Rushing around the Highlands

Time to get out and about. I booked a full-day “Adventure” tour at reception for MR98 and was picked up at 8:45 by Balan, a large Indian guy with an impressive moustache and an even more impressive hat. The LandRover he drove was mud-spattered and covered in dead foliage, with bull horns mounted on the hood. It also contained a Dutch couple who were to be my companions for the day.

I talked to the couple (apologies – I didn’t get their names, which is typical of me) during the 45-minute drive out of town where Balan turned off the road and onto the scariest dirt track I’ve ever been down in a motor vehicle. Well, actually, it was up. Rollercoasters have nothing on this bit of the drive, but Balan handled it like he did it every day. Which he probably does.

After maybe ten or fifteen minutes of bone-jarring and slip-sliding, we pulled into what passed for a parking spot and fell out of the LandRover. We spotted a small motorbike nearby. How anyone managed to get that up the mud and rocks is amazing. On the way, we’d picked up a local guide from a village at the bottom of the hill. The locals effectively own the land we were on, and only with their permission are we allowed to go waking through it and up in to the hills.

Our hike lasted about an hour before we came across a small area which was home to a scattering of Rafflesia. This is often documented as being the world’s largest flower although Balan had his own theories, mainly that it was a fungus and not a flower as it has no leaves. Petals – of a sort – but no leaves. One thing that’s certainly true is that it has virtually no odour, despite what the books say about it smelling of rotten flesh or dead meat. If you take some of the “petal” and smoosh it, there is a very faint smell of what I would say is bacon. It certainly doesn’t stink.

Interestingly, they only grow from the roots of other plants, such as the nearby trees. From seed implantation to flowering can take many years, yes the flower only lasts up to a week before starting to wither and die. In the Cameron Highlands, there are Rafflesia almost all year round due to the climate having little variation. It’s also one reason why there are so many tea plantations in the area.

At this time of year there are few tourists, but when groups consist of a dozen or more then the smaller “bulbs” are protected to stop people accidentally treading on them. Balan filled us in on a lot of information. Anything he didn’t tell us, he had an answer for if asked. A great guide.

We walked back down the hill and stopped for a paddle in a stream near a small waterfall. Coming up the hill were two Spanish tourists I’d met briefly at breakfast in the nearby hotel. They mimed that I’d left my cap at the table – I was wondering where that had gone!

Refreshed and watered (our local guide had found some bamboo filled with water which he hacked down for us) we trekked back to the Landie and made our descent. Which was even scarier than the climb.

At the bottom we entered the village where we were given a demonstration on the use of the blow-pipe, then had a shot ourselves. It’s not that easy, but I did manage to hit the target on each of my attempts even if I didn’t get the dart into any of the circles. Souvenir miniature blowpipes were available and I was tempted, but I didn’t trust the UK customs/post not to lose or confiscate them. After all, the darts have little points so I might hurt myself on them or something and that just can’t be allowed.

We had a choice for lunch of the tea plantation café or an Indian. We opted for the café as it would have a good view, and I’d had an Indian the night before for dinner. Balan drove us up through the hills and staggering scenery to the “tea shoppe” with it’s overpriced cuppas and cakes. I spent a small fortune, but it was worth it. Lovely.

One of the shop workers gave us a quick trip around the tea factory, which is very small. Picking is done by both hand and machine, depending on the type of tea. The leaves are then chopped, crushed, fermented, dried, separated and sent for packaging. After a quick look through the propaganda… I mean advertising area, where we were convinced that BOH tea is the best in the world, we were driven to a nearby butterfly farm.

Entrance wasn’t included in the tour price, but it was only MR5 anyway. We spent almost an hour walking around – Balan had to toot the horn to get us to leave! As well as butterflies, the farm plays host to a decent collection of flowers, plants, insects and reptiles. The larger insects are handle-able if you’re up for it, from rhinoceros beetles to black scorpions. The stick insects, leaf insects and orchid beetle have to be seen to be believed. Nature can come up with the most astounding camouflage.

Our last stop was a strawberry farm. They use hydroponics here and grow the berries off the ground in a kind of scaffold. This makes them less strenuous to harvest and also maximises the use of ground area. There’s very little to see at the strawberry farms, but they sell some excellent produce which we, of course, tucked into.

Then back to the hostel. My new Dutch friends went back to their hotel and popped back up to see me so I could burn their photos to CD for them. I’ve no idea if anywhere in town does it, but it wasn’t a problem. I’d rather they made the backup than not.

For dinner I treated myself to a pepper steak at tea café. Not the cheapest thing on the menu, but really nice. And I’d done a power of walking, so why not?

Balan

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