Monday, July 23, 2018

Finally! A No Sweat Zone

Don't settle: Don't finish bad books. If you don't like the menu, leave the restaurant. If you're not on the right path get off it.
   -- Chris Brogan

Ever since I left the cool confines of Nepal in mid April I have done one thing consistently, that is sweat. To many times I have had to change shirts during the day and a few times a third shirt comes into play. This is SE Asia, it is the muggy wet season and that's just the way it is. If ever I needed a break from something it is that. Welcome to Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia.

The 5 hour bus ride from Penang was easy and the views were lush and green as we headed into the mountains. There are two main towns 5 KM apart in the Cameron Highlands, Tanah Rata and Brinchang. Both are small and have what you need but Tanah Rata is where the bus stops, so that was my choice.

As I have had a few stumbles along the way with airports and ticketing it was time to have an issue with a booked hotel. I reserved 2 nights at the Wild Orchid and would book 2 more if it was good. I never got the chance. Checking in the woman at the desk say "oh, we have had trouble with our booking and we will put you into a dorm" When I told her no that was not going to do she looked really confused like nobody has ever disagreed with her. I made a reservation for a single room and it was confirmed (showing her my confirmation, but not being a dick about it).  As Seinfeld said "the idea of the reservation is that you hold the car (in my case the room). That's the reason for the reservation.

I had no time to argue as there were hotels up and down the strip flashing off season discount rooms. Ken:We are going to cancel the reservation and I will not be charged, so go ahead and do that
Clerk: I don't know how to do that, I am very scared you are angry and will yell at me.
Ken: Call Booking and cancel the reservation. I can get on the phone if you need me to.
Clerk: Are you angry
Ken: Internally (holy fuck, I have never met a more insecure people in my life). I am not angry, please call
Clerk: First call, wrong number, second call and she can not explain what she wants. I get on the phone, tell booking what happens and they say "you will have to work it out with the hotel, it is their issue" 
Yes sir, the great game of pass the responsibility to the other party has begun. It took a bit of time and more patience than I can usually muster but we got it done. I cancelled the reservation from my confirmation and when it came through she confirmed and clicked the "no fee" button on her screen. I will see what happens when I check my credit card bill in a couple of days.
At least I was not sweating.

I need a break from and found the Mentigi Guesthouse on Orbitz. Here is the rub. I have been staying in cheaper hotels/hostels along this journey. My rooms have run me from $6 a night for a bungalow to $18/$20 for a room with private bathroom. As my time in Asia is winding down I splurged and treated myself. My room at the Mentigi was $30 a night, discounted from $35 because I am an elite member of Orbitz, whatever the hell that means. I actually don't want to be an elite member of anything. Two double beds, small balcony, desk and dresser but oddly no air conditioning. Reason being this is the mountains and it's not needed. I opened the sliding door to the balcony and was bathed in the cool air all night. I am living like rockstar with a rucksack in the hills of Malaysia.

There are various reasons to come to the Cameron Highlands. In no particular order it's the cool fresh air, huge tea plantations, strawberries, jungle hiking and the mossy forests.

There are a series of easy to follow trails in the mountains around the town. Naturally I chose trail 10, the longest and highest. The guidebook said to give myself 6 hours so I packed up some supplies, charged my phone, told the hotel manager where I was going and off I went. It was exactly as advertised. Deep green jungle forests that, if you took the time to look, supplied the trek with various colours and shapes.

I headed into one of the Mossy Forests the are scattered throughout the area. Any combination of trees and branches dripping with mosses could have been pulled from any one of Grimm's Fairy Tales. The science behind the moss is nothing I will look up but the forest was cooler than any part of the jungle and it provided a natural sound proofing. I stopped and sat for lunch and listened to...nothing for about 30 minutes. It was playing games on my psyche that's for sure but escape was not an option. I loved the absolute solitude way to much. After a bit of time the trees stared moving like the Wizard of Oz and I got out of there as fast as I could.

On my second trek the next day I ventured up and through the BOH tea plantation, tea being a huge part of the culture in the Cameron Highlands. The plantation was massive and the beauty of the rolling hills filled with tea plants was mesmerizing. There was a production plant that was worth the visit and naturally a shop for us tourists to buy a cuppa and enjoy the views. Most of the tea in Malaysia is for domestic use and not exported. The deep black tea was strong but smooth and I enjoyed about an hour overlooking the sprawling estate.

The town itself had some nice food stalls and of course an Irish Pub. After so much time spending so little for beer throughout SE Asia, the Cameron Highlands gave me my first "back to reality sticker shock" pricing. I am heading to Singapore which will be more of the same. It will be the 3 weeks in the UK and Wales where I am going to be welcome back to western pricing for everything. I am not looking forward to it but as always I will adapt. I just won't eat for three weeks. Some will call it starving, other may call it a hunger strike. I will say it is fasting, that way there is a spiritual tone to it thus justifying it.

The Cameron Highlands was a nice find, something that happens as you move from place to place. As I said, it was great not to profusely sweat for 4 days and nights. I found a few books at the hotel book swap. The one that really caught my eye was Shantaram, all 933 pages of it. The true life story of Gregory David Roberts. I read the first 5 pages and was hooked. The road does provide ample reading time and I am knocking back books like shots of tequila during Cinco de Mayo.

Asia is winding down and with that tomorrow I am catching a bus for the 10 hour ride, including border inspections, to Singapore. No cheap rooms there so I will be holed up in a 8 bed dorm for 2 nights. Using my Orbitz bucks it will be $7 a night so I expect room service, a welcome drink, free breakfast, maid service to turn down my bed, a mini bar, big screen TV, a quality hotel bar and access to sporting events. Wait, that was my previous life as a National Technical Operations Director with a large corporation. I sometimes think about a great hotel room with a fantastic view but the realize that my soul is freer without it.

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