Sunday, October 28, 2012

Durian: Smells like Sour, Oniony Dirty Laundry; Tastes Glorious

Apples, oranges and bananas are the fruit mainstays in the U.S., even though, in my opinion, the grapefruit outranks all these by miles. But travel to the tropics and dig in somewhere, like Alli and I have here in Kampung Juara, and your fruit world balloons like a stomach at a Vegas all-you-can-eat buffet. Mangoes, bananas (large, bite-size, sweet, extra sweet), papaya, mangosteens, pineapples, rambutans and more await your appetite. One fruit from the tropics though is known the world over, and depending on who you talk to, it’s either the tastiest damn fruit you’ll ever eat; or a slimy gross collection of pulp, which smells like farts and onions cocooned in dirty socks.

The subject of this blog. Click all photos to enlarge.
I’m writing ‘bout the durian. Every facet of this fruit is bizarre. It’s the shape of a pill and roughly the size of pineapples that grace American supermarkets, though it comes in a variety of sizes. Covered in extra spines, the sharpness of the outside skin is not to be trifled with. People who collect durians wear their motorcycle helmets when doing so and run from fruit to fruit not wanting to be stabbed by a collection of points when the fruit decides to drop 75 feet or so. That’s funny right? Most fruit is rotten by the time it falls off a tree (ever been to an apple orchard? Nobody wants ground-score apples). When durian is ripe it detaches from its tree and plunges to the ground. The idea is then to pick it up quickly before you get shanked by the fruit gods. I had the pleasure of picking up one freshly fallen durian off the ground, and believe me, I didn’t linger long. 

A freshly fallen Durian in all its glory.

The above fruit fell from a tree that high. Now do you understand why you don't hang out underneath them?
The durian’s distinctive outside armor and dispersal strategy pale in comparison to the reputation the fruit has acquired for its smell, taste and texture. The first durian I ever ate was in the U.S. and it was quite foul: slimy, goopy and actually a little bland. Eating fresh durian though has been one of the highlights of our trip so far. I’m serious; posting up and eating handful after handful of this fruit will leave you grinning from ear to ear. And give you some warm, pungent burps to boot.
The first Durian I ever scooped up off the forest floor. Yeah, I'm psyched.
Once you hack the fruit open with a machete (yeah, you could use a kitchen knife, but who uses that instead of a machete?), you’re presented with some globby pulp. So much has been written on this fruit over the years, especially by awestruck Westerners that I’m not even going to try to come up with an original description here. I will defer to David Quammen, one of my favorite writers and all-around badass, to take you there: “it’s creamy and slightly fibrous, like a raw oyster that’s been force-fed vanilla ice cream. There’s also a hint of almond. It tastes strange, rich, wonderful. It smells like a jockstrap. It doesn’t remotely resemble any substance that you’ve ever touched, let alone eaten.”
One of the gooey parts you eat. Its fleshy around the large seed, which is enveloped by the goop.
If you enjoy the taste you’ll want to eat more and more, ‘til you’re satiated and your belly is a roiling combo of fruity flesh from a few durians. If you don’t, then you probably don’t even want to be around the fruit because of its odor and having to witness the sight of durian enthusiasts licking their chops, like malnourished street cats that just scored a pallet of rotten meat. One’s not on the fence about durian, you’re either in or out. It’s like enjoying Neil Young’s late career album stretch: you think the cantankerous Canadian has still got it, or you just wish the dude would have done us all a favor and stopped after “Rust Never Sleeps.”  

Hanging out in Wak's family's durian hut, where you can eat loads of it and protect ya neck and head, while waiting for the next fruit to fly to the ground.
For me, I celebrate Neil Young’s entire catalogue and go ape-shit for durians. They are really that tasty. So do yourself a favor if you’re ever in SE Asia during durian season: collect a fresh one, or at least buy one, and see for yourself. You might love it or just want to spit it out. Either way it’s an experience, like indulging in one of Maryland’s unique gastronomic creations: scrapple. I got love for my native state, but that cotton candy meat is flat-out gross (I’ll take blue crabs instead). But hey, I’ve seen folks enthusiastically put down heaping deep-fried forkfuls of it. Hold the scrapple, pass the durian.  

Lots more durian-related photos can be found below:
Various durian trees.
Ones high up in the tree, waiting for their time to drop.
Wak's Mom cleaning off the outside of a durian in their family's house on their property.

'Bout to hack it open!
and then crack it on the seems. A pocket of deliciousness awaits.
Alli and Izzati are getting into it. Dani (who can be seen behind Izzati) not so much.
Woo-hoo! Now that's how you durian!
Tiny lil' baby durians that hopefully will be ripe next month.
A trio of varying sizes and shapes.
Opened up and ready to be consumed.
I wonder if Afik is enjoying this durian or not.
Fillin' up buckets. Ain't no thing.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Common Mock Viper

We all know how much I love the raking (refresher here). As I pulled the cover off our compost pile this morning to dump out a bunch of leaves, I was treated to something I fancy even more than raking: a snake. The serpent was coiled-up on top of the pile, probably getting some morning-time heat. The Common Mock Viper (Psammodynastes pulverulentus) stayed immobile and let me snap away. I'm into that. *** Enlarge the photos by clicking on 'em.

