I’m not sure if you’ll believe this, but it has been hot lately. Yes I know I’ve been living at 3 degrees north of the Equator for nearly a year now, but we’ve felt comfortable in the heat for quite some time now. But then, near the beginning of April, it stopped raining. Our daily downpour has ended, and we only get a small rain event maybe once a week. As a result it is heating up, we are venturing outside less, we are dreaming of Canada.
About 4-5 hours North and inland from KL lies the Cameron Highlands. Reputed to be cool and refreshing, even bring a light sweater kind of place, we ventured up for the long weekend in May with our friend Natalie. What a refreshingly cool weathered adventure we had.
Malaysia is wonderful because of the holidays. As a truly multi-cultural society, there are many holidays to be celebrated, Hari Raya, Deepavali, Christmas, Chinese New Year etc. And for each break, roughly a third of the population stays home to do their family celebrations, while the other two thirds of the population contemplate “getting away”. Well, unfortunately this long weekend was a National Holiday and
Apparently so plain and ordinary, only the foreigners photograph it. Well, I'm not local, and it is pretty!
not a religious/cultural holiday. This meant every single person in Malaysia likewise had the same long weekend. And it appeared they had also decided to head upland. With two narrow lanes of winding road to call a highway, and roadside attractions all along the route to make people want to pull over and then pull back out, it was an absolute traffic nightmare. Roadside attractions were definitely out.
“Well then,” asked our hotel manager “would you like to go off-roading? Go see a rafflesia flower? Do some hiking?” Perfect.
So at 8:30 am we hopped into a Jeep and took off down the highway trying to get out of the touristy area before most tourists went shopping for the day. We were off to find the elusive Rafflesia flower.
This flower, named after the famous City Planning Raffles of Singapore, is the largest single flower of any flowering plant in the world. Now don’t go picture some gorgeous orchid attracting beautiful butterflies. No, this thing is more closely related to a pitcher plant. It has evolved to resemble rotting flesh apparently, and some varieties also smell like rot as well! The flowers are relatively rare. It takes
years for the buds to grow and open, and then they only last 5-7 days. It is pure chance that one is found in bloom, and you need a jeep and guide to get to it. Giant flower, reputed to smell of carrion? Absolutely, let’s go!
Except we didn’t get far at all. Unfortunately our jeep blew a tire when passing through the second village. Perhaps I should say fortunately, because it would have been a lot worse had we been off-roading alongside a mountain edge as we would later. We found a local café, had some powdery cappuccino mix (not so far from civilization after all!) and awaited our chariot to be fixed…
And off we go again! This time we veer off the nicely paved highway and start chugging up a dirt, well road would be an overstatement… This was fun… and I believe my students in Nackawic would call it “muddin’.” Our expert driver managed the mud, the hills, and the gullies all fine, while the jeep behind us got stuck more than once. It was a bumpy ride, it was hot in the jeep but we couldn’t roll down the windows as the leaves
from the banana plants would have been whacking us in the face. Finally after about half an hour we hit the end of the so called road. Now it was time to hike.
Actually, our jeep had taken us a lot further down the mountain; the rafflesia likes a warmer climate. So the ensuing 90 minute hike to the flower was a hot one. The guide occasionally gave us survival advice in case we ever got stuck in the jungle; don’t eat the wild bananas he said! Up and down, up and down, over 3 pieces of bamboo strung together as a bridge, over fallen trees, precariously skipping from stone to stone across creeks… all in pursuit of the mighty Rafflesia flower.
Well, finally we arrived at our destination, there it was, that reddish/brown mass assumed to be a flower. Now at the time, having worked so hard to get to it, we were in awe. We had our picture taken with it, we stared at it, and we saw growing buds around it that might bloom in future years. “It is amazing!” we declared. It didn’t even stink, apparently not all varieties stink… what luck for us.
It was on its last day our guide told us; tomorrow it would be too dead to bother bringing people to see it. “Oh? Too bad! It is so cool, can’t believe people will miss the opportunity to see it!”
So in retrospect it may have been the heat, the long hike, my brain feeling as though such a journey to see a flower must mean the flower is amazing, or maybe it was the bee sting I got on my neck or a high from the chemical concoction passed by off as cappuccino when we blew the tire? All I know is that now when I look at the pictures, the rafflesia isn’t much to behold. This large brown bowl, half rotten, doesn’t seem half as amazing as it did at the time. Maybe it just wasn’t photogenic, who knows…
OK, so we retrace our steps back to the jeep with a stopover at a waterfall to cool our aching feet, for another 30 minutes of muddin’ it back out of there. We had a brief stopover at an Orang Asli village, the original people of Malaysia. They give us a demonstration in blow darts and we
Next we are off to see tea. Now you may not realize that a lot of tea is grown in the Malaysian highlands, but this I assure you is worth seeing. The rolling hills look soft and fluffy with tea bushes, the mist settling down on the hills for the night is eerie, and we can sit at the tea plantation enjoying scones, strawberry jam and tea grown right before our very eyes.
The final leg of this ridiculously long day was a hike through the Mossy Forest. Now this is where I wish we could have spent more time, but all day, due to the heavy congestion on the roads, we kept getting further and further off schedule. We should have arrived at the top of the mountain by 5pm, for a hike through the cool and damp mossy forest, but it was sunset already. Still this forest is unbelievable. Wherever you looked were cool, amazing treasures like pitcher plants, snake skins and colourful beetles. If I make it back to the highlands I’ll be spending the better part of the day exploring this spongy and wonderful ecosystem. By the time we made it back
Beautiful Rafflesia Flower
Maybe if it wasn't on its last day?
to the jeep however, it was dark, and frankly we were lucky to have not twisted an ankle hiking around the forest at night.
Finally, just to bookend our day, the jeep behind us wouldn’t start. So our jeep (with us still inside), hitched up the 2nd jeep and started careening up to the top of the mountain to get the 2nd jeep’s engine started. It worked; it would also probably work as shock therapy in terms of getting your heart racing.
The next day we had only the morning left to explore the area. This is where a lot of the fruits and vegetables for Malaysia are grown. So we hired a taxi and visited the strawberry farm and a fresh vegetable market so that we could enjoy tasty treats the rest of the week. In fact, mid-week, Craig and I gorged on fresh corn eating a dozen ears in a single sitting! The weather Sunday morning was downright miserable, similar to a cold, rainy October day. We were damp and chilly, and loving it.
Then it was back to KL, back to reality, but only a month of class left and we are free to
Big Hugs! Keep sending notes from home please.
Beth and Craig
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