Rafflesia Hunting in the Cameron Highlands

Trip Start Nov 15, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Eight Mentigi Guesthouse
What I did
Rafflesia Flower
Buttlerfly Farm
Stawberry Farm
orang asli - the oldest tribe indians

Flag of Malaysia  , Pahang,
Friday, November 25, 2011

      We took a ten AM bus from to Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands that wound through the mountains on very narrow roadways with constant blind and hairpin turns as one ascended the steep and green hills.  We arrived at around 2:30, found our guesthouse - the Eight Mentigi - settled in and arranged for a tour the next day to see the Rafflesia flower, the largest flower in the world.  The last thing I remember is being assured that the trek would not be very strenuous although it would take 4 or 5 hours.  That should of been a warning.

Our guesthouse reintroduced us into the life of dorm living with thin walls and lots of noise.  Babies could be heard crying at all hours and conversations and arguments in all sorts of languages simply overlapped each other.  Very little goes unheard.  Our hosts are very gracious and helpful souls, one is brown asian and the other yellow asian, and they run a clean house.  All shoes and sandals are taken off on the patio outside both for hygienic and respectful reasons.

We were picked up around nine in the morning in a Land Rover with a set of bull's horns attached to the front bumper.  Another omen.  Along with our guide, there were 7 others - a Finnish couple in their early 60s, and 3 young males from Holland.  It did not take us long to realize we had met these same Dutch lads in Panama last November on the San Blas Islands.  They remembered us more readily than we remembered them.  Middle aged adventure seekers willing to spend time alone on deserted islands tend to stand out I guess.

Our first inkling that this was NOT going to be a joy ride was when our guide took the Land Rover and gunned it up the side of the mountain through a red mud covered trail, endlessly spinning the tires and jockeying the wheel back and forth.  At one point, he simply got out and filled in a giant pot hole with some of the endless tons of red clay flowing down the mountain side.  Little did we know that that was what we would have to climb through for the next five hours!!

I will not go into the details of the of hike.  Suffice to say we survived.  We crossed bamboo bridges and forded streams, climbed mud embankments and hacked our way through bamboo forests.  The Dutch boys were all in good shape and in there 20s - they handled it without much trouble.  The Finnish gent cross country skis and works out and although his pace was slower, he handled it fairly well.  His wife struggled somewhat with it.  Monica and I were dragging our butts but we more or less kept a stiff upper lip and pushed on.  We had done climbs and hikes in South America last year far longer and tougher than this, but we had spent a full month in Ecuador getting used to the heat, walking 10 km. a day on the beach, and swimming everyday in the strong, surfing ocean currents.  By the time we attempted to climb Mt. Cotopaxi or hike in the Amazon, we were in much better shape and accustomed to the climate and altitude.  So attempting this hike in such unprepared condition was a good lesson for us.  However, despite the pains in my back and shoulders today and the dozens of cuts in my hands from thorns and bamboos trees, I would do it again in a flash.  Because we found the flower.

The pics do the best to describe the Rafflesia.  One must remember there was no guarantee we would find one on this trek.  The unopened blooms are like black bowling balls and the plant grows from runners that travel for dozens of metres along the jungle floor.  We took about a 20 minute break before we started our descent.  One would think this would be easier than the climb, but with all the rain and mud, the heaviness of the air, and one's lack of energy, it was actually more difficult.  I found that I was slipping constantly and just did not have the energy to stop myself from falling.  In fact the falling was fine - it was the getting back up I was finding difficult.

We also had two Malaysian hikers pass us and talk quietly to our guide before heading on.  Only afterwards did we find out they had spotted two tigers in the jungle and were making plans to go hunting after six in the evening when the tourists would be gone.

By the time we got back to the truck, we were covered with mud, exhausted and ready to call it a day.  However, it was only a bit after three and our guide had other plans.  First we stopped at a local village where they demonstrated the use of a Blow Dart gun.  The gun we used is effective up to 30 metres away and the poison can kill an elephant.  They have other guns, larger, that can shoot over 150 metres in distance.  We then stopped for a short lunch, (and, thank God for a beer) and then headed to the BOH Tea Refinery and Plantation for a tour.  This is mammoth in size with the hills covered with tea leaf bushes for as far as the eye can see.  This was followed by a stop at a Butterfly farm which also housed all kinds of insects and reptiles and finally a stop at a Strawberry  plantation.  It was here that our guide left us to pick some berries for ourselves in a few rows left specifically for tourists.  After a few minutes, it became clear that these vines had been all but cleaned out so everyone left but I was more persistent.  I had picked these as a boy in Niagara and knew how to look under the foliage for hidden berries.  Five minutes later, all alone, stuffing myself with berries, the security officials showed up in full force and chased me out.  Taking one look at my mud covered clothing, they yelled, 'Get out, get out.  This is for tourists only.'  I did not bother trying to plead my case.

Anyway we have survived.  Woke up Saturday morning still picking thorns out of my hand, but we have booked a bus for Georgetown on the island of Penang leaving Monday morning.  It should be dryer, hotter, and we are both looking forward to lying on a beach and being near the ocean again.  And I also hear the beer is cheaper.
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