Chillin’ in the Cameron Highlands

In the Cameron Highlands, you’re never far from a hilltop. So it’s not so remarkable that I’m currently typing from the top of a wee hill here at Father’s Guest House. The cool breeze is still a refreshing change after the heat of the rest of Southeast Asia. The nights have even managed to force me into an extra layer of clothes.

I’m not constantly dripping in sweat and I don’t have to endlessly replenish fluids. When I scratch my neck, my fingernails don’t immediately return in a blackened state from the filthy skin desperately trying to escape my overheated body. That equatorial sun still can take a toll, but at least I don’t feel like I’m being baked in the process.

It’s almost like a pleasant spring day. Everyday. You could make cloud watching into a sport here. The wind sweeps puffy shapes through the air so rapidly you get rained on before you see the cloud that’s pelting you. But the rain is rarely anything to fret about – it too is brushed away by the wind in a few minutes.

I’ve spent the last few days wandering about the area both on my own and with a couple of tours in Land Rovers. My first full day here, I hopped on a bus and proceeded to wait for almost an hour before it went anywhere – I spent that time trying not to listen to an old man next to me babble on about who knows what to himself. And when I say babble, I mean practically shout. Of course, he was speaking some foreign language I didn’t recognize, but I’m pretty sure he wasn’t saying anything coherent.

Once the bus had actually started moving, I found myself at the Kea Farms, a group of farms where just about anything that can be grown is indeed grown there. Vegetables, flowers, cacti, fruit, and any other plant you could fit in a car is on sale there in a series of nurseries to make any gardener envious. In addition to the plants, there is a honey bee farm and a butterfly garden. The bees were as friendly as bees get and buzzed around the nearby flowers. The butterflies were plentiful and docile which lead me to learn a valuable lesson.

The lesson is this: having your macro lens is more important than having clean underwear. I made the terrible error of leaving my macro lens in Kuala Lumpur. I’m really not sure what I was thinking there. I mean, the butterflies of the Cameron Highlands and the other creepy crawlies I’ve seen here beg for this lens! To say nothing of what I might see when I arrive in Taman Negara in just over a day. I truly failed myself there since my other lenses couldn’t really capture the images I could have with the macro. When in KL, I reasoned that I could fit a couple pairs of underwear into the space occupied by the lens. But really, if I had just worn my raincoat around my waist instead of cramming it into my tiny bag, all this wouldn’t have been an issue. Oh well.

After the butterfly farm and my irritation with my lack of foresight, I consoled myself with fresh strawberry juice at a farm where you can pick your own berries. I followed that up with a strawberry milkshake. Yum. They just take a huge scoop of strawberries fresh from the vines and blend them all up in front of you to delicious perfection. So good I was compelled to get another one the next day.

The late afternoons and evenings here have largely been occupied by the movies that are always being shown in the common area here at the guesthouse, so that’s been nice and relaxing. Yesterday I saw Crash (very good) and, for the first time since I lived in Japan, the tail end of Lost in Translation. After living there, the movie is that much better – they got so many good details in there.

A couple days ago, I was scheduled for a full-day tour of the area, but it turned into a half-day when the main road through the highlands was closed down for Malaysia’s answer to the Tour de France: the Tour de Langkawi. Cyclists were climbing the area’s mountains in what must be one of the more difficult legs of the race while locals congregated along the roadsides to cheer on the riders.

With my strawberry milkshake in hand, I watched the race with a couple of nice girls from England who have become good companions here in the highlands. All the while, we wondered why anyone would really go out of their way to come watch cycling unless they knew someone in the race.

It progressed like this: Wait for almost two hours. Watch the leader pass. Cheer. Wait for a couple minutes. Watch second and third place go past. Cheer. Wait five minutes. Watch a pack of riders pass. Cheer (and watch the locals cheer extra hard for the Malaysian riders). Wait some more. Repeat. Not much to it. Perhaps if body checking was allowed, or there were obstacles in the way, or, the truly Canadian solution: put the cyclists on ice, give them sticks and make the chase around a rubber disc. Bike hockey! It could be huge.

The morning that day was a little more entertaining. We started by taking in some nice views of the area’s tea plantations before visiting the tea factory. It was surprisingly more interesting than I had expected. Too bad much of the information I learned has already left my head so I won’t be able to sip tea and pompously prattle on about the tea making process in a British accent. Because I do accents so well…

The Land Rover then wound it’s way up the highest peak in the region where we took in the views from a lookout tower and tried not to get blown off the side of the mountain by the gusts.

A short way down the mountain, we stopped once more and our guides detailed the various potential uses of the area’s plants. I now know how to kill a person by using various poisons. My particular favourite is the one that will make a person have a heart attack six months after they have ingested the plant. Don’t cross me folks.

Our trek through the mossy forest was next. Pants covered in mud, we dodged the low branches and tripped over roots while searching for pitcher plants and other wewird and wonderful flora. The pitcher plant is one of the few carnivorous plants in the world. It has a small receptacle where water collects then is mixed into a sweet juice that attracts insects. The hapless creatures drop in, sip some of the nectar, get drunk and quickly find it hard to get out of the slippery petals.

I was supposed to be making a visit to a village of the Orang Asli (meaning ‘original people’) in the area in the afternoon but thanks to the area’s Lance Armstrongs, that wasn’t possible. So, I have decided to stay up here in the cool for an extra day.

This morning was that village visit. The Land Rover made good use of its suspension on the ride there and back on some of the bumpiest roads I have ever experienced. In fact, I can’t recall bouncing around in a car much more than here.

Before hitting the village, we checked out some local vegetable and flower farms where the relatively rare ‘dancing lady’ flowers were growing. They now have their dancing lady moniker after enough people snickered at their former epithet: ‘the golden shower.’

Once at the village, we first visited a nearby waterfall and checked out the poisonous spiders spinning huge webs across our path. At the village, we sampled the Orang Asli’s tea and tried their tapioca. This recharged us for when we learned how to use a blowpipe. I don’t know how long I would last as an Orang Asli hunter – I only tried a couple times, but my first shot was well off the mark. My second was straight and true, but failed to stick into the target. Had I been truly hunting, my prey would have gotten little more than a tickle before scurrying off. Good thing I’m a vegetarian.

We briefly wandered about the village where bamboo houses stand a meter or two off the ground to keep from flooding and rotting. Unfortunately, most of the children were off at school or hiding in some other place. The couple that did show their faces were cute as could be and got a big kick out of seeing their image on my digital camera. Maybe I’ll have better luck and get to interact with a few more people if I get to visit another such village in Taman Negara.

Now, here in the middle of the afternoon, I now have enough time to do some thorough relaxing up in the cool air. I’ll have to make the most of it before I head to the sea level heat.

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