We had hmmmed and hawed about going to the Cameron Highlands. Dave was skeptical — why would we go somewhere that was outdoorsy? We are not trekkers. We do not know the names of plants. We like tea OK and all but are by no means fanatics. It was a 5 hour bus ride, when we could be onward to Penang by that time. I held firm. My friend Lauren suggested it and I was totally into the idea of being somewhere different. Much like our debates about paying more for a private bathroom, I won. We were going. We booked at Gerard’s Place — a small guesthouse away from the party backpacker scene (btw: party backpacker scene in Tanah Rata population: 3) researched bus options and off we were.
The bus trip was quiet and comfortable until just a tiny bit past Ipoh (one of my favorite town names ever. Pronounced “eeeeee-po” it sounds like some sort of eye infection or eye infection cream) we started winding up the mountain. And when I say “winding up the mountain” I mean the bus driver turned off the A/C and we got dizzy circling higher and higher up the mountain with a blare of the horn around each deep curve with a few near misses on a head-on collision with a tiny errant Hyundai. I eventually closed my eyes until we stopped at the bus terminal.
We took a very quick taxi ride to our guesthouse and immediately fell in love with the owner, Jay, and her awesome husky dog, Amy. Jay, for my family reading this was the Malay Indian clone of my cousin Sharon. If you squinted, all you saw was a wash of dark hair, high cheekbones and a quick smile. She was effervescent, welcoming and had an adorable family and that familiarity was a huge part of why we loved staying at Gerard’s so much. We relaxed, I read some German Grazias and we deeply sighed a relaxed sigh and the city seemed incredibly far away.
The next day we did a day tour run by Cameron Secrets which was also owned by our guesthouse. We chose the Mossy Forest Tour which highlighted a bunch of the highlights for us: Strawberry farm, forest, scenic views and some activity (DK was less interested in activity– part of this trip is coming back enviably tan and skinny. Activity + sweat = skinny). It was super fun thanks to our amazing guide Saathiye. He was incredibly knowledgeable about plants: he handed me a leaf and said “take a bite”. It was fresh cinnamon. After a story about a walk through a forest in Indonesia and being covered with 100 leeches — we found out he was a botanist by day and moonlighting as a tour guide on his breaks in between expeditions. He had the nervous energy of a guy who can’t sit still very long and was quick with a joke and and had my favorite Malaysian quality: a great sense of humor about Malaysia being weird.
We were not as prepared as some others with hiking boots on our tour. We were fine on the strawberry farm, scenic lookouts, the quiet tea plantation/factory and highest tower on the mountains. We were ill-prepared for hiking through ankle-deep cold, dense mud. Luckily, a super hip and fun Danish family were also ill-prepared so we bonded immediately. When you fall ass-first into mud in your Acne jeans, you need to be able to laugh about it with someone in mud up to her ankles. You cannot turn to the stern Swiss girl in hiking boots and zip-off REI pants for support. Thankfully Dave and I had been in Asia long enough to know that if a Westerner does something stupid, no one will say anything to you. They will just talk about you in a language you are too stupid to learn about how fat and dumb you are. Which is what four impeccably dressed Malaysian ladies did to me as I washed my feet and muddy, muddy shoes off in the ladies room of a tea plantation tasting room. Then, three Dutch ladies did the same thing so sue me. The experience was worth the dirt, though, and I felt very nature-girl-y for the next few hours until I saw a huge cicada outside and had to flee to the safety of the indoors where nature doesn’t exist quite like that.
Our absolute favorite thing about the Highlands though, was the temperature. One full day was enough to see the sights and mostly we just relaxed and reveled in the delightfully dreary weather. We wore our fleeces and sometimes, our rain coats. It was misty and green and we drank tons of tea to ward of the chill of sleeping with the windows open. Poor us, you see, it was 78 degrees F during the day and probably 68 at night. We were used to sweating so hard that you could play “tears or sweat” with my face behind my sunglasses (note: often sweat, occasionally tears). We reveled in not sweating. We took hot showers. We drank hot beverages. We could not WAIT to brag about being cold to our friends and family back home. We were so smug about it that I feel the need to confide in you that I am writing this outside by the pool at our hotel in Kanchanaburi, Thailand with sweat running down my face, gathering behind my knees and hoping to make some merit to the Buddha for offsetting my wrongs earlier.
I am sorry, Buddha, for bragging about the “cold”. I am also sorry, Buddha, for bringing up the fact that every time we talk about loving our brief time in the Highlands I brattily remind DK it was my idea. This is not true. It was Lauren’s.