Published: September 13th 2005September 10th 2005
Explored by James Cameron and subsequently named after him, the Cameron Highlands are famous for their tea plantations, fruit and vegetables and forests. I stayed in Fathers Guest House which was nice. The facilities and prices are good. (Wifi is intermittently available - weather permitting - from some nice antennas somewhere nearby)
After an unpleasant night following a pleasant meal, I decided to make the most of the afternoon and go on a trip to an Orang Asli (Original People) village - the guest house operates tours to a local village, most of the villages that remain in their traditional state shun visitors, but this one due to a member of staff being the chiefs brothers wife welcomes the backpackers on one of the organised tours. The kids gather just prior to the arrival of the four by fours - they have been trained by the desire for a sugar rush to give the visitors a big welcome. I felt bad knowing supplying the kids with snacks and sweets that probably would give some of them the increased chance of diabetes, rotten teeth and all the other nasties that highly refined, processed and sugar laden crap does. However - turning
Yeah - I thought it was just a plant too, 80 years old this one and still going strong.
up with nothing, the guide warned us, would be a very disappointing experience for all involved. The kids expect it, the rest of their diet is mostly forest food, tapioca, durian (smelly fruit), rice and bush meat hunted with traditional blow pipes - so they probably get a lower dose of sugary crap than the average western child.
During the afternoon the visitors to the village are invited in to the chiefs house for tea (from the plantations) and dorian from the forest. The dorian is an interesting fruit, about the size of a small melon and spiky, but the most distinctive feature is the smell. Smells like someone forgot to take the rubbish out about two weeks ago, so strong that enclosed public places will not allow it to be bought inside. In both Malaysia and Thailand the fruit is really popular. I tried some, like eating fruit in a toilet. It wasn't as bad as I had feared it would be but it didn't live up to the description of “smells like hell, tastes like heaven” - I guess that for me taste and smell are closely linked.
To complete the afternoon, a demonstration of and
then practice with a 1.5m blowpipe. If anyone was wondering why the tribes of Malaysia haven't adopted more efficient hunting methods the answer was revealed - the blow pipe is a stunningly effective method of hunting. Darts are dipped into poison that is toxic enough to kill or incapacitate prey in 30 seconds, accurate - even backpackers were able to hit a flip flop nailed on a wall at over 15m - and silent, why warn the rest of the forest that the hunt is coming? Downside - the meat has to be cooked in a certain way to remove the poisons from the flesh...
The forests of the Cameron Highlands are filled with plants that can be eaten, poison, or act as natural medicines and drugs - with the right knowledge a man can live indefinitely in the forests - without that knowledge, if the spiders and snakes don't get you a few weeks would be the maximum, assuming that in desperation the wrong plant is not consumed. This is a true story of survival from a young British backpacker who stayed at the guest house at the same time as I did... cue Ray Mears style imagery
“Simon hadn't planned on spending much time in the forest, a spur of the moment walk after a guided tour of the tea plantations. A map, a waterproof and inadequate clothing for nights spent alone in the mountain forests of Malaysia. What initially started as a quick walk to one of the peaks of the highlands soon turned into disaster. After reaching the peak with plenty of time to return things started to go wrong for Simon on what should have been a simple descent. Tired from walking rapidly uphill and weary trying to find the correct path amongst the trails left by the forest tribes, Simon strayed to close to the edge of a precipice and slid 100m deep in to the forest and away from the trail. Luckily he was uninjured, but he was unable to clamber back up the cliff and back to the safety of the trail.
Disorientated, confused and very tired Simon turned the wrong way and headed deeper again into the forest. After walking for hours the realisation came that a night in the forest was inevitable. Simon constructed a rudimentary shelter and safely passed the night. The next few
Orang Asli Kids
days Simon followed rivers downstream, hoping to run into a settlement and help, the few iodine tablets that he'd taken allowed him to drink the river water. On the forth day Simon ran in to a small native family, who pointed him to the next settlement and from there he was able to follow a trail back to Tanah Rata - and the guest house...”
Here Ray Mears would go on to explain how if only he'd spent time learning bush craft and survival skills he could have feasted like a king and built shelters complete with natural air-conditioning... but I won't do this - Simon is a really nice lad and was unlucky, his biggest mistake was going alone on a trail and telling no one of his plans, impulsive though they were...
Added: I've been hanging out with a few cool people over the last few days; Julie, Dawn, Mark & Gill, Ross & Fiona - Mark and Gill have a travelblog just here: Mark and his bag
- you can read a slightly different take on the Cameron Highlands there.
There are more photos below