I read about the Cameron Highlands and its famous tea plantations whilst surfing the net on Malaysia's West coast. The fact that it was on top of the mountains was no concern because the English in me could smell the tea and scones already. I told Radka it was my 'pilgrimage', she just couldn't say no.
It took a few days to reach 'Tapah', a town at the base of the mountain road heading 65km uphill through the rainforest to the backpackers town of 'Tanah Rata'.
Up up up to Tanah Rata
We'd planned to leave early and avoid any time stress but, as always, we left around 2 hours late. Off we went, 7km and the climbing had barely started when we bumped into an English guy Chris, the only cycle tourer we would meet in Malaysia. He's a wicked guy and I'll explain just two things for you to understand him ...
- 1) His bike is named Betty, after his deceased grandmother who he was taking around the world in the form of ashes scattered inside his frame! Fear not, he's kept half at home in case his bike's nicked!
- 2) The last words he said to me were ''Arrrghhh, i've got one on me k**b!'', referring to his imaginary story of how he'll be attacked by leeches as he goes for a wee in the jungle.
We were miles behind schedule.
It's steep switchbacks all the way but the perfect tarmac allows you to make around 10km/h average for the day. The first 47km to Ringlet are relatively consistent and there's a small shop after around 20km and a huge waterfall and hot food stalls after around 30km. Enough food and water are essential.
I've read a few blogs on this route and almost every cyclist considered stopping at Ringlet until realising that there's not a single place to stay! I knew this already and when we reached Ringlet Radka was ready to stop. I had to complete this goal and Radka could sense it's importance to me, she agreed to continue then said, “I'm not talking to you'' then cycled on the remaining 13km to Tanah Rata.
Luckily the next 5km after Ringlet were either flat or downhill so she was smiling (and talking) by the time we next stopped. The last 8km are the steepest of the day so prepare and calculate for this.
Just 5km from the top and Radka sat on the roadside for a quick biscuit snack. I turned around and saw the sight I'd been waiting for. ''Omg Radka, look at this!''.
There are no street lights so we cycled the last hour in complete darkness and rain.
Drenched, dark, tired and fed up, we reached Tanah Rata and cycled to the recommended hostel 'Khangs' were the hired help told us it was full. I told him I'd sleep on the porch under the rose bush if he'd let me, and a few minutes later he came back and offered us the couches. We pushed them together and rolled into bed. We'd still be there if the cleaning lady hadn't had come in at 11:00 and kicked us out.
Cycling to Tanah Rata was one of the most memorable days of our trip. You spend the entire day immersed in the rainforest with bugs hissing, birds singing, monkeys screaming, cloud settled valleys and lizards dashing across the road. I was flipping stoked when I stroked one on the tail! Not to mention the views of the tea plantations!
It's nice to experience the rainforest, especially because lots of it are being cut down to make way for palm oil and rubber plantations, a big shame for such a beautiful country.
Not quite tea time yet ...
Khangs is cheap, the staff are friendly, and they have loads of outdoor couches to relax on. So what to do now!? Jonny: ''rest''. Radka: ''rest''... rest it is. A great choice because we met a wicked German couple, Patrick and Carmen. They'd had their own adventure getting to Tanah Rata, maybe it's a curse! Check out their blog.
Night rolled round and we moved into a private room. Radka was fidgeting like crazy and I was barking like mad, ''friggin go asleeeeeep!!''. She couldn't and just kept laughing at me. She wasn't there in the morning so I went back to the couches where she'd been awake all night. The next night was exactly the same and she woke me up with the words ''I need to go the hospital''.
''About time'', it'd been at least 3 weeks without any doctors or hospital so it was on the cards. This was to be the 7th hospital of our trip:
- 1) Hungary: Radka with sinusitus
- 2) Turkey: Radka with a burnt, infected leg
- 3) India: Delhi: Jonny and Radka, Gastroenteritus
- 4) India: Sonamarg: Jonny and Radka, Acute Gastroenteritus
- 5) India: Mulbek: Radka, Acute Gastroenteritus (still)
- 6) India: Manali: Radka, burnt throat from all the Acute Gastroenteritus
- 7) Malaysia: Now this!!
You remember in our last blog she'd had this rash, about 4days ago??... well it was back, and over her whole body! I've never seen anything like it! She was a little hot and she'd had insomnia for three days.
First things first, the meningitis glass test. Radka had never heard of this and nearly punched me when I tried rolling a cold glass over her arm. So off we went to the hospital which was quite conveniently located just 3km away in the same village.
