Gasping for air, I called out to the Orang Asli guide in front of me.
“Are we there yet?” I asked in Malay, while looking for a flat surface to sit and rest. The elderly man turned around and shook his head.
Pak Cik Syam, my guide, is insanely fit and filled with sinewy muscles. He leaped through exposed roots on the ground like an Olympian.
Seeing a then twentysomething city boy struggling to hike a hill had surely been amusing for him.
The year was 2016, and I was at Kampung Ladoi in the Kuala Betis Orang Asli settlement of Gua Musang, Kelantan. Together with a few other media members, I was on an expedition to hunt for the elusive Rafflesia flower.
While the the Rafflesia is more commonly associated with Borneo, the exotic bloom can also be found in limited regions across Peninsular Malaysia.
Pak Cik Syam told us that luck has to be on our side in order to get a glimpse of the bloom.“It blooms for three days only before it starts to decompose, ” our guide explained.
“The Rafflesia is like a pregnant lady, ” Pak Cik Syam continued as we made our way down the mountain. The flowering process according to him, takes about nine months – much like human pregnancy.
My desire to see the Rafflesia was intensified by the arduous journey we took to get to the Orang Asli settlement.
I had taken an extremely bumpy two-hour ride on a 4WD up a dirt road to get to the village. And after the strenuous climb, I had better see this flower, I thought to myself.
After multiple mosquito bites and several curses muttered silently under my breath later, we finally chanced upon a Rafflesia in full bloom. The sight of the flower – especially when you factor in the hellish hike – was glorious. And as luck would have it, there are many seedlings within the vicinity.
With a diameter of over a metre, the flower – with its striking dark red colour – was a magical sight. The putrid scent, however, was something that I had not looked forward to.
After taking our fair share of photos, our expedition made preparation to head back to the beach.
If I thought the hike up was tough, the descent was even more challenging. There were no branches or tree trunks to hold on to. At times, I would be crawling on the ground to steady myself.
One would need a good fitness level to go on this adventure in Kelantan. But looking back, I was glad to go on that expedition. The experience had prepared me better for more outdoor adventures in the future.
Besides, I could now proudly say I have seen the “corpse flower” up close.