Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A Slice of England in the middle of Malaysia

When I awoke, I could scarcely believe that I was still in Malaysia. Gone was the oppressive heat and smothering humidity. In its place was a cool breeze and a refreshing dew. The sounds of chirping birds replaced the constant hum of traffic that I've grown accustomed to hearing. I looked out the window and saw a view that could pass for England. Tudor cottages dotted the hillsides, and a quiet mist settled in the valleys. It was such an idyllic, serene scene, that all I wanted to do was sit on the balcony and read Wordsworth (on my iPhone since I don't usually carry around books of poetry). Of course, since I'm a mother to three kids, this little poetry fantasy never panned out.

Like many locals, we had escaped the tropical heat by spending the weekend in the Cameron Highlands, a Malaysian hill station with roughly the same elevation as Denver, Colorado.  The area is known for both its agriculture and tourism. I knew we were nearing our destination when I began to see valleys covered with rows and rows of greenhouses. The roads were lined with numerous fruit and vegetable stands, cactus nurseries, strawberry cafes, honeybee apiaries and butterfly gardens. We stopped at a few to get out and stretch our legs. 

Scar tissue graffiti on a Prickly Pear at the Butterfly Farm
I didn't have the heart to add to it.

After we settled into our family suite at the Strawberry Park Resort, it started to rain, so we decided to stay in for the night. One of the hotel restaurants was having a Barbeque Buffet. The hostess offered us the A la Carte option, but when I saw the dessert table behind her, there was no question that the buffet was the choice for me.

Mmmmm... just how much dessert can I eat?

The next morning, the family split up. Hubby and my oldest boy were supposed to take a guided jeep tour up to Mount Brinchang and then hike down with a guide through the mossy forest to the tea plantation. When they showed up, the guide really tried to dissuade them. "It's challenging! Steep climbs, slippery slopes, jumping over rocks and crawling under fallen trees..." When hubby reassured them that he and the boy could handle it, the guide finally admitted that they didn't have a 4-wheel-drive vehicle available that day to take them up there. So, they ended up taking a shorter, Hill Forest Walk instead. The guide turned out to be very knowledgable about the local plants. He pointed out a place that just seemed like solid ground but was instead a bouncy build-up of leaves and tree roots. He also showed them the Drunk Plant. If you eat or smoke it, you get drunk. Hmmmm.... No, they did not bring any home.

The younger two kids and I headed out on an easy hike along Jungle Trail #4 to Parit Falls and past it for a little ways. It was just my type of hike — clearly marked, not too long, and semi-paved.

Reminded me of the Chocolate River in Willy Wonka's Factory
but not as delicious smelling

After we emerged from the jungle, we spent some time at the popular playground along the main road.

And I thought things were big in Texas!

Then, it was off to the BOH Tea Plantation in Sungai Palas. If there was ever a time in my life when I needed a flying car, this would be it! I really did not enjoy driving along the narrow, curvy, one-lane road leading to the plantation. I swear that at one point, I actually questioned whether or not the pavement was wider than the wheel base of my van. At least the view was beautiful.

Tea bushes as far as the eyes could see

The tea plantation is the largest in SE Asia and is definitely one of the must-see places in the Cameron Highlands. As we walked among the bushes, I rubbed some leaves between my fingers to see what they smelled like. It didn't smell anything like tea! I guess that fragrance must develop during the drying process.

The Face of BOH

Like many of the hotels in town, the Tea-ateria offered tea and scones. After our snack, we did a short walk-through of the factory.

The rolling machine breaks leaves up into fragments.

Dinner that night was at The Smokehouse, a Tudor-style inn set amidst a proper English garden. We relaxed and played cards in the fireside lounge while our dinner was prepared. The cozy room seemed just like a place where English gentlemen of yesteryear might retire after dinner to drink port and talk about foxhunts. My boy was happy I let him order the roast duck (no kids menu here), and I was glad he nearly finished his plate. The chocolate crepe for dessert was scrum-dilly-umptious.

The Smokehouse has the garden of my dreams.

We drove back to the tropical island of Penang the next day, stopping to pick our own strawberries along the way, with William Wordsworth's poetry running through my mind.

While here I stand, not only with the sense
      Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts
      That in this moment there is life and food
      For future years.

from "Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey"

* Kudos to you if you picked up on the super geeky sci-fi reference in this post.

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