Tea Leaves and Monitor Lizards

Days 297-299: 10-12/01/2020
Location: Cameron Highlands, Malaysia
Miles Driven: 210

Our next stop in Malaysia was the Cameron Highlands. Driving up into the Highlands, the temperature and humidity dropped – a large factor as to why this is such a popular destination for Malaysians and foreign tourists alike. Much of the area can by no means be described as beautiful. Predominantly agricultural, the rolling hills were hidden by endless white plastic poly-tunnels which protect and nurture the crops beneath.

We didn’t take any photos of the ugly poly tunnels, but you can just about see them behind the tea plants in the background of this photo.
Largely known for its tea plantations, a visit to the highlands is not be complete without a trip to the Boh Tea estate for a tour of the factory and afternoon tea of scones with jam and cream whilst overlooking the tea plant covered hills.
…and a visit to the Boh Tea estate is not complete without a photo pretending to pick tea leaves!

As we entered the Highlands, we were suddenly surrounded by Land Rovers. Farmers here get a 90% reduction in road tax on vehicles used for agricultural purposes providing the vehicle does not leave the Cameron Highlands. These vehicles are painted with “CH” on the doors. After World War II, the British left thousands of Land Rovers in Malaysia, and many of them have been brought to the Cameron Highlands, given the CH tattoo, and are still surviving today.

It was not only great to see so many Land Rovers driving past us, having only seen a handful throughout our trip, but their presence also meant that Land Rover parts were easy to come by. After repairing our broken universal joint in Croatia, the new part Chris had installed (which had been designed for Ford rather than Land Rover) now needed to be replaced again. It didn’t take Chris long to get his hands on a new universal joint, so he spent the majority of the day underneath the car swapping them around.

The Mossy Forest

A few days previously, one of our Malaysian friends had told us that if we had any Land Rover needs whilst in the Cameron Highlands, we should get in touch with a man named Gerard. Our search for a universal joint had been easy, so we hadn’t needed to contact him. However, without knowing it, we had booked to stay in the guesthouse that Gerard owned. Whilst Chris was under the car, Gerard had come over and introduced himself, and offered to take us to see his Land Rover collection before we left.

The next evening, a black BMW 770 with blacked out windows pulled up next to us as we were walking out of the guesthouse to go for dinner. The driver’s window was rolled down and a stranger called over to us telling us to get in. Hoping that the driver was friend rather than foe, we jumped in the back of the car.

Thankfully, as we opened the back doors we spotted Gerard in the passenger seat. He was going to take us to see some of his beloved Land Rover collection. The next hour or so was once again Land Rover mania as Gerard showed us his cars, and told us about meeting the guys from Last Overland.

As we have mentioned one or two times before, our trip is inspired by the book First Overland. Written in 1957, it describes the journey of the first people to successfully drive from the UK to Singapore during 1955/56. Until very recently, the story was largely unknown, and the book difficult to find, as after its original publication in 1957 it had not been republished until quite recently in 2016. Four months into our trip, June 2019, we were sat enjoying an ice cream in Shymkent, Kazakhstan, when an article popped up on social media about “Last Overland”. One of the original Land Rovers from the trip was in Singapore, and Tim Slessor (the author of the book), now in his late eighties, planned to drive it back home to England.

Unable to believe that the journey that had inspired our own was to be recreated in reverse whilst we were on the road, we excitedly made plans to meet up with the Last Overland group whilst they drove through Nepal. However, after our disaster in Delhi, which put our whole trip on hold for several weeks, we had to cancel our plans and were unfortunately not able to meet them.

Like us, the Last Overland had visited the Cameron Highlands, and like us, they had stayed at Gerard’s guesthouse. So we thoroughly enjoyed hearing Gerard tell us about their stay here, and tales of how their trip had developed, initially it was not widely known at all, but with the help of Land Rover owners in Singapore and Malaysia it exploded: features on the news, huge Land Rover convoys across the world, free hotel stays offered left right and centre, and the go ahead to create a film.

A great evening chatting with Gerard

On a bit of a tight schedule, we were only able to stay in the Cameron Highlands for a couple of days. So the following morning we packed up the car and headed south towards Kuala Lumpar.

Day 302: 15/01/2020
Location: Melaka, Malaysia
Miles Driven: 0

The final stop on our Malaysian tour was the town of Melaka. Situated on a river, this pretty little town quickly became our favourite of the places we had visited in Malaysia. The streets were scattered with art galleries, museums, craft shops and cafes. The river was lined with bars and cafes that had been used as canvases for artwork.

Chris had found us somewhere to stay that was only a couple of minutes walk into the centre of the town, so we were able to park up Natalie for the day and venture out on foot. Our “Poshtel” was home to three tiny kittens who could have only been a few weeks old. The lady looking after them explained to us that there had been four kittens originally, but one of them had been eaten by a python that had come out of the drains. Their Mother had died after being bitten by a dog. The lady was doing her best to look after the kittens – feeding them and cleaning them multiple times a day. As we left the Poshtel to explore the town for the day, one of the kittens (which we later named Nemo) followed us, and we did our best to shoo it back to its home so that it wouldn’t get lost in the town.

We walked along the river, spotting numerous monitor lizards walking along the pavement next to us and swimming in the water. Some of them were huge, up to about six foot long!
This was the biggest lizard that we spotted on our walk, we were very grateful that he was underneath the boardwalk rather than walking along it!

We visited Villa-Sentosa, a traditional Malay family home that is now a museum. Mr Ibrahim, the youngest son of the household (now a great-grandfather) gave us a tour of his home, where he and his 11 siblings grew up. He proudly showed us his family heirlooms and photos of many an important person who have previously visited the house, including the King and Queen of Malaysia.

In typical Malay style, a small outside courtyard area with no roof was located in the middle of the building. The house was raised from the ground to allow for air to pass underneath the building. Built before the existence of air conditioning, these features were designed to capture even the slightest of breeze so that it would stay cool under the stifling Malaysian heat. It worked; despite the hot day, we were cool and comfortable inside the house which still had no air conditioning or fans. Mr Ibrahim was fascinating to listen to, and once our tour was over we sat and chatted with him some more.

Villa Sentosa
Villa Sentosa: The inside/outside courtyard area in the middle of the house. A strange concept for Brits, but very common in Malaysia
Villa Sentosa: Display of household items including plates, irons, a pestle and mortar, and wooden blocks used to make sweets.
Mike making a wish after banging the gong with Mr Ibrahim at Villa Sentosa

Walking back later that day, we spotted a small kitten that looked very similar to Nemo about a mile away from its home. We walked back to the Poshtel and saw two of the kittens sleeping, but not the third. We asked the lady and she said she hadn’t seen it all day. Now pretty confident that it had been Nemo that we’d seen, we sacrificed our plans of a swim in the pool and went back into town to look for Nemo. Luckily he had not strayed too far from the spot where we’d seen him earlier, and it only took ten or so minutes to find him. Carrying him back to the Poshtel, the lady couldn’t believe that we had managed to find him and bring him back. Our rescue mission had been a success.

Finding Nemo

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