Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Cameron Highlands

On Monday, we took a bus from the sweltering streets of Kuala Lumpur into the cool Cameron Highlands.  Upon entering the town, Robyn and I both sensed a certain familiarity.  Low clouds hugged the alpine mountains in the background of a bustling tourist town.  It's like the Malaysian Canmore!  We were more than happy to put on a light sweater and enjoy the fresh air and easy vibe.

View from Father's Guesthouse

Stairs to our place

For Tuesday, sticking with our do something every day plan, we booked a full day tour of all the major sights. The area is famous for its tea plantations and every rolling hill is covered in the uniformly trimmed trees.  Our first stop was the most famous estate in the area, operated by BOH tea company (BTW All of the tea companies are owned by western foreigners and all of the workers are eastern foreigners).  It's a beautiful sprawling estate in the midst of which we were told all about the planting, selecting, and harvesting processes of the area and given an overview the evolution of tea.  It was much like touring a vineyard and, as we are after a wine tour, Robyn and I are now temporarily passionate about teas and tea culture.

Tea fields

Trimmed tea plants aren't allowed to flower.  This one's breaking the rules.

We left the plantation in a Land Rover and continued up the mountain where we had the pleasure to enter a cloud rain forest (so excited, you have no idea).  This is an amazing place at around 2000m elevation where clouds like to hang out.  The high humidity creates a niche environment for some novel species. There are panthers, monkeys, rare leopards, and zillions of interesting insects.  As far as vegetation goes, every tree is actually home to hundreds of plants.  Moss covers every surface, actively extracting moisture from the clouds, condensing it, and delivering it to its host.  Leaves fall from higher trees onto lower branches and decompose there forming micro-environments that host other smaller plants and myriad insects.  Then there's the carnivorous pitcher plant which anyone who's watched the entire Planet Earth series will no doubt recognize.  It lures insects onto its rim with the promise of sweet nectar and they fall into it, being digested alive in a mixture of water and digestive enzymes.  Crafty plant!  Walking through the forest was like trekking over a giant sponge.  Water oozed out of the ground all around our feet and as soon as we released the pressure, the earth would spring back to its former position.

Jungle ferns

Moss captures moisture right out of the clouds and delivers it to the forests co-inhabitants.

The diabolical pitcher plant!
Dinosaur era mega-ferns grow to tree height in the cloud rain-forest.

Halfway down the mountain brought us to the tea factory where we watched tea leaves be rolled, oxidized, dried, and graded.  At the end, we tried out a couple of the high end white teas on offer in the tasting room (accompaniment by apple and strawberry desserts).

Tea time!
The last stop of the morning was the butterfly/insect/other scary things garden where we saw a toad as big as my head, some scary snakes,and had a gecko walk all over me.

The only non-scary thing in the butterfly garden
Snake orgy

Two flower pedals picked from an overhanging vine

My grandma could tell me all about this thing
Our guide for the tour was amazing.  He had interesting and relevant information on the geology and ecology of the area as well as the hill people that still live in the jungle.  He showed us all sorts of wild edible species such as citronella, wild ginger, spearmint, and cinnamon.  I found out later that he had studied forestry at university and got his masters in something related to insects.  He spent time in Kuala Lumpur as a soft-skill consultant which explained how seamlessly he incorporated humor with his informative lectures, and after all of this experience he had chosen to be a guide for interest-sake and to serve his love of nature.

Getting the low-down on all things tea
What a great day.  The more time I spend in Malaysia the more glad I am that I came.

David J Parker

P.S.  Check out the previous post, Meditations II.  I added pictures!

1 comment:

  1. The adventures continue... with all the walking you guys should be in great shape when you get back!!! The tea tours and testing sound great. The cloud rain forest sounds incredible. The pitch plants sound scary...from the pix it was hard to tell how big they were.

    Love you lots, talk to you soon. Mom Parker