Wednesday January 30, 2013
Riding all over Cameron Highlands
By ROGER POH
Cycling is a great way to explore interesting nooks and crannies.
YOU must be out of your mind. Those jeep drivers are reckless,” a Taiping friend warned. “Have you any insurance?”
This was his immediate reaction after I had disclosed plans to bring my bicycle to cycle in Cameron Highlands.
As an enthusiastic backpacker, I am covered with a year-round travel insurance, I assured him. I understand his well-intentioned fears but it’s my firm belief that 99% of our worries never materialise. As a senior, we should learn to set aside our misgivings and just go and enjoy ourselves. After all, time is no longer on our side, right?
I transported my 20-inch foldable bicycle in the coach from Ipoh to Tanah Rata. Using Tanah Rata as a base, I cycled to Brinchang, Kea and the side roads where I discovered quaint kampung and quiet housing estates. With its hilly terrain, Cameron Highlands can be a tough physical challenge even to the able-bodied, let alone seniors in their 60s.
My favourite place in Cameron Highlands is the Robinson Waterfall. The peace and quiet, coupled with the roar of the waterfall and picturesque scenery, make this a charming spot. Concrete slabs cover the narrow path to the waterfall; one misjudgement can send one plunging down.
Perched right on the edge of the waterfall is a charming cottage. A sign outside says jam and eucalyptus oil are on sale. I saw a gentleman busy building something. I asked him what the oil was used for. He explained that it was an effective mosquito repellent.
He collects the leaves from the plant in the forest and crushes them to obtain the oil. He said, “The mat salleh buy it from me before they go trekking in the jungle.”
Dass, 53, is an adept handyman who makes things out of recycled materials. He showed me his recent handiwork: a small aviary whose current residents include three birds and two rabbits. Occasionally, wild birds, attracted by the free food, make forays into the aviary, much to his exasperation. Dass admitted: “Don’t know how they can enter. I check and make sure there are no openings.”
While trekking in this part of the jungle in the past, I often come across orang asli. So I asked Dass where their homes are. He told me that there are two orang asli houses somewhere beyond the waterfall.
Then he recounted a rather bizarre story.
I asked him whether he had had any problem with snakes. He narrated how an enormous reptile, bigger than the water pipe that runs along the walking track, fell from a great height and landed near the homes of the orang asli. Somehow, despite its huge size, it managed to slither away and left the orang asli unscathed. Strange tale indeed, I mused.
After this strange tale, I was determined to talk to an orang asli. While out cycling to the waterfall, I met an orang asli. Actually, I had seen Harun loitering in town. I thought he was a vagabond, given his unkempt appearance.
It seems he’s quite a character in town, turning up three times a day at his favourite makan place: Brinchang Restaurant. I befriended him, and gave him some cable ties. He was baffled so I had to explain how to use them.
I asked him, “Do you live in the jungle?”
Harun replied, “Yes.”
“How many houses are there?”
“Two,” he replied.
On bicycle, Brinchang is only a short 4km ride away though it is mostly uphill. Searching for Jungle Walk No.1, which is just after the Brinchang fire station in the direction of Kea, I noticed a sign which said: “Gunong Brinchang, 1km”.
My curiosity piqued, I cycled inside and discovered the elusive sign which said “Jungle Walk No.1”. I met Engku, a resident here, and asked him about the condition of the track.
“There are a lot of roots,” said Engku. “Recently, an ambassador’s son got lost along this walk. A search-and-rescue team managed to find him safe but shaken.
“And there’s also this story of a soldier who trekked inside and got lost. He was later found in Kota Baru but was unable to speak. A general visited him in hospital but the soldier couldn’t utter a word about his experience.”
“Sudah bisu,” Engku said. “Rumour has it that he saw a strange kampung inside the jungle, and that somehow caused him to lose his power of speech.”
As we stood on the dirt track chatting, a car trundled towards us. Engku said, “The driver is from Rela. You ask him about this story.”
The Rela gentleman confirmed the story. But I was sceptical. Were the denizens of the jungle trying to stop outsiders from revealing their presence, I speculated.
Without a bicycle, I wouldn’t have ventured into this quiet dirt track. It ends in a small kampung. Vegetable farming is carried out right under the shadow of Gunung Brinchang which, at 2,032m, is the highest mountain in Cameron Highlands.
Instead of riding downhill to the main road, I took a detour into what looked like a settlement. It turned out to be an orang asli settlement, previously army quarters.
The orang asli kids were just returning from school. Fascinated by my bicycle, they tested the bell and caressed the handle bars. Boys will be boys; they pleaded with me to let them take the bicycle for a spin. What if, in their bravado, they fell and suffered a nasty knock on the head? The hilly terrain could be treacherous. So I did not give in to their request.
Riding back to Brinchang, I stopped by the Hainanese Association to check out the place. A flight of steps led me into a large hall whose walls were adorned with many photographs. I thought I could practise my Hainanese with someone but there was no one around.
Then I had a senior moment: a pressing need to go to the toilet. Aha, while looking for the toilet, I chanced upon a mahjong game in session in a room behind the hall. There were about half a dozen mahjong tables, with mostly seniors engrossed in the game. No one paid any attention to me.
Another favourite place of mine is the huge school field, which can accommodate at least two football pitches, near the garden in Tanah Rata. A paved lane runs round the edge of the field, making it ideal for joggers. As a cycling track, it was perfect, too. In the cool weather, one can practically cycle the whole day without feeling tired.
If you need a respite, a makan stall is always nearby. While enjoying my pisang goreng with kopi-O after all that exertion, I managed to strike up a conversation with a Year 6 schoolgirl. Now don’t get any wrong ideas. I had read somewhere that volunteer English teachers were needed so I was merely making some enquiries.
She told me her English teacher was going away for a course so why not go and teach them? However, since she was in Year 6, I said it was inadvisable. I didn’t wish to disrupt things.
Her father works at the hospital while her mother runs a small business.
Noticing my iPhone, she asked me how much it cost. Her next question stunned me. “Can you buy an iPad for me as a birthday present?”
Her plea floored me, leaving me speechless at her audacity.
Recovering, I said, “I’m only a poor retiree. I have only enough for makan.”
She was unfazed. “Then why do you carry two phones? You orang kaya (rich man).” Apart from my iPhone, she also noticed my Blackberry.
The word that springs to mind is “begging”. I encountered children in Nepal begging me for “rupees” but this was the first time I’ve come across a Malaysian teen begging me for something. Perhaps personal values have changed.
So far, I’ve brought my foldable bicycle twice to Cameron Highlands. Now I find it indispensable for getting around, exploring the nooks and corners, and commuting between Tanah Rata and Brinchang. There was no problem transporting my iron horse in the luggage compartment of the Ipoh-Cameron bus.
A moderate level of fitness and strong legs are all that’s required. Happy cycling.
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