Wednesday March 13, 2013
At 75, Chua Yew Beng is raring for more travels
By MAJORIE CHIEW
He has seen a polar bear up close, walked among penguins in Antarctica, and spied wild gorillas in the heart of Congo. At 75, Chua Yew Beng is raring for more.
A TRAVELLER extraordinaire, entrepreneur Chua Yew Beng has globe-trotted to places many could only dream about. To date, he has visited over 180 countries, written a book on his travels, and even found a spot in the Malaysia Book Of Records.
Chua, 75, has been to the North Pole and Antarctica, visited three great falls – Niagara, Victoria and Iguazu Falls – as well as the highest waterfall in the world, Angel Falls (979m) in Venezuela.
Chua caught the travelling bug when he was in his thirties, and started off with Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. He enjoyed his tours so much that he made it a point to travel several times a year. His wanderlust has taken him to the far-flung corners of the earth.
“The most unforgettable places were Antarctica and the North Pole,” said Chua, who hails from Kota Baru, Kelantan. “The landscape was so scenic. There was ice and snow everywhere; the blinding whiteness was dazzling.”
Chua sailed on board the MV Lyubov Orlova for Antarctica on Dec 23, 2002, and set foot on Neko Harbour in Andvord Bay. Antarctica is an almost surreal realm for many a visitor.
Chua was awed by the sight of colonies of gentoo penguins and the spectacular scenery all around him. An expert at the expedition told him that there were an estimated 23 million penguins of various species.
“We were told not to go too near the gentoo penguins. When frightened, the penguins might take off and abandon their eggs. They lay two eggs at a time and the eggs take 36 days to hatch. The penguin poo really stank,” said Chua.
Chua was amused by the sight of a group of penguins which paraded up and down the same trail. “They looked like a line of security guards,” he added.
He also caught sight of groups of crab-eating seals, including leopard seals, resting at Wilhelmina Bay in Antarctica. In Flanders Bay, he had his first glimpse of a humpback whale and a minke whale.
When the Lyubov Orlova was leaving Antarctica. Chua saw thousands of sea birds such as albatrosses circling the ship as if to bid goodbye. Chua regarded such sightings as a good omen which signalled a smooth journey.
Two years later on July 21, 2004, Chua made it to 90° north, the North Pole, on board the nuclear-powered ice-breaker, Yamal. This achievement earned Chua a listing in the Malaysia Book Of Records in 2005. Chua, then, 66, and his friend Datuk David Tan, 65, were listed as “The Oldest Team to Complete a North Pole Expedition”.
In 2006, Chua decided to compile his adventures in the North Pole and Antarctica in a book, written in Mandarin, which was later translated into Bahasa Malaysia as Ekspedisi Ke Kutub Utara Dan Antartika. An English version is in the works.
Chua has distributed copies of his books to school libraries to encourage the young to read and to inspire them with tales of his travels. Copies are also given away to various schools and clan associations, to be sold at charity events in support of the said set-ups.
Chua recalls with pride his Trans-Siberian Railway ride of July 2005. The Vladivostok to Moscow train journey stretches 9,288km across seven time zones, and took 152 hours.
“In the past, Siberia (in Russia) was perceived as a dumpsite. But there are spectacular deserts there. In winter, the temperature can drop to -50°C,” Chua said.
Chua has travelled to see the wonders of the world such as the Great Wall of China, Taj Mahal in India, Jordan’s Petra, the Coliseum in Rome, Brazil’s Statue of Christ Redeemer, Mexico’s Chichen Itza Pyramid and the pyramids of Egypt. He has visited some of these places more than once.
He has covered 41 out of 55 countries in Africa. Come June, he will be visiting another four countries in Africa.
Seeing gorillas in the wild was a chance of a lifetime for Chua. When he was 72, Chua joined a safari to Congo to view gorillas in the wild. The group of 14 tourists were split into three teams. Each team was accompanied by four guards, two of whom were armed with guns and knives.
From Uganda, they crossed into Congo by truck. They trekked in the jungle for two hours to a site where they could view gorillas, but when they arrived there, the primates had left. They had to trek another three hours.
“It was one of my toughest trips,” Chua recalled. “We climbed over fallen tree trunks and trudged through the muddy, sometimes water-logged, grounds in the rainforest. After trekking a total of five hours, we spotted more than 10 gorillas. I was overjoyed!”
They stayed for 30 minutes to watch the primates – some up in the trees, playing among themselves or resting. It took them another four hours to trek back. The tour guide told them that there are only about 730 wild gorillas left and they live in the mountains that straddle Uganda, Rwanda and Congo.
Chua is equally adventurous when it comes to food. He is game for unusual, bizarre foods on his travels.
“It is all part of an enriching travel experience,” smiled Chua.
In Kenya, Chua tasted barbecued zebra, horse and crocodile meat. Ostrict meat was on the menu during a tour of South Africa; and he ate pangolin in Libreville, the capital of Gabon, in west central Africa.
Chua has feasted on hauls from the Amazon River. In Brazil, he sampled fried piranha in Brazil and fried arapaima, which was made into fish and chips. The arapaima is one of the largest freshwater fishes in the world, and can grow to a length of 2m.
In Ecuador, South America, Chua tucked into barbecued guinea pig; in Tibet, it was tenualosa reevesli, a fish with edible bones.
In Belarus in Eastern Europe, Chua tried barbecued bear; in Greenland, he tasted seal meat and ate whale meat curry.
In Saudi Arabia, he ate camel meat and camel hump.
“Camel hump was served upon request. It was oily but very delicious,” Chua added.
It does look like there is no limit to what Chua can stomach. At his age, he is still raring to go.
“I plan to travel for as long as I can. If you have the will, there is no place on earth you can’t reach,” said Chua.
Long, hard climb to the top