Sunday, June 7, 2009

020. The Legend of Princess Santubong (End)

See that mountain in the yonder? Legend has it that it used to be a Princess before she incurred the wrath of the Heavenly King and was then turned into a mountain. It also tells of a tale of 2 cousins who descended from the pearly gates above to make peace between the neighbouring villages – Pasir Kuning (Yellow Sands) and Pasir Putih (White Sands). Along with this was the rule that they must promise not to quarrel with each other.

So Princess Santubong – famed for her weaving skills, and Princess Sejinjang – master rice thresher, ruled over Pasir Kuning and Pasir Putih respectively. Soon, peace and prosperity proliferated throughout both lands. Besides being experts in their own fields, they were also gorgeous to boot. Every suitor that came left dejected as both princesses, being princesses, were rather hard to please.

But nothing remains bright and sunshine-y forever as dark clouds slowly inched its way through their lives. Their bane and downfall was brought on by their love for the same guy (isn’t that how the story always go, love and war?). And boys being boys, the Crown Prince Serapi of Matang wanted both of them as his wives. Apparently, his love was big enough for both of them. But of course,  that wasn’t the case for both cousins.

And because of him, the cousins fought with each other. The promise which they were entrusted by the Heavenly King shattered at the first exchange of blows. Furious, he turned both princesses into mountains. Indeed, it is said that Mount. Santubong (picture above) resembles a woman lying on her back. But we were lucky that the mountain and her ‘moods’ were fairly sunny during our climb to the summit. The 850m tall summit which we scaled was the second one from the left. 

As we trod through the damp pathway that led to our cabin,  rain poured down quite heavily from the skies. And the first creature that greeted us at our lodgings was none other than the gorgeous Asian Fairy Bluebird (Irena puella). Perching on the fronds of the palm, it slowly picked on the abundant, crimson fruits before it took flight (it probably sensed the 4 cameras that were stalking its each and every move.. lol). *This one here is a male; differentiated from the female by the shining, deep-blue on both its upperparts and undertail-coverts.  But like the females, they have red eyes (click on the pictures for a larger image).

imageInterestingly enough, the scientific name of the fairy bluebird seems rather… how would I say.. ermm.. feminine? Well, irena is usually a name bestowed upon girls. In Greek mythology, Irene was one of the the 3 Horae, the personification of peace and wealth. On the other hand, puella is Latin for young girl. Well, it can’t be denied that  the bird is one pretty little thing but I am not sure if the male would care to have his gender disputed by Latin know-its (albeit amateurs). Not as brilliant as the male, the females are described to be more of a dull-turquoise blue.






After a while, it was the Red-Crowned Barbet’s (Megalaima rafflesii) turn to grace us with his presence. Yes, this one is another male. One reason why males are more brightly-coloured than the females are because she needs more protection. It’s Mother Nature’s way to keep her hidden from her enemies as she has to be tucked safely in the nest to hatch her babies. The other reason is also to attract the female’s attention during the breeding season. And also, it’s supposedly at this time that his colours are the brightest.  As cited, ♥ at first sight indeed!

Prostrating on the ground (in my so-called trademark position.. lol), it wasn’t too long before I managed to snag a picture of the Appias sp. After scanning through many pictures, I have a feeling that this might be a Plain Puffin (Appias indra plana). There aren’t much information about this near snow-white creature except that I am sure it’s from the Family Pieridae.

One important characteristic is that most members of this family are white, yellow or orange in colour besides being often marked by black spots. In fact, the waste products in its body are the source of their unique hues. One butterfly’s crap is another butterfly’s makeup? Anyway, another interesting fact – here’s why butterflies are called butterflies. And no it’s not because someone mistaken for a flying butter for this insect :) , it is believed that the word ‘butterfly’ was inspired from a member of this family –> the Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni), which was called the “butter-coloured fly” by early British naturalists [1]. Well, scientists aren’t really famed for their creavity…

One other butterfly that I managed to get down in pixels was a Blue Pansy Butterfly (Junonia orithya wallacei) that was helping itself to the nectar of a patch of Coat Buttons (Tridax procumbens). Prettiest of the pansies, its beauty is (again) limited to the males. For the sake of being low-key in the eyes of predators, the females usually have very little or no blue colouring at all. Like the Archduke and Cruiser, this six-legged insect comes from the family Nymphalidae that relies on only 4 legs for locomotion.

The butterflies that fluttered and flew weren’t just limited to the ones in open areas (beside the roads on grassy patches), the top of Mount. Santubong was another butterfly haven. Out of the numerous beauties that weaved their way through the paths that were made narrow by the dense vegetation, this sailor was the one and only butterfly that stilled just enough for my camera to get a few shots. The identity of this sailor, unfortunately, cannot be distinguished since yours truly forgot to capture the underside of the creature.. bleh. 

Another insect which managed to make a lasting impact in my mind (and SD card) was the dragonflies and the damselflies. They could be seen hovering still over rain puddles and swampy-like habitats, while others prefer rushing streams and tiny falls like the one (flowing from some source high-up in Santubong) in the picture above.

