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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Lost in the Cameron Highlands

En route to the Cameron Highlands

2006-11-19 Tonight we ended up in the Cameron Highlands in a series of strange cubic centimeters of chance neither of us expected.

We got up early caught a taxi to the ferry, raced on to the ferry, pulling our massive trolley of luggage just in time to catch the next embarkation. Arrived in Butterworth and dragged on over to the chaotic bus station, but found the 9.30 to Lumut (Pangkor Island) full and rather than wait till the next at 11.30, set off for Ipoh the junction city en route. Had a cool (well air-conned) bus to the Ipoh bus station, but in the process decided to head for the hills rather than another hot beach, partly because the bus wouldn't return to Ipoh for no explicable reason.

So, after an hour wait in the hectic bus station, we managed, by the skin of our teeth, to find and catch our bus for the Cameron Highlands. The road wound steeply on upwards with occasional panoramic views of the receding lowlands and cloud capped hills above.

Then as we reached the highlands proper the bus conked out and we were stranded for about an hour by the road side while they sent out a mechanic who had no luck getting it going. The lonely Planet points out quite correctly that the Cameron Highlands is where old buses go to die! At this point, after most of the Malaysians had sent out cell phone messages to get picked up, I set up a tattoo of complaints and they got the mechanic to whisk us (and us only leaving a couple of Japanese girls and two young Malaysians in head scarves) off to the nearest hill town where we caught a local bus to Tanah Rata, the Indian hill town at the centre of the highlands.

Tanah Rata

Cameronian Inn

Staying at the Cameronian Inn 50 Rt for two. There are a lot of treks on the dining room notice board. First cool night since central China, misty rainy, and a bit like the Indian hill stations of Darjeling and Ootacamund. If the weather picks up we'll go walk in the forest - otherwise we'll head for the sea again.

Lost in the Clouds

2006-11-20 Got up today thinking we were going to take the 1.30 bus for Kuala Lumpur. This was itself something we had never intended to do till we got here as we hate big cities but in the process of being here we realized there are three cheap backpackers right outside the KL Puduraya bus station which means we can bed down and go for a saunter in China town and Little India KL style.

Anyway we decided to go on walk number 10 up the ridge above Tanah Rata and see if we could see a view over the town. The path starts from a little deserted garden along the road called "Tan's Camelia Garden" and you wind up from there to a little shelter and past that up into the forest. Walking was cold and a little bit too much like the temperate forests of New Zealand where we live, but the path wound up and down and then got really steep and for a while I left Christine half way up till I found there was a cool flat glade below the summit in sight. She alternated between too hot and puffed and chilled to the point of hypothermia, suddenly shaking and donning all her clothes and jackets. Eventually we came out in to the open with a sense of victory and we could see out over the crazy mix of market gardens under plastic 'glasshouses' tea plantations and ski-lodge like apartment blocks in the town below as well as the cloud tipped hills around.

Then I climbed higher and found a way to the summit which had a stunning view all the way back to the lowland plains of Malaysia from which we had ascended to around 6,000 feet.

On the summit was a Malaysian butterfly collector with a huge net catching rare butterflies on the wing. He literally had a big satchel with countless butterflies wedged into pockets like a living stamp collection. By de4grees I persuaded Christine to climb the step slopes to the summit so she could enjoy the victory view amid vertigo and altiphobia.

Then the butterfly collector pointed out a less precipitous way back which we followed slowly down through the cloud forest, descending a long ridge which took us far from the town.

We then came to a cross roads in the little bush tracks and there was an old hill tribe man dragging two large logs who disappeared back up into the forest path. After a pause realizing there was no obvious way out we decided to follow the trail the man had taken, climbing back up to another cloud-topped summit full of forkings in the path which I had to explore, shouting to Christine, to try to find a way through. In the middle it began to rain.

Finally we ascended a second peak and used the compass and map to figure roughly where we were, and I took another exploratory run down the other side and finally heard human voices in the distance and then saw below the roofs of an 'aboriginal' hill tribe village Sungai Ruil Orang Asli, taking another hour to walk back the 3 or 4 kilometers to Tanah Rata.

We then tried to book a ticket to KL in the morning and found we were on the same bus company that broke down yesterday, so we have booked on the VIP bus early for an additional 5 Rp each.

Some of the local fauna in the tourist centre waiting for the bus out.

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