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Malaysia: Cameron Highlands

sunny 28 °C
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We kissed goodbye to our futuristic prison pods and got on a coach heading to Cameron Highlands. For the first time we had to jam our own bags into the luggage hold which, incidentally, we were crap at. We spotted two free seats near the back of the bus and quickly realised why they were unoccupied; the couple in front had fully-reclined meaning you had to limbo slide yourself into place. Our overheated, extra-stretchy muscles served us well and we managed to get seated. It didn't take Lauren long to start loudly huffing and puffing and aggressively kicking the chair in front. This woke the young Italian fellow quite abruptly but did cause him to adjust his recline by approximately 2°.

We stopped for a break after 2 hours and, starving, I stupidly picked a cup of buttery sweetcorn as a belated breakfast thinking it was healthier than a croissant. As we approached Cameron Highlands the roads got steeper and windier and the hot, salty butter in my largely empty stomach began to churn. Somehow I managed to refrain from vomiting but I've not been able to look at sweetcorn since.

We got to Brinchang town and managed to find our homestay using the vague directions we'd been given. We found a sign stating "Everything English Homestay", took and deep breath and knocked. Our hosts Fabian (from Harrogate) and his fiancée Lillian (from Malaysia) were incredibly welcoming and offered us cups of tea immediately (naturally). We were shown to our 'dorm room' but thanks to the cartoon stickers, plaid curtains and McDonalds height-measuring poster it felt more like a cosy children's bedroom, which made us feel warm and safe.
The apartment is littered with a plethora of Anglophilic ornaments; there are even pretty china teacups in the kitchen. Twee is an underestimation.

Soon enough, the other guest Julie, from Denmark, came back from her tour and we all chatted for a while while drinking Malaysian tea. She works as a social worker and was on holiday for a few weeks - a really nice girl.
I had a nap while Lauren watched the film Everest with her new best friend Fabian and, tummies rumbling, we followed the concrete stairway shortcut to Brinchang town in the search for sustenance. There are plenty of Chinese 'steamboat' (aka hot pot) restaurants in Cameron Highlands which are supposedly delicious but unfortunately they're not very cost-effective when there's only two of you eating. So instead we settled for a very average rice meal at a basic and overpriced Chinese restaurant.

Walking back to the homestay we eyed up the bashed up Landrovers everywhere along with rusted 'retro' cars like a 70s Fiat 131 or 80s Mercedes-Benz 230E taxis (or teksis as their known in Malay).
Taking full advantage of the box of copied DVDs, Lauren, Julie and I spent the evening watching Star Wars episode VII (Lauren's choice obv) which was actually quite entertaining; well done Disney.

For the first time in a while we both slept beautifully. Thanks to the perfect combination of no air-conditioning (the Brits originally came to Cameron Highlands to escape the heat - it's much cooler) and complete, natural darkness, we hibernated like baby chipmunks. Expectedly, we didn't want to get up, but we had booked a half day tour up Brinchang mountain to the cloud/mossy forest and so were quite happy to. Our guide was a chap called Navin and he was wise-cracking and knowledgeable like a good guide should be.

We were driven two thirds of the way up the mountain in a fairly modern Landrover and shown the BOH tea plantations; laid out in neat lines across hundreds of hectares of undulating hills. The tea 'trees' (kerala) are pruned every few months to keep them short; otherwise they can grow to be one hundred feet tall. As well, the younger leaves are the tasty ones and so only they get harvested anyway. The plantation is actually owned by a Scottish family and who started the BOH tea company in 1929.
The view was pretty spectacular; green for miles, and because of the well-formed lines, there was a scientific quality too. As if we could be looking through a microscope at an amazing geometric pattern created by nature.

We drove up to the summit of the mountain - 2032 metres high - and climbed the rusty watchtower along with many other tourists, some of whom were a little grumpy at the fact they had to wait to climb back down the narrow 1-person wide stairwell (Germans).
We then explored the estimated 230 million year old mossy/cloud forest which we learned serves an incredibly important purpose in keeping the entire ecological balance of Cameron Highlands in check. In the forest we watched a young Chinese girl (in flip flops I might add) drop her huge, sparkly smartphone into the spongey moist ground below the wooden walkway. We also got chatting to a lovely Canadian woman in her late forties who was travelling around SE Asia looking for good hikes and shopping destinations.

The last stop on the tour was a visit to the ridiculously busy BOH tea factory, shop and café. Luckily we squeezed in before the queue got too big to drink a pretty good cuppa, but the rest of our group weren't so lucky. In the café were lots of very adorable (and some obnoxious) children to pull faces at. There was one young male tourist with long curly blonde hair wearing only short shorts, wandering around pigeon-chested like he owned the place. The mere sight of this near-naked gentleman turned Lauren and I into middle-aged, conservative Texan women; of course we can acknowledge that it was quite hot but to be getting your little pink nipples out in the company of modest Muslim families is at best misguided and at worst fucking disrespectful. Oh well, a bit of shockery is always entertaining I guess. I've not been inspired to get my nipples out yet though - but there's still time.
That evening we found a grubby little Indian buffet where we both ate like queens, reminding ourselves as we do every so often, how much we love India and its food.

