After 2 weeks in Kuala Lumpur, we are headed out once again! And from now on, we will be traveling from one spot to another without another big “break” (which is defined as more than one week in one spot) until we are back in Chicago. This trip has felt like an eternity, but it has gone so fast. I still have Zurich in front of my eyes, but at times it feels a million years away. It will probably feel even more so after another 8 weeks of traveling.
Anyway, we left Kuala Lumpur and arrived in the Cameron Highlands, thereby effectively losing all acclimation to the warm climate. The Cameron Highlands were very strange at first. The weather was “chilly” (as if 65 degrees is chilly) and windy. We all had the feeling that we were in Switzerland. Not because it was clean, but because there were mountains surrounding us, we were elevated, and there was that crispness to the air and wind. Many houses looked like the old-fashioned mountain style in Germany, white with dark brown roofs and windowsills. The atmosphere was very mountainous. Anyone who has been on a mountain in a little village knows what I mean. And there were huge pine trees, all giving the feeling of being in Europe. Until you looked further and saw the palm trees, the jungle, and smelled the food.
The little town we stayed in had a couple little streets, filled with hodgepodge stores, tour services, and Indian and Chinese restaurants. After being in a big city for so long, it was nice to be in a place where everything is close together and in walkable distances. However, there was a Starbucks! It looked perfectly out of place, but put here for obvious reasons. It is backpacker heaven, and we saw more white people than we had in a long time. So Starbucks is there to get them their fix of coffee they’re used to. It was obviously a splurge compared to what things cost next door, but I guess Starbucks is Starbucks and always will be.
To get a little education in, we took a day tour and they brought us to one of the Boh tea plantations. The rolling hills were blanketed in thick lines of bushes, curving and rising like Van Gogh’s paintings. And it stretches on and on and on quite beautifully. We learned all about the plants, how the quality of the tea is determined by the age of the leaf (younger is better) and the different levels of tenin (the equivalent of caffeine in coffee). After seeing the plantation, we also saw the factory and learned about the steps the leaves go through to create tea. They are dried and then rolled. They roll them because the younger buds, when rolled, do not break into small pieces as easily as old leaves do, so when they are dried again and put in a massive colander, the largest pieces will be the youngest leaves, and the highest quality. I never knew that black tea, udong tea (red tea) and green tea all come from the same plant! The only difference they make is how long they are left in the open air for fermentation. To make mango tea, or cinnamon or jasmine tea, they just put mango or cinnamon oil or jasmine leaves in. So you can make endless teas out of one plant, which in my opinion makes everything a whole lot easier.
This tour was called the mossy forest tour, so we went into the mossy forest for a while. Our tour guide was great, explaining all sorts of plants, what you can do with them if you are ever desperate, which I hope I never am, where they come from, and why many continents have a piece of the oldest rainforest in the world (the mountain range in Malaysia prevented the Ice Age from destroying the 220 million year old forest, and when Pangea broke up, other continents took pieces with them – everyone has a slice!). We saw many many pitcher plants, the passive carnivorous plant that lure insects into their depths with the sweet smelling nectar, and once they fall in, breaking down their proteins in the acidic gloop inside. They come complete with umbrellas overhead, 2 rows of spikes on the side (to act as ladders for the insects in case the pitcher plant is on the ground), and pretty colors and patterns on the outside. We saw them everywhere; they hung in the trees like dangerous flowers.
For myself, the Cameron Highlands were the start of the end of this trip, the 8 weeks we have left are going to be spent in full-on traveling mode, something we are all looking forward to. So here we go!