Melaka to the Cameron Highlands: Why does it always rain on me?

After Melaka I had decided to head for the Cameron Highlands as I had read about them in a book on this trip: Tan Twan Eng’s the Garden of Evening Mists and was curious to see the area for myself.  I’d also heard it was much cooler and less humid up in the mountains.

I set out as the sun was rising as was my habit now, to try and reach the small village of Jenjarom as I had arranged to be hosted by Haw Kuen from the warmshowers.org website.  As Haw Kuen wouldn’t be available until the evening I had plenty of time to make the ride.  This meant I could try and see the F1 track at Sepang.  Unfortunately I was two days too late for the actual F1 race which had been hosted there.

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Even more unfortunately as they were still dismantling all the stands and so forth from the Grand Prix I couldn’t even go in and see the track.  I wasn’t allowed to ride my bicycle round it either.

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After this disappointment I met with Haw Kuen at his home, which was pretty much surrounded by jungle.

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Haw Kuen was kind enough to provide me with a place to sleep and even bought me dinner at a local restaurant, introducing me to some delicious new Malaysian food which I have annoyingly forgotten the name of.

The next day I headed off on the next leg of the journey to the Cameron Highlands and passed a pretty uneventful day apart from a massive tropical thunderstorm.

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When these kick off there is not much you can do but seek shelter and hope it passes quickly.  They are so heavy that the road literally turns to water.  Luckily as they are fairly common there is regular shelter along the roads for the scooter riders mainly.

I was also attempting to keep my soft drink consumption down.  Since I had reached the humidity of Malaysia I had been drinking far too many sugary drinks, be they fruit juices or cokes as they were readily available and sold in air conditioned petrol stations or 7/11s which it was nice to have an excuse to step into.  This was probably ruining my teeth and was blowing my budget at the same time.

That night I was able to find a cheap hotel and got a good night’s rest with air conditioning before heading off for what I expected to be the hardest day of this leg.  This was because I would be climbing about 1400m up to the Cameron Highlands.  This would be my first significant climb for just over a month and I was both looking forward to it and dreading it.

It was quite tough in the end as the ascent went on for ages. While the gradient wasn’t steep this meant that the climb was long.  It was also very beautiful and there was real jungle on either side for much of it.  With weird noises pretty much constantly emanating from the depths, made by I don’t know what creatures.

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There were also basic wooden shelters/stalls lining the road where Orang Asli, the aboriginal peoples of the Malay peninsular, were selling bottles of honey and other goods.

One of the things the Cameron Highlands are famous for is tea and there are massive tea plantations up there.

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After much creaking and groaning I eventually made it up to Tanah Rata, one of the main towns in the region and where I was planning on staying.

That evening I would learn one of the downsides to the cool climate the region has: torrential rain.  I’d experienced tropical thunderstorms down out of the mountains in Malaysia but nothing like this. The rain was harder and the storm went on for much longer.  I got soaked to the skin after about five seconds when I tried to make a break back from where I had eaten dinner to my hostel.

Luckily come the morning it had brightened up meaning I could engage in the main activity I’d been hoping to do in the Highlands, which was jungle trekking.  Having got some advice from the staff where I was staying I set off to take a bus to the next town, 5km down the road, where the trail head was.

Managing this and finding the trail head I set off into the jungle.  There was sort of a path to follow and where it wasn’t clear someone had tied ribbons to trees or roots making it quite easy to keep to the way.

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The first trail I did was not too bad and wasn’t to strenuous apart from at the very end.  It came out at Gunung Brinchang a 2000m peak with some nice views on the way up.

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Unfortunately any sense of achievement at reaching this peak is ruined somewhat by the fact there is a road up to it, which tourists take for the views.

This made me want to try another jungle trail which started close to where the previous one finished and headed more off the beaten track.  The man from the hostel had advised against trying this one as it was pretty difficult at the best of times and after last night’s heavy rain he thought it might be too tough.  I wanted at least to try and as it involved heading out to another higher peak and then back tracking I knew I could just turn round if it got too muddy anyway.
Luckily the rain hadn’t made it impassable, if anything it had probably washed a lot of the mud away leaving more tree roots exposed to step on.
It was still tough and was more like an obstacle course for most it.  I had to clamber up or down sheer faces using tree roots to pull me up as it followed an undulating ridge to the peak.  It took me three hours to cover 4.8km and that was really pushing it.
There were some interesting sights though:

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About ten minutes from the end the rain started. Luckily I found shelter from the worst of it but then spent the next few hours getting periodically soaked as I tried to walk my way back to town on the main road through some of the strawberry farms and tea plantations.
 

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