The starting point was a half hour drive across the island and we set off in the dark, early hours of the morning after tiptoeing around our hostel getting are stuff together. The rising sun broke through the light cloud cover, edging the mountain skyline in gold, painting itself on the vast rice paddy fields below. The sea sparkled as we trundled past on our scooter, the masts of anchored yachts swaying gently, their halyards clinking gently in the wind. Passing the entrance to the Skycab, we carried on towards Telaga Tujuh (or Seven Wells to us pesky foreigners). We parked up and made our way up to the waterfall.
We hadn't been able to find much information about hiking in Langkawi, except that you should definitely hire an expensive guide for lots of money. But nothing we found told us we'd have to climb loads of steps! Rubbing life into our morning joints (fools, why didn't we have a coffee, or three), we started climbing. We reached the top of Seven Wells, so named (as you may have guessed) for the seven natural pools that have formed at various points during the waterfalls descent down Langkawi's second tallest mountain. Though a popular spot for tourists wanting a photo and locals wanting a swim, it was too early so we had the place to ourselves. And a few monitor lizards lazing on the rocks.
From the top of the waterfall you can see the Sky Cab (steepest cablecar in the world, as they like to remind you constantly) climbing up into the misted peaks of Mount Mat Cincang. After standing in an ants nest vainly trying to get the perfect picture of the clouds clinging to the mountain with azure sea glistening behind, I put the camera away and we started wandering around looking for the trail start. Clear and numerous labels (Trail 701) take you... kind of nowhere. We quickly spotted a bench on the other side of a bubbling brook with a marker for the trail start. Go us. Now, I say bubbling brook for that is probably what it is most of the time. For us, it was more of a raging torrent. It had been raining pretty heavily the last few nights (lightning, thunder, the full works). This probably should have been a major influencer of our decision to hike up a mountain. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. So tying our boots around our necks we crossed, dried off and made our blissfully unaware way into the forest.
We had walked around some of the forest around Langkawi's shores in the days leading up to our trek but it was now less forest and more rainforest. Eeriness engulfed us as we entered the rainforest, the air instantly felt heavier and the mornings sunshine struggled to penetrate the thick foliage. The trail, easy to follow though broken with rocks and roots, weaved through the forests ancient inhabitants. Already enjoying the fact we were out on adventure, going off the beaten track as it were (not literally, multiple signs warn you not to leave the marked trail, because duh, that'd be stupid), we marched on. Quickly, rain began to fall. It's strange how light struggled to make much effect on us under the canopy but rain seemed to have no difficulty in filtering through. Luckily, as the prepared hikers we thought we were, we had brought our rain ponchos. We had seen, and mocked, people all over asia hurrying around in their ponchos as we manned up through the rain (asia is hot, rain is cool, hence getting wet is great!). But, having discovered we had managed to visit Malaysia in it's one and only rainy month (April, doh!), we caved and bought ourself some garish ponchos. Donning them we instantly morphed into two forest pixies and carried on, super proud of ourselves.
The trail began to incline and the rain began to fall heavier. Our initially bright-with-adventure faces turned into grimaces of determination as we slipped on rocks and sunk into sludge along the trail. Splashing through several streams, I absently wondered what might happen to these trickles if the rain kept up. Unfortunately, I decided not concern myself with such trivialities.
After a long stretch of silence I remarked that one bright side about the pelting rain was that it was keeping the flies and mossies away. I received a grunt in reply. The rain started in earnest (I thought it was in earnest before, but apparently there are many more layers of rain intensity in the tropics) and our trail had basically turned into a river. We clambered up mini waterfalls, bouncing from rock to root, desperately trying to stay out of the flowing water and sticky sludge where our trail had once been. Freshly fallen trees blocked the path, which we gallantly scaled or crept beneath, enjoying the brief respite from the rain.