(Left): Seen perching on a lean twig in the rushing river, it seems that this is characteristic of the Euphaea impar. Males, in fact, prefer brightly-lit perches as they are presumed to use those spots to display their wing iridescence to their best advantage. Not only does this attract the ladies, it also serves as a defensive mark of a territory adjacent to moving water [2].

(Right): Though Euphaea sp. might resemble dragonflies, they are actually damselflies. And the way to tell them apart is that the forewing and hindwing of the damsels are similar while these differ for the dragons. I am not sure why a damselfly is called a damselfly but there are some unique tales of the origin of the word ‘dragonfly’.

So why’s a dragonfly a dragonfly? Though it (the etymology) has not been clearly established, the dragon has long been used in Christian symbolism to reveal the existence of the devil. Hence, it suggests that the origin of the seemingly extraordinary balancing feats of a dragonfly could only be due to satanic influence [3]. Cool eh? But it makes me wonder, if this etymology is indeed true, do people shun streams with this creatures or kill them at first sight? 

Up above in mountains, at 850m from sea level, in a pond on the peak of Santubong was a lone male Brachydiplax chalybea. Well, there might be others but memory only remembers this one.. heheh. Coloured a powder-blue, it is known that the males are strongly territorial and their sexual activity peaks in early afternoon. Ok, I might be right then, there truly only was a single male in the pond ^^v. And because of its metallic blue coloration on its body, this Brachydiplax sp. has ‘made of steel’ for its species name [4]. Sweet~~
1) Greek: brachy “short”
2) Greek: di “double”
3) Greek: plax “flat surface” – probably referring to the wings
4) Latin: chalybea “made of steel”

Tiny frogs no bigger than the size of palm (length-wise) could be seen on moss-green rocks while others were spotted hopping on the boulders by the waterfall. A vast difference indeed from the ones leading a urban life in the stone jungles.

(Left):I’m on the top of the world lookin’ down on creation, and the only explanation I can find…
Indeed, from the top of Santubong, the Sarawak River meanders with serpentine grace about the Lego-like houses that flank its sides.

(Right): Framed by verdant view, the South China Sea was a wide expanse from my right onwards. At the background, the cove-like area is actually Bako National Park, where an isolated beach (Teluk Pandan Besar) remains pristine and out-of-reach from a majority of human civilization.

The song by the Carpenters – Top of the World is a perfect fit of what I feel when I reached the summit of Santubong. Surrounded by greens and browns, the Malaysian flag didn’t look a bit of out of place as it stood high-up against a white cloud-blue sky backdrop. But all that immediately got flushed from the mind as the smell or sulphur swamped my senses as I got closer to the hut. Since many tourists stay overnight after a climb, they usually sprinkle sulphur around the hut to prevent snakes from getting close-by. Sprinkle all you want, but clean up the mess before you leave for goodness sake!!

Apparently, some of these idiots need to relearn their Moral Studies in Year 1. Rubbish could be seen strewn all over beneath the hut. Why, there was even a rusty old kettle (without its handle) by the hut! And the hut, it may look fine from this picture, but it all changes when one takes a closer look. Again, some  thoughtless arses decided that their carvings would make ‘wonderful decorations’ to the rest area. Gosh, these people deserve to have a taste of their own medicine. Who cares what the ang mohs think of Malaysia, what I am ashamed by is the ‘deeds’ left by these so-called ‘wise ones’! Homo barbaricus would be more suitable in this case.

Reaching the summit (left) was no easy work as we had to get pass a dozen of so of these rope-ladders (right). There were a couple which dangled nearly three storeys from top to bottom. It makes you wonder how the natives constructed these in the first place. My highest salutations for their work! Without them, Mount. Santubong would still be another alien location on the map. But looking back, would that had been better?

(left): After approximately 8 hours on the mountain, catching sight of civilization never seemed so good. Civilization = place to rest my weary, jelly-like legs = time for more Teh C Peng = Sweet!!

(right): On our way down, Alex spotted some physical weathering that had occurred on a boulder, which was otherwise known as exfoliation. Exfoliation occurs when rocks are heated and expand in the heat of the day and then cool and contract in the cold of night. Thin slithers of rock tend to flake off the surface, and which break down further into tiny pieces [5].

Fare thee well, Princess Santubong and may our paths cross again one day in the future. :)

And finally, a big thanks to Alvin for his help in Birds & Dragonflies 101; Wee Foong for his on the lepidopterans; Kai-Xin for guiding me through the tough-spots on Santubong and last but not least, Alex for extending an invitation to yours truly. Thank you!

P.S: In case you are wondering the Malay poems which I have been posting in the early parts in 3 of my entries, they are actually lyrics to the song ‘Hijau’ by Zainal Abidin. Like Michael Jackson’s ‘Earth Song’, this song is my country’s own wake-up call to protect and conserve nature before we lose it all. Enjoy the clip! :)