Since 2010, the Malaysian Nature Society (Selangor Branch) has been organising annual Volunteer Appreciation Days ("VADs") for approximately 50 of our best and most dedicated volunteers, usually around International Volunteer Day in December.
Each year, the Committee will choose a nature spot within the same state and get all the volunteers to carpool to the event for an overnight stay. It's not all fun and games for those of us in the organising committee, though, because of the added responsibility of logistics, food catering requirements, reservations and other preparations. I am usually put in charge of the games and ice-breaking activities.
This year, however, we decided to engage the services of the resort managers to take care of all the food and activities so the rest of us who typically are in the organising committee would get to relax and participate in the games for a change. It was a liberating experience for me not to be in charge of anything for once. I felt so.... appreciated!
So the VAD this year was held at the Awana Longhouse in Genting Highlands for the first time, after 2 consecutive years of observing VAD at the Air Hitam Forest Reserve. It was a welcome change, especially because of the heat, drought and haze in the city. We were absolutely thrilled to arrive at the Awana Longhouse to find the air cool, clean, crisp and free of pollution. Even the heavy rain could not put a damper on our spirits. After 3 weeks of dry weather (unusual for Malaysia), the rain was a cause for celebration.
The resort managers had planted Caribbean Pine (Pinus caribaea), an introduced species, around the Longhouse and resort grounds. It gave the resort grounds a subtropical feel, and the young pinecones provided food for the local wildlife.
Bamboo windchimes gave the Longhouse a rustic, pastoral vibe.
Little hand grenades :)
Pinecones from the Caribbean Pine (Pinus caribaea) and Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla). I collected a few to make crafts with.
A bamboo orchid (Arundina) plant growing wild. We saw quite a number of wild orchids on our nature walks in the area.
Aravind doing the forward descent abseiling exercise, which was the first organised activity of the day.
The setup of one of the contemporary simulation games organised by the resort manager. Participants were broken up into teams, and hostages and rescue experts were appointed.
I was a very opinionated and loud hostage. I didn't want to be the victim, I wanted to be the hero, so I kept calling them out for discrimination.
... And the plot thickens. The hostages were returned to their teams without the knowledge of the blindfolded rescue experts! Hilarity ensued.
It started to pour with glorious icy cold rain soon after we completed the games. We ran up to the Longhouse with glee to enjoy the cold, damp and misty weather. I could not resist playing in the rain. We had been so deprived of rain in the city for the past few weeks.
Rolling mist in the montane forests, 3,000 feet above sea level.
MNS volunteers birding and nature watching after the rain. We had a lovely time spotting montane flora and fauna, and I learned a lot about plants from our Flora Group coordinator, Koon Hup.
We spotted a giant millipede (about a foot in length) along the trail while walking back to the Longhouse for dinner.
Giant millipede: "Sorry! Can't stay to chat! I've got to go! I've got to go!"
(Photo credits: Steven Wong)
After dinner, Pui May of the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MYCAT) delivered a talk on wildlife crimes and the Citizen Action for Tigers (CAT) Programme. Many thanks to May for answering all our questions on the wildlife crime reporting procedure.
It was good not to be distracted by our electronics and household chores, so we could go to bed well before midnight. It was lovely to sleep in the open air. Mother Nature switched her air-conditioning unit on at full blast, so I had to have a hoodie and 3 blankets in order to stay warm enough to go to sleep.
Longhouse camping -- a first for Aravind. He really enjoyed the excursion, and I was just happy to have him with us. He has been volunteering for every event since 2012 and has been very helpful and friendly to the others, so nominating him was an easy choice. I did get the feedback of the committee first, because I didn't want to be accused of cronyism. It was a unanimous committee decision to invite him.
(Photo credits: Steven Wong)
A group photo of the volunteers for posterity. I hope we remain friends and volunteers for many, many years to come.
For more information on the Awana Longhouse, please visit the link below: http://www.rwgenting.com/en/conventions/awana/longhouse.htm