Back to KL

A longer day than was expected. I’d pretty much decided to head back to Kuala Lumpur this morning, especially as overnight the rain poured down loud enough to wake the dead let alone me. The weather by morning was much improved, but I chose to join Maria and Oliver on the early bus to KL. After all, I’d been trying to force myself to move on for about 5 days!

A few buses are available, but the 10:30 and 16:30 services were cheapest at MR17.30. There were a few tickets left and, after grabbing breakfast from the Kang Hotel, we boarded. It turned out to be the exact same bus which had brought me to Tanah Rata in the first place. I recognised the broken seat (which some poor Chinese woman had to endure for the whole journey).

It’s a long, windy trip down the mountain so don’t expect to sleep much. And then we had to deal with an Indian guy in the back row being sick into a clear plastic bag for all the world to see. His hurls were quite quiet, but the HHHAAAAAWWWWWWKKKK as he cleared his throat afterwards was stomach-churning.

Neverthless we survived into the town at the bottom of the hill where we mystifyingly pulled into some yard full of broken buses. Reversing out, we next arrived at a bus station where we had thirty minutes to grab food. I, erm, opted for a KFC. Partly as I knew they’d have clean loos.

Back on the bus, we drove for five minutes and into a second scrapyard where we were ordered off. The two front tyres both had nails stuck in them and needed replaced, so we were delayed around half an hour as this was done. When we re-boarded, Maria ended up sat next to me as the sick Indian guy had decided to occupy both the seats she’d been using to sleep on. I hope I didn’t drool down her shoulder as I slept on the now-flatter part of the journey.

For reasons best known to himself, the driver decided to shut off the aircon as we were around half an hour from the city. Maybe he wanted us to acclimatise. Maybe it broke. Either way, we were stifling by the time we were dropped off. Oliver had another bus to catch to Melaka and Maria and I walked to the Golden Triangle area in search of accommodation.

Steff’s recommendation of the Red Palm looked nice, but was full until next week. We tried their sister hostel which was also full. As was the Trekker’s Lodge I’d used the week before. We ended up in Green Hut, where I stayed back in December 2006. It’s much as I remember, including the lack of wi-fi. At least I have a long network cable so I can still use my laptop.

Food was needed and after a little trek, we found a street café opposite the IT Mall. As we were looking through the menu, staff from the other restaurants nearby were screaming “Sir! Miss! Sir! Look first! See here!” and waving menus like demonstrating students. Seriously, it was like a culinary version of the current Thai protests, and reminded me of the seagulls from Finding Nemo (“Mine! Mine! Mine!”).

After Maria failed to find somewhere that would sell her an iPod loaded with music – something that hadn’t been a problem in Bangkok – we walked round to the cinema and picked up tickets for Deception. Not a bad film, and they didn’t censor so much of it to spoil it as with Death Race.

And that was really it for the day. A fruitless search for a spare wi-fi signal saw me using the cable (I need a new one with unbroken clips) and I think I have plans for tomorrow. Still not sure of my next destination, but it’s looking like being Bangkok or Sihanoukville.

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You can tell you’re getting old when…

…you spend the night in a hostel bar drinking spirits.

And they (the 20’s brigade) start sober.

And you’re on cheap whisky (40%, £2 for 350ml, tastes crap unless you mix it with Coke)

And then a nice Dutch couple give you a 1l bottle of Black Grouse which you drink neat (of course, it’s good whisky)

And you’re the one sat up on the internet 2 hours later when everyone else has gone to bed. With water for when they wake up in the middle of the night with a mouth like a Bedouin‘s welcome mat.

Good grief.

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Guess where I am today?

Erm, yeah. Still in Tanah Rata. I’ve decided against the Perhentian Islands as it seems the weather is taking an early turn for the worse. The weather here is apparently what it is normally like in December and out on the coast, high winds are causing huge waves. Thunderstorms are predicted by the weekend.

So not a good time to hit the beach. A shame as I’d heard the diving is very cheap although on the other hand, the accommodation’s expensive and pretty poor. Instead I’m more considering a return to KL and then a check of the trains. If there are no services north of Butterworth then I’ll fly up to Bangkok for a brief stay and then on to Vietnam. I may still look at doing my Dive Master course in Sihanoukville, too. We’ll see how the time goes.

In the meantime, just chilling here on MR50 per day and walking Rocky. All good.

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Walking the dog

I told you I was chilling out here. Rocky, the mad dog from reception, needs walked quite a bit as he’s young and energetic – two boxes I really no longer tick myself. The staff are busy and have posters up asking guests to take him with them on walks, which I’ve been all too happy to do. He’s great fun and so many people in town know him.

The reactions he gets are mixed, though. Many Indians are scared of him, adults and children alike literally jumping away when he comes near. The Chinese children seem a little wary while the adults are fine. Tourists love him. I’m not sure how much of this is cultural, religious or just personal. He doesn’t seem to take it personally himself. Which is good.

I took him for a walk up one of the side streets and into the hills yesterday morning, and then all the way to some strawberry farms in the afternoon. Sasha and Emma were heading up there to get some strawberry ice cream, but I couldn’t take Rocky in the taxi. I arranged to meet them at a particular farm, but it was shut when I got there, as were the two nearby. I walked back to the hostel and sat down to read my book… and Emma appeared with a large bowl of strawberries and vanilla ice cream! Star 🙂

A bunch of us went out for dinner to one of the local Indian places that night, and then on to the Jungle Bar to sit round the fire and chill out over a few beers. A good night.

Sasha and Emma left for Taman Nagara this morning, and Emma kindly left me a couple of cans as thanks for lending her my sleeping bag. She’d been feeling the cold more than most and I wasn’t using it so it made some sense. I spent the day with Maria from Denmark and Steffie from Switzerland, out walking with Rocky. We trudged up to the strawberry farms that had been closed yesterday and had some very nice strawberry ice cream. With strawberries.

Exercise, nice weather and good company. This is why I’ve stayed here too long. Maybe I’ll move on tomorrow. Or the day after. Hmm.

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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?


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