Sitting in the waiting room I turned to Radka and (half) jokingly said, ''One more time and you're going home!!''. They warned us that it could be Dengue Fever then took some blood and told us to came back in the morning.
The next morning she was still relatively ok but the rash was getting progressively worse and her eyes were blood-shot red and she was very sensitive to light. I began carrying an axe in case she turned into a zombie. I made her walk back to the hospital to save money on the taxi. What!?! I gave her sunglasses, every penny counts!
Back in the waiting room and she became really hot and weak and could hardly stay awake or talk. The doctor called us through and confirmed the blood was negative for Dengue. She took one look at Radka and admitted her to the ward where they took more blood and put her on intravenous drips. Again it was negative for Dengue and they told us they couldn't do any other tropical disease tests because they didn't have the facilities. A hospital in a tropical country can't test for tropical diseases?
Radka's the most impatient patient ever. The most exciting part of the day was din-dins (dinner :)) and mostly she'd be telling me to go away because we'd argue over stupid things. I spent the three days walking backwards and forwards between the hospital and lodge, all in all I walking around 30km. The best thing about Radka being in hospital was that the wheels on her drip stand were broken so whenever she needed the toilet she had to push it along with her foot. I nearly had to be admitted for laughing too hard!
The nurses were so shy that they covered their mouths and would hardly look at me when talking, she just nervously laughed all the time.
They kept her on drips for 3 days until her temperature had been normal for 24hrs and the rash had almost gone. They gave her some pills, the bill, and told her to rest for 4 days. They treated it with liquids and penicillin.
They diagnosed it as a viral infection in the same family as Dengue, most likely Scarlet Fever, contracted through a mosquito bite.
I was really lucky because Patrick and Carmen were staying for a week and they were so kind the whole time. They kept me great company, always asked how Radka was, and even sent her some Cadburys!! Sometimes you meet people who you just click with, this was for sure the case. I was either in hospital with Radka or enjoying talking with Carmen and Patrick.
In addition our friend John had come back to the Highlands. We'd spent a few days in India, visiting the Taj Mahal, with John a few months ago. It was so nice to see him again on our trip, especially because he's a fellow scouser :)
Enjoying The Cameron Highlands
Situated at their average height of 1800m above sea-level gives the Highlands a nice temperate climate and provides a much cooler respite from the humid low lands. It's for this reason that the British would spend much time here during their occupation. The Highlands are famous for their tea plantations but also offer visits to strawberry, bee and butterfly farms and many walks in the rainforest. It's a very beautiful place to visit.
By the time Radka was out of hospital, Carmen and Patrick had already been exploring so they were the perfect tour guides and took me on a walk through the rainforest and the local Orang-Asli, aborigine, village whilst Radka rested on the couches. We'd been eating every day in the same Indian restaurant so a spaghetti night was on the cards. We celebrated Radka's new health by cooking on the veranda and had a great evening before Carmen and Patrick said their farewells.
Surprisingly we met another couple the day after! Even more surprisingly they were from Liverpool! Even more surprisingly we live in the same neighbourhood just 5 mins walk away from each other! Fellow scallies, wicked!
Our little group who spent the next few days hitching rides around the Cameron Highlands and trekking in the rainforest.
We finally visited the Boh tea plantation where I got a cup of tea and a scone after 7 days of being in the Highlands, just before we hit the road again.
The North bound road climbed surprisingly higher for another 32km, or so, before heading back down to the very humid low-lands. A cyclist had offered us accommodation close to our next destination of Penang Island so we cycled on towards his home. On the way we stopped at a small town 'Kuala Kangsar' and had a very welcomed interruption whilst grabbing an iced-coffee.
A local Chinese-Malay guy began talking to us and eventually asked Radka where she was from. When she said 'Czech' he pulled out his mobile and called the only Czech friend he knew. No answer so he called his wife. After 5 minutes Radka handed back his mobile then explained what had been said. The Chinese-Malay has a Czech friend 'Ladya' who was married to a Czech lady. They split up and she now lives on the west coast of Malaysia whilst he still runs their permaculture farm in a small town, Lengong, just 50km north of the cafe we're sitting in.
''A farm!'', I said, with much enthusiasm. I sensed Radka's hesitation in telling me because she knew I would want to go. She finally agreed (I’m getting good at convincing her).
We took his name, number and address then checked into the nearest hotel. Counting sheep was quite easy that night... tomorrow we'd be on a permaculture farm in Malaysia, cool!