The Cameron Highlands is an area of land the size of Singapore (at least according to Wikipedia) located in the middle of the Malaysian peninsula. It’s higher in elevation than the rest of Malaysia, meaning that it gets cold at night. And it’s pretty cold during the day too. It’s also home to an amazing ecosystem. Everything is wet and green with rolling hills in every direction.
Thus, going on a hike was inevitable. I let Ian, as an exemplary forestry student, decide where we were going. He went off to ask questions and find maps and came back saying that he wanted to climb Gunung Brinchang. Except that the lady had said that it was very strenuous and you should only try it if you were an experienced mountaineer. And even then it maybe wasn’t such a good idea.
This did not sound promising to me. Unpleasant memories of Merapi came trickling back. So, of course, the first thing I did was Google the hike. I came up with a blog post describing just how hard it was and just how much the Wikitravel article had underestimated the challenge. The post talked about crawling up the side of the mountain grasping onto trees for support. That didn’t sound good at all.
Ian and I went to eat dinner while I waffled back and forth about whether or not I was going. Supposedly at the top of the mountain was something called a “mossy forest.” That sounded nice. There was a road that went all the way to the top, so a taxi was a possibility. Or renting a bike and driving up on my own.
After dinner, I spent more time on Google. I began to dig up conflicting reports. Some people said the hike was hard. Some people said it was okay. One person climbed it in tennis shoes with a tiny bottle of water and took almost no time at all. Someone said that it wasn’t as hard as Mt. Kinabalu. I began to feel a little better. Aside from some troubling stories about spirits who liked to lead hikers off the trail, it was starting to seem okay.
The trail started from the town of Brinchang, a short walk from Tanah Rata where Ian and I stayed. As with Merapi, it started with a paved section that was steep and quickly lowered my morale. We then entered the jungle, with a helpful sign saying that the summit was 1.74 kilometers ahead. One of the blogs had said not to trust the signs. I didn’t trust it. Then again, I still don’t have a good sense of how far a kilometer really is, so the sign was largely meaningless anyway.
The trail itself, despite my worries about spirits, was very easy to follow. It was steep, but not to the extent that I was crawling. I’ve done crawling up a mountain. This was not the summit of Merapi. Also, it was gorgeous.
We passed more distance signs and more ropes saying not to stray off the path. I tried not to put too much faith in the remaining distance and instead focused on taking pictures. One of the very cool things was that as we got higher, we could actually see the vegetation change. Everything was just as wet and misty and green, but the trees were different and the underbrush was different. Also, as we got higher, we were treated with some nice views off the side of the mountain.
Throughout most of the hike, we didn’t see anyone. However, when we got to the point where I started really hoping we were almost at the top, we started to hear voices. I assumed this meant we were close to the mossy forest. I pictured us bursting out of the undergrowth into the middle of a band of tourists.
This isn’t what happened. Instead, we came upon two people making the climb down. Or, rather, Ian came upon them while I valiantly struggled up a very steep, very muddy part of the trail. “This is the worst part we’ve come across,” I tried to assure them. “Really.”
They wanted to know how long it had taken us to get this far. I don’t like to think about time on hikes. I let Ian answer that one.
“Maybe three hours?”
“But keep in mind that I go really slowly,” I said. Three hours was how long it took to get that far with me stopping frequently to take photos, drink water, and eat digestive biscuits.
We neglected to ask how long it had taken the two to come down from the top. However, after not too long (though longer than I thought it would take), we finally made it out of the jungle to…a fence.
One of the blogs had mentioned this fence, so despite the fact that we had to skirt around it, this seemed like a good sign. On the far side, we found some benches and sat down. I ate more digestive biscuits and had a celebratory apple juice.
Rejuvenated, we headed down the road, looking for the mossy forest. I was expecting something good. And I suppose it was okay. What we found was a wooden walkway through the trees. It was more of what we’d been walking through to get to the top, but this time we were walking on level ground and watching small children cavort. So that was nice.
We opted to walk down via the road. That way was much longer, but I like to follow the tradition of the Three Wise Men and go back via another route whenever possible.
After a fashion, the forest gave way to hills and hills of green plants. We assumed that we were looking at tea, since, according to the map, we were walking through the BOH tea plantation, or about to walk through it, or something.
Eventually, we came to a split in the road. I went downhill, assuming downhill meant off the mountain and back to the town of Brinchang. As we found out some time later, we had picked the wrong road. When we came across a sign saying only authorized BOH tea plantation cars were allowed further down the road, morale dropped significantly. It didn’t help that it had started to rain.
Note to the wise: pick the right road.
We waited out the rain over tea and some rather disappointing cheese buns. After eating only digestive biscuits since breakfast that morning, they weren’t exactly enough. There was, however, nothing for it but to continue on, back up the road and then on and on and on. Eventually we started passing souvenir stalls. I took this as a good sign. We were nearing Brinchang. I took the opportunity to complete some of the shopping I needed to do, buying strawberry lollipops for UKJGS.
However, it quickly became clear that we were nowhere near Brinchang. We continued down the road. It got darker. The souvenir stalls disappeared. Morale dropped lower.
We did, of course, finally make it to Brinchang, where we ate food before making the final long leg of our trek back to Tanah Rata.
Final verdict? Not as bad as Merapi. That said, the road back to Brinchang was a lot longer than I expected. Stopping at the BOH tea plantation was worth it, because that’s a tourist thing that you also have to do, but if the road after that had been a few kilometers shorter, I wouldn’t have complained. However, I made it back in one piece. Fear not, tourists who are only semi-in shape. You’ll be able to climb Brinchang. I wouldn’t recommend tennis shoes, though.