The humidity here has got to my Brooks leather saddle and to us. It’s copper rivets are starting to get a nice green patina that will probably spread to the rails. We will get used to the humidity, but it could take a couple of generations or more. Setting off early from Fraser’s Hill, we descend into mist and relative cool. There are gaps in the cloud. Blasts of sun that give an indication of the heat that we will drop down into.
It is still early enough for birds to be moving on their dawn feeding rounds. But it is the sound of the jungle is that captures you. Even over the noise of the bike it is there. Completely different, more exotic and more dimensional than any other forest that we have ridden through. We stop for a millipead to cross. It is close to 20 cm and moves with surprising speed. 10 Km into the descent we come to a ‘ T ‘, and a more substantial road. We go left towards Raub.
Within a few K’s, on a sharp right bend, there is a huge tree just to the left of the road. It is larger than any other tree, and has obviously become a place of significance for local people. Shrines of Hindu and local Chinese religion have been built around it. It is obviously a place of some importance. We are thinking of the 1,000 year old Oak trees that we came across in the Baltic, and the 4,000 year old Yew tree in Glen Lyon, back in Scotland. A pack of dogs come out of the forest to check us out. The bravest one gets to within 3 metres and thinks better of it.
50 Km into the day and the road flattens out and we feel the full weight of the bike for the first time. The first fruit stalls line the road, many have pickup trucks full of the dreaded Dorian fruit. It’s smell completely fills the hot air, making it feel thicker, more viscous. We take a break in the shade, at a restaurant. Two large teas made with condensed milk, followed by two more. A child would not want them any sweeter.
Raub is busy and we sit and watch the world for a while. Dozens of buses, most of them full of colourful passengers and baggage. It is holiday season, and people are visiting friends and relatives and taking trips to the tourist sites. It is now 33 ‘c, but a cool breeze is blowing into our faces. I would usually be moaning about a headwind, but not here and not today. Everyone wants to be waved at. Better not miss anyone or European touring cyclists will get a bad name. Cameras are held out of passing cars, filming us. We try to keep smiling, but it is now 36’c.
10 Km further and it is 38’c and we are riding through Palm and Banana plantations. It is not the midday sun that will get you, it is 2 till 3, when the heat really makes your head spin. We get to the town of Sungai Koyan, and find a food stall to sit out the day a bit. Vegetables that I would never have imagined eating raw are sliced fine and cut up with scissors. A sweet and spicy sauce added, and we have our first taste of Rojak. Wonderful.
A full hour and a half later and we are on our way. We turn left, taking the signed road for Cameron Highlands. We have only gone a short way when a moped comes along side. ” Are you sure you want to go this way? “. He is concerned and trying to get across something important. ” Nothing for 80 Km, nothing “. We have mixed up our directions and have not seen the obvious sign for the ‘ Homestay ‘, that is at the junction. That was pilot error, and would have cost us a very bad night and so we thank the guy profusely. Malaysians are wonderful.
We are searching for the ‘ Home Stay ‘ in the village of Kuala Medang, but of course we are lost. Once again a ‘ man on a moped ‘ comes to our rescue, and we follow him to the right place. 104 Km is not too bad for two touring cyclists from the Northern Hemisphere. The night is full of heavy rain and the crashes of thunder and lightning. It is beyond torrential. We need to be up and away as close to 7.00 as we can in the morning. There is a big climb up into the Cameron Highlands ahead and we are happy to be able to rest.
Mopeds are everywhere as people make their way to work, many of them in the plantations. They drive one handed, carrying long pruning knives or machetes. If you were asked to deliver a wheel barrow by moped you would not know how. I would not have thought it even possible until one went by. If you wanted a piano they would find a way. We stop before our turn and eat what is now our staple breakfast, Roti. It is as close to a pancake as makes no difference, and we try to get it with banana and honey. We take an extra ‘ tea to go ‘, which of course comes in plastic bags.
The plan is to break down the climb into 10 Km sections, with rest, food and drink, and try to get the core temperature back under control. It works well for the first two, and we gain height through what is now thick jungle stretching to far green horizons. Annoyingly, there are stretches of downhill that all but rob us of our height gain. We know that we have to get to close to 1,500 m at the top and here we are back at 200 m.
There are road gangs dealing with washouts. The more crappy a job, and here it is very crappy – moving lots of stones by hand, the more likely it is being done by Chinese. Women are part of the stone gang too, and they wave and smile from under wide brimmed hats. We are struggling, and down to 5 k between resting stops. You know you are watching the meter too much, but it is impossible not to. It is 38′ c and almost certainly 100% humidity.
