Cameron Highlands – Tanah Rata & trekking

After a couple of nights in Ipoh, nice little city, cave temples fantastic, accommodation, scooter hire & food really good & really cheap, we were off by bus to the Cameron Highlands. Why? Because apparently if you come to Malaysia backpacking, this is one of the must visit places. Glad we did. Great views on the road – no Palm Oil plantations was a huge positive – and watching the forest/jungle change as you gain altitude then suddenly all the hillsides open up into terraced gardens. Everywhere. Cameron Highlands is a prime vegetable growing region, cool(ish) climate, no frost, high rainfall (more on that later)& I guess reasonable soil although it all looked like clay to me. There’s a lot of development going on – of what it’s hard to say – but there are great swathes of bare hillsides with heavy machinery working (sometimes, this is Malaysia after all). Tanah Rata is a great little town because it’s so small (one main road) that even Big J & I couldn’t get lost. Very touristy, but, hoorah hoorah, no malls!! Yet. One of the reasons we came was because there are several easily accessible walking tracks (according to the maps) which meant we could do some trekking in temperatures actually suited to trekking ie not 36ºC. Please refer to previous blogs re my experience with Malaysian maps. I was not disappointed – they are crap. For our first (and as it turned out, also our second) trek we decided to walk to the Robinson Waterfall. Sounded impressive. Very pleasant, well maintained path, at the start. We saw a couple of paths going off to the left but only one was marked on the map (it was not a map, rather an optimistic sketch of what may or may not have actually been there). Are you getting the picture? Well we weren’t, because as mentioned, it wasn’t actually a map. Anyway onwards we went until a fork in the track – left looked like the main way to go, so we did. After an hour or so clambering over fallen trees, the “track” was getting harder, narrower, more overgrown & slippery. Then we came across a sign stating the next 700 metres were not for the fainthearted, casual stroller, anyone with kids, those who hadn’t bought ropes, carabiners, harnesses etc. No f#@$%@g kidding – anyone think that perhaps that would’ve been useful information AN HOUR BACK? Oooh, oooh and I forgot to mention, sign also warned that it was particularly dangerous when wet. Approximately 30 seconds after passing the sign it began to rain. Then it begain to rain heavily. And then it pissed down. Luckily, although we had forgotten all our mountaineering gear (silly us), we did have rain ponchos – these did not keep us dry but did offer some protection from leeches. Did I mention the leeches? Yes there were leeches. Being intrepid kiwis, we inched forward until we came to another sign (same comedian) warning that the last 300 metres were extremely dangerous & there was an escape track 100m along on the left if you wished to live to see another day. I did, so 100m along on the left we escaped. Down a slippery hill into the middle of someone’s vegetable farm. To a dirt road which was transformed into a dirt stream. And thence to a semi-sealed road which was transformed into a small river with a semi-sealed bottom. From there it was an 11 kilometre road walk uphill in the torrentail rain. Big J was keen, I was not. I decided to hitch-hike, everyone who passed us decided not to pick us up. In retrospect hitch-hiking was not our most successful endeavour in Malaysia to date. We found a taxi. So that was trek one. This brings me to trek two. You get a bus from Tanah Rata to the next village, Bruching, find the beginning of the track from your map (yeah right), walk for twoish hours which brings you to the top of a dead end road (Gunung Bruching 2000m), then there is nightmareish downhill 10km walk back to Bruching, and then you have to make your way back to Tanah Rata – hitch-hiking was suggested (yeah right). So we decided to hire a scooter/motorbike. Good decision. Although we had to go in first gear at approximately 15 km/h up the hill – it was far superior to walking. We met a Hungarian couple at the top who had just completed the track – they looked knackered – they asked us how far it was to the tourist Tea Plantation, I don’t know what I was thinking, but I said about 2 kilometres or so, half way down the hill when we’d already passed them it suddenly came to me that in fact it was way more like 10 kilometres – oops, sorry guys, hope you made it home by dark. We had a fantastic day on our little motorbike, went to the Butterfly Garden and got to hold lots of enormous insects, a cool snake, geckos, chameleons & a huge black scorpion (apparently if you get stung it won’t kill you, just put you in hospital, so we thought, OK, what the hell!). We also saw some butterflies. This brings me back to the waterfall walk. Which we decided to do again the next day, but this time take the left hand track so we could finally see the Robinson Waterfall. This track was as bad as the right hand except it was a vertical downhill and once again we came to a fork. Right or left? Who would know, it only showed one way on the “map”. Big J wanted to go right but common sense (me) prevailed so we went left. Straight down. Forgetting my previous insight at Bako National Park which is that what goes down (me) must then come up. Down we went, slowly & painfully over fallen trees etc etc. When we reached the bottom, which was a powerstation, we realised the waterfall we had come to see, we had already seen. Twice. It was at the top and was so underwhelming, with no signs (not even from the comedian) that we walked straight past, as I said, twice. So it was time to go back up. And then it started raining. Again. An hour or so later we made it back, Big J towed me most of the way back with micro (5 minute) stops all the way (every 2 minutes). I was near death and drenched (rain and sweat). This ended all romantic thoughts of lovely strolls in the Cameron Highlands (Rainlands) ever again. Thank god for hot water, cheap whiskey & cigarettes. Next we are off to Penang – a bit of trekking in the hills perhaps? I don’t think so. Not. No.






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