A rainforest adventure

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December 10th 2013
Published: August 29th 2017
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Two updates in one day; you people don't know how (un)lucky you are! You can say thank you to the weather man for making it torrentially downpour most of the day and therefore forcing me to retreat to a cafe for my scone, jam and what I think was clotted cream- how typically English.

This entry comes with a warning: long entry. Make a cup of tea and grab a biccie before you read any further.

Yesterday morning I left the hostel at 7am to get the bus to the Cameron highlands. One of the hostel owners offered to drive me to the bus station, thus saving me a 6:30am departure - that hostel was amazing. What should have been a 5 hour journey turned into a 6.5 hour slog. The driver stopped frequently to pick up and drop off passengers to make some 'pocket money'. He also drove up the steep, windy mountain roads slowly which I am very grateful for; other people got here much quicker but also much sicker! This area is incredibly beautiful. Rolling hills of tea plantations and tropical rainforests and tiny villages/farms. It's so green and fresh. As I'm kind of making this part up as I go along, I hadn't booked any accommodation. Sometimes this can lead to a very stressful situation but in this one road town, on a Monday, there were plenty of options available- phew!

Having heard that the weather here is generally a mixture of heavy cloud cover and a lot of rain, I was pleasantly surprised to arrive to bright sunshine. I set off to walk down the only road and then met some other girls from the hostel and we decided to go together to find a waterfall just outside the town. The first fall we found had a trickle of brown water and a lot of rubbish, so we kept going and found a much better fall with a little less rubbish and an aboriginal tribe living in the nearby rainforest. Here we had a choice - the 'jungle trek' or the, at this point, fairly well made path. As a couple of us were in flip flops (surprise surprise!) we decided to keep to the path- sensible I know!

So off we plod, through the rainforest, listening to the birds and the insects. Before long the nice path runs out and we find ourselves slipping down mudded slopes, crawling under fallen tree trunks, clambering over others and jumping over streams. Suddenly the sensible option wasn't looking so sensible. After about an hour it starts to really rain and we being to wonder when we'd reach the village we were trying to find. We then see a sign which basically says 'trail ahead, very difficult in rainfall, no paths. Children should not attempt'. However, having come this far (an unwilling to face the partially clothed aboriginal tribe again) we decided we had no choice but to proceed. After half an hour during which we all developed a healthy covering of mud, we saw another sign which said the trail would become more difficult but that there was an 'escape' after a kilometer. It took us about 40minutes to do said kilometer and then we escaped into farmland and an eggplant crop field. I found a mountain shower (aka a small waterfall) to wash my slippery, mudded flip flops so that I could finally stop walking barefooted.

Now we had another problem. Yes, we were out of the rainforest, but we had no idea where we were or which direction the main road was. The Lonely Planet guide had covered this part of the map with a photo. We took a logical guess and kept walking, passed empty houses with only stray dogs as residents, and finally met a local family who didn't bat an eyelid at our bedraggled state. After reaching the main road and flagging down some local cyclists we established that the nearest bus stop was a kilometer away and we had 5 minutes to make the last bus of the day. So, we started to run. Soon after a car pulls over and a local woman offers us a lift to the bus stop which we gratefully accept. So we make it in time and wait for 20 minutes and no bus comes. We then ask around and it turns out that there aren't actually any buses after 5pm. Hmmm, we have yet another problem. We could take a taxi but it would be really expensive and we all have budgets to vaguely stick to. So the locals told us to hitch hike. A delivery truck carrying soft drinks to the local shops stops and lets us climb into the back. Luckily it was enclosed and there were railings to hold onto and soft drinks to sit on as we went up the steep, windy mountain roads - it was rather comfortable! After 30 minutes they dropped us back at our hostel. Malaysian people are really very nice.

Wow, this entry is turning into a long one.

The Cameron Highlands is the same size as Singapore so it's not a small area. Tanah Rata (where I am now) is the main town in the area. Like I said, it has one Main Street with many cafés (and a Starbucks!), hostels/hotels and restaurants. There is lots to see in the area but the attractions are all very spread out and public transport is really undeveloped; so most people do day tours through local companies. I'm not a big fan of tours and the only place I really wanted to see was the tea plantations. That and having already seen a butterfly farm and more Buddhist temples than I count, made me decide to see if using local transport was a feasible idea.

