Saturday, 16 August 2008

The refreshing Cameron Highlands. Kiwi monks. 2031m mountain treks.

I am in Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia. This is my second trip to Malaysia, the first been Jan '07. The weather here is pleasantly cool due to the elevated height. There are many tea plantations and the town has a very English feel to it having once been an escape for the colonialists from the lowland heat. There is dense jungle all around with many trails. There are mountains over 2000m waiting to be scaled. I say 'waiting' because there is too much rain presently to attempt this.

The food is an eclectic mix of Malay/Indian/Chinese which is absolutely delicious. I might get fat here (like the locals). There are no bars so I can dry out after the excesses of the Philippines. I have stopped smoking and acquired a few books to read. So the next couple of weeks for me is going to be reading/relaxing/hiking/drying out/quitting smoking/eating/sleeping.

The air is very fresh which is very noticable to me after a lung-crushing two months in the smoky/dusty/polluted Philippines. The food is vastly superior too. Rooms are also cheaper and people here actually seem to have jobs. I have not experienced any begging here yet which is a HUGE change from the Philippines.

I arrived in Malaysia two days after flying into KL from Angeles. I stayed one night in KL before catching a 4hr bus direct to this little mountainous paradise.

I am off to eat an authentic Indian curry from a banana leaf using only my hands.

Terima Kasih - Thanks

I am still in the Cameron Highlands. It is really good here. I am staying in a cheap little dorm room. It's like watching a conveyor belt as a new batch of backpackers arrive and depart everyday. They tend to only stay for 2 nights. This is clearly not enough time to experience the cool tranquility of this place. I have not smoked a tab in 1 week. I have not had a beer in 10 days. This is all good. I am starting to feel human again in these delightful surroundings.

I have been hanging out with a 48yr old Kiwi going by the name of Manna. He is a practising Bhuddist. We go for long jungle walks most days and sit on mountain tops admiring the wonderful views and discussing life's peculiarities. His nickname here (among the long-termers like me) is 'The Guru' hehe. He wears maroon robes and carries a meditation blanket and a big bamboo walking stick. I like him, he is a laugh. He has talked me into attending a Bhuddist retreat in the South of Thailand. This is a 10 day meditation course, see: for details. I am thinking of doing this around the 1st October or 1st November.

After that I will head to Bangkok to catch up with old friends before heading to Mae Sot to work as a volunteer Renewable Energy Engineer in the Karen refugee villages. See for details. After this I am thinking of heading to Western Australia to try and find some work in the mines there. It is meant to be BIG money going by what the many Aussies tell me. I am not sure exactly how to proceed with this at present.

Meanwhile, here I have been up massive wooden watchtowers. Swam in refreshing rainforest waterfall pools. Climbed some huge jungle clad mountains (Gunung Berembun been the highest so far 1812m). I have become partial to eating stinky durian fruit - delicious. Rambutan at 3RM/kg is also good. I have a long hot shower everyday before retiring to bed with various Bhuddist books.

I have these bhuddist books because of a trip to a Chinese temple. There was free literature available so I picked a few books up. There was also free scran with the shaven headed monks which I enjoyed. I had the chance to practise my Chinese with them.

I passed a Hydro-electric plant drawing its energy source from crystal clear mountain streams. The fluid travels down the mountainside in huge cylindrical pipes known as penstocks. It was very noisy at the business (generation) end of the project which provides vital power for both domestic use and irrigation pumps in this remote region. Despite the abundant rain, these pumps provide extra water for the plentiful mountainside tea and fruit plantations that manifest themselves on the jungle fringe.

Yesterday, I helped an old guy here purchase an online flight from KL-Brisbane for 95gbp. That is a great price. I have been looking at flights to Perth for January at about the same price. I am waiting to hear news from my Auntie Brenda who has recently worked in these same mines before purchasing any flights. I want to hear where she is and what she has to say first. In the meantime I will refine my engineering skills on Hydro-electrical and solar generation plants in the jungles of the Burma/Thai border.

