16 Jul 2012

Making Friends

On July 12 2011, Kayleigh and I arrived in the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia.  We were very hungover having pulled a(nother) all nighter in Kuala Lumpur the night before, and had spent the majority of the journey listening to a woman sat behind us throw up into a bag due to travel sickness.  Kay gave her some tissues.  The hostel we wanted to stay at was full so instead we had called a place called Father's Guesthouse and arranged to stay there.  The reserved pick up guy was waiting for us and drove us up a steep and windy hill just on the outskirts of Tanah Rata.  We arrived a beautiful, big house and instantly knew we were going to like it here.  The reception staff, aside from speaking almost perfect English, were incredibly friendly, warm and welcoming.  They showed us to our room which was a huge dorm with around fifteen or more beds.  The temperatures here are quite cool because it's so high up, so we had bed sheets and nice thick blankets.  There weren't many other people in the dorm, two beds to our left and one to our right were filled and at the other end of the room one bed in the far left corner and two towards the right.  No one was home so we decided to head out for dinner.



We went to a place I'd been to about a year before, unfortunately I cannot remember the name for the life of me, but it is on the main strip.  Most of the restaurants serve Chinese food so it should be easy enough to find!  They serve a mouth watering and delicious tandoori chicken dish.  An Australian guy was also eating dinner at the same place that evening, a few tables away, although we didn't know each other then.  We slept wonderfully and got up early the next day.  We took turns to go and shower, but Kayleigh left the room about thirty seconds before I got back.  I busied myself getting my bag ready and towel drying my hair, then when Kay arrived she picked up up her pillow.  Then sat down and looked worried.

'Have you seen my phone?'

She'd left it under her pillow and it was now gone.  We strip searched the bed, together and separately, we even moved the bed away from the wall.  It was definitely gone.  Under hushed voices we tried to calculate who had been in the room in the thirty second gap when the phone had been unattended.  The only person who was there had been a French guy to our left.  He saw us scrambling around looking for the phone, jumped out of bed (no shower, nothing), put on his bag and left.  I immediately suspected him.  We decided to be open about it, and began asking as many people as possible (as loudly as possible) if they had noticed anything suspicious because Kayleigh had had her phone stolen for definite.  We even asked the French guy himself and he interestingly pretended not to understand what we were saying - I'd heard him speaking pretty decent English the day before.  We then asked an Australian guy who was staying in the far left corner of the room.  He told us he'd seen us looking stressed earlier and had wondered what was wrong, then asked us what we were planning on doing for the rest of the day.  Kayleigh agreed she wanted to get out and do something, there was nothing she could do about her phone right now.  The Aussie introduced himself as Mick in a very soft Melbourne accent, we had breakfast together and the mood began to lighten.  We decided to do a trek together and set off in the wrong direction (probably my fault).

The climb up through the forest nearly killed me, and Kayleigh and Mick.  I didn't want to lose face and admit how unfit I clearly was (previous nights of drinking and over eating now taking their toll), so I lead the way and tried my best not to start hyperventilating.  We got to the top and stopped for a quick chat while we took in the view.  Little did we know Mick had also been living a life of debauchery in KL and he too didn't want to lose face, so all three of us were exhausted from the walk but trying not to show it.  The climb down was much easier, we stopped in Tanah Rata for a well deserved snack of spring rolls and sweet chilli sauce, then went back up to the guesthouse to shower.

Once all seated on our beds and trying to decide where to eat dinner, two new guests entered the room soaking wet having just got back from a walk.  One was a South Korean guy called Nim who was very sweet and smiled constantly, another was a fellow Brit called Dave from Northamptonshire.  We all sat about chatting, swapping travel stories, asking where we'd been to University, making gap yah jokes, that sort of thing.  There was also a girl now residing next to Kay's bed who joined in.  We had seen her a couple of days earlier in KL whilst eating dinner in China town.  She had complained to the staff that her prawn salad didn't contain enough prawns - first she said there were only two prawns, but then three, then four.  Four was not enough!  At the time Kay and I had thought she was incredibly rude and patronising to the staff, but we put that initial impression aside and tried to get to know her.  Sometimes, you should listen to your gut instinct when it comes to first impressions ...  The six of us (Myself, Kay, Mick, Dave, Nim and Prawn-gate) went back to the Indian restaurant for more tandoori chicken.  We had a few beers after dinner and then went to bed, planning to do a seven mile trek the following day.  Nim the lovely Korean guy (South Korean as he kept reiterating to everyone he met) was wearing his raincoat to bed.  As he noisily shuffled under the covers, Dave enquired as to why he was wearing said raincoat.  In bed.  Nim, without a hint of humour and looking Dave in the eye, simply replied:

'It's not a raincoat, it's a windbreaker.'  We still repeat this classic line to each other today, it's no less hilarious.

