Saturday, July 09, 2005

Assam Enchanted Evening

The Cameron Highlands is the tea caddy of Malaysia so we were naturally drawn there. The bus ride is just over 6 hours with the last couple along winding hairpin roads that take you up a couple of thousand metres above sea level and down about 10 degrees centigrade. The temperature change was especially welcome until I realised I had left my jumper with the 2 bags of non-essential items back at the hostel in Kuala Lumpur. Silly me.

We mostly spent our time soaking up the atmosphere but on Thursday we went on a full day trip which took us to the best spots in the area. We started at the (proper) Boh plantation and had an informative lecture on all thing tea related. The tea bushes cling to the side of the rolling hills and make the landscape look like it's wall to wall carpeted in lush green. From here we had a walk through the mossy forest, a magical place dripping with soft green mosses and lichens; a place where you could easily imagine bumping into a goblin or, terrifyingly, a Lord of the Rings fan. It was here we learned some Malaysian bushcraft, notably how to use the native plants to kill, cure, make things smell nice, make things taste nice and make things look nice. The springy path underfoot was a delight and well worth the 1-3 million years it took to produce - thanks trees! (I was going to say I never met a tree I didn't like but then remembered the time I had to dig up a rose bush.)

After our exertions we were in need of a cuppa so we went to a place that produces 4 million cups of tea a day. That seems like a lot until you remeber that our mate Spencer can easily account for 800,000 of them in an afternoon. We saw grinders grinding the green leaves, belts rolling the ground up bits to the heaters, mechanical sieves sorting and grading, and trolleys, well, just standing around but they were still fairly exciting. In the grand scheme of things. Tea things that is. After feigning interest in the finer points of the process we were allowed to get a cup of the good stuff in the cafeteria and, to give Boh its dues, it was right up there with the Tetleys and PG Tipses of this world.

The afternoon was spent visiting an aborigne village, strolling to and bathing in a waterfall and then having a blow dart demonstration. After the chief showed his undoubted ability to hit a flip-flop from 10 paces we were given a go. I hit the side of the house with my first effort and then took out a bit of Malaysia about a meter from the end of the pipe with my second. Woodlouse for tea for me then. Vic was much better and would have been dining royally that evening, even if it meant that the chief had to hop to the shops for the Vienetta. We then had a short drive home past more tea plantations, orchid farms and veggie patches.

When we returned we saw everyone clustered around the TV watching the terrible news from London. Our thoughts with all those who are there.