Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Cameron Highlands,Central Malaysia



Joy of joys. The road from Ipoh to the Cameron highlands winds up through green jungle valleys with brown and white crags standing proud of the trees and steep drops falling away from the road. Soon there acres of poly tunnels growing strawberries and lettuce and flowers. A common sight in many highland communities the world over.  Each group of tunnels is perched on any available piece of flat ground which, from a distance, gives the impression of there being hundreds of little lakes upon valley slopes. Still further up and we start to hit the terraced and rolling tea fields that make the Cameron highlands famous. The town is small with a little High Street lined with cafes, tour operators and convenience stores.  Again like most high up places there is a buzz, a feeling of hope brought about by the cleaner, cooler air and with the sun shining down on us it bodes well for our stay. We are picked up at the station by Krish – A Malaysia born man of Indian descent, the owner of De’Native guest house. A very friendly, charismatic and interesting man who gave up the corporate life of the town’s bank manager 7 months previously to follow his dream.
 
We follow a steep single road out of the little town of Tanah Rata to his secluded property 5 mins drive away. There we see and instantly fall in love with our reed hut (one of 5) that sits overlooking the valley with a small garden with chairs to sit on. Although small about 9ft x 7 with bathroom extension it is well made with solid walls covered with reed matting, a scruffy rush roof and comfy bed. It’s perfect. Whilst the accommodation is somewhat small and basic, the concrete floored bathroom has a claw footed roll topped capacious bath and can be filled with lashings of lovely piping hot water in the cool evenings. Rachel had her first bath for over a year – And it was about time!

 
 


Krish turns out to be the perfect host - welcoming, helpful, funny and generous. Before we have barely unpacked he is plying us with drinks on the terrace along with a detective friend of his. I think that between him, the hut and the surroundings that we might be here for a few days.

Here’s a funny thing… There is a puppy called Native at the guesthouse. He is the pride and joy of Krish who tells us that he only speaks to Native in English and not his own language of Tamil. He adds he is having real problems with his employee Ram (the sort of handyman, helper at the guesthouse) because “this 65 year old fellow keeps talking to the dog in Tamil and it is confusing him”. Consequently poor Ram is having to learn English in order to talk to the dog!!!!

The night drops quickly at about 7.20 here and with it the minimal noise that reaches the huts from the road below. By 9.30 all we can hear is the rustling of critters in the rush roof overhead, tree frogs calling to one another, and the insect hum that forms a backdrop to everything.

 

Today we walked, climbed, scrambled and trekked along jungle paths that lead out from the town. The town is at about 4,100ft above sea level but over the next 5 hours we covered 7km or so and reached the peak of Gunung Berembun at 6,050ft. In terms of height and distance this may not seem too much but the going was hard following first, rocky paths, then trails covered with roots, scrambling up sandy banks, and limestone outcrops, clambering over fallen trees and pushing through foliage. The whole time the landscape dropping down into crevises that needed
 
 
 descending and ascending.  It was a real adventure. In the 5 hours we passed two other little groups of people. A welcome event as we could mutually assure one another that we were going the right way. The whole time we were surrounded by nothing but jungle sounds of rustling of leaves in the light breeze, the sound of cicadas and bird call and sunlight shafting through the canopy above. A truly brilliant day!

 

Blimey heck! Another brilliant day. Woke up and went to the main house to get Rachel and I a cup of tea. It was all locked up with two bewildered looking Singaporeans sitting outside wondering what was happening to their room booking and who was in charge. I walked around, tried a few doors then called Krish (the owner) on his mobile to tell him Sonny and Marco (the Singaporeans) had arrived and wanted to get into their room, that I wanted to get into the house and that his man Ram was not there. Sadly he had been drinking the night before so was a little dozy and told me they (I assumed the Singaporeans) were in Room two, that it was open and that he would be there soon. Sure enough it was open so went in to check it was tidy and found a half naked woman on the bed. She screamed, I jumped and quickly left. Krish, it turned out later, had thought I was asking what room some other guests called Sophia (the screamer) and her boyfriend Marco were in!  Anyway he arrives and can’t get in to his own guest house because he hasn’t got the keys - Ram has. So, because, according to him, I am 4 years younger and therefore fitter than him, I have to climb through a window and open the place from the inside. Even weirder, a little later when we are going out and Krish has gone off somewhere again, the Singaporeans try to give their keys to me and I have to go around and lock the place up before we leave.

Because of the big walk yesterday we decide to go to a tea plantation and to make it even more exciting we decide to hitch the 12kms. Last time we hitched I was 17 and Rachel 15 so we are very excited. We tentatively stick out our thumbs and 7 cars go past before a nice Chinese lady stops and we jump in the back of her pick up for a 4 km ride before she turns off. I cannot tell you how cool this feels – the sun is shining, the scenery is stunning and we are hitching in the Malaysian highlands and sitting in the open back of pickup whizzing along the road with the warm wind in our hair. Next, again really quickly, an old Chinese couple pull up in their beat up landrover and take us a further 3kms before they too have to turn off. They speak no English so it’s mainly a case of pointing and smiling. Next an Indian man pulls over and he asks the lady to get in the back and the “gentleymen to be getting in the front”. Unbeknown to us the turning we want is only a couple of hundred metres up the road so no sooner do we get in but we have to rather embarrassingly get out.


Finally, after walking for only 10 minutes along the plantation road our last lift picks us up in another pick up and we are hurled around in the back until he drops us a short stroll from the entrance. All in all a very exciting and positive start to what might well become a new way for us to travel in the future.

 

The plantation is beautiful with undulating slopes throughout all covered with stunted tea bushes all planted close to one another with minimal space between the haphazard lines so a field of tea looks like the surface of broccoli. The intriguing configuration goes on and on for 12,000 acres and can be seen on almost vertical slopes and over slow rolling fields. All shades of green mixing together, dependent on the age of the leaf - light green shoots topping darker older leaves and all against the backdrop of the blue, blue sky. It is stunning and every turn in the landscape shows us a new and wonderful view. We have tea (naturally) with a scone and jam on a sky terrace that overhangs the fields and provides the most perfect setting. Finally we start our way home and since not many cars are on the plantation road have to walk (no hardship to do is such a setting) for about 20 minutes before we are picked up and brought all the way back to town, where upon the kind Malay man waves goodbye and heads back to where he lives some 5 kms up the Road.

 

And now. On this Wednesday afternoon at 4.00pm we sit on wicker chairs in the garden of the guesthouse, The Thievery Corporation plays quietly in the background whilst we lay back reading, eating apples, sipping iced tea and feeling the delicious warmth of the sun on our skin. Rachel laughs, I look up and question’ what’s funny’, “nothing, I am just so happy that it just bubbled over and had to come out somewhere”. Is it any wonder I love her so very much!!!!!

Just coz it made us laugh...Can't imagine why!

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