Travel

DOWN SOUTH | A Date with the Self in Cameron Highlands

These rolling hills covered with lush tea plantation is a sight to behold in Cameron Highlands. Photo by Jona Branzuela Bering, InterAksyon.com.

These rolling hills covered with lush tea plantation is a sight to behold in Cameron Highlands. Photo by Jona Branzuela Bering, InterAksyon.com.

It is February, a week before the consumerist definition of showing love: a candle-lit dinner for two, a bouquet of flowers, a box of chocolate, and a massive stuff toy. Valentine’s Day, which has a rather bloody history, is now a phenomenon on pleasing the woman and making sure that it is well-documented and posted on social media. I might be wrong, but my Facebook feed says otherwise.

Come the 14th, my wall would be flooded with either date photos: the girl showing off the bouquet, chocolate or what-not she received from her partner—or people whining for not having a date at all.

Earlier last year, I was non-committed and happy with my single-blessedness. A day before Valentine’s Day, I bought a folding bike (from the unexpected teacher’s clothing allowance), rightfully named it Katorse, and biked two towns in southern Cebu on a sunny love day. Oh, yes, alone.

Traveling solo sometimes, regardless of having a partner or not, is good for one's well-being. Photo by Jona Branzuela Bering, InterAksyon.com.

Traveling solo sometimes, regardless of having a partner or not, is good for one’s well-being. Photo by Jona Branzuela Bering, InterAksyon.com.

It has been a year, but nothing much has changed since then. Except, I now have a boyfriend who doubles as a travel buddy.

Is the start of a relationship the end of solo wandering?

No.

During the five-week trip around five ASEAN countries, we were together for three weeks, but I started a week earlier and ended the trip a week later. Why, you may ask.

Perhaps because I am so used to—and comfortable with—traveling alone that I cannot let it go. Perhaps because to travel solo mean to function better in my everyday life. And perhaps because to travel solo is to love the self. And to love the self is to love better.

After Taiping, I took a bus to Cameron Highlands in Pahang, Malaysia, this time, without any misadventures. This place draws a lot of western travelers, and I already predicted that most activities are catered to their preferences.  But surprisingly, most activities are pretty much like Baguio’s or Bohol’s.

Strawberry Field: Not Forever

A cold place like Cameron Highlands makes it suitable for fruits like strawberry. Photo by Jona Branzuela Bering, InterAksyon.com.

A cold place like Cameron Highlands makes it suitable for fruits like strawberry. Photo by Jona Branzuela Bering, InterAksyon.com.

Ironically, Cameron Highlands made me enter a strawberry farm and a butterfly farm respectively. Of course, the strawberry field was not the Beatles’ kind; it was not forever. It was a small enclosure meant for passing tourists. The real farm behind us was locked up and inaccessible. The owners must have predicted that some sneaky tourists would pick some fruits and munch them right there and then. To pick a fruit or two for free was fine. So, I found it rather amusing and odd that I had my first strawberry-picking experience not in Baguio but in Malaysia. And yes, I could not help but pick a fruit or two and munch.

Butterfly Farm: Trapped Winged Beauties
It was the butterfly farm that I regretted entering. Because I knew that those butterflies were not inherent in the place. Locals hunted them, sold them to the gardens, and the unfortunate winged creatures were trapped to their death. The garden was beautiful—I always find flowers as a source of happiness. But guilt nagged me: the butterflies’ existence was meant for business, was meant for tourists who are willing to pay 5RM to have a short interaction with them.

Perhaps it was worth it for others. But for me, butterflies flying in their natural habitat are way more beautiful.

Trekking: Short but Pitcher-y

PITCHER. Endemic to the highlands in Malaysia, pitcher plants has become a must-see in Cameron Highlands. Photo by Jona Branzuela Bering, InterAksyon.com.

PITCHER. Endemic to the highlands in Malaysia, pitcher plants has become a must-see in Cameron Highlands. Photo by Jona Branzuela Bering, InterAksyon.com.

Cameron Highlands is primarily known for its trekking trails. There are at least ten established ones that lead to small waterfalls, little villages, and foggy mountainscape. It was a foggy, cold, and drizzling July, an unlikely weather for a relaxing trek.

To lessen the expenses, I joined a trekking tour, and it was unsurprising to be the only Asian traveler in a group of twenty. It was supposedly a trekking tour, but we spent most of the time in the jeepney. The highlight of the short trek was seeing the pitcher plants randomly adorning the mossy forest.

Tea Plantation: the Main Reason

TEA WITH A VIEW. Best of Highlands  tea plantation is the most popular tourist attraction in Cameron Highlands. Photo by Jona Branzuela Bering, InterAksyon.com.

TEA WITH A VIEW. Best of Highlands  tea plantation is the most popular tourist attraction in Cameron Highlands. Photo by Jona Branzuela Bering, InterAksyon.com.

There is a recurring theme in the Malaysia leg of my trip. Despite the enjoyable walk around Kuala Lumpur, I found the countryside like Taiping and Cameron Highlands more appealing and soothing. I went to Cameron Highlands to see the hectares-wide tea plantations: something that we do not have in the Philippines. The rolling hills of short tea trees were. Spectacular? Amazing? Wonderful? I do not know the right adjective. But to be there, to be part of the landscape that has been maintained, that has been the source of livelihood to many locals is humbling and wowing.

A week-long solo trip around Malaysia was an eventful initiation of adventuring outside our archipelagic country. I did not regret doing it alone. More than knowing a foreign place, it was the self that I learned to know more: the self who is ever gutsy, reckless, the self who is not scared of getting lost.

The self who has stories, freshly gathered, to share with her partner.

• Jona Branzuela Bering is a writer and photographer from Cebu, Philippines. When she is not traveling, she gardens, teaches, and becomes the slave of four cats. Follow her travels on Instagram @backpackingwithabook or on her blog Backpacking with a Book. E-mail: backpackingwithabook@gmail.com.

InterAksyon.com
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