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“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” Ernest Hemingway

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8 February 2015

Cameron Highlanders

16th - 20th January 2015

     We left Ipoh for the Cameron Highlands in convoy with a fellow countryman Oliver Hamler who had been couchsurfing with us at Bella's place. The three hour bus journey along the winding mountain highways was a smooth one until we reached a police checkpoint. The officers boarded the bus armed with guns and in an intimidating tone ordered us to "show our passports". Naturally we quickly responded to this request and waited for the officer to reach us. Unusually he had no interest in the passports of any "Westerners" and a little interrogating he ordered almost half the bus to head outside to the checkpoint desk at which point the bus continued on its way. We later found out that the region has been hit hard by illegal deforestation and agriculture from mostly Bangladeshi and Burmese immigrants looking to take advantage of increased salaries. As a result the Malay government has clamped down on any individuals looking for work without the proper documentation.
Who said we've passed our peak

Mossy Forest
Malaysian Pitcher Plant waiting to catch some insects
    

      Despite the eventful journey we made it to Tanah Rata in one piece. Tanah Rata is the main town in the Cameron Highlands and is therefore the main commercial hub for the area with plenty of hotels, hostels, restaurants and stores. We booked four nights at Fathers Guesthouse, one of the highest rated hostels in town due to the friendly atmosphere and the great treks they offer.


Our band of backpackers

   Its all about the trekking and the tea in the Cameron's and on our first full day we arranged to join a 4 hour guided hike up one of the nearer peaks. Our guide Jason was a wealth of knowledge regarding the local flora and fauna, particularly when it came to the wild orchids. Unlike our other short hikes this was real jungle and its easy to see how people can become disorientated moving through the slightly claustrophobic web of roots and branches. The sightings of animals was limited to a few birds and one non toxic viper but that didn't really matter to us because for once we were able to feel like proper explorers of old.


Indiana Bones is back

this is more like it. where's that machete

     The jungles of the Cameron's are known as the "mossy forests" due to the abundance of tree hugging mosses. These sponge like plants are critical to much of the life that's evolved and many species are only found in this part of the world. From the peak of the mountain we had a great view of the valley below and a lunch break of much needed nutella sandwiches before heading toward the plantation. If I had known about the nutella and tea I would have tried this trekking lark a long time ago.


      As we approached the tea plantation we saw first hand the stark contrast from the thick mossy forest and the scorched earth from land clearance. However we were now left in awe of one of the most beautiful man-made landscapes around. The sweeping carpet of green leaved terraces stretched out as far as the eye could see and it was spectacular. The plantation shop signaled our finish line and being English we took great delight in celebrating with a finest and freshest cup of tea you can find with a view over the valley.


conditions change quickly here


thanks for the free parking
     Our second trek attempt came two days later where we planned to head out of Tanah Rata towards the town of Brinchang. The trek would be fine to complete on our own as long as we followed the trail. Like our first trek we decided to hike uphill through mossy forest for around 2 hours to reach a radio tower at the peak. From there it would be a longer gradual descent back to town through another plantation. This was a tougher hike than the first as it was uphill all the way but after just over two hours we made it to the top with a few scraped knees and a real bad case of sweat rot. The funny thing is by hitchhiking back and walking up we saved ourselves almost £20 compared to the guided tour which took tourists to the top by land rover, meaning they missed the jungle all together.
    



A stunning walk down to town through the plantations
    

look out KL were coming for you next
     As we leave the cool climate of the Cameron's behind and travel to the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur we are left with a sad truth. Sadly much of this unique habitat is being destroyed at an alarming rate due to deforestation for tea plantations and increasing temperature due to air pollution. Unfortunately the Cameron Highlands do not yet have national park status and therefore lack sufficient environmental protection policies. Hard efforts from local conservationists like Jason have fallen on deaf ears as many lack the education to understand that losing the jungle will mean huge long term consequences including a decrease in soil nutrition, increased run off and risk of regular landslides. The effects of recent landslides during an unusually wet December 2014 still scarred the landscape.

     Once again government corruption does little to help the situation with many officials to focused on short term monetary gains to care about the consequences for future generations. So for us it was a real privilege to explore a beautiful environment that is likely to die out in the next fifty to one hundred years and become just another notch on the long list of victims of mankind.

      Right serious article over and I promise the next post will be of a lighter nature and contain a picture of a cat or something.


Useful Links

Cameron Highlands
Fathers Guesthouse