There is a truck up on a ramp, and a guy is washing it down. We pull into what turns out to be a logging camp and are being hosed down with cold water with cold water in under a minute. The pure and perfect bliss of it all. We go up to the main building to sit in the shade. A kind faced man is making a wooden chopping board. ” You want some Milo? “, nothing could be better. ” You know that you have done the easy bit, the road goes up from here? “. This is the horrible truth.
We are joined by other people from the camp. ” We can not work today, too much rain and it is not safe “. There are 60 people from all over Asia working at the camp. They split into a Muslim camp with a kitchen that does not cook pork and a ‘ others ‘ side of Chinese Buddhist and the odd Christian. ” You can stay here and eat with us “. It is a good decision to make. What an education we get that evening. We get the stories of hard and dangerous lives, of intelligent people and persecution in their native countries. They are all thankful for what are well paid jobs here. But the economics are appalling. €15 per ton to the workers, at the point where the tree hits the floor, and it is €6000 by the time it is being cut up to make furniture or whatever.
We give a bit of a presentation of our journey next to what has to be our strangest tent pitch yet. These are wonderful people and this is the sort of opportunity that happens because we are travelling by bike.
Up early and a good breakfast and we are ready to ride. Many turn out to wish us well and there is a final offer of a lift up the mountain. ” That would be cheating I think “. It is just 23’c and just light enough to ride. This is thick jungle with Elephant and Tiger and we have the road to ourselves. The first kilometer is steep but then there is a drop and the road goes back up. Here it is steeper and sweat pours down my face and onto the frame of the bike. It is not even that hot and the grades have us in trouble.
At 5 Km, we are finding it impossible not to over heat. We are trying to get tired legs to turn and they just will not. ” We have to go back you know “. It is agreed, and we turn back to the logging camp. Again it is too wet to fully work. ” Any chance that we can have that lift you offered? ” Thank goodness we stopped, the climb would have killed us. The bikes are put into the pickup and we do the spectacular trip in comfort. Even on a good day we have been walking the last 16 Km, it kicks up so much.
Tanah Rata town, and we take a hotel room. It is a tourist honey-pot and prices are steep, and traffic constant and frenzied. It starts to rain at 3.00 in the afternoon and keeps going for over 12 hours. We sit and eat, and watch the world go by. We know the morning will be down hill, but there are two sharp peaks thrown into what would be unbridled joy otherwise. Christmas carols are on heavy rotation in the hotel lobby as we turn in for an early night.
It is just light. Day is breaking as we are eat our morning Roti. The roads have somehow dried, and it is going to be a clear sky for our ride. We have both being suffering with head colds since we started to ride. The floor around our bed looks like there has been a fall of snow as white toilet paper is gone through by the meter overnight. We are managing, but only just.
Down we go, but soon the first hill is on us. ” Good morning”, ” Hello “. People are encouraging and even the heavy traffic is trying not to kill us. Every bit of flat land is being built on, and if it is not flat then they are making it flat enough. The village of Tringap and next to stalls selling honey and flowers there is a big building site for a hotel complex and a McDonald’s. Farms are constructed under plastic to protect the vegetables and flowers from the heavy rain. It is a grim sight.
There are land grabs and poisoning of the waters. The papers are full of the plight of the Cameron Highlands. A day later I read a letter to the editor ” The British developed Cameron as a home from home, a place to retreat. We have taken just 40 years to destroy it “. It is sad that little appears to be constraining development.
The villages have more Land Rovers than a farmers market in Wales. Most date from the 80’s and earlier and none would pass any meaningful emissions test. The go past us with drivers searching aged gear boxes for any low gears. The backs are down to the wheel arches with impossibly heavy loads hanging out and over the sides. Clouds of purple exhaust force you to try to hold your breath and pedal.
We climb to close to 1,900 m before we start what we know will be 60 Km of down. It takes concentration to avoid the holes and washouts and steer into the traffic to avoid the storm debris. With 500 m altitude left we enter pools of hot air that are rising up the mountain. It feels like you are walking by an open oven door after Sunday roast has been cooked. We need to stop and drink. Standing astride the bikes, butterflies with the wingspan of birds are all around us. These lower slopes still have jungle cover and it is magical.
We end the day at 1.00 pm at the town of Simpang Pulai after 80 Km. Are we starting to get the hang of it? just about.