The Bengali Runaway: Journey to Cameron Highland
A week had passed and it was time for me to leave Langkawi. Roz, Benson and I said goodbye to Herry before taking a Grab to the airport. They were leaving for Sri Lanka and I was going back down south to Cameron Highland.
A couple of nights before, Roz had pulled me to one side and said her and Benson wanted me to travel with them. They were looking for someone they both got along with and felt they could travel with. I was extremely flattered. I liked them both and one of the main reasons why I enjoyed Langkawi was because of them. I said I’d think about it because my plan had always been to explore Malaysia and Indonesia. I hadn’t contemplated Sri Lanka and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to cut my trip in Malaysia short. We didn’t revisit this idea and I ended up accepting a voluntary placement in Cameron Highland.
I hadn’t planned anything beyond my first week in KL and up to this point, it had been fine to spontaneously jump on a bus or a boat and travel as I had been working my way up the country. This time however, I was going back down south. It wasn’t the wisest travel plan as I was spending time and money going back on myself when the sensible thing would have been to have visited Cameron Highland straight after KL as it was closer and then travelled up to Penang and Langkawi. But I didn’t really know where else to go and Cameron Highland had been recommended by many people. I was a new traveller and mistakes were bound to happen. I booked a last minute flight to KL the night before and intended on taking a bus from the city to the little town. I thought it would be much quicker but I found out it was actually longer because I had to take two buses and there was a long waiting period in an ugly, characterless mall in between. I didn’t meet anyone interesting along the way either which would have been a pleasant distraction.
The second bus ride made me awfully nauseous as we were driving on twisty curvy roads on a mountain. By then, I was really tired, grumpy and annoyed at the situation I was in. I had spent a lot more money taking the flight and two buses to Cameron Highland thinking it would have shortened my journey when in fact, it had taken me an entire day and was a lot more hassle. I should have just taken a bus from the island down south. I calculate that it would have been a few hours shorter, simpler and a quarter of the price.
Night had fallen and there were no street lamps on the narrow mountain roads. The driver was driving impatiently, making me nervous. What if we missed a bend and just toppled over the edge? How tragic would that be? An Asian city girl longing to travel all her life finally gets the chance to do so and then dies within a couple of weeks on a bus ride to town. Luckily we didn’t have an accident. The driver was actually confident, he had clearly been doing this a while. When we finally got off the bus, I told him he was a brilliant driver and he got really happy. After a quick dinner of roti and lentil curry that cost me 40p, I made my way to De Native Guesthouse. I was going to volunteer there for a week, possibly longer in exchange for free accommodation. Google map was telling me the guesthouse was near but once I started walking, I realised it was much further. I shivered in my thin summery dress and t-shirt. I asked a local where it was and he pointed to an entrance up a hill that I hadn’t noticed. I was in disbelief. It looked very steep and I just did not have the energy to drag my suitcase with a broken wheel all the way up. ‘Are you sure?’ I asked him, hoping he was wrong. ‘Yes,’ he insisted.
And then it started raining. Of course it did. This wouldn’t be a complete bad day if there was no rain. I didn’t know what to do and just stood at the bottom of the hill, tears welling up in my eyes out of tiredness and frustration. A car came along and the driver asked if I was going up the hill. I peered at him cautiously in the dark. Should I get in? Growing up in the UK, everyone was so suspicious of one another and it was drilled into us to never get into a strange man’s car. But this wasn’t the UK and my instincts weren’t telling me anything was wrong. A woman came out of the front passenger seat and said, ‘come, come.’ She took my suitcase and put it in the boot. There was something friendly and caring about her so I decided to get into the back. Two of the seats were occupied with a couple of American travellers. I sniffed, wiping away a tear that had escaped my eye and then apologised. ‘It’s been a long shit day,’ I said. ‘Well luckily there’s only three hours left of it,’ replied one of the travellers.
We reached the top of the hill and parked outside a row of adjoined cabins leading to a large house. Beyond the house lay a camp fire with a handful of travellers sitting around it and behind that, an open planned bar with rustic wooden tables and a small kitchen in the back. Khris, my host was sat at a table with a few of his friends, drinking whisky. The lady who encouraged me into the car had introduced herself as Selina, Khris’ sister and the driver was her husband. She introduced me to Khris and a few other people who I would not remember and asked if I had eaten dinner. Khris seemed nice enough. He asked how long I wanted to volunteer for and I said a week. His facial expression told me he wasn’t very happy with my answer. ‘I mean we’ll see how it goes and if it works out well, I can stay longer,’ I said quickly. I had a fear of committing to the same place for too long. A day over a week was too long. ‘I’ll deal with that when the time comes,’ I thought secretly to myself.
I was really tired and just wanted to go bed but didn’t want to seem rude so hung around and talked to them some more. Luckily Khris picked up on my tiredness after seeing me yawn several times and suggested I go to bed. I was to sleep in the house as the cabins were for the guests. He showed me to a large room upstairs with a worn out double bed next to a single. Another double bed on the right side of the room and on the left, an inconspicuous little door leading to a hidden room. I peeked inside once Khris had left to find a couple of old mattresses on the floor. There was something foreboding about the room. My mind wanted to wander to all the horror films I had seen but I forced myself back to reality and took out my pyjamas and toothbrush from my suitcase to finally get ready for bed.