Ipoh and Cameron Highlands

Sorry for the delay…

Leaving KL

I had already checked out of the hostel in KL earlier that morning. As it wasn’t at full capacity I still had the option to check back in and stay one more night – I was sitting on the fence as to whether I stay or leave KL.

On the way back from lunch, it started raining. A terrestrial downpour came out of nowhere in a way that KL does best. Fortunately, I had my raincoat and a lot of the pavement was covered by overhanging buildings.

At the hostel, I laid my raincoat and bag out to dry and started contemplating whether to leave KL for Ipoh that afternoon. Having already spent two weeks in KL a month before I was feeling cabin fever having only spent a day or two there.

At reception a former paramedic from the St. John’s ambulance service in Hackney – Andrew – was trying to make a similar decision. He had been chilling out in KL for a few days and wanted to leave. But, with the rain, he lacked the impetus.

I had to leave. Andrew decided to join me to go to Ipoh, from there we could get to the Cameron Highlands.

The bus station was a short walk. The bus itself was incredibly comfortable and fast.

Ipoh

Ipoh isn’t overwhelmed with budget accommodation. A quick check on Hostel World suggested there were two places near each other. We checked out both of them. The first looked clean but too clinical. The second hit the spot. It was called eLoft. It had a common area and a clean dormitory.

After check-in, we started planning. We needed food, a beer, and a way to get to the Cameron Highlands the following day. We started talking to the hostel owner – Eva – and a volunteer at the hostel – Louise. They said that we would be able to catch a bus from he station to the Cameron Highlands. They said they were thinking about heading there themselves later that week.

A bunch of us went out to the Snow Beer bar. That’s exactly what it sounds like – partially frozen beer served over crushed ice. While we were sat around talking – Eva and Louise decided to go to the Cameron Highlands as well the next day. “Awesome”, I exclaimed, “Maybe we can rent a car?” After a split seconds thought she said, “Actually, yeah. Instead of taking a bus lets drive my car”. The plan was made.

Cameron Highlands

We departed around 10 am. Eva drove for the first 20 minutes or so to get us out of the city and on the main motorway.

As we drove towards the Cameron Highlands with the green, hilly, picturesque landscape continuously coming into view and falling away behind us Eva gently pulled the car over. She said, “I’d like to take some pictures. Who would like to drive?”. So Louise took the wheel and drove us the rest of the way while Google shouted directions. Despite my bad experience with Google Maps, this felt like an okay place to trust it.

After checking in, we headed straight out for a tasty Indian meal then headed straight for the trekking path.

 

We opted to do trek number 1. We were told it would be quite challenging because the mud was very wet and slippery, but it would be rewarding as track 1 offered great views of the tea plantations. We all knew great views of the tea plantation might not quite be on the cards given the amount of clouds that were in the sky. But, when in Rome.

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The following day, we went up to the one of the tea plantations to…well drink tea. The tea was mediocre. Some pictures from that morning…

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Back to Ipoh

The drive back to Ipoh was pleasant. Upon arriving in Ipoh, we were offered to go on another trek in the jungle just outside of Ipoh. Andrew and I accepted the invitation. Louise was on the fence but decided to join us in the end.

So we readied some more gear, put on the same dirty clothes – after all what’s the point of wearing clean clothes when trekking through the jungle just for them to become dirty and sweaty? Louise and I went shopping around to try and find a cheap sleeping back as we were short. In the end, we bought a beach matt and borrowed a blanket from Eva.

Eva’s friend, Biang, picked us up from the hostel and drove us towards the ‘base camp’. The head office for a voluntary group that looks after the jungle. We stopped off in Starbucks along the way to pick up a coffee – we figured we’ll be needing the caffeine.

We arrived at the Fuze Ecoteer Camp just after sunset. It was a really nice environment: bamboo tree house bungalows, lots of well-kept greenery, and had Rambutan trees planted around the area.

Pavin – the head of Fuze Ecoteer Group – and Csaba – a volunteer – greeted us. We engaged in some initial small talk and light conversation learning about the work done by the volunteer group.

Biang broke first and enquired about our mysterious trekking trip. It was Biang after all who knew Pavin and was invited to join them in sleeping in the jungle one night (Biang invited Eva who in turn invited us). Pavin said it’s about 10km to the camp. Biang asked how long it usually takes to get there. Pavin replied “About 30 minutes”. Andrew, Louise, Biang and I looked at each other confused. Biang asks, “How can we talk 10km so quickly?”. Pavin reassures, “Who’s walking. We’re driving the pickup truck there. You guys are okay riding in the back right?”. A unanimous “Of course!”

