I’m glad we decided to drive to Kuantan. Our friend suggested we fly there, but the drive was just under six hours–which is nothing compared to the 13-hour leg of our journeys by air back to the U.S. Driving our own car gives us a sense of freedom (or control?) that comes with the ability to stop and start when we want to.
We started off early so that we could avoid driving at night. Monday morning at the Tuas checkpoint was a breeze. After having our passports checked, the customs officer didn’t even bother to get up from where he was sitting; he waved us through with hardly a glance. (Since that famous escaped criminal was caught there is no more fingerprinting at the border).
As we drove across the causeway, we could see the haze hanging over the mangrove trees that lined the Malaysian shore. Monkeys crossed the road just before we reached the checkpoint on the Malaysian side. After paying the necessary road tolls and collecting our ticket for the North-South Highway toll (to be paid when exiting the highway), we were on our way to the Yong Peng exit. This part was a familiar route that we’d driven on our numerous trips to Malacca. But once we got off the highway, and through the town, we were in new territory. The roads were decent despite being very ulu (rural). We headed for Segamat town amid a sea of oil palm trees.
After many kilometres of these palm plantations and after passing innumerable logging trucks groaning under the weight of the stripped tropical tree trunks, I began to wonder just how much of the rain forest had been cleared for the sake of agriculture.
When I was quite young I recall one of my former Sunday school teachers pointing out a tract of forested land that was being cleared not far from where I lived. “Look at that…” she said. “The rape of the landscape.” Her words came back to me on that drive to Kuantan. I know palm oil is an important cash crop for Malaysia which helps the economy tremendously, but is it worth losing the rainforest? It’s a question I can’t answer, but I hope the country can find a balance.