Friday, 4 October 2013

From the sublime to the ridiculous in Cameron Highlands

Our yummy Indian meal

Firstly the Indian restaurant in Ipoh – we went and said bring us food, which he did, slightly to excess. Three dishes rather than the four he brought, along with the naan and rice would have been fine, but I have to say it was the best Indian I think either of us have ever had. It was also our most expensive meal since Singapore – 60 Ringgets that’s £12 including mango lassi and bottles of water. We left feeling very full and very happy, it was spicy enough for B and I’ve obviously caught up on the chili killing of the tastebuds, as it was fine for me.

Decided 40 mins carrying rucksacks in the heat of the day to the bus station would not be a good start to our next journey, so got the hotel to order us the £2 cab! He turned up and it was our man who took us to the caves. That was nice!

Our hotel in Ipoh
An interesting journey along the wiggly windy roads into Cameron Highlands, to Tanah Rata at a height of 5000’ where the average daily temp is 23degrees, possibly down to 16 overnight! It’s wonderful, I’ve had long trousers and socks and a little jumper on! The lady at the bus station had rung Krish the guesthouse owner before we’d even stepped away from the bus. What service is that? He turned up 10mins later when he’d had his lunch, fair enough to me! The guesthouse isn’t far from the town but he seems to spend half his life driving up and down, but he’s not been doing this long, 9 months since he retired as a bankmanager at 57, a year younger than B, and built these little huts! They are what was shown on the website, cute little huts with bamboo roofs outside a lovely old house which has 3 rooms in with a shared bathroom and a dorm room. 
The De Native Guesthouse. The old house was once owned by a British resident. Krish built the bamboo huts recently. Ours is the second door from the right
The huts are all ensuite, but the door between is a nylon curtain, the bed is on the floor with a mosquito net to pull down, there is no shower, but there is hot water and a bucket and bowl for you to wash with! It’s lovely, I think, certainly quirky and not called De’Native guesthouse for nothing. The only slightly concerning thing (bearing in mind I’ve not actually washed yet!) is we were not alone last night! We heard the owl successfully take a ‘squirrel’ from the room, but then went to sleep with the noise of rain and the patter of tiny feet, accompanied by squeaking! The roof seems to consist of some matting, then a polythene sheet and then the rush/leaves. I’ve not had chance to talk to Krish yet, but I’m sure he’ll say they were between the polythene and the leaves, however there was definite movement of the matting to accompany the pattering as they rushed about! Strangely the noticeboard at the bus station had said that the mossie net wasn’t for mossies (though I was bitten shortly after we arrived) but for other ‘night time animals’! I suppose a mouse would land and bounce off like a trampoline, but then it would be in the room with all our belongings….. Hmmm!

One of the resident doges. This one's Native
Actually didn’t sleep too badly till the man in the mosque started, it was nice to snuggle down, no need for A/C – blanket and cover! We’d been collared by the lady in the bus station while waiting for Krish, ‘would we like a tour to the highest peak, mossy forest and the tea factory?’, so we signed up, she cleverly said the w/end would be busy and the tea factory is shut on Monday, so tomorrow really is the best day, so sign up and pay now! Sadly Krish also runs tours, much cheaper, but we weren’t to know that, still I’m not sure I could cope with a day with the voices of the two young American fellow guests!

And this is Lucky
The tea plantation
Thoroughly enjoyed the tour, drove all the way to the base of the viewing platform, at 6666’ (2031m - Gunung Berinchang mountain) so that was good, the mossy forest was a new purpose built boardwalk which was interesting, complete with carnivorous pitcher plants, though less so than walking down the hill for a short while with the guide while we sniffed leaves, ate berries, had all sorts of medicinal plants pointed out to us, before a small snack of pastry, muffin and water and on to the tea factory. BOH (Best Of Highlands) tea is very famous in Malaysia and is exported to Japan, but not as far as the UK, it was interesting, but it’s still only tea!

Jackie showing the manual method with shears and basket
What else? Oh yes, no cats/kittens but the two cutest, naughtiest puppy dogs imaginable, scrapping, chewing, running off with shoes, eating empty bottles (made us think of Roddy!) Nothing is safe!

A few bits from me: Cameron highlands, named after William Cameron, a surveyor who first came upon them, and were developed by George Maxwell (he who had Maxwell Hill in Taiping named after him, before the locals renamed it Bukit Larut after the British left). Having a very temperate climate of warm sun, plenty of rain and cool nights, it was soon colonised by the British who built their British style homes and a golf course here and stayed until 1962. They forbid any building over four stories high, but since they have left, anything goes and there high rise aplenty! 
The petrol cutting machine
In the late nineteenth century a Scotsman bought 600 acres of land and planted tea, forming the BOH company. They bought a rival Tiger Tea company and now have three tea plantations in the Highlands and one more at a lower level and it’s all still family owned, the current female CEO, grand-daughter of the founder, who’s name we have forgotten, spoke in a very cultured accent on the video we saw.

The tea plantation in the Cameron Highlands
This is grinding the leaves. Look at that cam which moves the head all over the surface
And look at that motor driving a worm gearbox. If I had an Andantex card I'd have left one, so they know where to go for spares!
Tea picking is now largely mechanised using labour from places such as Nepal and Myanmar (Burma). The cultivated tea trees stand about 1m high and their new shoots are harvested every three weeks, using a machine similar to a big petrol driven hedge cutter, but held by two people, one each side, which propels the cuttings into a bag. What they can’t reach is cut by hand using a pair of shears with a plastic box on top, the cutter throwing them over his/her head into a basket carried on their back. The cutters have to buy their own equipment, the shears costing RM30, the petrol cutter RM2000. They are paid RM0.22 per kilo and cut on average 120kg per day using shears and 300kg per day with the petrol cutter. They have accommodation provided free, along with schooling for their children and mosques for prayer. We were later told the average earned is RM2500 to RM3000 per month, but from the figures quoted above we couldn’t get to RM2500 to RM3000 per month! When questioned our man says it depends on how hard they work, so we’re unclear exactly how much they earn!

More mechanical kit! The guys in the white coats are taking humidity measurements. Important in tea production
We went inside the factory and saw how the tea is produced, using five main processes: Withering, Rolling, Fermentation, Drying and Sorting and the variety of equipment used for the purpose. At the end there was a bunch of women sitting on the floor sorting some tea, so it’s still a fairly old fashioned process. Tea tastes good though!

A carnivorous pitcher plant
Oh, and the other thing about our ‘De Native’ accommodation, there’s no wifi! So unusual in Malaysia, but he hasn’t got round to it yet, getting the phone lines up here is apparently quite difficult. There’s plenty in the village (about 15 minutes walk away), so it means wandering down there with the lap-top or going to the local internet café, where they charge RM1 (£0.20) for 20 minutes!

1 comment:

  1. Hey Jackie and Brian - good reading! Loved the naughty puppies and pictures of Native and Lucky :-) I am hoping that the rooms we are trying to book for Dr Powell's special birthday are a little more modern and with less 'visitors'. It always amazes me what we put up with when abroad - I am thinking of our giant cockroach in Kenya that we marvelled at and you and the mice! It's amusing and cute when going native, but we wouldn't stand for it in the UK!! Have fun xxx