The next morning the French guy had left and checked out before any of us woke up.  Kay felt underneath her pillow in one last futile attempt to see if her phone was there.

'Er ... Fran, look!'

I turned over to see her phone in her hand!  Now, even though we all teased her profusely about thinking she'd lost her phone when it had been under her pillow all along, I am one hundred percent certain that it was not there the day before.  I can only assume that whoever stole it (about seventy-five percent sure it was that French guy, he was only one in the room when it was taken) had a change of heart and put it back while we were out.  Prawn-gate told us she was going to do a tour of the local area rather than a trek, and Nim wanted to do a different trail to us.  So in good spirits Kayleigh and I set off with Mick and Dave, I let Mick have the map this time.

The walk was fun and took us about two to three hours.  It got a bit hairy in places as the path got narrower and steeper and the forest got thicker and wetter.  Even though I love the great outdoors, I have a very inconvenient but quite acute fear of falling.  It's not really a fear of heights, I don't mind being high up, but if I can see a sheer drop next to me that's when I begin to panic.  This coupled with the fact that I am extremely clumsy means I am usually right at the back of any group I'm walking with, cursing myself quietly for lagging behind.  But I managed to complete the trail mostly on foot (sometimes on bottom) and felt proud of myself for getting to the end without having a mini-break down.


All smiles in transit, pic courtesy of Dave.

The end of the trail had led us to a road leading to one of the many tea plantations in the Highlands.  Not really wanting to walk all the way up the huge hill since we were now quite tired and very wet, we managed to catch a lift from two Indian men going that way.  We hopped into the back of their van and looked forward to a good cup of tea.  The sun was now shining too!  We had a very English lunch of scones, strawberry jam and cake, washed down with a lovely cuppa.  We then walked up to the viewpoint and took these two epic photos on Dave's camera:



(Left to right) Kayleigh, Mick, Me, Dave.

An hour or so later we decided to head back to the guesthouse.  Realising we were about nine miles away we decided to hitchhike again, it had gone so well before!  We managed to get a lift from two Chinese men driving a van, when we got in the back of their van we saw they already had a passenger with them: a goat!



Both above pictures taken on Kayleigh's camera.

Our drivers set off and began to speed.  Then continued to speed.  Faster still.  Mick noticed they were using the handbrake to go around the hairpin corners.  I looked out of the window and the blurred scenery, the expression on Mick's face and the sound of the engine confirmed that we were going far, far too fast.  As soon as we were at the bottom of the hill Mick asked them to stop and insisted we could walk the rest of the way.  We were still about seven miles away but we didn't want to die!  Meandering up the road we kept trying to catch a lift but with no luck, no one would stop for us.  Eventually we came across a garage and decided to see if anyone there would be willing to help us.  As luck would have it, the garage was managed by a long-haired Kiwi gentleman.  He and his daughter took us to their car, we all squeezed in and he generously drove us back to Tanah Rata.  He lived in Malaysia and his daughter, who was about fifteen, came from New Zealand to see him every year for an Asian adventure, how wonderful!

We arrived home, had dinner together again and discussed our plans.  Kayleigh and I had one destination in mind:  The Perhentian islands.  Mick was heading that way too, so was Prawn-gate and so was Dave.  We all booked a mini-van to take us to Taman Negara National Park.  We planned to stay there for two nights, then continue on to the Perhentians together.  Up and out in the morning we had a big breakfast together and talked about what we could do in Taman Negara.

Nim was also leaving that day but was heading south.  He came to our table and waved at us with both hands saying 'Goodbye, nice to see you!'.  He then walked in the opposite direction to where the vans were waiting and disappeared.  We all looked a little a confused but just shrugged and got on with our breakfast.  About a minute later, Nim reappeared and hurried past us, pointing behind him as he went he said 'That is the wrong way!'.  What a great guy!  His comic value kept us laughing for days.

A year on from this stop in the Cameron Highlands, we are all still in touch.  Kayleigh and Mick are now an item, I'll be visiting them regularly when I head out to Aus - Kay is heading out just before me to be with Mick.  Dave will visit too if he can manage to spare enough money for a flight to Australia ... you never know!  A week or so ago Dave and I headed south to stay with Kay, we celebrated our one year friend anniversary with a good stroll over one of the white horses of Wiltshire and some banana bread.

Anyway, I will leave you with a cold and windy picture (courtesy of Dave's mum) of all four of us at a vintage ploughing competition earlier this year in England (don't ask).  Mick came to visit and stayed for two months, it was great to have him over here but as you can see he wasn't expecting it to be quite so cold!