I've seen this species before on Tioman and even on JTP's grounds previously, too. Some interesting tidbits on this species: they mimics pitvipers (a subfamily of venomous snakes, of which rattlesnakes and bushmasters are in) by possessing enlarged maxillary teeth, which aren't the hollow fangs that rattlers and co. are famous for. These teeth still deliver mildly toxic saliva, which can cause burning and itching sensations if us humans get bit, but I don't plan on partaking in that. Even if these photos we're a little too close for Alli's comfort.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Turtle Stats for 2012

The sea turtle nesting and hatchling season has come to an end. We haven't had a nest since early August. Our 44th and final clutch of the year hatched about one week ago. The monsoon season, and its accompanying waves (which are a blast to surf in a sit-on-top kayak), is creeping in. So no more Green or Hawksbill turtles will lay eggs and obviously no new young-ins will hatch. As Mr. Womack sang, "it's all over now." Take a glance below at our numbers for 2012. Not atrocious, but not too robust either.

Only 8 female turtles visited 3 beaches. Not to confuse anyone but that's very low. There used to be 2-3 different turtles visiting Mentawak beach (where JTP resides) per night decades ago. This year just 3 showed up - out of 8 months when they coulda nested. The optimistic takeaway is that projects doing hatchery work, protecting eggs and releasing babies have seen an increase in nesting turtles, but we got a long way to go before that's possible for us. Green turtles take 25-40 years before they return to nest (longer than any turtle, marine or terrestrial, in the world). Hawksbills start plopping out eggs a little earlier, after 20 years. JTP has only been around for 6 years, with a government run hatchery operating for 5 years before that. We got some time before it's possible for more turtles to start showing up. Another bright spot: I'm proud of our 88.4% hatching success rate. At least we got as many of those tiny turtles into the ocean as we could.

Friday, October 12, 2012

West Sumatra, Indonesia... at our Leisure

On Sept. 19 Alli and I took off for two weeks to West Sumatra, Indonesia. What I really enjoy about traveling with the Lady is that we both like taking it slow and not cramming too much mumbo jumbo into our itinerary. Sometimes we have tourists come by JTP here on Tioman and in a couple weeks they've gone to about 5 or 6 countries in SE Asia. They're pretty stoked, but to us it sounds exhausting. After a lot of non-stop work lately (turtles plus development, school kids, volunteers, overhauling our operating procedures, etc.) we were ready for a holiday. Side note: holiday over here is how they say vacation - British English rules in this part of the globe. And feel free at any time to skip over this here writing and just glance at the photos. Alli also published an album on Facebook, which you can view here. *** And remember: all photos on the blog can be enlarged by clicking on 'em.
One big ol' parasitic flower called Rafflesia outside Bukittinggi. The face scale says it all - their huge! And only "bloom" for 7-10 days before they die and end up smelling like putrid rotting flesh, or some other gross description. 
We flew from Kuala Lumpur (KL) to Padang on the western coast of Sumatra. I got to peep the Indian Ocean for the first time from the plane's window. But this was no beach excursion (we didn't even want the option to look at no dang sea turtles!), we wanted jungle, volcanoes, and freshwater lakes. Plus some coffee luwak too, which is when wild civet cats poop out coffee beans and after awhile it becomes coffee sitting in a cup in front of you. Trust me, it's delectable. So we said adios to the coast and from there we journeyed up to Bukittinggi (BT) for 3 nights, Harau Valley (6N), Lake Maninjau (3N) and closed it out with one night in Padang the day we flew out. West Sumatra was glorious and all the Indonesians we met were super friendly, helpful and a blast to chat with; they also got quite the chuckle when we spoke Bahasa. Hopefully we can make it back there again. Instead of driveling on and on about the whole holiday, I'll let a few select photos tell the story. Enjoy everyone. I'll be kicking the blog into high gear again, starting now.

Alli enjoying Nasi Padang cuisine in BT! They bring you all these dishes and you just eat what you want.  Can't beat that.
Our bungalow in Harau Valley. This was by far the highlight of the trip. Notice the tall waterfall in the upper left. This valley was like Indonesia's version of Yosemite (alright the rocks weren't that big), with rice paddies, numerous waterfalls and scattered housing in the valley. Excellent trekking here too (another British term sneaking in).
We trekked up to the top of the rock on the right. The view from there is 3 photos away
Going up next to a steep drop off.
On top moving through jungle.

View from the top. One of the best lunch spots I've ever ate at. The river winds through the middle of the rocks.
Sweaty shining people smiling. 
Fern hats make everything better. Like bacon.
Open air bathroom in Harau. You could get your view and squat on, but not at the same time. 
Rhino beetles! Fitting name I think.
One day we did the jungle trek, the next a mosey around the countryside that ended up at a very far away waterfall.

Trekking power couple, I tell you what.

First frog seen in Harau!
An Indonesian staple and specialty - Gado-gado. Full of sticky rice, noodles, veggies and drowned in peanut sauce and spice.
My stomach couldn't handle the Gado-gado (or some other Indonesian spice) so the owner of the homestay  hooked me up with some black pills. He said the black pill is the way to go if your stomach is hurtin.' It worked great.
Sunset in Harau Valley.
View of Lake Maninjau. It's frickin' gorgeous (said in my best NY/NJ accent). This is one of my favorite photos from the trip.
Same scene as above but at sunset.
View from up top. Still gorgeous. Afterward we then walked back down to the lake.
Enthusiastically finding Alli some pink jungle flowers. She loved this trek until we entered leech city, then the race to get to the bottom started.
My (not so) gorgeous arm fungus/rash I picked up after trekking in Sumatra. I still got it, but the initial wave of rash is now receding and the tide has subsided.
Boiling part of our dinner (veggie skewers!) on a sidewalk in KL.
Deep fried skewers too! Bacon and pork are definitely represented. So is delicious grease.

The buffet of skewers available. Superb selection we thought.

A welcome home scorpion waiting for me at JTP! It had taken up residence on my hand towel.