“Get the hell out of the forest when the rain comes because all the snakes, leeches and scorpions come out”, said the cheerful lady in the tourist office. We’d been walking through the dense rainforest on trail 10 for about 45 minutes when we felt the first spots of rain. To carry on or to turn back? That is the question. Obviously we carry on, albeit at a brisker pace.
At 1,600m, the cool climate of the Cameron Highlands in the centre of Malaysia, is a welcome relief from the oppressive humidity of Kuala Lumpur. The area is famous for its tea, fruit and vegetables and a popular stop-off for hikers. You can walk independently but many of the trails can be hard to follow and there have been numerous reports of muggings on trail 9. We avoid that one.
After a few wrong turns, clambering over fallen trees and pushing through overgrown sections, we emerge unscathed back into Tanah Rata before the afternoon storm breaks. We have not been being bitten or crushed by snakes, stung by scorpions or sucked dry by leeches. A good day. Tomorrow we’ll take a guide.
Meet Satya from Eco Cameron who chuckles, ‘I am a crazy guide who loves plants’.
Satya points out indigenous birds, like white tailed robins, as he weaves the 4WD around pot holes on the windy road up to the Mossy forest. We park at the top and take the boardwalk to the 2000m summit of Gunung Brinchang. Flesh-eating pitcher plants, that trap and eat flies and rodents, hang from enormous rhododendron trees. Catching his contagious enthusiasm, we learn which plants can heal which ailments. He explains that 75% of plants have medicinal properties in this ‘green pharmacy of Malaysia ‘.
There are more than two tonnes of weight hanging in the trees from the moss. He picks up a clump and squeezes. It produces a surprising amount of water. And that is why this area is so important. “Lose the forest and we lose our drinking water”, he adds.
Eco Cameron is working to protect this ancient environment, estimated to be 200m year’s old, from residential development, agriculture and destruction for palm oil plantations. Malaysia has already lost huge tracts of forest to these plantations, not only destroying ecosystems but also causing oil and pesticides to leech into the river systems, polluting drinking water.
We leave the forest and drive through the bright green landscape of tea plantations. We visit the BOH plantation, owned by the Russell family from Scotland, which has been producing black tea since 1929. BOH stands for best of highlands. Satya chuckles again and explains, “Some tea growers weave tall stories to sell their wares, such as that only virgin ladies pick the tea which produces a distinct flavour and has an aphrodisiac effect”. You what?
The new light green shoots are harvested every two weeks. As if on cue, a posse of smiling tea workers clad in yellow wellies troops by. After seeing how tea is made you can get a cuppa in the modern tea house perched high on the slopes above the plantation.
We choose to walk back from Brinchang to Tanah Rata on paths 3 and 5. Although easy to follow, we have to crawl under and climb over numerous fallen trees. A snake slithers across our path. Its body is larger than my arm (and there is more bingo in my wings these days) so this is pretty sizeable! It isn’t even raining! Doesn’t it know the rules? I stamp my feet a bit harder as I walk on to encourage his brethren to also stay off the path.
Relieved to be out of the forest, an almighty storm breaks as we get back into the town. I check my feet and boots thoroughly for leeches. All clear.
Hikers are free to independently walk on the trails but I saw and understood more about this precious environment and the importance of protecting it for the future by taking a tour with Eco Cameron.
Cost: 53 Malaysian Ringit (around £10)