The Cameron Highlands

Day 407 – 11 April, 2016

The distance between Penang and Kuala Lumpur is mostly covered in tropical jungle foliage and a number of vast tea plantations. The difference between the two?  About 15 degrees C. After the stifling heat in Penang, Martyn and I wanted to do some trekking in a decidedly more mild climate so the decision was clear. We headed south and up into the atmosphere of Tanah Rata. The area, collectively known as the Cameron Highlands, was once famous for its high-grade tea, but after several decades of modernization moving away from manual labor, the production processes are such that the tea is no longer superior to its competitors. No matter, the rolling hills covered in camellia were enough to make even a hardened traveler (that’s me) swoon.

Our first day, Martyn and I trekked into the cloud forest with Jason, a passionate guide with extensive knowledge about the state of the surrounding forest. His emotional investment in his homeland was apparent in every way. He talked about habitat destruction for the wildlife, the changing rain patterns and how it affects the mossy ecosystem, the decline of biodiversity, and gave an impassioned plea for interested parties to contribute physically or financially to the preservation of this fragile environment. The trek was more challenging than we expected on an intense incline over the mountain. Sadly, the highest point, which was expected to give jaw-dropping views of the valley, was completely enveloped in cloud cover. As we descended the other side, the clouds began to part and the vibrant green rolling hills sprawled below us. I still think this is one of the most uniquely beautiful landscapes I have seen.  I even took a swing on a jungle vine just to emphasize the point!  We continued down until we finally finished our trek at Cameron Valley Tea, where I couldn’t resist weighing in on the claim that they serve the best chai tea in the world. They grind all their own spices daily and the chai was indeed delicious, if not the best.

The Mossy Forest, a separate location from our trek, showcases the delicate balance between biodiversity and the dependence on consistent precipitation. Once offered as an independent trekking site, it now has wooden walkways on a very specific out and back route. For an intrepid explorer, this wasn’t ideal but knowing that the bridges and walkways were built to protect the moss from trampling feet, it’s definitely an improvement and hopefully will make a long-term positive impact for future generations. 

And you can’t visit the Cameron Highlands without drinking some tea! For a traditional English garden presentation on our trek back from the Mossy Forest, we stopped at The Smokehouse, which is also a quaint bed & breakfast off the beaten path. Amongst pots of hydrangeas and water lilies, I relied on Martyn’s well-seasoned skills to show me the proper way to take my tea. I don’t dislike tea exactly, but I’m rather indifferent to it. I’ve been known to willfully choose a green tea or a chamomile from time to time, but I will always prefer coffee. It’s in my genes. Regardless, we left the humidity behind us in Penang so it was fun to enjoy this typical English ritual with scones and fresh cream on such a pleasant day on what would be our last afternoon together.

A windy, sickness-inducing drive out of the highlands deposited us into a bustling rail station of Kuala Lumpur. It was time for Martyn to return home and I would still have a reprieve from honest backpacking at a friend’s home in the city. One thing was certain though – we were already looking ahead to another time and place when Martyn and I could rendezvous again.

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