Malaysian family finds peace and quiet at Perak's Royal Belum State Park

One of the writer’s sketches at the Royal Belum State Park. — Photos: JAMIE SOLOMON

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During the school holidays in June, my family and I headed up to the Royal Belum State Park in Perak for three nights of total immersion in nature; I was really looking forward to it.

We arrived late Friday night, all tired out after a long eight-hour drive from Selangor. We jumped out of our car, gave ourselves a good stretch, lugged all our bags and made our way into the houseboat.

Even though we were spent, we took the time to explore our home for the next three days. We walked the length of the wooden boat, up and down the narrow, rickety stairs very carefully and finally settled on a room for ourselves.

Some of us slept on beds, some on mattresses on the floor. The boys slept on the upper front deck of the boat where they got to enjoy the cool, night breeze. Each night we were lulled to sleep by the gentle sway of the boat. It was a very relaxing and refreshing family holiday.

Most of our time was spent on the houseboat – reading, sleeping, snacking, drawing and chatting. There was no Internet connection for most of the trip. Surprisingly, that change wasn’t difficult to adapt to.

The boat moved to different mooring stations at different times of the day at a slow and steady pace. Apart from some tell-tale signs – the steady drone of the generator and the occasional “big” wave – we were oblivious to the fact that we were actually moving.

We had some rain throughout the trip, but when the sun was out, it was out in all its glory. Blue skies with huge puffy white clouds decked the horizon.

You can find numerous waterfalls and rivers at Royal Belum.You can find numerous waterfalls and rivers at Royal Belum.On the first day, we trekked up to Sungai Kooi for an amazing waterfall experience. On the second and third day, we visited the Sungai Papan Salt Lick and the Kelah Sanctuary at Sungai Ruok, respectively.

We completed each day with a relaxing and unhurried dip in the lake. We got over our fear of the “green” water pretty quickly.

I had come prepared with the tools of my trade – my sketchbook, pen and paint to do loads of nature journaling. I was blessed with many invaluable experiences sketching and painting air and sharing them with the people around me.

I had never painted so much water in my life! And neither had I ever painted from a moving boat. That was challenging but it gave me the opportunity to paint a “panoramic” shot, which was really cool.

“Journalers” will tell you that journaling is an opportunity for you to connect with nature. But I discovered a new connection – nature journaling is also a great opportunity to connect with people.

Art is something that many people appreciate, while nature is a universal language. Art and nature are neutral subjects.

When I sketched or painted, strangers would peer over my shoulder and stop for a minute or so, make an encouraging remark or ask a question or two. They would smile at me and I would smile back. Nature journaling became a natural ice-breaker and conversation starter.

A few hours later, or the following day, they would return requesting to see my work and that’s how we would strike up another round of conversations. It was easy to move from casual surface-level conversations to deeper ones like, “What are your dreams, your passion? What goes on in your mind when you are drawing?”

I met a gentleman who told me he writes poetry, and I smiled. I could identify with that. We talked and shared our experiences. I met a millennial who has dreams and aspirations. I listened and I learned.

I met a young mother. We talked, I listened, she listened, we became friends.

We connected because of my work. I made many new friends on this trip which I know I wouldn’t have been able to do sans art, from grandparents right down to a six-year-old child.

Sometimes, language was a barrier but being Malaysians we could still understand each other and make simple conversations with our “rojak” language.

All in all it was an enriching trip. Besides connecting with my own family and with nature, and engaging in many outdoor activities, what made it even more special and memorable was the opportunity to connect with new people.

So, yes, I am going to keep drawing and painting during my holidays to make more friends.

The views expressed are entirely the reader’s own.

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