I plan to stay in the Cameron Highlands until early September where I will dash to the East coast and spend 1 month on the highly rated Perentian Islands paradise before hitting Thailand (but this time with a 2month visa from Kota Baru).

I have been the vicitm of a spate of theft recently. In the dorm I had my swimming goggles, sunglasses and an ancient crappy Argos camera stolen. Ominously, I have also not heard form Don in over 2 weeks which is strange in itself, but compounding this is that he had 7000piso of my cash.......mmmmmmmm! Not sure what to make of it. Perhaps I have lost it along with that ship job. Ah well. Not the end of the World. I will have to be more careful in the future. I am more sad at losing a friend than the money. Hopefully he will contact me one day.

Oh yeah, one last thing. The food here is great. I know I keep banging this drum but it really is. I am going for a 1gbp tandoori chicken lunch in a minute. I will be totally stuffed with cheap masarap food. Mmmmmmmm.

Jumpa lagi - See you again

Two days ago Manna and I walked about 30km to ascend the 2031m Gunung Brinchang. It was cold, wet and cloudy up there which was disappointing as we were anticipating some spectacular views after the arduous jungle hike. We also saw all the butterfly/insect/strawberry/tea factory tourist traps on the descent. The backpackers here generally take expenisive tours to see these. We chatted with the Indian supervisor of a tea-picking team we passed on the lower mountain slopes. They seemed surprised to see foreigners actually walking this route - probably because of the presence of Manna, the white eccentric Buddhist monk! These tea plantations are very picturesque. Her workers were mainly Bangladesh and Nepali immigrants. She described in detail the entire tea processing operation which was interesting. I have recently become partial to drinking green tea from a flask like the Chinese. I now appreciate how it gets from the bushes into my flask!

Another odd thing here is the local's attire. The Malay (Muslim) girls cover their whole bodies with clothes whereas you see the Chinese lasses wearing skimpy sexy denim shorts. Strange seeing two ends of a spectrum like that. The Malay and Indian dress for females looks very graceful with long, flowing, colourful fabrics draped over their bodies.

Since I have had my camera stolen I have decided to do my first big money buy for as long as I can remember. I am going to trade in my crap mobile phone for a combined mobile/camera/laptop that fits in my pocket - ideal for travel. That's a lot of functionality in a small package! I have checked a few of these things out in Tanah Rata but they are too expensive here. I am going to go to Penang for the sole purpose of finding one for around 100gbp. I can sit in Starbucks (or anywhere with WIFI access) and upload photos, compose blogs, surf the net and respond to emails.  The camera is as good as the one I had stolen. It even acts as a cell phone. 100gbp sounds like a deal if I can get it for that. An American guy showed me his and it seems ideal for my travel needs. Convenience is improved and it will save me a fortune in internet cafe fees in the long run. Any problems? Yeah, it has very small display and keyboard but this is offset by the fact I don't have to lump around a three separate bulky items: namely a camera, a mobile and a laptop.

I have recently applied for two jobs. One with in Norway and one with based in the UK/Singapore. ABB do electrical installations and GMS perform submarine cable laying operations. They both offer 2 month on/2 month off routines which suits me fine. The reason I have gone for these two companies is because I have met people already working for them. It is always better to apply for a job via someone you know who has recommended you than applying out of the blue. I have learnt that nepotism is an important force! I am still keeping my ears open for the Australian mines also. This is all for next year as I want to do some chilling in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia first.

Newcastle United's first game of the season is away to the current Premier League and Champions League winners - Man Utd - the best team in Europe. A daunting task? Perhaps, but if the Toon can somehow fluke a win I will get a free slap-up Indian meal from my Indian mate who runs a local restaurant. He is a Man U fanatic. Most people in Malaysia like Man U or Liverpool. The EPL is huge here and I love it. Today will be my first live EPL game since the first game of last season (Bolton - Newcastle) in Bali. Bring it on! HAWAY THE TOON!

Satu lagi - one more

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