I'm starting to fall behind a bit on my posts, so these next two may come out like Coles notes, bear with me. The four hour bus ride from KL to Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands began innocently enough, save a small ticket mixup where an agent told us Abbey didn't need a ticket...which we confusingly accepted, without realizing that it meant that she actually didn't have a seat. In the end, no matter. We fashioned one out of our backpacks at the back of the plush VIP bus. She barely noticed, watching SpongeBob Squarepants and eating pringles. VIP indeed. Thank god for the iPod! I'm sorry, but it's true. The last hour and a half of the trip was rather hairy, to say the least; the driver cornering hairpin turns far too quickly along narrow mountain roads. Gravol would have come in handy. Finally, the town of Tanah Rata appeared before us, a welcome sight, and a wonderful coolness! Yay for mountains! The towns of the Cameron highlands possess a vague shabby mountain swissness, but are otherwise unremarkable. Once you get into the rolling green tea plantations, that's when the beauty takes off. The highlands are best known for two things: tea and strawberries. Roadside stalls all sell the same ridiculous array of strawberry swag; everything from strawberry plushie headrests to elongated inflatable strawberry hammers. We made a game out of identifying the most ridiculous souvenir we could find. In the end, it was a tossup between the strawberry-shaped seal stuffy and the giant jar of country pickled plastic strawberries.
In all, we had two and a half days in the highlands. Since all the sights were quite spread out, we decided to pack it all in with a full day tour. The day consisted of, in this order; a walk through tea plantations, a tower climb to the highest peak in the highlands, a walk through a mossy forest, a tea factory tour at the BOH tea plantation and cafeteria time to sample tea varieties, a walk through a local vegetable market, entrance to butterfly gardens and reptile park, entrance to the "Time Tunnel" - museum of everyday artifacts, and...finally a stop at a strawberry farm. A full day indeed. By far the highlight was walking through the tea plantation and learning how tea grows and is processed. Abbey might say the best thing was watching the dancing green snakes at the reptile park, or making friends with other travellers in our jeep. The tour leader for the three jeeps was excellent at explaining the tea making process and aspects of the highland rainforest. I won't bore you with all the details, but two facts were the most interesting; the best, highest quality tea comes from the very young curled tip of the tea plant. And all tea - except herbal, which "isn't tea really" - comes from one plant. The difference is defined by the varying times in the oxidation process. While the tour leader was captivating in his explanations, our guide had a bit if a Rambo complex: with his pants tucked into his high black army boots, camo headscarf and sunglasses that never came off, even inside. He clearly would have loved to carry a machete, if allowed, to hack the underbrush on either side of the wide paved road.
In the mossy forest we saw one distant orchid and several large hanging purply mottled pitcher plants. In the tea plantation cafe we gobbled up strawberry cake and sampled the highest quality "Garden" tea, and -my favorite- lychee rose black tea. In the strawberry farm, we marvelled at how all the plants were grown in small pots high off the ground (unlike the thick ground bushes in BC) and partook in more delicious strawberryness- in the form of waffles. We nearly sampled the lettuce-infused "butterhead juice" but couldn't quite bring ourselves to want it. And that concluded our day, and really the bulk of our activity in the highlands. The rest of our time was spent eating wonderful cheap Indian meals served on banana leaves, and doing small walks around the area. Next... Georgetown!