Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Cameron Highlands: Tea, Flowers and a Creepy Bus Driver, 12-15 June 2011

Tanah Rata
A minibus pulls up at the hostel, the driver gets out and asks whether we are going to Cameron Highlands.  We confirmed and climbed aboard the unusually empty minibus.  What a fantastic trip we had just the three of us and the minibus driver.  We stopped at Father’s Guesthouse which sits overlooking the town of Tanah Rata, the administrative centre of Cameron Highlands.  Already we felt the relief from the heat as the Cameron Highlands is one of the highest points in Malaysia which means the temperature drops significantly.  I loved it as I had been in this humid heat ever since Saigon back in April and it was time to get some nice refreshing cool air.  The dormitory in Father’s Guesthouse was massive and took up the whole ground floor.

Our stomachs were grumbling a little so we headed down the hill to get some Indian food which Barbara and I had been wanting all week.  As we sat there ordering we were joined by the minibus driver that had brought us from Penang.  He’s quite an interesting fellow as he sat there declaring himself as a great short term lover to Barbara and Maggie.  Awkward!!

The bridge which Maggie did not fall through
The Cameron Highlands has some magnificent scenery and is home to the biggest single bloom and smelliest flower in the world.  Being stubborn and not wanting to throw money at an organised tour Maggie, Barbara and I were going to get a taxi and make the walk ourselves but the manager at our guesthouse sincerely warned us against that as there is no way we would be able to do it by ourselves.  Within the next thirty minutes a rather beaten 4 x 4 arrived ready to take us and a couple of others to see the flower.  It was definitely the right call as the initial drive along the main smooth highway ended as we turned off and headed up on a rough dirt road which had us all shaking and being thrown side to side.  The battering journey ended once the track became too inhospitable for the vehicle.  It was time for a trek.  The humidity in the jungle was high and a layer of sweat enveloped my body.

Rafflesia Arnoldi
The flower is called Rafflesia Arnoldii and is commonly referred to as the Corpse Flower as the smell it produces is akin to decaying flesh.  The manager of Father’s Guesthouse was quite right, we would never have found this flower on our own as the hike took us along a path to begin with but then off the beaten track through the bushes and over fallen trees to find one single flower in bloom.  I didn’t find it smelly at all, but that is maybe because I have been travelling for a while and my sense of smell has dramatically decreased. 

On the way back to Tanah Rata we stopped at a village full of recovering cannibals who had just recently stopped eating humans.  They did however have a selection of monkeys which were to be eaten later.  One small monkey had taken a liking to Maggie and clung onto her finger through the cage.  We finished by learning how to effectively use a blow pipe.  I think years of playing woodwind had helped me reach the target.   We then stopped for a bite to eat whilst watching a wedding party go past with their fantastic display of celebration.

Our driver, Barbara and Maggie in the plantation
The Malaya peninsular was a colony of the British Empire up until 31 August 1957 when it gained independence.  In 1963, Malaya joined together with Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak to form Malaysia, although Singapore was expelled from the federation two years later in 1965.  Malaysia is a democratic country, is described as megadiverse and although the main religion is Islam, they pride themselves on freedom of religion.  The other trip we did in the Highlands was to visit the Boh tea plantation which was introduced to the area by JA Russell in 1929.  Our taxi driver, who we luckily found by a street side food stall, originally came to Malaysia from India with his parents back in the 1930’s.  He related some fascinating stories of how he lived on the plantation and how the company’s owner looked after the families extremely well.  He also told us how he would enjoy playing football and cricket with British troops based in Tanah Rata and said that they were the best days of his life.

Time to work....
On the way to the plantation we stopped to buy some strawberries as the region is rich with berries and other delicious food.  Maggie told us that she had to be careful as she is allergic to them and within ten minutes and half a punnet she was complaining of a numb face.  Never before have I heard of someone being allergic to strawberries.  It was mildly humorous.  The view from the tea plantation was amazing and being with a man who had grown up here and knew how things worked was invaluable as he took us through the factory telling us how tea is processed and ended up in the café sharing cakes and coffee.  The man’s sister also baked some of the cakes that are sold in the plantation’s café.  What an amazing day, shame we had to say goodbye to Maggie who headed off to Kuala Lumpur that afternoon.

Can't forget our steamboat meal!!
Although we weren’t short of other people for long as that night we were joined by Reut, Nikolai and their friend Rudie who had just arrived from Langkawi.  Rudie was a Frech Canadian and had been injured during a motorcycle accident on Langkawi as a car hit him.  It was a shame that we only had one night with them as Barbara and I had organised our onward journey to the Perhentian Islands the next morning.

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