicious! (After cutting away the charred bottom half, that is.) And the texture was kind of soft - almost the way I had been wanting it to be.

And what made it doubly delicious was the chunks of chocolate I just simply rolled inside the dough. It was especially yummy when it was still steaming hot from the oven, as the chocolate would be in this melted state that just filled up your whole mouth with its tastiness. Yum!


#8: The Failure Before the Success

The chocolate half-success above was made with one cup of flour. This one here used one and a half. It was still not enough to fill the tray (even after rising). I would later discovered that it takes two cups of flour to make a loaf large enough to fill the tray.

Other than being too small (not filling up the tray), this was again not yet a success because the texture was still dense. :-(

As the bad guys in cartoons are wont to say: I'll get you next time!