So we've spent the last few days in the Cameron Highlands, a mountainous region of Malaysia known for its jungles and tea plantations. And strawberries. We stayed in a small town, mostly a tourist base for tours of the jungle and surrounding area. It's a nice hostel...off the main street, so almost in the jungle.
Yesterday we went on a full-day tour that included jungle trekking, a visit to a native village, a trip to a tea plantation, a butterfly farm and a strawberry farm. It was a long day, but it was great.
Jon and I walked into town at about 8:30 am, ordered some Indian bread and banana smoothies to go, loaded into a waiting Jeep with 5 other people and our guide, and started off into the jungle. After a 45-minute ride through stunning jungle mountains, and then 20 minutes of off-roading through the jungle, we got out and started to hike. Our destination: 2 giant flowers. A hike just to see 2 flowers, you ask? Well, these aren't just any flowers. They're about 70 cm wide...or 2 1/2 feet, and they only bloom for six days. They smell yucky, and are pretty rare. The natives used to feed them, cooked, to women who had just given birth, to stop the bleeding, minimize scarring, etc etc. Now they're protected, so there are more of them, but no so many. Our guide met us at the flowers, and we followed a native guide through the forest. He walked pretty fast, and spoke no English other than "Let's go!" and "I don't speak English." After 45 minutes of a brisk walk through the jungle, we arrived, covered in sweat and exhausted, at the flowers.
The flowers were amazing. They're actually a fungus, and grow on the ground out of buds that look like giant pink and green cabbages. The flowers are a pink-red color, and smell gross. They attract lots of flies, who swarm around the spiky inside. These flowers look to me like cartoon flowers-- they have huge petals, and just give them impression of a child's thick-lined drawing.
After the flowers, we went for a swim in a nearby pool fed by a waterfall. The water was wonderfully cold after that hot hike. Then we went back to the Jeep, and down to a native village. The village was a collection of maybe 5 houses that had been moved near the highway after the government said they could get schools and more regular doctor's visits if they came out of the jungle. Now the kids go to school until they're 12, when they finish primary school. The closest secondary school is about an hour's drive away, and there's no public transportation that passes the village. The children marry when they're 15 or 16, and have 3 or 4 kids by the time they're in their mid-20s.
The men in the village either work seasonal jobs, or work with the tours in the area as guides. They farm some, and set traps in the jungle. We were there to see a demonstration of blow-gun hunting. It was really cool...the blow-gun is a long, straight, hollow piece of bamboo. A man from the village showed us how to shoot it, and then we all got a chance to try to shoot a leaf pinned to some styrofoam about 20-30 meters away. Jon hit the leaf the first time. I completely missed the whole board the first time, but the second time I hit the leaf.
The tea plantation was beautiful. Tea bushes carpeted the rolling mountains, and the factory had a cafe that overlooked the whole thing, with walls made totally of glass and a deck that jutted over the tea bushes. We had a quick factory tour, then a light lunch in the cafe. I had a pot of Earl Grey with Tangerine tea that was quite good, and a pretty good tuna sandwich.
I wasn't very excited about the butterfly farm...I had been to butterfly gardens before, and they're all the same. Well, this one had the addition of a large collection of yucky bugs, from Rhinocerus Beetles to tarantulas to scorpions, and the man who worked there let us hold most of them. And by let, I mean sometimes forced. But it was really interesting. I even held a scorpion!! He promised us it was safe, and he was holding a lot. Afterwards, he explained that the scorpion, since it stings with its tail, can't sting you if you hold it. The tail can only flip up to the area over its body, so it can only get you it your hand is over its back, or if you step on it. We also got to hold these really lazy geckos, called cat-eyed geckos, who sleep most of the day and move like they're in slow-motion. They were sooo cute!
The butterflies were alright...what you can expect. Pretty butterflies. Flowers. The strawberry farm was interesting, since the strawberries and the other things that they grew there (various types of lettuce, parsley) were all grow hydroponically. That means they're grown in either pots or pipes hanging above the ground. Their roots grow either in the water, like the lettuce, or in the air once they outgrow the pots, like the strawberries. Water is pumped through them instead of onto them, saving water that usually gets lost in soil seepage and evaportation. The water is also reinforced with nutrients to help them grow, so they don't need fertilizer. Plus, since they're hanging, they save space. There can be more plants closer together, and other plants can grow on a bottom layer. For example, the parsely was growing below the strawberries.
Anyway, enough agricultural lessons. The strawberries were delicious! Jon and I shared a strawberry milkshake, and a bowl of strawberries and cream. Yum!
Today we're leaving the jungle to start our journey into Thailand. Today we take a bus to Ipoh, the closest train station, and catch the night train to Hat Yai in Thailand. We'll get there tomorrow morning, then take another night train to Bangkok. We'll be in Bangkok for a day or so, go west for a few days to Kanchanaburi to go to a seven-tiered waterfall (you can swim in every tier!) then another overnight train to Chang Mai for Saturday morning. Aye. I'm tired already!
"Words have no wings, but they can travel a thousand miles" (Korean Proverb)
Welcome to Flying Words, Jon and Aileen's blog of our adventures in South Korea! We will be in South Korea for a year, starting in mid-July, teaching English in a private school. We just graduated from college this past May, and are looking forward to having some adventures before continuing our education.
We started this blog to keep all our family and friends updated and to share our photos and stories. We hope this is entertaining for you! We will miss you all, and are very thankful to have the internet to keep us in touch.