[A: Travel Blog from Malaysia]
These past few days have been filled with familiar sights, vivid colours, old textures and vast contrasts of smells and sounds.
With the arrival of the weekend came the opportunity for a trip to the Cameron Highlands, an area known for growing tea and vegetables. However, it isn't food we're after this time (although definitely a bonus!), rather a mission to search out the rare and giant Rafflesia flower.
Saturday - as the car climbed the winding road, guided through the hairpins and slower traffic by a calm and collected Uncle Eric, the hot sun slowly gave way to mist and clouds, and then heavy rain. The weekend excursion was being arranged by a friend, and we met up with the group of hikers at the hotel, the Equatorial, which is at the summit of the local slopes. With the rain still falling we tucked in for an afternoon nap, resting eyes and bellies before an evening meal at the Golden Phoenix restaurant - a deluxe steamboat banquet with soooo much to choose from! This steamboat was out of the ordinary, with a special 'BBQ frying' area where the chefs would fry your choice of meat, seafood, veggies and noodles with your choice of sauce!
We nanna-napped REALLY well in the cool of 14 degrees. Less than half the temperature down in KL!
Sunday - the day for trekking. We gathered in a group of 17 people at 6.30am for the short drive to the village of the local indigenous people, the 'orang asli', where 2 of them had agreed to guide us to the area where the Rafflesia flowers bloom. We were presented with leaf wreaths and off we went into the jungle.
The walk was about 3 hours in, and only 2 hours out back down the hill. Setting out early meant the weather was nice and cool, the sun still hidden behind morning clouds. Slowly, slowly, the group wound its way up the hill and into the forest, getting ever closer to the flowers.
Along the way, we discovered the beautiful and the exotic.
In contrast to the Australian bush, the soil here was rich and orange, firm and dried out from the heat of the sun. Some muddy parts were clay - great for pottery! The uphill climbs were steep, the mosquitoes behaved (mostly) but it was the humid jungle heat that made it seem a tougher trek than it actually was.
We saw towering bamboo, growing tall and strong… you could definitely build houses with this stuff!
And bracket fungi galore!
And cute bugs…
And the longest millipede I've ever seen! It was twice the length of my hand! Eek!
Such lovely shapes in nature…
And a rare find - black orchid. It grows a white beard - stunning! Quite spectacular just blooming there to the side of the trail...
And then came the absolute highlight of our trek, making this sweaty effort worthwhile.
To our great delight and fortune, we were able to see two Rafflesia flowers!
They take 18 months to grow from a small bud into a full flower. They only bloom for 8 days after which they dry up and shrivel into a black mangled mess. So we were extremely lucky to have the opportunity to see a 3 day old and 4 day old bloom.
The Rafflesia is actually a parasite which grows on tree roots. They are known to be the biggest flower in the world. They release a smell to attract flies and insects to carry pollen to them.The smell is described as 'rotting flesh' but luckily it wasn't so pungent when we saw them, just slightly unusual smelling but definitely covered in flies! The petals looked to be made of leather, tough and rubbery, the insides with spikes and hair and the most spectacular oval shaped spots which allowed the sunlight to shine within. Magical. The Rafflesia must definitely have inspired many an alien sci-fi film featuring stinky human-eating creatures!
The 3 day old Rafflesia was a warm orange colour whereas the 4 day old was larger but a darker maroon shade of orange. It was quite spellbinding to say the least, we spent an hour photographing these unusual beauties.
In absolute awe of nature...