Butterflies can be hypnotizing. Tiny splashes of vibrant color twirling in graceful, solitary little circles. Purple, orange, and an unearthly shade of blue, they flit from one flower head to the next, creating a kaleidoscope of color, waltzing to their own musical melody. Poetry in motion!
There were no 4 a.m. buses to catch, no early bird trains or twilight boat rides. I was allowed to sleep in this morning, only to be awakened by the sound of children’s voices singing “happy birthday” in the nearby school. When I rolled over to check the time, I saw that I was alone in the bunkhouse. The eleven beds around me were a jumbled mess of twisted covers, discarded clothing, and other odds and ends trailing from open backpacks. Our front door had been left open, allowing me a remarkable view of the rolling hills and well-tended English gardens outside our temporary home. I have a perfect view of the garden and butterfly activity from my bed and am in no hurry to emerge from under my wool blankets into the Highland’s cool morning breezes.
Heading to the hills– Jungle life is hot and steamy. After the Perhentians and Tamen Negara, we needed a respite from the sun, humidity, and buggy evenings. Relaxing in the the Cameron Highlands, a fabulous oasis boasting lush, tea plantations, offered such a break in our itinerary. The fun part about the Cameron Highlands, besides the wonderful teas, bountiful English scones, and huge, mouthwatering strawberries, is the cool climate. I was using two wool blankets at night and enjoying hot showers in the middle of the day! (goodbye ice cold rinse offs!)
Indo-Malay food – Even better is that the culture in the Cameron Highlands is a mixture of both Indian and Malay, a combination that creates a tantalizing mixture of food choices. Crisp, flaky rotis, spicy curries, somosas, and corn chapattis! We certainly did not have any trouble finding food, especially during the Sunday night market. There were rows and rows of food stalls, each offering a different variety of ethnic delights.
Following a particularly prolific feast, we sat on the street corner, eating noodles with our hands and trading sweets back and forth. Children kicked a soccer ball back and forth down the road, and a young couple whispered on the bench next to us. The sweet smell of wild orchids filled the cool air while we watched the fuchsia sun sink and slowly turn pale pink. Yup – I think I could definitely hang out here for a bit longer.
Off the Beaten Path – “Cameron Highlands” represents several tiny towns tucked into the rolling tea plantations and strawberry fields of upcountry Malaysia. I spent one morning walking around Tanah Rata, sneaking through hidden allies and searching for picture opportunities. Three young girls dressed in school attire and colorful head scarves trailed me in the shadows. The eldest of the trio was no older than seven or eight, yet she proudly led her two younger sisters by the hand. I introduced myself and gave them some gum. The little chums spoke a bit of English and they shyly grabbed each of my hands and pulled me along with them, giggling excitingly. They were on their way to eat lunch in their “special spot” and were each clutching a snack of rice wrapped in banana leaves. We climbed to a spot high on the nearest hill, surrounded by pink orchids and fragrant roses. I shared some crackers with the schoolgirls and they offered me some fish-head curry. Not too appetizing, but a very popular cuisine in this area.
Enjoy Tea and Strawberry Fields – Another afternoon had me trekking several kilometers to the local tee plantation. Although the walk was beautiful, it was incredibly hilly. What my thighs hated by the end of the hike, my camera loved for I was high on top of the valley and could see clear to the ocean (maybe!) The plantation offered tours of the tea fields and strawberry tastings. I learned that tea that is grow at different altitudes has different tastes – such as your typical green, white, and black teas. Interesting, huh? Luckily, the return walk was downhill, and I easily hitched a ride back to my lodging.