Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Becoming One at Nature

After Georgetown, it was high time for a change of scenery and a bit of fresh air so we headed to the Cameron Highlands. Following the windiest journey there - not great for those who are easily travel sick - we arrived at Tanah Rata, dropped our bags at Father's Guest House (highly recommended budget option) and made plans for the next few days.

We initially had plans to do things our own way. But, after hearing that certain treks were not recommended without a guide and having a nature trek recommended to us by the hostel, we changed our minds.

I have to admit, I was sceptical, having not been the biggest fan of guided tours before and I have the shortest attention span but we learnt a very important thing that day - it all depends on the guide.

Luckily, my scepticism was unfounded as we quickly found out when we met our tour leader, Jason. Despite having the most quintessential English accent with a slight Landan twang, Jason is born and bred from the Cameron Highlands region and very passionately so at that. He is incredibly knowledgeable about the nature in the region and has been engaged in conservation projects.

Anyhoo, back to the tour. The group met at half 8 and we immediately set off, as we were to have a busy day seeing a lot of sights.

We started off with going through Tan's Camellia Garden. Mr Tan has cultivated the garden himself and seems like the type of person my Granny would get along with very nicely and she herself loves gardening and can list off all the Latin names of plants without difficulty.

Then we started our trek for real and what ensued was the most incredible lesson about the area and its nature.


So, lesson #1 (apologies, I will be using simplistic, layman's terms)

This carnivorous plant above is colloquially known as a Monkey's Cup. It is called as such as the plant collects rainwater in a gourd-like fashion and monkeys drink out of them. Apparently, the carnivorous plant is only effects creatures such as insects so if we really wanted to, we could drink out of them too, as long as we don't mind the insects at the bottom!

Lesson #2

This orchid pollinates using a method called pseudocopulation (stick that in your pipe and smoke it!) Basically, the orchid mimics a female wasp and the male wasp comes along, spreads its seed (literally) and pollinates the orchid. Isn't nature amazing?!


We reached the summit of our trek where we were shocked to see electric pylons had reached the top too - Jason told us he had to campaigned against, especially considering keeping the pylons on the lower, flatter land was actually cheaper, more effective and less damaging to the environment. We also met a man who was finding insects to bring home for his daughter and he showed us what he had so far. We stopped for a bit to snack on banana bread, fruit and nuts, taking in the view.

Unfortunately, at this point my battery was low so I took few photos after. But, it was just great to take it all in especially as my photos do not do the scenery justice. 

At the bottom of our descent, we reached one of the region's many tea plantations. Throughout the trek, we learnt a lot about the tea making processes, a lot of which was of great interest for me as I love tea. For instance, did you know that white tea is just the bud of the tea leaf, having to be hand-picked and that's why it's so much more expensive than other varieties. Or did you know that the only thing that differentiates black tea, Chinese tea and green tea is the roasting and drying methods? 

Lesson #3 The red hibiscus (I think it is!) is the national flower of Malaysia which Jason noted was slightly ironic considering it stands for courage and Malaysia have never particularly been part of any wars. Maybe, the courage is the fact they stayed out of it, rather than join in like everyone else?

We of course had to finish off the trek by sampling the tea on offer, so we headed to the plantation's tea house in good time for the rain to begin pouring down. It was quite a comforting being able to shelter with a cup of cardamon tea and a scone, the perfect way to finish off the day!

I cannot emphasis enough how much I recommend this experience. Coming from someone who normally prefers to be a free agent and do my own thing, the fact that I am shouting from the rooftops about this trek is high praise indeed. Testament to this is the fact that I can still recall various facts almost two months on, my memory at the best times does not usually serve me well especially when it comes to science and nature. But Jason is a brilliant guide, who is obviously passionate about his job and the region so if you are heading to Cameron Highlands, do not miss out! The rate was 70RMB per person but putting into consideration the quality of the tour, I would have paid double.

Find Cameron Secrets here (website admittedly is not the most up-to-date) or find them via Father's Guest House or Gerard's Place.

Have you been to the Cameron Highlands? What are your thoughts on guided tours?

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