8:30 this morning and after a particularly terrible nights sleep (a guy in the room snored incredibly loudly and even with ear plugs it was impossible to sleep- the rest of us spent the night sighing and laughing in disbelief), I'm at the local bus station to catch the once every 2 hour bus. The seats slid onto the floor every time we went around a bend (frequently) and there was a constant stream of black smoke emerging from the exhaust. Still, after about 30 minutes it deposits myself and 2 New Zealanders at a junction and we get told to walk 3.5 km to the tea factory. Not a problem. Except by this point it had started to pour and the road was nothing more than a sandy gravel track. So I walked for about 45 minutes through tea bushes and clouds and multiple signs at differing points that all told me I had 3.5km left to walk. How that distance did not decrease, I'll never know. At some point a Chinese- Malay family stopped and offered me a lift to the factory- very nice of them considering I was drenched (despite the umbrella) and covered in mud. I was extra grateful as I stupidly took all my clothes to the launderette last night so only had my shorts and a cardigan to wear today- It was cold!

After living in a city famous for its green tea plantations for 4 years, I was quite curious to see how black tea is made. I vaguely remember going to the Lipton tea factory when it was in Leighton Buzzard and I wasn't sure if this would be similar or totally different. Bot tea plantations/factory is one of the only vertically integrated tea manufactures in the world (or, so they say!). They grow the tea bushes in a nursery for a year, transfer them to the slopes surrounding the factory where they mature for another 2 years, and finally after the 2 years, a team of pickers pick the leaves every 3 weeks. Most of the tea picking was still being done by hand- not an enviable job when it was raining so much. The tea then goes into the factory, where tourists can freely wander, and it...
1) becomes rolled- to crush the leaves and release the flavor juices. It smells very sweet at this point.
2) oxidizes - black/ red tea is the most oxidized tea. Green tea is only slightly oxidized and white tea not at all. It's at this point that the leaves turn black/ dark brown. A slightly sour smell is emitted.
3) drying - the tea is dried on large racks and then blasted with heat in order to remove all but 3-5% of the moisture.
4) sorted & packaged - the tea goes through different sized sieves depending on the quality/purpose. It's then packaged and branded.

The whole picking to packaging process takes about 24 hours as the tea leaves have to initially dry for 12 hours. I then had a rather delicious cup of freshly made tea before meeting the New Zealanders to decide how we were going to return to the main road - none of us fancying the 5km trek back. We found a minibus that some people had hired for the day and the driver agreed to take us. This area is famous for its tea and it's strawberries so, having seen the tea, the driver skipped the junction and took us to a strawberry farm. I don't know how his actual clients felt about having 3 extra, muddy, people piling into their bus! Unfortunately, none of the fruit was ripe so it was a rather fruitless (*groan*) endeavor. I did however have a rather delicious cup of strawberry white coffee - highly recommend it.

At this point it was still chucking it down so the kiwis decided to hitch a ride back to the town. I asked around and was told it was 8km back to the hostel so decided to walk. It was a nice walk through the forest, mainly downhill, and on a quite well made path. Frequently people would shout hello to me or offer me a ride. I stopped off at a cactus farm, a strange smelling mushroom farm, and a little town with nothing but a KFC, a Hindu temple, and a huge, well maintained golf course with mock-Tudor apartment blocks. Eventually if stopped raining but again, I saw multiple copies of the same 'Tanah Rata 5.5km' sign about every 30 minutes. Turns out 8km was a lie. It was 16km from where I was back to the hostel, the last 4km of which were on a steep, upward trajectory. All in all, I think I earnt my jam and scone.

Tomorrow I have to go back to Kuala Lumpur - a 4 hour bus ride from here.

One final note- So far this blog has had over 200 visits, (no, my own logins are not counted!) but except from my family, I have no idea where these have all come from. So if you've made it this far through this entry then a) Well done! And b) please leave me a comment so I know who you are and don't bore you with all these stories in person! Thank you kindly!

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