Trans Gopeng Cameron trek: what a wonderful world, what a wonderful God

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.

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To the Cameron, Ipoh and KL by train, car and coach

sleeper train KTMNight train for a change

Normally, I would take a coach to the Cameron Highlands. For a change, and at Kim Eng’s suggestion, my wife and I  booked online the sleeper “malam” train of the KTM (Malaysian railway). The last time I took it, I was going to the same place: Gua Musang in the southern part of Kelantan. I boarded at about 6:50pm and settled into a lower bunk bed. Each bunk had a window view, and was curtained for privacy. I forgot to bring something to secure my luggage to the rail, so I put my bag in my bunk bed. I could sleep and woke up when my phone alarm rang at dawn, and later the trainmaster informed us that we were at the Gua Musang train stop.

Gua Musang welcome

The Chuas, who were members of wrpf, met me with a warm smile and welcome, took our bags and drove us to their home in the midst of  a smallholding oil palm plantation. The trees were a geriatric 30 years old but they were still yielding fruit and oil. They couldn’t replant new ones because of the lease contract terms. Nevertheless the Lord has been blessing them with better palm oil prices in recent years, and they are, more importantly playing a strategic spiritual role in that town. We had aromatic espresso, chatted and rested an hour before we left in his car on a pleasant 2 hours journey to the Cameron Highlands. It was good to escape the heat of the city. The air was markedly fresh as the small car climbed up.

bright blue skies, cool climes and fresh air

We arrived just after James Tan Ah Lek and his wife, another Kim Eng. they had taken a day train from Singapore to Ipoh, a good 8 hours, and a 1 hour plus bus ride to Cameron. We smelled muffins, and we had tea and warmed up as a group with our faith sharing.  We ate the fresh corn raw and they were delighfully sweet. It was a good start. All the other guests were OMF missionaries from Germany and Switzerland, working in Thailand. We got to know a few of them better. After dinner, we slept in.

Concerning faithful dogs

In the morning, I walked by an old dog with fur so thin I could see its red wrinkled skin. I remembered how this dog used to be a favorite: energetic, with lively eyes and thick brown fur. It had served well as fun dog by day and watch dog at night. Now it laid around without fear of the new caretakers. In human years, it was about 80 or 90 years old. The grounds however sparkled with the barks and leaps and frolics of a young Corgi, the new kid in the block. Seemed like succession was in progress.

Message from above

I hardly noticed the roses. During the four days and three nights stay, I was most aware of the stars that greeted us from clear night skies. The sounds, especially the sounds of birds, filled my mind and took up space, as I sat in stillness in an easy rattan armchair, out in the open, overlooking a beautiful valley. Violating the green expanse was an ugly swath of exposed brown earth. Cameron’s development has increased, and I hated that. One early morn, between sleep and alive, the Lord whispered his message of comfort to me: the birds. I knew what He meant, so I went back to the beloved’s privilege: more sleep.

Chuas, Chees, Tans

All of us met up with Ezekiel and Aurora, a Malaysian Indian and his Hong Kong wife. We were charmed by the story of how they met, fell in love, got married and came out to Kelantan to serve. There is something about interracial, transnational marriages that is romantic. Maybe its because its riddled with obstacles, and that makes for tension and a lively story. So we ate at the Kowloon, and thought that the nine month bride would find some comfort in the name of the restaurant: the Father’s loving attention to details.

Towgay in Ipoh

Later that afternoon we boarded a bus and headed for Ipoh where we stayed a night at the Syuen hotel. Dinner was hawker fare: Uncle Lau Wong’s famous plump towgay (beansprout) and steamed white chicken with Ipoh kway teow. Since these dishes were legendary I was not about to disagree with everyone, and spilled out my obligatory, shiok, wah, umm, and cheap. I must admit the towgays were plump and succulent.  No more photos to show as I forgot my recharger. I liked Ipoh in the morning, where the tim sum culture seemed to be very much alive. I liked the beautiful limestone hills and mountains surrounding it. There’s a kind of enchantment, an alluring feel that invited you to sell all that you have to retire there.

Later, we travelled first class in the KTM to Kuala Lumpur. First class meant more space, less passengers, and bigger seats, three to a row. I liked it, though as a spoilt Singaporean, I thought: why don’t they re-upholster the faded seats. Well the reply came quickly, It is so that you can say Cheap, cheap, cheap when you travel by train in Malaysia. Stop being arrogant, you Singaporean!

Misadventure in KL

Nobody told us it would be difficult to walk in and get a hotel room over the weekend at KL Sentral. In fact, our Malaysian friends recommended the Hotel Sentral, My Hotel, and the YMCA – but they were all full. There was no room in the inn. We finally opted for the only room in that area: a tiny widowless bare hotel room for 78 ringgit, and please clear out tomorrow at 12. The bemusing name: Hotel Florida. The Meridien and the Hilton were nearby but room rates were as high as their twin towers.

We spent the rest of the day at the Mid Valley shopping mall, something a colleague kept raving about. Yep, it was a comfort to get out and stay out of the dingy room with no carpets, a snowy TV screen, and broken ventilators on the air conditioner. Midvalley felt like the crowded Singapore mall. We ended up with a late nonya lunch in a basement cafe. We ravished the several items we bought. We decided to shorten the holiday in KL and aborted our dinner with Aileen and Christine Tan on Sunday night. We bought our bus tickets at Bukit Jalil from the makeshift bus hub relocated from Puduraya. Now we don’t have to worry about tickets on Sunday. Little did we know, on the next day, a Sunday, we would be hit by a common KL plague.

Yes you guessed right. We had street market congee and ching cheong fun for breakfast and early Japanese lunch at Midvalley mall. We still had time. Murphy’s Law took over and we were pushed to the edge. Trusting God at the edge of a cliff can be nervewracking. At KL Sentral we waited just 10 minutes; others had already waited for 40 minutes! At Bandar Tasik Selantan, we waited another 30 minutes. We were still waiting at 1 pm, the time our coach would leave. At first we panic-prayed the Rapid KL would really be on time if not rapid; then we  panic-prayed that the Transnational coach would be inefficient and delay its departure. Neither happened. We missed the coach. Took the next available and comfortable Konsortium coach. Verdict: misadventure. Tuition fees in Malaysian ringgit. Lesson learnt: give ample safety margin for train delays.

Somehow God works all things for the good of those who love Him. In this last leg, we got to know a Catholic by the name of Joo Hock who just returned from a trek in the Camerons and we  exchanged contacts. Perhaps on the cards is a trek to Gunung Brinchang.

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