I would be lying… 10/3/2015
I would be lying if I told you that my adventure to the Cameron Highlands was not disappointing. I loved the adventure of winding my way through Chinatown as it was just beginning to wake; getting to the bus station too early; my heart beating when the person checking my tickets didn’t open her booth until 10 minutes before the bus left; trying to cajole a smile from the grouchy woman at the at the other booth who shooed me away. The bus station was dingy, the bathrooms (stoop and piss) were so dirty that I did not even consider washing my hands. (I have been spoiled living in my first-world oasis, where, when people drop their trash, a mopper or a sweeper are right behind them to pick it up. I get excited on my five minute walk to work when I see trash so that the sweepers will have something to pick up.) The bus was tacky-cool, with curtains and plush seats. I got to speak Spanish with some Spaniards. All was well as we drove to the highlands.
The Malaysian countryside is jungle. This peninsula used to be all jungle, and now it is a tangle of roads, cities, and tourist traps. Not to mention the haze, which has descended upon the whole country because the plantations in Indonesia slash and burn their crops during this time of year. The haze is so bad, that in the morning, I can see the building in front of me, but that’s it. I haven’t seen blue sky in a month. This must be what people out west in the states are experiencing from the forest fires. However, this haze is man-made. We humans put money and profit first, so if slash and burn is the most profitable way to farm then forget the rest of the world. It’s the same with with oil companies I suppose, but most people drive cars every day (except me: mine is sitting in a jungle in northern Mexico), so we are all guilty.
I arrived in Tanah Rata at around 3:00 pm. Tanah Rata Is a small town, that may have been beautiful at one time when the British built this oasis in the jungle to grow tea and drink it from their verandas. Now it is a strip of honky tonk tourism and Starbucks, with some excellent Indian, Malaysian, and Chinese restaurants intertwined. In a word, it was the last place I would want to be. My plan had been to hike the jungle on my own, but according to everyone I met, that was not going to happen. Most people in town said it wasn’t a good idea. Later my airbnb host advised against it as well. I wasn’t convinced until I found the jungle path (tunnel) myself.
So my hike would have to be with a group, which turned out to be a great thing. People who visit the Cameron Highlands usually do not explore the jungle. They don’t even shop, which is a miracle based on my Mexican and Malaysian experiences. They visit the tea plantations and the strawberry farms.
The first jungle trek started in Tanah Rata. It did not take us long to get to the jungle from town with our guide and brilliant ecologist, Jason.
I am grateful that he was with us; he pointed out things that I would have never seen, especially tiny, tiny orchids, and the monkeys.
Jason told us about the disappearing rain forest and everything ecological. The hike was rigorous, with roots and steep climbs. Since I love the woods, I was not disappointed when there was no view — one, because the jungle was too thick to see much, and two because of the haze.
The second day of jungle trekking was with Jason again, with another group of people, two of whom had been with me the previous day. This hike was less rigorous, and our destination was the tea plantation. It was gorgeous, until we reached the tourist mecca.
I returned to my airbnb, where I had met some cool people. I was not sad to say goodbye to the Cameron Highlands. The one hour of switchbacks back down to the super highway seemed to last forever. The driver smoked and he was of the ilk who thinks air fresheners smell good when they really smell like outhouses. Plus, the little boy next to me did not fare well with the switchbacks. I was relieved to be dropped off at KL Central, a bit closer to home. It was a long trip. One I don’t regret, because I gave regret up when I stepped on the plane in Hartford, Connecticut, two months ago.
I will continue to travel around Malaysia, but I think I am done with the jungle. Monsoon season has hit, so I cannot travel to the east coast, but there are some northeastern places I want to see., and Thailand and Vietnam are waiting for me. I will stay away from the south until someone decides to stop burning the rain forest. Maybe they should just burn it all now and get it over with. Living in New Hampshire, is deceiving. There are few reminders there that people really are burning down the world, dumping plastic into rivers, wearing masks to protect themselves from the air. Drinking water out of the tap is a a dying art.
This part of my walkabout is about finding work that I can do on my own so that I can live where I choose to live, which will not be a city. I still think that New Hampshire is one of the most beautiful places that I have ever lived. I want to continue being an SME (subject matter expert, who writes lessons for e-learners among other things). I want to do this remotely. I came to Malaysia for this job. I plan to learn how to do this well at Learning Port, to complete my one- year contract, return to the states, see how much money I have or can have, and then explore the possibility of the PCT. For now, there are still many places to explore. Kate, Claire and David are visiting in December, and I continue to meet people, even though I still love my loner status. Soon the haze will clear.