Hiking in the Cameron Highlands

April 30, 2007

I came to the Cameron Highlands for the tea and all I got was this lousy rain.

dsc02791.jpgBack when Malaysia was still a British colony, the Brits, looking for a hill retreat to escape the tropical heat and remind them of more nostalgic days in the drizzly English countryside, popularized the Cameron Highlands as a vacation spot and agricultural center. Today, this place still brings in the tourists, now mostly Malaysians, looking for cooler weather, the perfect cup of tea, and strawberries, a rare fruit in Southeast Asia. Activities here include visiting the plantations and factories of Malaysia’s number-one tea producer, Boh, picking strawberries at one of the kazillion (or so) strawberry farms, hiking in the mountains, and hiding from the incessant drizzle.

The Highlands are a hiker’s paradise, with over a dozen established trails from strolls in the woods to full-on bush-whacking. Shin loves walking and he loves nature and, in particular, he loves walking in nature. I like walking and I begrudgingly respect nature, but a jungle-hike is not on top of my list of things I love to do. The day before, we’d spent stuffing our faces with tea, cake, and all manner of strawberry-related products (which is very high on my list of things I love to do), so I figured I should return the favor and go hiking with Shin.

A word on hiking in the Cameron Highlands: the combination of isolated hiking trails and nearly constant rain makes for a muggy, muddy walk. Another word on hiking in the Cameron Highlands: Jim Thompson, über-famous in Thailand for single-handedly reviving the Thai silk industry in the 1950s, is still presumed lost somewhere in the mountains, after embarking on a jungle hike and never returning. Excellent.

So, I found myself in these very same mountains yesterday, scampering over tree roots and trying to negotiate creeks and mud buried under a layer of leaves. Shin was my hero, helping me up and down the particularly steep sections. Our three-kilometer hike took two hours. In those two hours, we only saw two other hiking groups. While the trails were well posted, I sometimes envisioned myself getting lost amongst the bramble, doomed to a fate like that of Jim Thompson. I also pictured myself tripping on a damp tree root, breaking my leg, and having to survive on twigs and wild mushrooms until a rescue party came to find me.

But, alas, it is the things we worry about which never come to be. In the last ten minutes, of our hike, it started to rain. It went from a steady drizzle to a downpour in mere minutes, which was fine under the canopy of trees, where we still had shelter. Once we exited the woods, however, we still had a five-minute run down a paved road to the nearest shelter. One-minute in the rain was enough to soak me to the skin. Had this been warm, tropical rain, I would have welcomed a cooling downpour. But, we were in the closest place Malaysia has to the English countryside and thus it was a cold, bone-chilling rain, the kind that in Jane Austen novels, always give the heroine a life-threatening fever.

Soaked and shivering, Shin and I waited under a pavilion on a nearby golf course. We watched a leech crawl up Shin’s shoe. We watched cars splash by. We waited and shivered and finally, scared that I would end up on the cusp of death like Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility, we ran for the bus stop, which turned out to be much farther than I thought. At the bus stop, we watched bus after bus flying by in the opposite direction. But none going in ours. Finally, by some miracle, we flagged down an empty taxi, which we shared back to town with three Malaysian boys, also soaked from the rain.

After a hot shower and a cup of tea, I’m fine. Poor Shin, however, has come down with the sniffles.

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