October 2000 - Tanah Rata, Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

At an altitude of 1,300 to 1,800 meteres, the Cameron Highlands is Malaysia's most famous and extensive hill station.  During colonial times, the British sought a relief from the oppressive heat and tropical climate of Malaysia here in the tea covered hills.  Colonialists (and now modern tourists) flocked here to enjoy the cool atmosphere where temperatures rarely drop below 55 degrees fahrenheit (13 celcius) or climbs above 75 degress fahrenheit (24 celcius).  Although only three hours by bus from Kuala Lumpur, the Cameron Highlands feel like a different country with its rolling hills, European architecture and chilly weather.  Due to its climate, the Highlands are famous for the superb tea that its many tea plantations produce.  The Cameron Highlands are also famous for its jungle treks through the borders of the Taman Negara National Park.  These rainforests are the oldest in the world existing as is for over 130 million years.  Because none of the ice ages affected this region and also due to the lack of volcanic and other geological activity, these forests have been spared.  Unfortunately, they have not been spared by human encroachment and development and some hillsides are undergoing rapid deforestation. 

Our first jungle walk down a steep muddy slope took us to the base of Robinson Falls.  After the falls, we made the steep climb back up to another trail that led to the Boh Tea Plantation.  Located in a rainforest, these trails are often difficult to follow as the steady rain tends to wash away parts of them.  In addition, the trails can also become overgrown and we often found ourselves climbing over or under fallen trees or backtracking along a false trail.  Arriving sweaty and exhausted at the gate of the tea plantation, we hitched a ride on a tractor hauling a freshly cut load of tea leaves to the main entrance.  Sitting atop the sacks of tea, we were treated to fabulous views of the surrounding tea covered hills as we ascended the 2km road leading to the factory.  Upon arrival at the factory, we climbed a further 400 meters to the peak of a nearby hill to attain one of the most spectacular panoramas of our journey so far.  The bright green color of the tea plants created a carpet-like texture to the surrounding hills and valleys.  After a great cup of tea, we took a short tour of the tea processing factory.  The tour showed us the drying, separating and fermenting stages of making tea.

For our next walk, we joined three other people from our guesthouse (the wonderful Cameronian Inn) to tackle the steep ascent to Gunung Beremban.  This very steep trek took us through the rainforest allowing us to see the local flora and fauna including orchids, palms, brilliantly colored wildflowers and also birds, snakes and huge insects.  After a slippery and muddy walk, we reached the summit at 1,841 meters above sea level.  The climb and descent was made easier by the comapany of the wonderful people we met at our guesthouse. 
A view from the Boh Tea Plantation. Karen taking a break after walk to the Boh Tea Plantation.
Workers at the Boh Tea Plantation separating tea leaves.  A majority of the workers on the plantations are Indians who were originally brought over by the British during colonial days.
The rolling hills covered with tea plants looks like a brilliant green textured carpet.  Absolutely stunning.
Wildflowers growing among the tea bushes.
Trails used by tea pickers and tourists alike make wondeful geometric patterns through the tea bushes.
The view from the peak of Gunung Beremban.
Brian contemplating the overgrown and muddy path through the jungle.
Karen, Brian, Roland and John atop Gunung Beremban.  John, a sprightly 65 year old retiree from Australia, was one of the most inspirational people we have ever met.  Retiring from a life long career as an accountant, he started to travel the world and hasn't  quit yet.
This walk may have been muddy and dirty but, as you can see from the smile on Karen's face, it was also great fun.
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