We got up early the next day to get a taxi to the biggest town in Cameron Highlands; Tanah Rata, the starting point of our guided 6 hour hike. As always were way too early but we used the extra time to get to know the resident dog known as 'Mum' (who ended up joining us on the hike) and have a proverbial cup of cha. We met Jason Chin, our AMAZING guide who in a previous life had been a conservationist and botanist. A Chinese-Malay, born and raised in Cameron Highlands, there was nothing he didn't know about the flora and fauna of Malaysia. Bizarrely, Jason has what we would describe as a 'posh' English accent, almost aristocratic, which he says he picked up while studying and working in London.
Our hike-buddies were a Dutch couple, an English girl (called Lauren) and a French girl. We secretly hoped they were as unfit as we are.

We started fairly gently with Jason stopping regularly to tell us about the native plants and trees we would be seeing a lot of. The warm up didn't last long though and we were soon well-away on trail number 10, scrambling up Gunang Jasar. After around 90 minutes we reached the top of the mountain; 1696 metres above sea level. Here both us humans and Mum the dog rested for a while. Jason pulled out some bread and Nutella and watched our Western faces light up with glee.
At this point we felt pretty good; we'd hiked up a pretty steep mountain within thick, lush jungle and over bare sandstone rocks and we hadn't passed out yet. Little did we know the next 4 or so hours were going to be much more intense.
The trail that used to be the one back down the mountain (trail 6) was permanently closed a few years ago because it became overgrown and too dangerous. The official way to go back down is to go exactly the same way you came up; along trail 10. Luckily (or unluckily depending on how you look at it), Jason doesn't give two shits about 'official' trails and as we approached the DANGER! THIS IS NOT TRAIL 6. DO NOT PROCEED THIS WAY. TURN BACK AROUND sign, we gulped and prayed.

The proceeding hike was a physical test; it turns out the descent was MUCH harder than the ascent. We were deep in the jungle with a floor of wet moss, spongy tree roots and wet leaves. Needless to say all of us fell over on average every 15 minutes. My main issue was stepping/jumping down off steep muddy and/or mossy ledges with nothing to hold onto except poisonous and/or horned branches. We battled on though, stopping periodically to take in the scenery and rehydrate. A saving grace was how cool the air was - we wouldn't have coped had it have been as hot as Penang. Along the way we saw a few different millipedes including a giant one and heard a variety of birds high up in the tree canopy.

After 3 hours or so we made it out of the jungle and into the Cameron Valley tea plantation where we walked along the sandbag paths and tried to avoid falling in the man-made stream. We walked through the plantation worker's village where Mum single-handedly saved us from a territorial pack of dogs. Jason told us that the workers are brought over from Bangladesh and Nepal as Malay people are rightfully reluctant to do the back-breaking work for very little pay.

Our legs felt like strings of spaghetti and we found ourselves walking in a rather unique fashion;

By the time we made it to Cameron Valley's tea shop and café our bodies were screaming for energy so we got some tea and ruined it with spoons and spoons of sugar. It turns out that tea was a mistake; hot caffeinated liquid sloshing around our empty bellies made us feel very nauseas very quickly. God we're hardcore.

Hike finished, we hopped in one of the vintage Merc taxis to Tanah Rata for some much-needed food. Jason's French wife Val joined us and the two solo girls from the hike for an amazing Indian buffet. We chatted for a couple of hours about Malaysia, Europe, government and culture. Jason even paid entire bill.

We returned to our homestay and were greeted by Fabian and Lillian long with a newly-arrived group of Singaporian women and a lovely young chap from Tajikistan who was sharing the room with us. We had made the mistake of thinking we would be back before anyone else and so had neglected to tidy up the mess of clothes on the floor in our room meaning Lillian and Fabian had had to do it. We were pretty embarrassed but chalked it up to not being given a proper time to follow. That and the fact we're lazy bastards.
A young Indian couple with a gorgeous little 2 year old girl turned up later on in the evening and we spent a few hours chatting about their homeland. I'm sure the last thing they wanted to do while on holiday was lament over India with some Brits but they very kindly humoured me.

Our brains very much awake but our bodies shutting down by the minute we retired early to bed, as did our roomie Yassin. We hoped our legs would wake up the next day for our onward journey to Kuala Lumpur.

Posted by advensha 02:28 Archived in Malaysia Tagged rainforest nature hiking trekking tea malaysia adventure backpacker tourists backpackers strawberries colony cameron_highlands tea_plantation mossy_forest cloud_forest

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