Saturday, 17 August 2013

Malaysian Mountains

Where? I'm currently sat watching humming birds flit from flower to flower in the garden of my guesthouse. I'm in Tanah Rata, the capital of the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia. The climate is cooler here with temperatures ranging from about 15-25c due to the 1400m elevation of the town. It took me a day or two to adjust after years of living in a more civilised 30c. There're no fans in the 15RM dorms and blankets are needed to keep out the chill.

Navy. I served in the Royal Navy from 1991 to 2001. I started as a Weapons Engineering Apprentice. In 1994 we patrolled the Adriatic on HMS Coventry during the Bosnian conflict (gaining a UN medal). After ships I switched to submarines and served on HMS Victorious (with its nuclear missiles) before I left to finish University.

Normally, if one serves 22 years they can leave with a pension. My ex-colleagues are having a reunion (Sat 31st Aug 2013) on HMS Belfast in London to celebrate this 22 years landmark. Unfortunately I can't attend so I knocked up a small one minute video presentation wishing them a great evening. Any that managed the full 22 years deserve those pensions. I couldn't have stomached another 12 years of Naval bullshit.

School. I received some great news from my old school last week. Seven of my yr10 students decided to sit their IGCSE maths exams one year early. They just got their results and I was delighted: 6 A* and 1 C. I'm very proud of those kids - what a result! Not bad for a 'Thick Geordie Bastard' eh?

Route. I've put almost 3000km on the bike since leaving Bangkok. I was here in the Cameron Highlands exactly five years ago. This is where I met Austrian Armin. However, then, I was like the all the other backpackers passing through Asia. This time I feel different. I can speak Thai and a smattering of Malay. I have the independence and freedom of taking off when I like. I don't have to squeeze on to buses and be at the mercy of insane drivers. This, believe me, is a far better way to travel.

You get a 'richer' experience travelling alone off the trail. You meet the folk who never engage with foreigners. You pick up the language faster. You set yourself up for adventurous adventures.
Penang. I enjoyed my 12 nights here. I relaxed, went for bike rides, walked, swam and read. I liked to stroll around the Botanical Gardens around sunset. Not only could I perv hot Chinese lasses jogging, I could watch monkeys and observe tropical fauna from many countries. For example this Golden Shower tree?
I went to Batu Ferrengi beach with Alex (another Trang friend) and we were horrified to see that the water was black. We still swam in it but it was filthy. Far better to drive on another 5km and swim in the sea opposite the Tropical Spice Garden.
No trip to Penang is complete without a 5km stroll up the 833m Penang Hill. Here I am fresh at the start. You can see the first km marker 0.0km.
Half way up there is an old Chinese man who serves tea for a donation. He should probably look for another career as the miserable bastard probably couldn't raise a smile in a Bangkok BJ bar. It's a welcome treat after the first sweat-inducing climb. The views from the balcony are superb.
Just in case your GPS isn't working. 50deg south and 100deg east of Newcastle. Temperatures tend to be warmer at these latitudes.
Made it. The final marker. At this point I removed my vest and rung it out. I was drenched in sweat.
It's worth it for the view. There's also a train that runs up and down for 99% of the folk you see at the top. In 2008 I walked up the train tracks since the train wasn't operational then. Back in 2007 the top of the hill had regular food stalls and markets. In 2013, like many things, it's gone posh. There are trendy bars and restaurants now and they cost much more than they used to. The hill has lost its charm because of this commercialisation. 
The Eastern and Oriental Hotel. I like to visit here and get a feel for the colonial days. There are Indian doormen dressed in ye olde tropical dress complete with pith helmets. You can take afternoon tea and scones in one of the highly ornate cafes. Cucumber sandwiches are a must while discussing the hardships of being so far from London and civilisation.
In the foyer. There's a dome in the ceiling that acts as a sound amplifier. If you stand directly underneath the center you hear your voice slightly louder. Newcastle University also has one of these. By the way kids, the curve of the dome will be a parabolic function, so there you go - maths in the real world. It's quite a cool phenomenon to experience.
The cannons of Fort Cornwallis aimed to sea. This fort is in such a strategic location that the modern ferries to Butterworth and Langkawi chose the same spot.
A Chinese temple right outside The Starlodge Guesthouse on Muntri Street. Felt strange parking my bike there everyday.
Meet Australian Bob. He sits everyday and drinks 18 big bottles of Tiger beer. He does it in three shifts with the first shift starting in the morning when he wakes up. 11 liters of beer in a day is impressive. That's the same size as my bike's fuel tank. It also costs £45/day. I'm not sure whether I should be impressed or appalled?
I would often ride around the island and eat some smelly durian fruit on the mountain roads. One day a middle aged lady approached me:
"You like durian?"
"Yeah, I love it."
"Your people normally don't like it."
"I love it, I often eat it in Thailand."
"Malay durian is much better than Thai durian."
What was she on about? Your people? Malay v Thai durian?
Lee is a 61yo Aussie lass I hung out with sometimes. She had just returned from Sri Lanka so had many interesting tales of Tamil. Here we are enjoying tandoori chicken and naan bread with a tea tarek. Mint. I have been eating Indian food like a maniac during the last three weeks. I must have gained weight - surely.
Look at that food - lush.
The entrance to my favourite restaurant in the whole of Asia. Jaya Restoran, Penang St, Georgetown, Pulua Penang, Malaysia. Excellent.

