Where the wild things are
A fairytale forest with moss-covered trees, stretching and growing into each other, creating openings that looks like portals leading into other worlds and dimensions. A place were your fantasy easily can run wild and every other tree stump looks like an ent or a troll. Yes, even in overcrowded and overdeveloped Cameron Highland, it’s possible to find a little bit of real adventure, and the best of all: It’s free, and you’ll probably have it all to yourself.
“Jungle trek 1”
The sign is big and yellow, but old and worn. My five year old Lonely Planet says that most of the about dozen marked jungle treks in the area are overgrown and unkept. Some of them are in such dire state that you are discouraged from setting foot on them, the chances of getting lost are big. Some speak of guides destroying the treks on purpose, making confusing side paths, moving signs, so that people wont venture into the jungle without them. The last five years probably haven’t done the treks any favors, but jungle trek number one seems okay. As soon as we find the well hidden entrance it’s all pretty straight forward, easy peasy. Well, for a while at least.
The forest is thick, we can hear the tapping sound of light rain hitting the leaves high above us, but down here we´re good and dry. The big poodles and wet mud on the track on the other hand, tell the tale of a rainy havoc that swept over the area for hours and hours on end, from late afternoon into the early morning hours, pounding hard on everyone and everything. A wall of water. A minute in the rain and you would be completely drenched from top to toe. In the morning we would lay there, in our dorm beds, and listen to the sound of the rain hitting the pitched roof above us – wondering if it would ever stop. But eventually it did, not completely, but almost – it keeps tapping on the leaves above us. I like the sound of rain.
The slightly undesired companion
The mud makes the steep path treacherous. We hope the whole trek is doable, that we’ll reach the top of Gunung Brinchang – second highest mountain (or rather hill, if you ask for my opinion) in Cameron Highlands – because walking the same slippery way down again isn’t very tempting. Tree roots are everywhere, crisscrossing the path. Some places they almost make a nice staircase, a safe footing amidst the slimy soil, other places they are as slippery as the wet mud. We have to climb over some fallen trees, look out for roots just waiting to ambush us. All while listening to the constant chatter of our tagalong.
We’d met her at a road junction in the middle of Tanah Rata – one of the main tourist towns in the highlands and the town where we were staying – while trying to hitch a ride to the town where the trail start was. We didn’t have any more hitchhiking luck in Malaysia than I did in New Zealand earlier on my trip, but we did manage to get a human leech to tag along with us. She was a middle aged malaysian woman, very nice and all, and making the day better for another person didn’t seem all to bad, so we let her join. If only she hadn’t been so damn annoying. She was always there, right behind us. Always talking, and the more she spoke the less made sense. Had she been here in Cameron Highlands for two weeks or three months? Did her Irish husband work on an engineering project here in Cameron Highlands, or in Kuala Lumpur, or did he own a hotel? If he was working in Kuala Lumpur, what did she do here in Cameron Highlands for such a long time all alone? And was he really irish and not from Scotland?
Where the wild things are
The path is slightly narrower than it used to be, we haven´t seen a yellow sign in ages, and maybe what seemed like a split a little while ago actually was a little split and that we should’ve taken the other maybe-path. We keep on moving. There are some thins strips of cloths hanging along the path some places, maybe they are there for a reason. And there, suddenly it is, another yellow sign. We’re still on the right track.
It’s not steep anymore, it’s mainly flat. The forest is getting weirder, the moss thicker. Have we reached the mossy forest? Suddenly we stop. There’s a man standing in front of us. Or not really a man, it’s a tree, but it looks like a creature walking through the forest, frozen in mid-stride. A troll turned into wood instead of stone. Suddenly it’s is easy to understand how folklore and fairytales can come to be. Stories of trolls and elves and mythical creatures. The air feels almost magical.
No more path
We continue through the forest. Past every bend the trees keep on surprising us, making new creatures, new shapes, more moss. And then, stop. There is no more path. Just a gigantic uprooted tree in the way. Somehow we manage to pass it, crawling under and over, and then we are on the other side. But there is no path there either. There’s a really steep muddy incline to our left and just thick forest everywhere else. I start climbing it, holding on to every little plant that will hold, trying not to slip. If this is not the way, I have no idea of how I’ll get back down.
Did we hear some faint voices somewhere. “Hello, anybody there?”, we yell. No one answers. We yell again. No answers. I reach the top. “Is there a path up there?” It’s slightly eroded, seems like there have been some small land slides, making the path narrower than it originally was. You don’t want to loose your footing – it’s a long way down – but it’s definitely a path. The others join me, and we continue on the newfound trail. Soon there’s no doubt, we can hear other people, they’re getting closer and closer, and there they are. It’s an Slovenian couple with a Malaysian guide, they drove up to the mountain with a 4×4 and now they trek a bit through the forest.
We get to join them in the jeep on their way back down from the mountain/hill. The sky is finally clear, the sun is shining and the tea plantations look beautiful as we drive past them. We manage to dodge ms. Leech’ wish to join us further on our travels in Malaysia, one day was okay, travelling together, no way. Sorry, enough is enough.
Later I learned that what’s usually called the mossy forest actually is a crowded wooden walkway. I’m so glad we didn’t go on a guided group tour. Oh, and by the way, we did manage to hitchike back to Tanah Rata. As soon as we stuck out our thumbs someone stopped. Score!