Sunday, September 20, 2015

Trekking in the Highlands

I arrived in the Cameron Highlands after what felt like an incredibly long time in Kuala Lumpur (3 days, can you tell I'm not a fan of the city?) and I was instantly in love with the Tanah Rata and the highlands. I knew nothing about the place but when I got off the bus I was fell in love with the greenery and nature around me, the cool, sometimes cold, fresh air and the fact that it was so much smaller and laid back than KL. I checked into the CH Travelers Inn which ended up being great for meeting fellow backpackers and finding people to go trekking with and while talking with them and exchanging the usual backpacker sentences - "Where are you from? How long have you been traveling for? Where have you been? Where are you going to next?" I responded by saying I had been traveling for 3 months and I was instantly floored. My second day in Manila I'd spoken with a girl traveling for 3 months and I could barely imagine getting to that point since I'd become so accustomed to the whirlwind 12-17 day trips which were the only type of trips I could go on until now. In Manila I joked that I'd blink and suddenly it would be 3 months. It happened.

My first day there I met six girls all traveling solo, all german (they're taking over the Cameron Highlands),  and the next morning we decided to hike Path 1. Around the area there is about fourteen different treks you can do and we went with the one that was supposed to be the most difficult but had the promise of a delicious tea plantation at the end of it. We left the hostel clad in multicoloured cheap plastic rain ponchos, hit the main road and then hitched our way to the start of the path past the town of Brinchang. It was too hard as a group of seven so we split and four of us ended up in a car with the wonderful Jan, an absolute sweetheart who I was also able to practice a bit of Malay with. Halfway there, we saw the other group of girls walking so we asked Jan to stop and pick them up too, good thing so many people in the area drive pickup trucks. The walk up was steep and grueling and after weeks of lounging on a beach and barely even walking around I was loving any amount of physical exercise. It helped that we were surrounded with stunning views of the tea fields all around us. We made it to the top of Gunung Brinchang and sadly the stunning views did not follow since at 2000m the view we had looked like a blank sheet of paper. While the skies in KL are white due to smog or burning fires from Indonesia, the Cameron Highlands is often blanketed with thick sheets of mist so it's common to see nothing at the peak. We entered the mossy forest in hopes of finding the giant rafflesia flower but when the patch became so muddy that we were almost knee deep and the people coming from the opposite direction looked like mud monsters, the 5 girls turned back leaving Isabella and I to venture further on our own. We never did find the flower, apparently it is in bloom for an extremely short amount of time, but we did emerge from the Mossy Forest also looking like mud monsters and realizing that out of the sweaty dirty backpacker group we were now the worst.

We walked down to the Sungai Palas Tea Plantation to try the boh tea, however the poor tea was completely outshone by the scones and even more so by the cakes. We finished our cakes and sat talking for a while as we were all eyeing up the abandoned table next to us that still had a nearly full piece of cake, and to make it worse, it was the banana carrot cake which was the best of the seven we tried. Finally one of the girls grabs the cake and we end up helping her finish it....which started a bad trend as 2 other neglected cakes made their way to our table. I'd gone from staying in a hotel in the heart of a metropolitan city to hitchhiking, being covered head to toe in mud, and eating abandoned cake. I freaking loved it.

For some insane reason all the people in Cameron Highlands stay for 1-2 nights, however I liked the place making me the anomaly who stayed for 5 nights. After that first day there, the rest of the days passed in roughly the same manner. Say goodbye to friends who were leaving, meet new friends (likely German girls) the night before or the morning of, go trekking with the new friends, eat lunch and dinner at the two insanely cheap indian restaurants Sri Brinchang or Kumars that are next to each other, drink beer at the bonfire around the Jungle Bar. Repeat. I'd change things up a bit by doing a different path each day and by switching up my hostel halfway through because I found out Kangs Travelers Inn was only 12 ringit a night ($4CAD, half price of CH Travellers) and it was attached to the Jungle Bar. On my last day there I decided to skip trekking and take a rest, something that lasted until around noon when some new girls arrived and after talking with them for 5 minutes we were on our way to tackle the hardest paths that would lead us to Brinchang where we would hopefully make it there for the weekend night market. I'd like to say I was talked into it but I was the one already bored with doing nothing and itching to hike more who suggested it. The path was fun but the night market was easily the highlight. I made sure to eat as much as humanly possible and for the fifth time in the last 4 days I had people comment that they enjoyed watching me enjoy eating. I'm not sure how to take that but the other two girls were helping me drink the leftover chocolate from the chocolate covered strawberries so they're in no place to judge me. One last night at the Jungle Bar and the next morning I would make my way to Penang to begin volunteering at a hostel.

The Trails I Did
Path 1 - Took ages and was crazy steep but beautiful views and cake
Path 4 - Super easy, only 30 minutes in one direction, you get to see the pretty Tappia Waterfalls and the not so pretty polluted river
Path 9, 7, 8 - This took us 3 hours though we were told it would take 5.5-6 hours and met some people who gave up part way in. It was a fun trek and while it was super steep it was not Very Difficult as described by the official tours
Path 5, part of 3, 2 - Path 5 was an easy 1 hour trek, we stayed on path 3 for a half hour, and then path 2 was the shortest bit but possibly the toughest of the trails we did and took 45 minutes. The end of this route led to night markets.

Lesson Learned: Look up! When you're walking down a difficult path you spend so much time watching your feet and where you step that you might miss the amazing scenery and things going on around you.

This is what 12 ringit a night looks like

The lovely Dutch girls who hiked trail 7, 8, 9 with me
Tappia Falls - Trail 4

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