Finally we came to what had once been a stream. Well, it might have been. To be honest I may have been exaggerating a little earlier, the first stream we crossed was like a tiny raging torrent; this really was a raging torrent. Only one or two rocks stilled broke the surface, and it was a good six or seven paces wide, banks breached. It was now that the first vestiges of doubt creeped into my mind that we may not make it to the top. I suppose I should have maybe been concerned that our dandy jaunt was probably quite dangerous. A single slip would spell disaster; the path had all but disappeared; the low clouds were starting to sink through the trees and getting lost in the rainforest is not really the greatest of plans. On the far side a set of steps climbed steeply up, where the low clouds obscured any more. I looked to Sinead and I could see, under her dripping plastic hood, the same look of doubt that assailed me; we might not make it! The rain then decided that it wasn't raining hard enough. I didn't really know it was possible for rain to fall in sheets but that is what it felt like. And wearing glasses in that kind of rain really was useless. I wasn't particularly prepared at all it turns out.
We huddled under the sparse shelter of a tree, shivering. Deciding we needed some action to get us back on the road (obviously), I tentatively probed the torrent for any way across, thinking we'd have to remove the shoes again. A giant branch crashed down the river past me, startled I scrambled backwards, slipping, and heard a scream from behind me. Turning to reassure Sinead that I hadn't been killed by the flying tree, I saw her stamping her feet and flapping her hands. Confused, I rushed over. Leeches had attached themselves to Sinead, on her legs and hands.
Local legend tells of a girl, born in the 18th century, who when wrongly accused of adultery was sentenced to death. All attempts failed until they used the families 'kedah' (a type of dagger). Her blood ran white signifying her innocence and with her dying breath she cursed the island for seven generations. Sinead's blood ran red and she cursed like sailor. I panicked and mimicked Sinead in flapping ineffectively at her most unwelcome guests. Leeches are real stubborn basards once they've "stuck" themselves on. And all my flapping seemed to be doing was transfering them from Sinead to me. Not what I had in mind. Eventually we'd rid ourselves of them. This was, as you may say, the final nail in the coffin. With the clouds truly rolling in and the rains assault relentless, we scrambled away from the streams edge that was visibly crawling with leeches and practically ran back down the mountain. (Fun fact: a group of leeches is called a Ganon of Leeches).
Relcutantly, in the madness of the leech attack, I decided it wise not to whip out the camera to get a pic of Sinead and her leeches
We reached the trail start and sat down, taking off our shoes for the final water crossing. We'd barely left the waters edge when the bathing monitor lizards we'd disturbed were reclaiming their spot and small birds were back dancing on the rocks, pecking at unseen wrigglers (I can unashamedly say that I prayed it was leeches). With a final rueful look over our shoulders at the mountain trail where mother nature had beaten us, vowing to come back one day to complete what we had started, we trudged off to find our scooter.
I'm also not ashamed to say that we were a little disheartened by our failure to climb Mount Mat Cincang. We'd, in childlike excitement, planned our hike, painstakingly chosing the perfect snacks in our weird local shop (we opted out on the chocolate front, namely snickers, because the Malaysian sun would have melted it instantly, more fool us), researched the barely documented route on barely functioning WiFi (woohoo for six year old user submitted OpenMaps routes) and generally got all our shit together for it. But refusing to let the blues get to us we were determined to make the most of our (sadly) unexpected days freedom. We took our scooter and raced locals along winding forested roads; in the patches of sunshine we lay on a parasidic beach (in the shade of a tree of course because goddamn the sun is too hot, almost wished it was raining again!); spent ages trying to get the perfect photo of some swooping golden eages until Sinead banned me from taking anymore bird photos; had an obscenely expensive iced-coffee-whipped-cream extravanganza in Starbucks to soak up the equally obscenely icy aircon and write this was-to-be-guide to trekking up Mount Man Cicang; practise our awful grasp of the Malaysian language to get some mouth watering local delicacies from a tiny hole-in-the-wall "restorant"; and finally console ourselves with some duty-free beers on the beach watching the glorious Malaysian sun fall into the sea.