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Brian Cray - Budget Travel

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Whirring Winds Atop Mount Raya Lattice Tower 


Mount Raya Radio Tower Climbing

My legs trembled from lack of potassium and all of my limbs drooped like Jello. I slouched for a few hours before I refilled my 1.5 liter bottle with tap water and stomped along the shoulders of the windy roads, getting closer to Mount Raya. My feet, stiff as boards, finally calloused over in the holey orifices of my socks, along my toes and heels, as I continued hiking. Few vehicles drove these desolate roads and the 2-inch shoulder made hitchhiking nearly impossible, but that did not stop me from finding a ride. A young Malay man pulled off, parking his bike on the white line, signaling me to hop on with his hand. We cruised on the road spiraling around Mount Raya as the view of Langkawi below became a city model with the slow increase in elevation due to the steep grades. Smoke muddled the ozone clouding the air with a misty overlay of grey clouds from burning rubbish. He hugged each bend as we topped out at 20 KPH veering into the opposing lane. As we climbed the mountain the engine puttered like a weed wacker on the verge of an empty tank, but miraculously we made it. I waved as he coasted down Mount Raya in neutral, his smile exposing the pits in his mouth, but his scintillating character following behind him. I approached the hotel reading the small, wooden sign, “Look out tower highest point in Langkawi 900 m (ASL),” as my head tilted towards the sky, intrigued by all the radio towers within close proximity to me at MEASAT Satellite Control Center. A Chinese man scampered down the road as he exited the hotel looking at the construction progress on the abandoned building sitting next to the overpass adjacent D’Coconut Hill Resort. My bladder felt like a balloon waiting to explode as this man, the hotel owner, tried to sell me on purchasing a ticket to view the island from the dinky watchtower in the hotel. But I set my mind on a different tower as I waited for the perfect opportunity and time-frame to come to fruition. I scurried off up the hill trying to gain access to a public restroom, but hotel staff did not let me enter without paying the 10 RMB fee for the watchtower, which I refused. I pissed behind a maintenance building instead.

Four hours passed, as I lay down slumped out along a giant, granite formation, scoping the forested overgrowth below for hornbills, white-bellied sea eagles and monkeys, which I learned inhabited the tropical jungle of Mount Raya. I never saw any of these exotic beasts, but I enjoyed the splendor of Mother Nature and its panoramic view of the Andaman Sea. Young kids smoked joints, jamming out on guitars, outside of the barbed wire fence protecting the government building adjacent D’Coconut Hill Resort. The building looked abandoned from its peeled paint and empty vibe despite the abundant amount of security cameras mounted along the premises. A swarm of young teenagers pulled up in a beater, smoking cigarettes, and posing for the camera with the backdrop of Langkawi Island behind them. I bummed a cigarette off one of the kids, shooting the shit with him about Langkawi. Mount Raya attracted the high school crowd due to its 40 minute ride from local law enforcement making mischievous acts easier to get away with, like smoking weed and other drugs. He sat down, scuffing his worn Converse against the granite rock, taking intermittent drags of his cigarette while going off on a drug tangent. In fall, after a brief monsoon, he claimed the island became a bountiful land of magic mushrooms. He picked mushrooms along the side of the road, tripping on top of Mount Raya, listening to music with friends as the yawning-tingling sensation behind his ears triggered the start of the hallucination. I listened to his stories about routinely tripping on mushrooms until his friends pestered him about heading out. The car rolled off down the spiraling road after it back-fired a few times.

I squinted at one of the radio towers as a small black figure caught my eye. A man hung from the top as a belayer lowered him down the side of the lattice tower. At first I thought a kid climbed the tower, but as I walked over I later realized it was a worker dressed in casual attire. We struck up conversation and I learned about their work on the towers surrounding the MEASAT Satellite Control Center over the course of the next few days. They skedaddled as soon as his feet touched the ground, heading off to their homes, allowing me to plot my climb for tomorrow.

