September found us in places we'd never been before and possibly never imagined. So when the grade ten students of Mont Kiara International School wandered into Tasek Bera, providence smiled on us.
As Malaysia's first protected wetland and a site designated as a Wetland of International Significance, Tasek Bera is the perfect place to experience ecology and Orang Asli culture.
We arrived after a long bus ride, road weary and cranky, but it didn't take long for the scenery to put a smile on our faces! We immediately jammed ourselves and our gear into boats and took a ride which one student called " Better than anything at Disneyland!"
We motored through a tunnel of greenery, a cool breeze in our faces. The occasional frog, dragonfly larvae or kingfisher reminded us that we were no longer in the urban environs of KL, but were instead in one of the richest ecosystems in the world.
As we rounded a bend in the canoe trail, the longhouse, which was to be our home for the next few days, seemed to mysteriously appear from the jungle. For many of the students, it was their first camping experience, the opportunity of a lifetime. To the surprise of many, the bamboo floor with its natural flexibility was surprisingly comfortable to sit and sleep on. We set up camp with an air of excitement, the apprehension and weariness left behind, stranded somewhere on a floating log.
We swam, hiked, played music, hung out, chatted, ate and took the time to let life unfold.
During our brief stay, we learned about the inhabitants of the rainforest and the intricate relationship that the Orang Asli Semelai have developed with their surroundings. We slowly began to appreciate the lifestyle we live compared to that of the forest-dwellers.
One night I awoke during the small hours to a chorus of frogs, night critters and starlight. A smile found its way onto my face as I drifted back to sleep. Peace and respite from the mumbo-jumbo we call city living.
Many hikes later, it was time to return to KL. But not before we paddled hand carved canoes to the local kampung for a demonstration of the weaving techniques, blow pipe hunting and musical talent of the Semelai people.
They greeted us with warm hearts and big smiles, eager to share their way of life with us, to educate us and remind us of our connection to the natural world. A dying culture knows no strangers, anyone is welcome, everyone is a friend.
I'm not sure if all of the students fully understood the impact of the place they were in: a biologists dream, an anthropologists fantasy. I do know that when we asked them if we should visit Tasek Bera again for next year's Malaysian Studies, the answer was a resounding 'YES!