Thursday, 3 April 2014

Cameron Highlands

Desperately seeking cooler climbs we left Penang during a rain storm, our first rain for four and a half months! Despite the rain it was still a sticky 36C, so we opted to take a luxury bus to the Cameron Highlands to get out of the heat. After the town of Ipoh the bus climbed higher and higher into the hills, the temperature dropped and we entered the cloud base at around 1000m. The central town of the Cameron Highlands is Tanna Ratta, famous for Tea Plantations and strawberry cultivation. As the road climbed higher pollytunnels extended as far as the eye could see, growing underneath everything from tomatoes to strawberries to flowers. Above them on the steeper slopes, the rich greens of the tea plantations and beyond them on the steepest highest slopes the remnants of the rainforest, moss filled jungles with giant ferns and bromeliads abound.

We checked into a cheery little hostel and savoured the delights of Tanna Ratta’s excellent foody places. This was by far the busiest tourist spot we’d been to since Railay in Thailand and we had to force ourselves to stop staring at the gaunt white faces everywhere. The weather was wet, humid and pretty chilly, actually requiring a jumper to sit out in the evening. It felt like being out in Fort William, on Scotland’s west coast, during a pleasant but damp June evening.

There were plenty of tours and day trips on offer but they all looked naff and a bit pricey, so we bought a local diagram-like map (artistically suggestive of trails with no scale) and picked our route, No.1 up Gunung Brinchang, the highest local mountain at 2031m. We set off the following morning, a taxi driver showing us the start of the route and after a few hundred metres the road gave way to a narrow mud track which weaved its way into the dense undergrowth and straight up.

We twisted and turned through the undergrowth and as the track got steeper we scrambled and crawled up and under tree roots, over rock outcrops and slithered up mud banks. The rain came down constantly and then heavily in sharp bursts. Sarah had her waterproof on but after an hour it was useless, saturated. The forest was thick with moss, it hung from every tree and vine, and giant bromeliads clung to boughs soaking up the fat rain as it fell. We emerged on a ridgeline, to the left the forest plunged steeply away and back towards the valley floor, to the right a steep drop into a raised basin full of bird calls and the sounds of monkeys. But with the cloud and the rain the view was very…….Scottish - cloud and bits of green!

After a two hour stomp, scramble and slither we emerged at the top next to a very attractive military radio mast and bored, damp looking guard on duty! Our walk down was much easier following the badly paved road which attracts the lazier of visitors by car to the top of Gunung Brinchang.  The 10km return journey brought us down through the forest emerging in the heart of the tea plantations. The lushness of greens almost blinded us despite the waves of grey rain and clouds that blew over and through us. Back on the main road after a few hours we waved down a car for a lift back to the main town, feeling guilt for drenching their back seats, but nobody seemed to mind. Back in Tanna Ratta for a well deserved cup of local tea to warm us up and a Rotti Chani (pancake) with curry sauce – mmmmmmm!

After seeing enough rain in two days to make up for the past 4 months we decided to hop on a bus and try Malaysia’s east coast.

Luxury travel, only 3 seats across in the big fun bus!

The start of a very wet, green, fun walk

Tree roots provide excellent ladders, these hardwood's roots were so tough that even the smallest of them didn't bend or flex

So much moss

More moss

An elf runs off into the dark wood from whence it came!

Two soggy woodland creatures

Sarah's first 2000m summit wahooo!!

Green and grey was thought for the day

These giant bromeliads were over two metres across

The ridge in the distance in the cloud was our line of ascent (we think)

A bit soggier

The siamese no headed fern (we named it)

Down to the tea and strawberry plantations

Very green tea

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