5 December 2011

Long Walk Down [Cameron Highlands, Malaysia]

The Cameron Highlands are a unique part of Malaysia. Sitting at around... well, I cant find out how high, but it is pretty high... so the climate is much cooler than most of the country. This allows plants to grow here which otherwise would not, in particular tea and strawberries. In true Malaysian style, the area is thick with lush forest, but in between the hills are covered in rows of green and golden tea. Spectacular.

We arrived in to Tanah Rata, the main travelers hub of the highlands, in the early evening. The trip up was painfully slow - the huge bus trying to navigate the thin, windy mountain roads, but extremely beautiful. We caught our first glimpses of the tea plantations, as well as the untamed forest which stretched out over the valleys. By the time we got in it was too late to go out and explore, so we found ourselves a cheapish guest house for the night.

The following morning Julia and I rose early, determined to make the most of the day. While mornings here in Malaysia are generally sunny, the weather usually turns to torrential rain by mid-afternoon. We hitched our way up to the next village (Berin Chang) then set out on trail number one, a hike to the top of the highest peak in the area; Mount Berinchang.

It was more a climb than a hike, as the majority of the way we were clambering up and over huge tree roots, fallen trees, and skidding up muddy banks. It was seriously steep and did not relent for about two hours. And the flat parts were basically pits of mud. So when we were not climbing our time was spent balancing on tree branches, or tip-toeing around the edge of huge mud puddles. But once at the top we had a view out over miles of untouched forest. Worth the sore feet, aching muscles and mud covering our legs and feet? I'm not entirely sure. But it was nice.

At the top of the mountain there is a road which winds its way down to Berin Chang. The climb was a much more direct route, only about 5kms, where-as the road was 11! There was almost no traffic, so we were faced with a long walk down. Thankfully after about 4kms we entered the tea-plantation area and there were more people around. The plantations were really amazing, covering the hills as far as you could see. Even impossibly steep areas were covered with green and gold tea bushes.

A couple of kilometers down the road we were lucky enough to get a ride with a nice Malay family. They took us back to Berin Chang, then invited us to share some durian with them. Durian is this strange spiky fruit that smells really bad, but (apparently) tastes amazing. I had started hearing about it when I got to China and it has always been around through most of Asia. I had smelt it a few times which really put me off (it is banned in from most hotels, cinemas etc) but the Asian people in general go crazy for the stuff, so I thought I had better give it a go. It was... interesting. It kind of tasted like custard, and a couple of times I thought it was really nice... I think the wind must have been blowing though, as most of the time I could not get past the smell!

That evening we jumped on a bus for Penang. The idea was to spend a day or two looking around the island, then catch a ferry across to Indonesia.

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