So, there was a slight confusion in communication, but for the better. If we had known we would have packed a lot less…and worn fresh clothes.

We were driven to house they had built in the jungle for their volunteers. It was basic but nice. We sat around chatting, having a few drinks. One of Pavin’s team was cooking a chicken on a fire. The evening was spent talking nonsense – the kind that you’d usually have with close friends.

While the food was cooking Andrew went to set up a slack-line which Pavin had brought with him. Andrew secured one end to one of the pillars holding up the porch. He attached the second end to a tree. He then used the widget to tighten the slack. We were in mid-conversation when we heard a big crack whipping noise. We looked over immediately. The slackline hadn’t even been tightened fully, yet it had pulled on the pillar so much it cracked half of it. It was still intact, though.

We all laughed hysterically. Andrew undid the slack line. We wouldn’t be playing with that anymore. The building didn’t feel structurally sound.

After some more chatting, we moved over to the porch. Pavin and his team member went into the hammocks that were tied to the remaining pillars. The rest of us sat on the floor. Pavin kept insisting that somebody sit in the last hammock. His hammock and the remaining hammock were both tied to the same pillar.

We were apprehensive. After the slack line incident, none of us trusted the pillars. After 10 minutes of Pavin’s jokey insistence, I decided I’d try it. I said, “What could go wrong? We have a paramedic after all”, then gently climbed into the hammock. I didn’t put my full weight on it at first, but I gently started to lift my legs, weary that I might pull the pillar down. After I lifted my second foot 3cm off the ground, it happened in an instant.

I hit the floor the floor so fast I didn’t even have time to react. With my legs closest to the pillar, I looked over to them. The main pillar had missed my legs and feet by centimetres. There was some rubble resembling rocks on my legs, but, fortunately, it was only stray bits of plaster. I looked around. Everyone else had vanished off the porch. Pavin was getting himself out of a ditch that he had landed in. I got up and walked away from the site. Then started laughing.

For about 20 minutes, we sat there laughing, not daring to go near the house. One of the volunteers, a 16-year-old German girl had gone to bed early and was still in the house, somehow completely oblivious to the sound of a pillar falling. I think we all knew there was no real danger, but none of us dared to go near the house at first.

I walked around and inspected the site. The wooden beam that the pillar was built around had completely rotted through from termites. On closer inspection, all the woodwork that made up the porch had a bad termite infection. Most of the wood had rotted. The second problem was the pillar had just been stood on the ground. It didn’t penetrate into the ground at all. The builders had taken a lot of shortcuts.

Eventually, we were tired and went inside. In sleeping bags, bunk beds, sofas or the floor, we all found somewhere to lie down.

Sunrise the following days…

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Volunteering

The next day we returned to Ipoh. Andrew, Louise and I just chilled out. We went and tried out some of the restaurants nearby. Ipoh had quite the reputation for food. And it didn’t disappoint. The food was absolutely fantastic. From the curry mee to some Indian restaurants serving Thalis for lunch – all of it was fantastic and very diverse.

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The next day – Saturday – we had all agreed to join Pavin at a community event about an hours drive away. We awoke at around 4-5am and once again drove to Pavin’s HQ. From there we drove for an hour to the school. They were having a ‘Summer Fete’ type thing. Pavin and his Fuze Ecoteers crew volunteered to help and run some activities for the kids that would help build camaraderie and teamwork skills. Andrew, Louise, Biang, Eva and I decided to help him out.

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We had four sets of activities, including blow pipes. The head tribesman of one of the villages in the jungle agreed to lend some of the blow pipes and darts. Each of us supported with one of the 4 activities that we were running. I was happy to have been on the blow pipe group. Some pictures from the day:

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It was a long day. We drove back to Ipoh and chilled out in Pavin’s late grandmother’s house. After killing a few hours it was around dinner time and were very ready for some food.

Pavin said he knew a great restaurant that’s always full. The service there was very slow, but, the food was amazing. Pavin specifically asked for quite a few vegetarian dishes for me. Including a tofu-egg-vegetable clay hotpot. It was crazy delicious.

By the time we finished eating, it was very late. We said goodbye and parted ways.

Penang

The next day Andrew and I headed to Penang. At the bus station, we saw a few of Pavin’s team one last time as they were helping one of the volunteers to get to another part of Malaysia.

The days we spend in Ipoh and Cameron Highlands were most unexpected but in a great way.

Post Script

The best bit about writing this post? I wrote it in a hostel in Kuching while watching re-runs of Goodness Gracious Me on Comedy Central!

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