9th November 2011
Waking to the sound of birdsong, shivering in the cold morning air that seeped in through the open windows, sandwiched between two complete strangers, it took a moment to orientate myself. The rest of the family were in the dorm next door, Tania and Mateo separated by two other people from Oskar and Luca. Ere long Mateo crept to see me and together we set off into Tamah Rata in search of milk and bananas to augment our breakfast. All was relatively quiet in the guesthouse after the late night reveries of the evening before, and the beds were filled with sleeping forms, some gently snoring, others lying peacefully.
We knew we had to change rooms today and it was until 11am that we could move our gear to the family room. And so the morning was taken up with persuading the boys to do some blogging and doing some research on Cameron Highlands and Taiping, our next destination. Rooms changed, we set off into town for an early lunch, and then headed down to the bus station to secure ourselves a taxi for the afternoon. The tours from the guest house were RM25 each, and the taxi was RM25 an hour, so it was a no brainer in choosing the taxi as it meant we could set our own timetable and places to visit.
In our driver we found an absolute gem. Good English and an excellent knowledge of the area, and of tea production – his father had worked on the tea plantation that we were to visit later. So, itinerary decided, we were under way. First stop was a Rose Garden, furthest away from Tamah Rata. Rows and rows of scented flowers of all shapes and sizes nestled into the hillside providing visual and nasal stimulation. Staircases and bridges connected the paths and we wandered around enjoying scene and scent.
Next stop was a Bee Farm. In a deep bowl stood regimented rows of boxes on stands dripping strands of bees. Blooming flowers and shrubs lined the paths and the odd giant statue of bees leapt out of the foliage. Whilst there we had the chance to observe a hive repelling a larger bee, this they did by lining up along the entrance and then flicking their wings in a kind of apian mexican wave whenever the marauding bee approached.
After the bees we visited the BOH (Best of Highlands) Tea Plantation. As we wound our way through the hills we had a great photo opportunity and so we stopped, and here, our driver came into his own. He picked leaves and flowers, and explained tea picking and processing and even found us some tea nuts (seeds) which we hope to plant when we get back home!
We then proceeded to the tea factory where the process for turning the leaves into actual tea was shown to us. The smell of tea was overpowering and yet wonderful, strong and rich with a faint acrid taste. The guide explained the 5 step process, from Withering, Rolling, Fermenting, Drying and finally Sorting where the tea was graded from best to worst, the worst being the dust that is left and goes into teabags!! After the tour we had to go for a cuppa and a slice of cake in the plantation restaurant with its view over the fields of tea bushes.
We just had time to fit in a quick trip to the Chinese temple on our way back to the hostel (we were paying by the hour after all!) where the boys played with the coy carps in the fish pond, taking turns to dip there fingers into the water and letting the huge fish swim up to kiss them before giggling and snatching their hands away.
and as always we are struck by the juxtaposition of old and new, the simple and the technological – we saw a monk carrying a skate board in Kuala Lumpur!!
Arriving back at the hostel we quickly changed and at the suggestion of Elizabeth, a venerable lady who had left home in 1957 and had not stopped travelling since, went down to a roadside restaurant run by a lady who used to be the personal cook of the British High Commissioner. We ate the most delicious Chapati, cooked right in front of us and served up with a wonderful dahl. After the marvellous meal we headed back and retired to bed.
10th November 2011
Farewell to Cameron Highlands and unfortunately this meant a long and extremely winding road down from the heights. We had been first on the bus and secured the seats right at the front knowing that there was a good chance of travel sickness! Once again we had a bus driver that had gone to the Ben Hur School of Kamikaze Coachmen and had come away with a 1st class degree. I swear that he was doing it on purpose, and I imagine that when they arrive at the bus terminal there is a tally counted up of the number of sick passengers and the one with the most that day is crowned chief arsehole (apologies for the language).
Suffice to say, Mateo was violently sick twice before falling asleep in just his boxer shorts and Tania’s pashmina; Oskar was a bit green, but after I talked him through watching the road and then anticipating the bends, and subsequently how to marry up visual and balance stimuli, he was much better. Luca had run off to the back of the coach when Mateo was first sick (I have to get away from Mateo) and spent the journey there, feeling a bit sick too which is unusual for Luca. Several other people noisily threw up too, so all in all it was a pretty miserable journey.
Finally the ordeal was over and we arrived at Ipoh bus terminal. Taking a moment to find our land-legs again and to change clothes and wash up, we then got tickets for the bus to Taiping. Oh no! Not another bus, exclaimed the kids – however this time the route was straight and the driver not so crazy. We passed a huge marble quarry, the tall hill jutting out of the earth was scarred from earthworks and explosions. The quarriers systematically removing the hill stone by stone – such is the excess of man that a beautiful outcrop could be decimated like this.
We arrived in the out-of-town bus station in Taiping (early buses aren’t allowed into town until after rush hour) and duly jumped on the Red Omnibus into the centre of town. Pulling up to a shed with some clapped out buses in it we alighted at last and looked around for our bearings. Giving up all hope of finding a tourist office and therefore a map I asked in a clothes shop and after some amused and friendly conversation between the non-english speakers as they attempted to pinpoint the road on which our hotel stood, it was decided that a taxi was probably best.
One of the girls clocked off and led us to the taxis where we thanked her and piled into a Red cab bound for the hotel for the princely sum of RM8. The hotel had a very small reception and the owner wasn’t there, so the help led us to our room. Two large double beds and an ensuite bathroom, large wardrobe and dressing table, and a kettle of our own….. luxury. Ere long the help was back to tell me that the room had been booked already by someone call Jonathan, it was in the book. He looked very relieved when I informed him that the said Jonathan was in fact me.
So we settled in and then headed to a famous Dim Sum restaurant for dinner – which was OK, but Tania prefers the ones in her favourite restaurant in France! The boys weren’t very keen on them, so we wandered around passing the wet market and enjoying the olfactory stimulation coming from the fish, vegetables and the bins, before finding a food hall and ordering a Mee Goreng from Combat Mee. It turned out to be the best of the town and is mentioned in the guide as being the place to get it – Combat because the proprietor is mad keen on war films and never stops talking about them to his friends.
And so, after what seemed like a very long day we got back to the hotel and then to bed. Night, night.