No trip to Penang is complete without a meal here. 
Cameron Highlands. I left Penang after 12 nights (via the bridge) and rode 250km to Tanah Rata. The road from the E1 highway to the mountains was spectacular. I had to stop here because I couldn't read all the places on the sign quickly enough.
The first thing I did was wash every piece of clothing I own. All 4.5kg of it cost an outrageous 9RM. I normally hand wash my stuff in the sink but since I hadn't washed them properly in 5 weeks I decided to go professional (contrary to my submariner instincts).
This lad is 59yo Harry. He's originally from Manchester but has lived in Oz for the last 40 years. His Dad is Russian and his Mam is Dutch. He takes the Hostel dogs for a walk every afternoon. I went with him one day and was surprised to see Malay people very afraid of little Rocky. Apparently, the Koran says that dogs are dirty and can't be kept as pets. But does that explain their fear? There are no stray dogs here which is the polar opposite of Thailand!

The last time I was here (five years ago) I walked over 30km with a Kiwi monk to scale this mountain. This time I rode up the road! 2031m or 6666ft. Is 6666 more Satanic than 666?
A view from a tower at the top. Because of the cold I bought a second hand jumper from a small stall. I was happy to hand over 5RM or £1 although I wish the sleeves were a bit longer.  
On the way back down you pass massive tea plantations. The British introduced the tea from China in 1929. It's interesting to watch the Indian tea pickers weaving through the bushes. It's all very picturesque and a huge draw for families from all over Malaysia during the school holidays (which are happening right now).
A bit further on there was an Indian camera crew producing a movie on one of the tea-covered mountain slopes. I stopped to check it out and volunteered my services as an extra. One day you might see me in a Kollywood movie. Kollywood is because they're from KL. Afterwards, one of the actresses posed with me for a snap. Recognise her? Me neither.
Another day I passed this deforestation-in-progress. On the news they always say 'An area the size of Wales.' I've been to Wales and I'm certain it was bigger than this. I've no idea what they're building.
Getting arty. Underneath the electricity pylon that straddles the peak of Gunung Jasar. The sun is almost directly overhead indicating it's around noon.

I call this work: Vanishing Destiny.


For no reason because artists don't need reason.
Only 1696m but still 352m higher than Ben Nevis. If this mountain was on a more northerly latitude, there's no doubt it would be snow covered at the peak.
The flipflop tragedy. At the top there was a path heading south that was sealed-off with warning signs. I cavalierly passed through and proceeded to struggle through dense jungle on a perilous path. After an hour my flipflop broke and I had to effect an emergency repair. I was also down to my last 200ml of water. Ray Mears and Bear Grylls would be proud.
Yesterday I rode 190km from Tanah Rata to Sungai Koyan and back. What an experience. One of the best bike trips I've ever done. Wide, smooth, empty, safe roads cutting through Malaysia's amazing pristine mountainous jungle. Full throttle all the way. Wow, just wow.
Look at that view!

I've been in Malaysia 17 nights and I'm enjoying the contrast to Thailand. I have been retired six weeks and I've been thinking about my teaching colleagues who return to work on Monday. I'm glad I'm not with them.

Plans? There are no plans.

Toon away to Man C on Monday. A difficult start.

Salamat Pagi = good morning
Anda nama apa = what's your name?
Kamu buat apa = what are you doing?
Kamu na pergi kamana = where are you going?

1 comment:

Please be nice.