The Trans Gopeng Cameron trek
It was planned a year ago and booking began in January. It was far from the two videos we saw on YouTube. The Trans Gopeng Cameron trek looked like a long walk in MacRitchie Park merely requiring endurance and a steady pace. Yes we were going to stay overnight in an “orang asli” attap hut deep in the jungle and that was touted as the only hardship. The trek was anything like the videos – and we soon found out why.
Gopeng Rainforest Resort
We flew from budget airport by Firefly to Ipoh. The hundred-seater propeller-driven plane got us there is just over an hour. We were served peanuts or cake and some juice. The Ipoh airport was small but it was being renovated. David and Janice Foon welcomed us there and we went to town for timsum and bought some supplies for the trek before heading for Gopeng Rainforest Resort.
Do not be fooled by the name. It was no resort. Basic facilities in what was once a durian plantation. However the hospitality and the food made it feel more like a home stay. Warm, friendly, helpful and patient and close attention to everyone’s needs, David and Janice did their utmost to make the stay as pleasant as possible.
Trek began at dawn
The next morning we woke with the dawn, got ready, had our breakfast and headed out in the dark to the orang asli settlement from which we would begin our trek. It was about 6am and each of us had our headlamps on. We would begin early with the first day’s trek of about 18 km up and through the Kinta jungle so as to reach the hut before it gets dark.
The Kinta jungle
The trek is not a well traversed one so the tracks were not well marked out. Without orang asli guides we would definitely have appeared in the Sun’s morning papers, SINGAPOREANS LOST IN KINTA JUNGLE, or something like that. More than once we lost sight of faster team members ahead and had to stay where we were, and wait till the guides who were behind with the slower ones reached us. Most times we re-grouped to keep all 14 together.
Bamboo groves, streams and leeches
At times it felt like Bukit Timah Hill, but for a few differences. One is that there were many streams to wade or step across. Secondly, there were many giant fallen bamboos across our route and we had to bow low with our haversack to get under and through them. If we had known we would have done more duck-walking for our preparations. Third, there were leaves, bushes, branches and grasses stroking and brushing against your arms and legs as you walked through. Fourth, there were leeches. No matter how we prepared ourselves against them, no defence worked: leech socks, salts, tobacco leaves, covering yourselves thoroughly. Everyone yielded some blood to those thirsty Kinta leeches. We feared them before the trek began; we no longer feared but hated them by the time it was over. Fourth, whenever we came across bamboo groves, we smelt the pungent urine boundary markers of wild boar.
We had been training on Saturday mornings for months with several prolonged outings which I usually missed because of ministry commitments. This preparation helped everyone. Quite a number of us have crossed the 50 mark. Others are in their forties. And just one in her thirties and one in his sixties. We have been together for some years so we were harmonious. We trekked regularly so we knew how to listen to our bodies and maintain a comfortable personal pace. We called ourselves “Easytrekkers” because we were kiasi, kiasu, kiabor and were easy with each other’s differences and peculiarities.
Back to basics in overnight stay
Reaching the orang asli hut at about 6 pm while still daylight was important as there was no electricity at all. A bulky solar power machine was meant to provide electricity but now stood sentry next to the entrance, a silent testament to miserable Malaysian maintenance. There were no proper toilet and bathing facilities. Toilet was anywhere in the bushes where you can find privacy. Bathing were two taps at knee height out in the open. One was made into a temporary hut with temporary walls from plastic sheets, so that sanitized Singaporeans who must bathe, can bathe. I just wiped myself up with a wet towel, and powdered myself generously army-style, and got ready for cup noodles and eggs for dinner, and got into my sleeping bag on the bamboo floor. Tired as I was after 12 hours of trekking in the forest, I could not sleep as well as I had thought I would. It was the same for others. I was later to appreciate the exquisite comfort of the bed and the warm showers in Ipoh’s Regal Lodge hotel.
Second day of trek – two steep hills
Dawn came but too slowly. Breakfast was two cups of cereals for me -those convenient 3 in 1 packets. Then everybody got ready. My socks could not dry in time and were still drenched (and I had forgotten to pack that extra dry pair), so I was thankful when someone lent me her black knee high football socks. Too bad it wasn’t Arsenal; but any pair of dry socks, even Man Utd’s one is better than a soggy one. By 8 am everyone was ready to go.
The second leg of the trek was devoid of leeches as it was cooler and higher. But the steep gradients of the two major slopes we had to clamber were challenging. One hit us immediately after we began. It was a clear path the orang asli used to get to civilization to buy their supplies but it was a steep 70-80 degree gradient and went on and on like a staircase to eternity. Then it was down again and an awkward climb upstream using both hands and feet to negotiate up a rocky stream for about 1-2 km. The final steep climb was sandy and required all our hands and feet and trekking sticks and the hands of others. We felt such a sense of relief, joy and accomplishment when we finally reached the top: marked by a concrete cement boundary stone and a sign showing directional arrows of the two states of Perak and Pahang. We lazed there for close to 45 minutes, just enjoying the scenery, the cool breeze and fresh air, and chatting about the tough trek and nice weather. I was praising God and just eating energy bars and nuts and chlorinated stream water for lunch. I thought, The worse must be over. It should be downhill from now on.
What a wonderful world, what a wonderful God
After a good rest we moved on or rather downhill to a more developed Kampong Ubi with nice low cost housing along a road that led to the Bharat tea plantation. We would trek all the way to the teahouse atop a hill offering splendid panoramic views of the tea plantation. When we reached the tea house it rained heavily. We gave thanks to God – it was not co-incidental that the two days trek was marked by wonderful weather; nor that two persons, Dave and Choong, iron man and trail runner, were there to join the trek and be such a help to us all. We had a nice cup of tea, were picked up by David and Janice, who then took us to Tanah Rata for a delayed lunch of banana leaf curry rice and naan. Then it was to Ipoh where 3 star luxury awaited us. Frankly, after the hardship of the trek, any hotel would be a luxury. Any warm shower would be a bath in Paradise. What an enjoyable and challenging trek! What a wonderful world and what a wonderful God.