As I pondered, I found refuge under the overpass adjacent D’Coconut Hill Resort rolling out my sleeping bag between the run-off downspouts. I wiggled into my neon green, mummy bag, my face exposed to the element as the wind briskly scratched my nose, lolling off to the quaint sound of raindrops drizzling.
I hoped to catch the sunrise from the apex of a lattice tower, but I awoke too late, missing my opportunity. But, the deserted peak of Mount Raya still lacked hotel guests and workers as I scanned the perimeter of the MEASAT Satellite Control Center in the early morning, making tower climbing a possibility. I searched the base of each lattice tower looking for the one with the easiest entry. The barbed wire fence made climbing a little more difficult so I entered through a breach instead. First, I pushed my gear through the tiny opening hiding it behind the maintenance shed to keep it out of sight. Then I crawled on my hands and knees squeezing my body through the chain-link fence as the adrenaline started to pump through my veins, making my palms sweaty, and legs shaky, but setting my mind free. Looking over both shoulders, I proceeded to stalk the ladder at the base of the lattice radio tower until clinching my hands firmly over the first bar. The cold metal stuck to my skin as I gradually scaled the tower, wiping the perspiration off my hands as needed, so not to slip to my death. My flushed hands succumbed to the fierce wind so I took a break after reaching the first steel platform. I looked down below while maintaining two points of attachment, and through the scintillating rays of the sun, noticed two motorbikes parked inside the MEASAT Satellite Control Center. My gut told me to keep going upward for the view. At this point, if caught, I would end up with the same trespassing charges regardless, so I continued the climb to freedom. Fear engulfed my demeanor as seen in my obscure facial expressions as if I walked around as a social pariah with an “A” plastered across my chest. With each new platform, I estimated a gain in elevation of 10 meters, trumping any view seen anywhere on the island including the watchtower below. Through the humming sounds of the wind, the faint vibrations of each foot searching for the next step on the ladder and the tingling in my forearms, I heard my heartbeat pounding. My whole body pulsated in unison with my heart as I cracked out a smile from the majestic view of the Andaman Sea, Langkawi and Thailand. After four steel platforms I reached the final platform at the top of the lattice tower. I felt like a leaf blowing in the wind as it shook me side-to-side while I enjoyed the greatest 12 seconds of my life, better than sex, better than drugs, better than anything I ever experienced in life. Just immersing myself in the panoramic view of the island, absorbing its beauty, felt indescribable and I wanted to savor that moment for the rest of my life.

I scaled down the tower in about half the time it took to climb it, dreading reaching the bottom. I figured security in the control center reported me to local police and they stood down at the bottom waiting to arrest me. Lethargy spread through my forearms as I hastily climbed down the ladder, skipping up to three steps at a time, to reach the base of the tower. As I reached the first level I looked at the control center. The bikes leaned parallel to one another, held up by their kick stands. They did not appear to move nor did I notice any workers. I let out a sigh of relief, covertly sneaking over to my bag, shimmying through the fence like an earthworm wiggling on pavement.

Mount Raya Radio Tower

The view from above on Mount Raya Radio Tower!  A much better view than climbing the radio tower in Labis

The hotel owner yammered on about walking up 4000 steps the previous day to reach the top of Mount Raya, so I searched the roadway for an access point to take a different path down. After a futile effort of searching I stomped down the hill, smacking my feet against the ground, thudding with every step from the steep grade. It felt like a race against myself because at times I needed to focus my energy on slowing down to relieve the pressure in my knee joints, which seemed counterproductive. The harsh, spiraling, narrow roads drained my spirit as I poured the last drop of water into my mouth. I stood there, completely parched, as I walked in the shadows of the jungle. Restaurants fell right outside the base of the mountain, but this did not help my predicament. My muscles contracted while I perched on a rock several kilometers from civilization, my thumb on my chin, nodding off, and then it hit me. I remembered a stream corkscrewing around the mountain with a drainage pipe at the halfway point. When I reached the pipe a film of green algae spread over the opening like wildfire as my mouth watered in exasperation. My pack did not have water purification tablets, and it looked questionable, but I made the choice to fill my supply from the fast-flowing waterfall behind it. Water splashed against the rocks, spraying my sweaty shirt, sending a chilly sensation across my breasts, as I leaned inward to fill my bottle. I puckered my lips, fearing harmful bacteria, as I drank just enough to quench my thirst for the rest of the trek down. It tasted pure like spring water, but I sipped on it sparingly, to avoid dehydration and any painful stomach issues.

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