Sunday, July 20, 2014

Spicy Penang

By the last full day of my busy weekend in Penang, my host, Yuli, had run out of ideas.

She had already 
taken me to a wedding,
showed me around her judge's chambers at the courthouse,
sent me out to see the sights of the old British architecture,
treated me to the scent of a fresh and very fragrant durian,
set me up for a high-rise photo shoot,
searched with me through a multi-level car park to find her missing car,
waded with me in warm tropical waters,
hiked for miles with me through the pasar malams - night markets,
answered my six billion questions about everything under the sun,
and stuffed me full of delicious food. 
Now it was my turn to choose an activity, and after a quick Google search, I knew just what I wanted.

A visit to the Tropical Spice Gardens.

^Just off the busy seaside road on the north end of the island hides a little piece of paradise. As soon as I entered across this walkway and circled around the lily-filled pond, I was swept back through space and time.

^ The shady waters and lush water lilies made me feel like I'd just stepped into Monet's garden.

^ But a closer look at the lush tropical foliage and jungle surroundings put me on red alert for one of Rousseau's tigers. 

^Comfortingly, the crunchy gravel paths led on.

^ As I followed the network of walkways, I was treated to a garden full of spices growing in their native conditions. Nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, pepper, coffee and cocoa beans - so many old friends that are familiar to me in their finished and food-ready form. To see them as buds, bark, flowers and seeds of real live plants was a fascination.

While my cooking brain was caught up in the mysterious origins of the flavorful foods, my gardener's eye drooled over the clever and inventive landscape.

^ Rustic doors mounted in a totally pointless door frame in the middle of the path? Yes, please.

^ Cubic concrete table and cleverly constructed seats? If they would have fit in my carry on, I might have stolen them on the spot.

^ Waterfalls around every corner. Each one cuter than the next. 

^ Sprinkled here and there around the gardens are rubber trees, remnants of Penang's old plantations. When I saw this device, and put two and two together, my third grade geography lessons sprang forth from the dusty corners of my brain. 

I recalled a textbook photo of skinny brown shirtless men turning the cranks of an old iron beast like this one, churning out sheets of fresh natural rubber. Never in my wildest eight-year-old dreams did I imagine that some day I would see such a thing in real life. 

^ Every corner of the gardens held interesting surprises and fascinating details. But I'll be honest. This giant swing was hands down my favorite bit of all. After I snapped this photo, I used my Jedi mind tricks to drive this poor woman away, and then Yuli and I commandeered this genius device for at least a full half hour of magical jungle swing time.

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So if you should ever find yourself in Penang, Malaysia, with a few hours to kill, treat yourself to a trip to the Tropical Spice Gardens. Enjoy the scents, sights, and sounds of this peaceful retreat. And by all means, take a long, sweet ride in that amazing giant swing.

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I spent a weekend in Penang, Malaysia and lived to tell the tale. Read the full story here:

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